How to rank higher in Google (10 steps)
Looking to improve your organic search performance? In this article, I’ll go over 10 steps you can take to compete against your online competitors.
How to rank higher in Google (10 steps)
Every day, billions of users rely on Google to find answers to their search queries. Our never-ending thirst for information makes Google the most popular website worldwide. According to statistics from Statista, Google gets more than 89 billion visitors per month. Mind-boggling, right?
Thanks to search engines like Google, we’re able to quench our never-ending thirst for information, although, with the market share the search engine holds, it’s easy to see why it’s extremely competitive and why ranking high on Google is crucial for business owners looking to gain new customers online.
Why ranking high is so important. Some maths and stats.
When you’re searching for a service or a product, how often do you look at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th page of the results? Chances are you don’t and you’re not alone. 75% of users don’t look past the first page of the search results.
So ranking high is crucial if you want to attract more visitors to your website. Let’s put this into perspective.
If we check to see how many people in the UK search for ‘Coffee machine’ we can see that every month, there are 90,500 searches for this query.
We also know due to widely publicised data, the CTR (Click Through Rate) for the different positions on Google. Now, these rates can vary based on metadata optimisations and other factors, but let’s look at some examples based on statistics from Sistrix.
In the above example, we can see that ranking first for a search term will yield roughly 30% of the search volume and ranking 10th will yield just 2.5%
So if you ranked first for ‘coffee machines’ you’d get 90,500/100×30=27,150 visitors per month, but if you ranked 10th, you’d get 90,500/100×2.5=2,262 visitors per month.
Business owners will be trying to target a wide range of keywords with varying search volumes, but as you can see, ranking high is not just important, it’s crucial if you’re looking to generate business from your online brand. If you’re not ranking on the first page of the search results for any particular term, you’re missing out on potential traffic.
To help you compete against your online competitors, I’ve summarised 10 best SEO practices which you can implement to improve your organic performance. Some of these you may already be doing whilst other tips may be new to you. Whatever the situation, go over these tips and see where you can find areas of improvements. Doing so could mean the difference between low traffic volumes, and lots of new customers.
1. Optimise your meta titles and descriptions
Let’s start with the basics. Optimising your meta title and description has more than one benefit. First, they let visitors know what your page is about. By providing a summary of the webpage, you’ll improve your CTR that I talked about earlier.
This has a knock on effect, and that’s reducing bounce rate. Bounce rate is when a user lands on a webpage and leaves the website before navigating to another page. This signals to Google that the user didn’t have a great experience or didn’t find what they were looking for. Instead, we want to encourage the user to navigate to at least one more page and that’s why optimising your metadata is important.
It’s also worth noting that meta descriptions don’t directly influence your search rankings as confirmed by Google’s own John Mueller.
What is a meta title and description?
When you search for something on Google, you are presented with a list of results. Those results all contain the URL of the webpage, the title and meta description. In some cases additional data may be displayed such as a featured image and Schema markup (more on this later), but you will always at a minimum, see the URL, title and description.
Google can and often rewrite a meta description based on on-page content, but that’s a different story for another day. So if you’re seeing different meta descriptions compared to what you’ve written, don’t panic.
Tips and best practices
When optimising your metadata, the goal is to convey to the user what the page is about, whilst sticking to the character limit, so your title and description doesn’t get truncated.
You can use a progamme like Word to check character length, online tools, or your SEO module within your CMS.
For titles, it’s best to stick to 55 characters. Any longer, and you run the risk of the title not being fully displayed within the search results. For descriptions, keep this to 155-160 characters. Google actually measures this in pixels, but for majority of us, measuing in characters is far simpler.
I can always dig into more details, optimisation methods and practices, but for the sake of keeping this post from going on forever, I’m going to summarise my tips.
- Research your competitors
- Perform keyword research to see what users actually search for
- Target a specific search intent
- Map and understand the buyers journey
- Convey your brands tone and image, i.e. stay consistent
SEO is like a bag of worms. Everything can be delved upon and talked about in further detail. If you need assistance with your digital strategy, I offer SEO consultations alongside managed services for businesses looking to improve their organic performance.
2. Match search intent
As I metioned search intent above, we’ll look at this in more detail. Search intent is the goal a user has when they are searching. It’s not always to purchase a product, and understanding search intent is crucial to success. There are four types of search intent:
It’s important when optimsiing webpages, that they satisfy the intent of the user. If they don’t, it’s a sure fire way of increasing your bounce rate, and as mentioned earlier, doing so signals to Google the user didn’t have a good experience / find what they were looking for.
