Google is the world’s most popular search engine with over 86% of the market share. Just behind that is YouTube, which coincidentally is also the property of Google. But, why does this matter to you?
According to experts, the number one Google search result accumulates as much as 33% of that search traffic. The next nine results fall off of a cliff by comparison, with the second bringing in 18%, the third at 11%, while traffic continues to fall to virtually nothing after the tenth rank.
As a business owner, this spells doom for your online marketing if you don’t know how to get your rankings in gear fast. Fortunately, those who came before you cracked the secrets of helping your website perform better and rank higher, so that you, too, can learn how to improve your Google rankings without getting penalized.
It may not be exactly what you want to hear, but no one knows the exact formula for how Google ranks every website. If there were Google ranking hacks or tricks on how to rank higher on Google, everyone would already be doing exactly that.
What we do know is that Google uses an extremely sophisticated algorithm to filter through the overwhelming amount of data on the web and rank it accordingly. What’s more, Google is making changes to improve that algorithm for their goals almost every single day of the year.
We can, however, approximate how to improve our rankings by considering Google’s mission statement: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and usable.” From this, we can begin to extrapolate Google’s intention to find and highlight the most reliable data that is accurate, verified, and easy to use.
For marketing experts, it becomes much easier to determine what we then can do to start improving the quality of a website in the eyes of the algorithm. In addition to this, resources exist that can help you stay up to date with every change Google pushes to the algorithm. Keeping up to date with what’s happening can make the process of understanding and fixing issues with your website that much easier.
While our deductions may seem vague or out of reach, we are going to provide the ultimate guide for how to improve your Google rankings without getting penalized. With hard work, dedication, and a commitment to following these concepts, you can expect to see a steady, predictable rise in your website ranking over time.
Nobody has the time or patience for a website with poor load times. Pingdom states that the ideal website should take no longer than two seconds to load on any device. Any longer than this increases your bounce rate by as much as 32%. Even longer than that is a guarantee that no one is spending time learning about your brand whatsoever.
Fortunately, Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a powerful method of determining your website’s current health. This tool will score your website out of 100, with 90 to 100 being good, 50 to 89 requiring improvement, and anything less being poor. However, they won’t leave you out to dry. In addition to the score, you’ll receive comprehensive diagnostics and suggestions on how you can improve your page speeds.
It is worth your time to diagnose your webpage and address each item that fails the audit. Red items are critical errors that you must address immediately, while yellow errors may not be as imperative. Nevertheless, if you’re pursuing the number one ranking, it is in your best interest to correct these issues or recruit a developer that is capable of optimizing your web pages for improved speed.
Failure to improve your loading times provides a miserable browsing experience and fails to meet Google’s goal of making important data easily accessible. It also provides a very poor first impression of your products or services by neglecting to optimize your user experience first.
Your website will not perform well in 2021 or beyond if you provide your users with a less-than-satisfactory mobile browsing experience. This is because as much as 55% of all web traffic now comes from a mobile device. More people are on the go and operating remotely than ever, often using cellular devices, tablets, and mini-laptops that feature a unique browsing experience that’s separate from your desktop one.
You also must consider that the traffic coming from these devices relies on slower, cellular data connections. While 5G transmissions are an improvement, most are still stuck using 4G, with both being vastly inferior to a LAN or even Wi-Fi connection. However, your audience will still play by the page speed rules described above regardless of what device they are using to browse.
Fortunately, Google also provides us with an easy-to-use tool to test our websites to help improve browsing for all. While this tool provides a fairly general audit, you can also input your domain into Google Search Console to get a more in-depth mobile accessibility report.
While many mainstream website builders like WordPress provide ready-to-go, mobile-optimized templates, there are several things you can easily do to improve your mobile experience.
First, be sure to follow our first tip by prioritizing your page loading speeds above all else. The type of content on the page will ultimately prove inconsequential if users bounce from the site before it has a chance to load. Correcting issues with your script, compressing image sizes, and maintaining a simple layout will both improve your speed and lend your website to a better mobile experience.
