This post was originally published on Oct. 19, 2015, and was updated on July 31, 2019.
Location is everything on Google search engine result pages (SERPs) — the higher your site is listed, the more traffic you’re likely to get. In fact, a recent Path Interactive survey found that “75 percent of respondents either click on the first one or two results, scan page one looking for the most relevant answer to their query, or visit multiple results from page one.” When users search for a specific phrase or keyword, your site will show up based, in part, on its Google keyword ranking.
By applying some SEO best practices to your website, you can increase qualified traffic, which means more new customers.
Note: While targeting the keywords people enter into search engines to find specific products, services and other information is still an important part of an effective SEO strategy, it isn’t the only ranking factor. As Rand Fishkin, previous co-founder of Moz and CEO and co-founder of SparkToro, recently noted at MozCon 2019: “Establishing your site as an authority, and earning links from existing authorities, could have immense ranking benefits.” Improving content accuracy with comprehensive, up-to-date, correct content may also boost search rankings, Fishkin noted.
Organic vs. paid search listings
You can attract visitors to your website in a variety of ways, but taking steps to boost organic search rankings is one of the most effective tactics for getting found online.
Unlike paid search listings, which are advertisements that display in sponsored areas of the SERPs, organic search results are “free” and based on, among other things, the site’s content and how closely it matches the keywords being searched.
10 ways to improve Google keyword ranking and overall SEO
Few people click beyond the first page of search results, so if you want to be seen, you need to be among the top listings. Here’s how:
- Target relevant keywords.
- Give the page a name with a title tag.
- Entice visitors with a meta description tag.
- Add in a header (H1) tag with the target keyword.
- Include keywords in relevant, comprehensive page content.
- Make sure website navigation is clean, reliable and intuitive.
- Give search engines a guide with a sitemap.
- Optimize images.
- Build structure with internal links.
- Create valuable content to encourage backlinks.
Once search engines know your site exists, they scan your site, index the information, and analyze the content to determine how and where your website should display on the results page. If your site isn’t optimized, it won’t rank well and may end up well below your competitors.
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Each search engine has its own set of ranking criteria, but they all look at these same basic but key elements.
1. Target relevant keywords
Keywords are the specific words or phrases that someone enters into a search box on a site like Google to find information.
To help your business show up higher in the search results, it’s important to research and discover what your customers and prospects are searching for and then create content that targets those terms.
For instance, if your web page is targeting “vegan dinner recipes,” use that exact phrase naturally throughout the page.
Do not cram the page full of keywords in an attempt to manipulate search ranking — a practice known as “keyword stuffing” that Google frowns upon.
2. Give the page a name with a title tag
The title tag is among a number of meta tags aimed at defining an individual web page’s subject matter or target keyword.
As Google and other search engines crawl a site, these vital tags clue them into what visitors will see when they visit the website. Thus, the meta tags help search engines determine the relevancy of the site for search ranking.
The title tag provides a brief summary of what people can expect from the page. It displays in a few important places, including as the title for a business listing in search engine results.
For example, the title tag for the Rachel Cho Floral Design home page — “Rachel Cho Floral Design | Best Wedding Florist NYC” — displays at the top of the business’s listing on the Google search engine results page.
If you target a specific audience or location, consider including that in the title tag, like “best wedding florist NYC.”
It helps if each page on your site contains a unique title, but keep it concise — less than 65 characters, including spaces.
3. Entice visitors with a meta description tag
The meta description tag displays below your website’s link in search results. It’s the blurb that will, if written well, entice people to visit your site.
Every page on your site should include a unique meta description using the keyword for that page.
Keep your meta description tags less than 150 characters and avoid non-alphanumeric characters.
Pro tip: If you have a WordPress website, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to help measure the effectiveness of your meta description. Yoast will alert you if you’ve exceeded the displayable character count.
4. Add in a header (H1) tag with the target keyword
Think of the header tag like the headline on a newspaper story. It tells readers at a glance what’s on the page to read or view. The header (H1) tag is generally the largest or most prominent text on a web page.
