5 steps: How to rank for keywords in Google (for fun & profit!)
Posted by Luci Wood on February 8, 2018
Five steps to help you rank for that major keyword in Google
Driving organic web traffic via just one or two primary keywords is sometimes a vital strategy for major online market-placed websites.
Even websites that don’t drive their income via online sales can have one or two keywords where securing prominent visibility is essential to their survival with advertisers.
In some cases, the commercial success of a business can rely heavily on one or two really powerful keywords.
Whether it’s for the purposes of vanity, branding or commercialisation, obtaining a strong ranking for that “head” keyword in organic search engine results pages (SERPs) can be a key business concern. Investing the digital marketing team’s time and resource into optimising for those keywords will therefore form the cornerstone of their digital marketing strategy.
Owning the SERP real estate
With such a powerful keyword, owning the SERP real estate for your search query is important. This could include having prominent positions in paid search, Shopping carousels (if relevant), as well as having placement in Google’s SERP features such as Featured Snippets, or “People Also Ask” boxes. More aggressive techniques include ‘moating’ with content sitting on third party or owned alternative domains that leads back to your brand with the second click (via a call to action).
Just as important as the other SERP features/positions, however, is securing prominence in the organic or natural search listings which users will seek out ahead of paid search and place a higher level of trust in. Any online sales-driven company should derive a good proportion of its traffic through organic acquisition (anecdotally, our experience is that this can be as much as 60-70% for SEO-mature companies).
Optimising for one head keyword query is something Blue Array has helped clients with in the past. That being the case, in the post we’ll lay out five initial steps to ranking for your chosen keyword in organic search, based on our experience.
There are three caveats to consider however:
- Firstly; there is a downside to focusing all of your SEO efforts on one keyword only. If you want to rank purely for vanity purposes for a keyword that doesn’t, in reality, actually deliver commercial success, you may suffer from a strategy that neglects a wider periphery of traffic. Obviously you can take advice in this article as a general guide to apply to your SEO strategy.
- Secondly; there are many different methods to successfully optimise for a particular keyword, and Google is looking at many signals (200 or more) meaning your SEO strategy will exceed the confines of these 5 steps. They should however at least give you a strong framework to work with.
- Thirdly; I’m going to leave out the crucial, but obvious: ‘selecting your keyword’ part of this process. This part has greater importance than many realise. Picking the correct keyword to rank for is actually the most important part of the whole process, but we’re going to assume at this point you’ve already highlighted the commercially or “brand-worthy” keyword for which ranking at number one is of primary importance. Ultimately, this should be a keyword that is suitable to your website, brand, and for which you have a realistic chance of ranking for (being right sized about this often needs an SEO professional to help assess).
That being said, let me give the outline of the strategy…
How to rank for your chosen keyword in 5 steps:
- Choose a relevant URL (or create a new URL, for longer-term SEO considerations (e.g to help CTR)
- Ensure you’re linking from appropriate, authoritative internal pages & anchor text
- Make use of data as well as written content, to give users the most appropriately packaged version of what they’re looking for
- Consider user intent when creating your content (defining the purpose of your keyword)
- Build external links to your chosen URL
1. Choosing the right URL
It’s important that you use your site’s Information Architecture (IA) to identify the correct URL to rank for your important keyword.
You’re going to invest significant resource and energy into gaining visibility for this term, so it’s vital that your efforts are channelled in the right direction from the start.
Start by seeing what URL on your website (if any) currently ranks for that term. Use the site: advanced search operator in a Google search to do this, i.e. “site:yourdomain.com + keyword”, with the keyword appended after your domain (with a space).
Once you make the site: operator search you’ll be able to identify which URL on your website Google’s algorithm considers the most relevant and authoritative for that particular query.
After conducting the search you should see a set of results like this:
From the results above, using the Blue Array website and the keyword “how to rank for keywords” as an example, we can see that five articles under the /news/ directory appear in the SERPs, including articles about the Google Venice update, Featured Snippets, RankBrain, backlink analysis and voice search.
We need to consider if it’s worth trying to optimise one of these URLs to rank for the term, or whether it would be advantageous to choose a new URL and create fresh content.
The benefit of using a URL that already ranks for the query is that some relevance and authority had already been established on that page. If your business is focussed solely on one head keyword, optimising a page on the website that already has strong authority (such as the homepage (often the most linked to page from third parties)) will give the keyword a better chance of ranking, as well as making it central to the brand.
If your business offers a variety of products or services and you don’t want to jeopardize visibility for those terms, optimising one key landing page on the website might not be appropriate for you. Whether making these changes to the homepage or another powerful URL on the website, you’d be making modifications to content which perhaps already ranks really well for other useful queries, just for the sake of hijacking existent Page Rank. This could have a negative impact on overall organic traffic.