Also, look into whether or not your website builder allows for a customized version of your mobile site as opposed to the desktop experience. With this, you may be able to provide a more elaborate desktop experience, while choosing to keep things simple and clean for your mobile visitors. You can and should also increase font and button sizes on the mobile version for improved accessibility.
For those savvier with CSS and HTML, we also recommend setting media queries for your website. This essentially tells the browser to check what type of device is being used and loads a customized style sheet made specifically for that device. This will ensure that the website does not attempt to load any unwanted elements that will hinder the browsing experience.
Finally, avoid using Flash at all costs. It is generally regarded as outdated technology that does little more than add unnecessary load times to your website.
There once was a time where individuals used strategies known as “Black-Hat SEO” to take advantage of Google’s algorithm and force websites to the top. However, it was only a matter of time before those strategies were crushed to improve the quality of search results for all.
For this reason (as well as many others) Google takes violation of their policies seriously and demands that every website meet its standards for quality before it can be ranked. There are two major types of penalties you may receive:
To verify if you have a penalty, be sure to visit the Google Search Console regularly. If a Google employee issues a penalty, you will receive a notification here. Also, be sure to stay up-to-date with the algorithmic changes linked above to determine if you may have violated something described in a recent change. Search Engine Journal provides us with an extensive list of the possible penalties you might incur from Google.
Many of these penalties are uncommon as they will only occur if you intentionally perform them. This can include intentional keyword stuffing, spamming either through cloaking or link-spamming, low-quality content that exists to simply fill a page or stuff keywords, manipulative outbound linking, or publishing content that violates Google policies (pornography, extreme violence, criminal activity, promoting falsified medical tips, etc.)
With that in mind, the most common type of penalty occurs as a result of backlinking. When someone links to your website from theirs, they are backlinking to you. If you link to their website, you are backlinking them. The penalty happens when one of these websites backlinks to you yet fails Google’s quality audits.
If you’re wondering why a poor-quality website would link to your website without permission, you’re not alone. This generally would occur for one of two reasons. The other website owner is using your quality domain to improve the quality of their domain.
The other cause would involve you intentionally stuffing links to your domain on as many websites as possible to improve your quality score. This used to be a common black-hat SEO technique, but this does not work any longer and will result in serious, lasting penalties for your domain.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick remedy for dealing with toxic backlinks. You will need to use Google’s Webmaster Tools to download a complete list of linked websites and manually verify each website yourself. In addition to this, you will need to contact the owner of the domain directly to request that they remove the link to your website.
In some cases, the domain owner may be polite and cooperative. However, in most cases, you can expect them to ignore your request, or worse, attempt to hold the link for ransom. In either of these cases, be sure to keep a record of your initial email request, and proceed to disavow the entire domain. You will need to submit your request and evidence in a formal Google Disavow report within Google Webmaster Tools.
Do not just send a general email to Google. Get informed regarding Google’s policies, document the penalty, keep a record of your attempts to remedy the situation, and file a formal request with all of these materials, and you can expect the issue to be resolved in several weeks.
Now that we’ve taken steps to optimize and improve our website from the backend, it’s time to start looking into what we can do to improve our quality on-page. All web searches start with the act of a user typing in specific keywords. Google then attempts to take that query and yield the most valuable results possible.
Knowing this, we can also know that efforts to improve our own Google ranking involve making use of those keywords. It’s essential to research to determine what keywords users are already using to find our website as well keywords we could be using that are immediately relevant to the industry. You can do this by taking advantage of popular SEO tools like Moz, Semrush, or Ahrefs.
You’ll be able to track your current position for each keyword, the search volume for that keyword overall, and the amount of traffic your website receives as a result of that keyword search. It’s equally important to use the data to determine how your closest competitors rank for those same keywords.
Depending on how stiff the competition is for certain keywords or phrases, you may wish to adjust your strategy to pursue more viable options. For keywords that you are already ranking highly for, you will want to continue reinforcing the traffic gained from those as they’ve already proven reliable.