While the header tag doesn’t display in the search results, it’s still important to keep it brief (no longer than a short sentence). Be sure to include the page’s target keyword in the H1 tag.
In the example below, the H1 tag is “BESPOKE FLORAL DECOR” to correspond with the most prominent text on the web page.
5. Include keywords in relevant, comprehensive page content
Your website’s content, including text and images, is a driving force for improved organic search rankings. Forbes notes that longer content tends to perform better than shorter content, with pages having 1,000 words or more performing best.
Wikipedia is an excellent example of this concept. When you visit the Wikipedia Steve Jobs page you only see content about Steve Jobs. Wikipedia has earned the top Google keyword ranking for the term “Steve Jobs.”
6. Make sure website navigation is clean, reliable and intuitive
Website navigation refers to all the links on your site and how visitors navigate from page to page.
Is your navigation built in a code base search engines can read? It is best to utilize HTML and CSS.
Is every page you want indexed linked through your navigation? If not, you have orphan pages. And if these pages are not important enough for you to funnel traffic to through your navigation, the search engines will rarely rank those pages.
Ensure all the URLs in your navigation are valid. A broken link is like hitting a brick wall, so be sure to check your links regularly.
7. Give search engines a guide with a sitemap
A sitemap is essentially a map or directory of all the pages on your website.
Sitemaps guide search engines throughout your site with the names and locations of pages.
They can speed up indexing and, in some cases, increase site traffic by indexing previously buried pages.
There are two types of sitemaps:
- HTML sitemap
- XML sitemap
An HTML sitemap is typically linked from the footer. It is a web page that users can visit to see all the important pages on your site.
An XML sitemap is really only for search engines. This type of sitemap has a specific protocol and code requirements.
8. Optimize images
Images help break up the text and add visual interest to web pages. In general, you’ll want to include an image on each page every 300 to 400 words.
Apply these three critical components for image optimization to increase your search rankings and help you gain traffic:
Include the page’s target keyword in the image file name
For example, if you own a pet supplies company called Fluffy Fido and one of the pages on your website is targeting the keywords “organic dog treats,” the hero image file name might be: fluffy-fido-organic-dog-treats.jpg.
Always use lowercase letters and separate each word with a hyphen.
Use the Image ALT Text tag with the page’s target keyword
This “alt description” is an HTML attribute applied to image tags to provide a text alternative for search engines. Because search engines can’t see images the way we do, they depend on various attributes to appropriately catalog and index the image.
For instance, the Image ALT Text for the image named “fluffy-fido-organic-dog-treats.jpg” would be Fluffy Fido Organic Dog Treats.
Each word is capitalized and separated with a space.
Ensure that the text surrounding the image echoes the image’s subject matter
The text content around each image helps the search engines understand the subject matter of the image.
If you use “fluffy-fido-organic-dog-treats.jpg” as the image file name with the corresponding Image ALT tag, and the page’s text content focuses on your business’s organic dog treats, Google and other search engines can safely assume the image is a picture of organic dog treats or should at least be associated with that term.
Pro tip: Optimizing your images so the file size is smaller and the image loads faster can also help your search rankings and keep you from losing your audience due to slow page load speed.
9. Build structure with internal links
Inbound links are a big factor in how search engines rank your site. There are two types: internal links and backlinks.
An internal link is simply creating a link from a keyword / keyphrase or sentence on one page of your website to another page on your website.
For example, the sentence “Find notary services near you” could be linked to the list of office locations on your website.
10. Create valuable content to encourage backlinks
Backlinks are links from other websites that point to your site. Search engines weigh these more heavily when determining your rank.
Unfortunately, backlinks are more difficult to get.
One of the surest ways to get more backlinks to your website is by producing valuable content your audience is seeking and then promoting that content throughout your social media network. This is not a quick and painless tactic, but it is the safest and it is proven.
Take the time to write valuable content and be active on social media platforms that make sense for your business.
See you at the top
Search engine optimization can have a big impact on the success of your business. Use these tips and SEO best practices to improve your website’s Google keyword ranking.
By making the effort to tune up your website for organic search, you’ll likely see your customer base grow with your search results.