Where website owners often get this wrong is with eCommerce. An example of this is if a visitor is looking to compare products and not purchase, they’ll sit under the informational intent rather than the transactional.
Therefore, you need to align your page with the search intent to have the best chance of ranking.
One way to see if your content matches the search intent is to look at the content that ranks on page one. Does your page align / cover similar content? If not, it’s time to think about restructuring your page so its more in line with your target audience.
3. Remove low quality pages
Quality content over the quantity of content always wins. ‘Thin content’ are pages that offer little or no value to your visitors. Think of pages that don’t contain a lot of content, i.e. tag pages, or similar products with hardly any difference in description, and you get the idea. Now, sometimes this is done for a legitimate reason. I.e. your contact page isn’t exactly going to have 1000 words on it, but it’s an important part of your sites structure.
Aside from obvious ones, having those pages with a low word count, duplicated content, poorly designed landing pages that havent been excluded from your sitemap, or tons of blog posts that are 100 words long, do your site more harm than good.
Have you ever seen an eCommerce website with product tags that lead to pages with little to no content? If so, you’ll get the idea.
If you have enough of these poor performing pages that offer no value to your visitors, it can diminish Google’s trust in the site as a whole. That’s right, Google looks at the whole picture, as well as the individual pages.
Let’s look at an example. This is a website I visited earlier. I’m not going to pick on the owners though, so I’ve blurred out their domain. You can see looking at their sitemap they have a lot of duplicated content / thin pages.
Removing / merging these pages would have great SEO benefits for them, and several case studies have demonstrated the effects of this process, but many website owners still get this wrong.
Whilst content may be king, merging or removing thin pages can have a significant increase on the sites organic performance.
4. Optimise your sitemap
This naturally leads to optimising your sitemap. A sitemap is like an index page of a book. It help search engines find, crawl and index all the content on your website. Sitemaps also tells search engines which pages are most important.
Now there’s a lot to cover with sitemaps (as there is with lot of these tips) but again, I’m going to keep it short. A well optimised sitemap benefits your website and helps you rank better, when optimised.
Search engines have crawlers. These crawlers have what’s known as a crawl budget. Think of it like a tank of fuel. When it runs out, you need to change your destination and go and refill the tank before returning.
That’s what crawlers do. They crawl your site until their tank is depleted. When your sitemap is unoptimised, you waste part of your crawl budget crawling pages that weren’t that important.
The mistake a lot of website owners make, is they include everything within their sitemap, rather than what’s important.
If you’re an eCommerce store, you don’t need to include your category tags within your sitemap. Likewise, you don’t need to include your post authors. Chances are these pages fall into the thin pages category, as I mentioned above.
If you’re using a CMS like WordPress to manage your website, it’s likely that you’re using a plugin like Yoast, Rank Math or All In One SEO for your meta titles and descriptions. These plugins also let you configure your sitemap to include/exclude different areas of your website.
Every website is different, so I can’t give a rule that fits all. For example, if you’re running a blog, having those authors is definitely relevant to your sitemap, compared to a website selling web design services.
Have a look at your sitemap and ask yourself if you’re happy for part of your crawl budget to be depleted crawling certain parts of your website and if those pages provide your users with value. If they don’t, remove them from the sitemap.
5. Utilise Schema Markup
Schema is a coding language that puts context to content. It helps search engines know when searching for the word ‘avatar’ if you’re looking for a profile picture or the film.
Once added to webpages, schema markup enhances the description element with additional data which can appear within the search results. The benefit of this is two fold. First, it helps Google understand the context (for example, is that a product page or a product review) and secondly, it can increase your CTR. Let’s take a look at Schema in action.
We can see in the example above that two of the websites are utilising schema markup. In the first example, we can see additional data including reviews and cooking time. Without even reading the title and description, it’s clear that its a recipe.
The third link however shows a price range so without looking at the breadcrumbs, we can tell its a product. The latter could have added a stock status, however this was neglected. Maybe they’re not managing inventory on the website and that’s the reason it’s missing.
Jamie on the other hand has not optimised as well as he could have. First, he didn’t implement schema markup and if you notice, his meta description is also too long and has been cut short. Cookfood made the same mistake with their description and only the first link has done it all correctly.
There are several types of schema to suit most websites including:
8. Local business
The list goes on and the above are just some examples of what data is possible to mark up. Some types of schema may not be dispalyed within search results but are used for other reasons.
Ever used your Alexa device to find out where the nearest restaurant is or what time a business closes? Yep, you guessed it. Those websites are utilising the power of schema.
If you want your business to show up in voice search results or to be more prominent in the search results, then you need to structure your content to make it easy to read and understand.