You can improve your keyword rankings by creating relevant, well-researched content centered around specific terms. For example, a landscaping company might try to rank for “lawn maintenance” by creating the article “10 Must-Know Tips for Better Lawn Maintenance.” A great way to look for topics is by looking for questions that auto-fill in Google searches as well in as the “People Also Ask…” section.
You can also naturally include the keyword on your site by placing it when appropriate in your metadata or alt tags for images. However, remember that “keyword stuffing” will result in a penalty. Be sure to use the keyword naturally and whenever appropriate.
Finally, coordinate with your other marketing efforts to promote your new posts and help them gain additional traffic. Google not only looks at the keyword usage but also views traffic and engagement with the content in question. The best strategy for improving this is by ensuring your content is of high quality, links to other authoritative sources, and answers the user’s pressing questions concisely and clearly.
Link building is an effective strategy for improving SEO, and therefore your Google rank. The idea is for you to get as many high-quality websites to link back to your domain as possible. By providing a consistent flow of valuable content and services, you make your website link-worthy without ever needing to ask for it. When starting, however, you’ll need to make connections directly.
However, you must avoid the temptation to utilize older strategies such as submitting your domain to web directories or overusing links on other domains that may not be considered valuable. This is due to a major algorithmic change known as Penguin, which specifically targets and penalizes SEO specialists that abuse link-building strategies for superior rankings.
With that in mind, you can still implement a link-building strategy by forging connections with other reputable sites or blogs. Reach out to these individuals or teams, allow them to learn about your brand, products, or services, and allow your value to speak for itself. You can also bolster your value by continuing to present yourself as an authority with well-researched content that these website owners will want to share and reference in their content.
This can be one of the most difficult strategies to implement as you must earn high-quality links by providing something worthy of linking to in the first place. If you can build these relationships, it’s undeniable that links from trusted websites will improve your Google rank. If you discover opportunities, reach out to the webmaster, remain professional in your pitch, and do your best to learn from the interaction if they decline your offer.
Continuing from the subject of link-building, consider revisiting the content that already exists on your website. You should always be looking for opportunities to revise or improve content related to your brand and ensure that it is always up-to-date. Likewise, your blog articles may now feature outdated information, or worse, lack any substantial data altogether.
When creating content for your site, consider the information you want to see and the content Google prioritizes and places in the number one ranking. This information is always extremely concise, generally easy to understand regardless of education, and is supported by personal or scholarly research. The content is rich with examples, actionable data that people can use immediately, and links to sources that you can trust and support the on-page material.
Look through your past content and look for opportunities to build up and support what you’ve already written. If you need to research the topic before featuring it, include the sources used whenever appropriate for the reader to see. If you are an expert yourself, ensure that your website features your licenses or qualifications in places that are easy for the user to view and verify.
Authoritative content speaks for itself and is the type of content that is most likely to be shared and linked. By providing Google with what it needs to answer user questions, you will rank higher for those keywords and improve the authority of your website overall.
On-page SEO is the art of optimizing your website and its content for search engines and web crawlers. You may be able to write excellent content with valuable information, but it will mean very little if Google is unable to determine what your website is all about.
That isn’t to say that the bulk of your content is unimportant. Google will still identify valuable keywords used correctly throughout the article. However, organizing the content and wrapping it into the appropriate headings makes it that much easier for Google to be confident about what is on the page.
If you view this article you are reading as an example, notice that we identify it with a title tag, H1 header tags to group major topics, and H2 tags for concepts within that topic. H3 and H4 headers also exist to illustrate the flow of your content from most to least significant. Search engines and web crawlers can immediately identify those tags and understand the content on-page immediately.
