There’s an old quip in the SEO industry that goes “the best place to hide a dead body is page two of Google”.
In our digital-first world, Google is now such a pervasive go-to for finding any kind of product or service that every modern business must be able to rank for specific, high-value terms in order to have any hope of long-term success.
If you’re looking to attract high-intent traffic and guide it to the right areas of your website, then you’re certainly not alone, and there’s a lot of strategy and implementation work to do before you reach the lofty heights of Google’s SERPs.
If you’re planning to take your first step into the challenge of self-taught SEO, here’s 5 practical steps you can take to climb the rankings in Google’s search results.
Step 1: Find Prospective Keywords You’re Underperforming For
The first step in any successful SEO campaign is to find keywords that show clear search intent for businesses like yours, and which your site isn’t ranking for as highly as it could be. Link building agency, Hive19 explains keyword research as “the foundation for finding opportunities, helping to create and enhance your brand’s online presence.”
Though many in-house SEOs for fledgling businesses can find the prospect of targeting page one a little daunting, it’s essential not to fall into the trap of targeting keywords which your current rankings are too low for, and remember that it’s much more valuable to move the needle from a higher position in a given SERP than a lower one.
Though the top spots of page one on Google are hard-won, the average CTR per position becomes significantly greater the higher up the SERPs you climb. Put simply, climbing one position from a starting point on page one can garner a much bigger increase in traffic and engagement compared to climbing five positions from a starting point on page two.
When you’re starting from nothing, choosing the right target keywords can take a lot of detailed research, trial and error. Though you may not be able to charge towards the highest-volume, highest-ranking keywords related to your industry, it’s important not to sell yourself short and limit your potential for success.
Step 2: Drill Down to your Most Valuable Keywords
Once you’ve got an idea of your underperforming keywords, the next step is to filter your data further and zero-in on the keywords that are going to generate the most value for your business. In an ideal world, you’d dominate the search results for every search term related to your industry, but in order to use your resources effectively, you’ll need to focus your efforts on the terms that will give you the best chance of SEO success.
As you go about narrowing down your set of keywords, here’s a few keyword categories not to target:
- Keywords that aren’t getting you any traffic: If your site is already ranking for some of the terms in your list, but isn’t bringing in any traffic from those terms, then this is a clear sign of low searcher intent. Improving their rankings won’t change the fact that Google users aren’t getting what they want from your search results, so don’t waste your time.
- Keywords with Low Volumes: Targeting low-hanging fruit is often prudent and necessary for smaller businesses looking to improve their organic rankings, but it’s still important to consider the value of ranking increases when compared to the time and energy required to achieve them. A relatively small ranking increase on a top page can double your traffic, but if you’re doubling a very small flow of traffic, the results are still going to be negligible.
- Keywords that lack search intent: In SEO, not all traffic increases can be chalked up as a win, and there’s no value in drawing traffic to your site if it doesn’t contribute to any specific business goals. For each prospective keyword you come across, make sure that you’re considering why someone might search for this term, their end goal, and whether or not your site can satisfy their aims.
Step 3: Determine Where your Site is Falling Short
There are countless reasons why your competitors may be outranking you across several SERPs, and they’re usually tied up in the most oft-talked about SEO ranking factors: the number of referring domains, number of individual backlinks, your page authority, and site authority.
A quick SEO audit can often highlight if you’re falling short in one of these key areas, but it’s important not to lose sight of another factor that can have a huge impact on your rankings: searcher intent.
Leading SEO tool provider Moz defines search intent as “the primary goal a user has when searching a query in a search engine”, and like most good SEO companies, they agree that the importance of this ranking factor can’t be overstated.
When setting out on any SEO campaign, it’s important to keep Google’s stated purpose in mind: serving up the most relevant result for any given query. This means that if your site content doesn’t align with the search intent behind target queries, you’re going to lose masses of traffic to competitors who are making life easier for Google.
Because Google’s algorithm is so geared towards search intent, one of the best ways to figure out the intent behind a given keyword is to simply search it in an incognito tab, and analyse the results in the top spots. Look at the most prevalent products or services, content types, and content angles making up the upper ranks of page 1, and this will give you a good idea of what the people searching for your phrase are actually hoping to find.
Step 4: Fix your Site’s Shortcomings
After following the previous steps, you should have a good idea as to why you’re being outranked for your target keywords. Your next step is to carry out SEO work specifically targeted to patch up those shortcomings.
If your site doesn’t have as many links or referring domains as its close competitors, then the solution is to build more high-quality links pointing to your most valuable pages. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most reliable is to publish high-quality, valuable content on your site’s blog that will naturally attract the interest of authoritative referring domains.
A quality, well-maintained blog will not only help to build links, but will also provide a long-term source of organic traffic drawn naturally from your target audience.
If the authority of specific pages is lagging behind the standard of your wider site, then link building campaigns targeting page-level backlinks and informed internal linking can be the best way to give those pages the boost it needs.
If your domain authority is lagging behind the standard in your niche, then the best solution is often dialling back your ambition, targeting less challenging keywords, and slowly building your site authority to a point where it can compete with the other results.
Step 5: Track your Progress
Like anything in marketing, you’ll need to be able to monitor the results of your SEO efforts to maximise the results.
Any good SEO tool will allow you to set up lists of keywords to track, giving you a comprehensive one-glance look at how much your SEO work is moving the needle, and alerting you to any sudden drops or surges that you may need to address.
Improving your rankings for high-value search terms is the name of the game in SEO, but to get a truly valuable view of how your site is performing, you shouldn’t stop there.
Monitoring your organic traffic will show you how bountiful and relevant the clicks from your newly improved rankings are. Measuring this against the average CTR per position will help you to measure your SEO against established trends, and identify any issues in the way your results are displaying that may be keeping a cap on your potential.
Tracking conversion rates from organic traffic can give you an even more granular view of how relevant your content is to search intent, helping you gain a better understanding of what exactly people are searching for when they enter your target terms in Google.
Though SEO is technically an organic marketing tactic, it will require an investment from most businesses in the way of outsourced link building, content writing, and so on. Assign a monetary value to every conversion you track, whether it actually involves an exchange of money or not, and this will allow you to assign an ROI value to all your SEO wins, mapping out a path towards making your SEO more cost-efficient.
Rinse and Repeat!
Now that you know how to help your site climb Google’s search result rankings, you’ll be able to repeat the process for any page and keyword that has potential value for your site.
SE is a complex and nuanced marketing tactic, with each site and industry requiring a different approach for the best results. However, follow these core steps, and you’ll soon be able to diagnose many of the SEO issues facing countless promising sites, and work towards a stronger, healthier organic profile for your business.