6. Perform a website audit
Over time, websites evolve. Things change, pages get deleted or renamed, images get removed, links stop working and that’s just the basics. If you manage a large site with hundreds of pages, its difficult to keep up and know what’s going on, on every single page.
Do you have duplicate pages with similar meta descriptions? Do you have pages that are not utilising heading tags? Do you have pages with 404’s causing a bad user experience? Do you have toxic backlinks that are damaging your domain authority? It’s very rare when I run a website audit for clients, that I find a site with 0 errors.
A website audit will help you identify and resolve issues before they affect your customers and before they have a negative impact on search results.
If you want to discover what’s going on under the hood of your website, I provide clients with a 130+ point technical website audit. Want to see an example of one of my audits? Check out this PDF.
7. Speed matters. Seriously.
Page speed is a measurement of how fast your webpage renders. Google has explicitly stated that page speed is a direct ranking factor, but improving your page speed has another benefit and that’s conversions.
Pages with longer load times always have higher bounce rates. On average, a page that takes just 3 seconds to load will have a 40% bounce rate. Yes, it’s crazy, because is 3 seconds really that long? Unfortunately, it makes no difference if I or you don’t think 4 seconds is that bad, it’s what Google thinks and what your visitors think.
Speeding up your website requires a combination of good code, good hosting, and a bunch of on-page optimisation techniques. Some optimisation techniques are simple to do whilst others are more complex. I’ll list some of the things you can do below, although you may need to hire a web developer if you’re not comfortable with some of the optimisation methods.
1. An easy one to start and that’s image optimisations. You can use free tools like TinyPng to compress your images without sacrificing on image quality.
2. Enable compression. The chances are if you’re using a good hosting provider, that they have an inbuilt tool within their control panel to manage this.
3. Leverage browser caching. This is another optimisation method that can have a big impact on your users. By caching a lot of the information, when a user lands on your website, the browser doesn’t have to reload the entire contents of the page.
4. Minify CSS, HTML and JS. By optimising your code and removing spaces and other unnecessary characters, you can dramatically increase the speed at which your webpages load as there is load code for the browser to read.
5. Use a CDN. If you’re serving your website to customers internationally, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re utilising a CDN. A CDN (Content Delivery Network) are a network of servers located around the globe that distribute the load of delivering content. They hold static copies of your website and when a visitor visits your website, the data is served from the nearest location. A visitor in Australia attempting to render a webpage which has to have data sent from a server in London is going to have a much longer wait than if they had a server local to them with that data on it.
There are other techniques when it comes to speeding up your website and you’ll need to use a tool like GTMetrix or Google PageSpeed insights to see what recommendations are given for your particular site.
If you’re using WordPress as your CMS, I recommend using a plugin like WP Rocket which in a few clicks can perform a lot of the optimisations mentioned above, and more.
8. Optimise for mobile
With over 60% of Google searches coming from mobile devices, it’s imperative that your site is responsive and optimised for mobiles. The rise in traffic from mobiles has even caused Google to move towards a ‘mobile-first’ approach as of recent years.
I spoke earlier about the importance of bounce rate and due to this ‘mobile-first’ approach, it’s crucial to ensure that bounce rate doesn’t vary much between devices. By improving the usability of your website, you’re more likely to increase the time on page which can be an important indication to Google that the content matches what the user was searching for (Think of search intent as mentioned above).
When optimising your website for mobile, you’ll need to go further than just ensuring your site is responsive and look at page speed for both desktop and mobile. The speeds won’t be the same and you may need to make adjustments such as serving lower resolution images to match the device.
Backlinks are important as they promote domain authority, but having the wrong type of backlinks can negatively impact your organic performance.
The reason for this is that a lot of SEO’s focus on backlinks and purchase them which is against Google’s guidelines. These networks that sell backlinks are sites that have tons and tons of outgoing links with very few incoming. They’re often flagged as spam yet most owners aren’t aware because they’ve never ran an audit to see which websites are linking back to them.
Finding and removing these backlinks can very quickly boost your SEO visibility within search engines and it’s up to website owners to be informed they no longer want to be associated with certain links.
As mentioned above, backlinks build authority but getting the right types of links are crucial to increasing your domain authority, and your online visibility.
Depending on the type of business you operate, there are various ways of building these juice passing links. One way would be if you run an eCommerce store as you could send samples to relevant businesses within your industry in return for a review. Alternatively, you could write useful blog content for third party sites within your industry which would link back to your site.
Then there are citations, which whilst being no-follow links and don’t directly influence search results, can have an effect on your local pack results.