Outside of the article itself, you should always have an SEO widget available depending on the website builder or text editor you are using. This widget will allow you to customize things such as title tag, meta description, and URL. You should always customize this information and follow these basic rules for the best results:
Title tags should always be somewhere between 50-60 characters. It should include the topic of the page, important keywords, and branding. An example of this might look like this:
In the title tag, we take the opportunity to brand our article as we do for every piece of content we publish. We use a separator to distinguish the branding from the title. Google can see the exact topic title, which also happens to include the keyword phrase “Google Ranking.” You may wish to include your entire topic title, but this is not always possible as it can go over the recommended character limit. When viewing your article in a search engine result, you want to see everything on one line and avoid any cut-offs or ellipses.
Meta descriptions are the short snippet you see below a search result. You should keep these around 120 to 150 characters and succinctly summarize the content. Be sure to use your primary keyword and include a call-to-action such as “Learn how your brand can become number one.” Be sure to use active voice, avoid misleading terms, and attempt to explain the value of your content in as few words as possible.
The URL of each page on your website is also important for improving your SEO. A URL should be succinct, contain a primary keyword, be free of stop words, and use hyphens to separate words. It’s also ideal to keep your URL structure uniform throughout your entire website.
Here’s an example of a solid URL structure:
This contains our domain, the category of the page (blog post), and a string that tells us exactly what the content contains. We omitted certain words to keep the URL succinct without losing the meaning of the topic. It also contains our primary keyword “Google rankings.” Be sure to follow this format for every new page you publish on your site.
High-quality images improve the quality of your website in several ways. Great images will support the written content by attracting the reader’s attention, serving as visual examples, and providing a necessary break from long stretches of text. Pages with images demonstrate a far greater retention rate than those without.
You can also improve your accessibility and SEO by ensuring that each image features an alt tag. This text is meant to describe what is being shown in the image if the user cannot see the image from their side. That alt description is also another opportunity to tell search engines and crawlers about the content on the page with a short, accurate description that features your primary keyword. Google strongly values the use of alt tags in all circumstances.
However, be certain that your images are properly compressed and do not negatively affect your load times as we discussed above.
Linking one page back to other relevant pages on your website can also boost your SEO. It’s a highly effective practice to categorize your pages and posts, and also include subcategories whenever necessary. Not only does this make it easier for users to navigate your site, but it also makes it easier for search engines and web crawlers, too.
A page should include internal links back to the main category page as well as the home page. Most website owners easily achieve the latter by ensuring that the header contains a link back to the home page through the brand logo as well as the main navigation bar. You can set your header to always be visible on every page. This creates a nice sitemap and layout that’s easy to follow.
This last one focuses more on encouraging engagement, which will also help to boost your website’s value. Every single page of your website should contain some type of CTA. Your goal as a business is to generate leads and each page should be encouraging the user to engage with your brand in one way or another.
What you should do is avoid generalized CTA’s. Many website owners make the mistake of copy-pasting a basic “Learn More” button throughout every page of the website. However, this fails to take advantage of the unique content that’s presented throughout the website. Different users may click through to learn more about specific services and your CTA’s should reflect their journey in ultimately purchasing that service.
For example, if your page has a short form for the user to fill out in exchange for a free ebook, do not write something plain like “Sign Up” Instead, try “Sign Up Today for Your Exclusive, Free Guide!” The latter encourages a user that might be on the fence to take action now. It also accentuates the value by declaring that the ebook is an exclusive item for those who participate and it is also entirely free. While it won’t convince everyone, many users will take the plunge and give up a few personal details in exchange for a free reward.
A Call-to-Action serves as a reminder for the person on the page to do what you want them to do. If you want them to purchase your product, make sure you have plenty of CTA’s that provide them with the opportunity to do so. If you’re running a special offer or promotion, don’t hesitate to remind them of the available value. You might be benefitting from the sale, but you are also helping them to help themself by taking advantage of the deal.
Carefully crafted CTA’s are proven to help drive engagement throughout your site and give you the results you need. When more users engage, they spend more time on your website, which makes Google see your domain as valuable and worth recommending to new users.
An XML Sitemap is a blueprint that you create to assist search engines and web crawlers with reading and indexing your website pages. It’s uncertain how big of an impact creating a sitemap has, but on your quest to rank one, you need to take advantage of every available tool.