2. Ensure you link from appropriate internal pages that are already relevant.
As well as adding links from the URLs that we’ve already established have some authority and relevance for the chosen keyword (using the site: operator search), you should also link from other important URLs within our site hierarchy, using appropriate anchor text (particularly the chosen keyword). Inline links will be most effective here (as opposed to navigational links).
This is likely to include key landing pages and URLs which may have a greater level of authority on the website such as the homepage, /news/ and URLs that contain semantically similar content (if there are any in addition to the ones listed by Google).
3. Can you use data instead of words?
Marcus Tober (of Search Metrics) gave a talk at last year’s BrightonSEO (April 2017) where he suggested that most of your content strategy should be driven by data. That includes making use of data for keyword research, but also using data instead of written content to rank for the keyword or query (where relevant.) For example, you can clean up and package data that your company may already has access to, and present it on your website.
Tober emphasised here the importance of making any such content as user-friendly as possible, and specific to the industry you’re targeting.
Furthermore, different queries, which cater for different industries, each have their own unique ranking factors. For example, within the finance sector, half of all ranking URLs use the https:// protocol; more than in any other industry (accurate as of April 2017, data part of SearchMetrics survey).
If a query can be satisfied by a table of results, and your company has access to suitable data that can be easily packaged and repurposed (ideally in an attractive format), then this is often a better option for increasing usability.
As an example, the query ‘average London house prices’ might provide data more clearly to a user within a table of results, rather than through 1,000 words of written copy.
4. Consider user intent above and beyond simple keyword categorisation into commercial/informational:
There was a great Tweet by Justin Briggs recently about user intent in regard to ranking for specific keywords.
The difference behind a pair of queries can be as minor a change as one character. That change, however, is sometimes enough to create a completely different meaning for the query.
Take, for example, ‘charity job’ and ‘charity’s job’. In the first version, sans apostrophe, the user’s intention is likely to be to search for a job in the charity sector. In the apostrophe-included version, the user’s intention is to question the purpose of Charity.
When it comes to minor character changes, such as hyphens, Google doesn’t have a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it sees words with hyphen variations as reciprocal synonyms, and sometimes as completely different words.
The reason Google continues to make incremental adjustments to its algorithm, even for historically stable SERPs, Briggs asserted, is due to its attempts to improve the way Google serves a user’s intent.
The fact Google continues to change its SERPs suggests they haven’t quite adequately solved the issue. This is evidenced, to some degree, with Danny Sullivan’s recent re-introduction to Google’s Featured Snippets blog post, a feature Google has faced criticism over more than once in recent history. More often Google is turning to humans to flag and remove inaccurate results in the SERPs. It could be argued that, ideally, its own algorithms should be able to determine what is factually and contextually correct.
So when optimising content for particular keywords, there’s a distinction between including the keyword phrase in your content, and aligning your content with the intent of the person using that keyword. Creating content with user intent at the forefront of your mind is crucial, not just for ranking for that keyword and your website’s SEO, but also to ensure you increase enquiries and/or sales:
This is not only important for new page types, but if you’re seeing softness or the gradual erosion of traffic on historically well-performing page types, it may be an intent alignment issue. Targeting & authority are increasingly losing to searcher intent. 3/3
— Justin Briggs (@justinrbriggs) January 30, 2018
— Justin Briggs (@justinrbriggs) January 30, 2018
How well does Google understand the content on your page? In theory it’s getting better each day, especially with heavy investment in Artificial Intelligence. Issues Google has faced around Featured Snippets and Fake News mean this is going to be one of their top priorities for the future. Making search results more accurate, and being able to return documents to users based on the perceived intention behind a keyword phrase is going to have greater weight in Google’s algorithm (and SEO) for future years.
5. External Link Building
Two of the biggest levers we have to play with when optimising websites are content and backlinks. A sustained link-building strategy for your chosen URL is therefore necessary for securing prominent SEO visibility for your chosen term.
Bear in mind that most of your existing link equity is likely pointing to your website’s homepage. For that reason it’s important that you have an inbound link pointing from the homepage to the URL identified for your main keyword (or your utilising the home page itself to rank for this query). This should help flow authority to the chosen URL (covered in step 2). Ideally, link from as many relevant pages as possible to that URL to demonstrate its importance to the search engines.
As part of link building efforts you should also try to acquire backlinks that point directly to the URL for which you’re attempting to optimise, or the landing page of the directory it sits underneath. This means that this benefit flows directly into that URL and could increase its chances to rank well.
As you can see, there are plenty of viable SEO techniques for successfully optimising for a major traffic driving keyword. As previously stated, there are many strategies other than the five outlined above. However, if you start by implementing these five successfully, your chances of ranking well in Google organic for your chosen keyword become massively increased.