A sitemap may become increasingly important as your website expands in length. A basic five-page website will likely be trivial for web crawlers to navigate, but a 100-page website may prove more complicated. It also becomes increasingly important to distinguish your most important pages from less consequential ones as your site expands.
A variety of tools exist to help you quickly build sitemaps such as Google XML Sitemaps and Yoast. Not only will it automatically create your sitemap, but it will also show you what pages on your website are valid and which may have issues worth addressing. Common issues can include duplicated content or URLs. Though it is more of an advanced issue, there may be situations in which you need to exclude a page from the sitemap entirely. Doing so will help web crawlers better understand your site and help you avoid penalties for duplicate or low-quality content.
Updating your sitemap regularly can also assist in improving your SEO faster. It can take weeks to see positive results from website changes be reflected in your SEO score. By updating your sitemap and crawling your site with Google Search Console, Google sees the updates to your site sooner. This can potentially help you reap your rewards and climb in the ranks faster than the competition.
Directory listings are not directly involved with your website, but they do have an impact on your domain’s value. Directory listings are websites that compile a list of businesses by the industry for your local area. Examples of these include Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and Yellow Pages.
Search engine crawlers are constantly cross-examining data about any given subject they find online. This means that any data related to your business must be consistent and accurate throughout the internet. The more sources that feature accurate data regarding your business, the more trust Google places in your domain.
With this in mind, it is in your best interest to sign up for every directory listing available to you and ensure that your business profile is up-to-date. This includes providing a primary business telephone, email, business hours, address, a business summary, a list of products and services, and images of your location. There are also tools available online that allow you to create one business profile and publish it across all directory listings available simultaneously.
Not only can directory listings provide a boost to your SEO and Google ranking, but it also provides additional discoverability for your brand. Many users often defer to listings to find businesses that cater to their interests without ever actually clicking on a website. Do yourself the favor of completing your listings to not only help your rankings but help a potential new audience discover you today.
Social media may not provide a one-to-one benefit for your SEO and Google rankings, but its role in your marketing strategy should not be understated. Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram serve to bolster brand awareness. Not only can you regularly distribute “micro-content” to your audience, but you can use your social media following to direct traffic to your website pages.
For example, you can coordinate your social media marketing with your content marketing efforts to promote your new article to an audience. Not only can users discover your article through a Google search, but new audiences are also now seeing that page promoted directly on their timeline. This can increase your flow of organic traffic, which, in turn, will improve your SEO and domain value.
In addition to this, a well-optimized social profile may also rank on Google for certain keywords relevant to your industry. Even if a user discovers your social profile first, your posting strategy will direct these new audience members to your website in the long run. Social profiles are also proven to do a better job of building a sense of trust between the consumer and the brand.
Research each social platform and determine which contain audiences that may be most receptive to your brand and industry. Ensure that your profile contains all of your relevant business information, not unlike a directory listing. Then, be sure to remain engaged with your audience by posting regularly, replying to user comments, concerns, and suggestions, and sharing your content with those who want to see it.
While we may never solve Google’s search algorithm, employing these practices will put you on the same playing field as your top-ranked competitors. We guarantee that if you follow these tips and suggestions correctly, you are guaranteed to improve your Google ranking.
However, it is important to note that no business ever saw a surge in rankings overnight. SEO is a long-term marketing strategy and a necessary one if you want your brand to gain awareness online. Improving your ranking requires a dedicated plan and relentless commitment toward improvement. You should never look at the work on your website as done but always look for opportunities to improve.
This also includes keeping an eye on your competitors to see what types of content garner attention for them. Study and observe what works and make an effort to create similar content that capitalizes on the unique benefits that only your brand can offer.
Finally, be sure to use the link we provided to keep up-to-date with the latest Google algorithm changes to ensure your website complies with Google’s expectations. With your newfound knowledge and strategy, you can avoid those pesky penalties and watch your Google rankings climb in a steady, predictable manner.