This post started as a quick guide for a client and turned into a much longer explanation and even I had originally thought. I thought I would share this as a blog post so more people could benefit from the information.
WARNING: please be advised that this is just advice based on information available right now. SEO is a moving target and things change rapidly in this industry. I will try to keep this guide updated as best as possible but there may be information that is out of date. Act accordingly.
This is a long guide. If you are really interested in learning how to rank in the first place or page of Google, go grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the read.
As I mentioned, this post stemmed from a question that a new client had asked me not too long ago. I always keep my clients close when I work, teaching them as much as their are willing to learn and telling them the rest so they can at least follow along and stay in the know. However, this was the first time that a client has ever asked me how to be number one on Google.
This business was actually interested in learning SEO. I started to write a quick email that an hour later turned into thousands of words. Instead of simply hitting the send button, I thought I would share it here, for anyone else wondering how to be number one on Google (or even to break onto the first page).
Choose the right keywords
I stress this over and over again when starting any project. The keywords you choose in the beginning will lay the foundation for the entire SEO initiative. Make sure you do proper keyword research to identify what your potential customers are searching for online and how they are finding your products and services. Knowing whether or not a certain set of keywords will convert into paying customers can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
For example, if you are a local real estate agent serving a specific city (lets assume Halifax), then although your website would get a lot of traffic if you ranked on the first page of Google for the term, “real estate,” it would be very time-consuming and expensive process to get that rank, AND that traffic would not convert nearly as well as a keyword such as “Halifax real estate agent(s).” The latter is also much easier to rank for.
Produce awesome content
The term content is king simply won’t die. That’s because no matter what changes occur in the search engine optimization world, the statement always remains true. Great content will drive traffic to your site, brand you as an expert and leader, and build a community of customers, potential customers, and fans. Give Google a reason to rank your website number one by providing the best content that solves the searchers query, and give your visitor a reason to return and link back.
How do you create and generate excellent content on an ongoing basis? Good question. The short answer is blog. Blog posts and articles are an excellent way to generate new content for a website. It is also very important to describe and write about your products and services rather than simply listing them. Tell your audience about them and why they are so great. Convince them with content. Be creative.
Content doesn’t have to stop at the written word either. Think about doing some product demo videos, or tutorial videos for your products and services, or speak to your audience via pod casts and videos every now and then. Not only will this help create a better community and put a face to your website, it will attract a lot more attention from the search engines.
On-site optimization simply refers to the things that a webmaster or website owner can control on their website. It includes a variety of aspects such as programming, page hierarchy, meta information, and much more. Here are some of the things you can do right away that will increase your chances of ranking in the first place on Google:
The title of your page should tell a searcher (and the search engine) what the page is about. Far too often business websites simply have the name of their business as the title for every page. This doesn’t help the searcher looking through the results the same as it doesn’t help Google rank the page properly.
Make sure that you put in a proper title (ideally one that includes the keyword or term you are trying to rank it for) in between the “< title >” “< / title >” tags. This is what typically will show up as the title when a searcher sees this page in the search engines.
Meta descriptions are also very important for ranking on the first page of Google for your particular keywords. This is a part of the meta data that should be unique for every page. Instead of using a text-book business description for every page (which again, far too many businesses do) write a short summary of what the page is about, naturally including your keywords and terms you are looking to rank for.
The meta-description is the block of text that gets displayed in the search results under the title of your website. The great thing about this, is that you can also optimize it and test it for click through. If your website is ranked #1 for a particular term and you are getting less traffic than you had originally thought, it could be because the #2 and/or #3 ranked sites have very compelling meta-descriptions that are making searchers skip your site and click through to theirs. Consider making yours more appealing.
While we’re on the topic of meta-data. Meta-keywords are dead and here’s why. Don’t let an SEO tell you that the key to ranking is in the meta-keywords tag. They are stuck in the 90s.
A permalink is the exact URL of a page. The permalink of this page for example is “http://www.adambate.net/how-to-be-number-one-on-google/.” It is important to pay attention to what your permalinks are showing for a couple reasons. Many content management systems have ugly default settings, such as www.domain.com/?pageid=4 – this tells nothing to the visitor about what this page is about, nor is it any help to search engines.
If you run WordPress, you can change your permalink structure under “Settings” > “Permalinks.” I like to include the keyword in the permalink if at all possible, but it is not the end of the world if it can’t be in there. Just make sure it is something that makes sense to both the user and the search engines.
I touched on internal linking and the one small change you can make to increase your Google ranking in this post here. Along with optimizing your logo alt tag, it talks about the importance of internal links.
Linking between pages in the body of the content is especially important for pages that do not appear on your site-wide navigation (such as most blog posts). It is a great way to make sure search engines are realizing the importance of these posts and that visitors have a chance to find them.
Keyword placement in content
Although this sounds pretty straight forward, it can be quite difficult to get right and everyone has a different opinion on it. How many times should the keyword occur? How many times is too many? Should it be bolded? etc. Make sure that the keyword appears naturally in your copy – trying to force the keyword into the page is obvious and awkward.
An old industry standard is no more than 2% keyword to content ratio. Personally, I think as long as it’s in the title, and appears naturally in the copy then you’re fine. That said, it is important to have your keyword within the text – after all, you are optimizing this page for this particular keyword because it is supposed to be directly related.
Domain and Page Authority
This is a hard one for most people to wrap their heads around. Although Google ranks pages, not domains, the authority of the root level domain is an important factor for rankings pages within it. There are two major types of authority when it comes to SEO – link authority and social authority. Link authority is essentially how many links your domain receives and where those links come from (the higher the authority of the sites linking to you the better).
Page Rank is a good indication of the level of authority your domain has. That said, page rank itself isn’t an indication of whether or not your website can rank for a particular keyword. Page rank is the link algorithm that Google designed (also named after Google founder Larry Page) to assign a numerical weight to interlinked sites (read: the entire Internet).
In a nut shell, the more links your website receives the better it typically is at ranking content, as Google has a bit more trust for the site.
Social Authority and Social Proof
The second type of authority I mentioned above was social authority. This is something fairly new that is still receiving some debate and testing. Essentially, with social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and more importantly, Google+ (more importantly for ranking within Google anyway, in my opinion), you can identify websites that you own and operate. Google can also crawl these social networks to find out how many followers or fans you have, or how many circles you are in.
It’s this social authority that can essentially be lent to websites to help them rank. Adding them to your G+ profile (with the rel=”me”) and adding a rel=”author” from within the site is a great way to boost your website with your social credibility. I will touch on this in a lot more detail in another post as I think it is going to be increasingly important in the future.
Social proof is a little different in that it is more the measure of how often or how many times a particular piece of content gets shared, etc. If you have an awesome piece of content on your website that has thousands of Facebook likes, tweets, and +1s then Google will realize it is probably an important piece of content.
Inbound links & anchor text
I touched on the importance of inbound links when dealing with domain authority, however it is important to recognize that each article, blog post, or page within your website can also receive links. These links will also help each page rank for the terms they are optimized for.
Another important thing to know is that the anchor text of the link – or the text within the “< a >” “< /a >” tags is what Google associates with the linked-to website. So if someone links to your website about field hockey with the term “field hockey”, that’s much more beneficial than using the term “click here” or “this website.”
Note: there are a lot of interesting things going on with anchor text. Google recently made some fairly large changes to how it handles anchor text interpretation in March, 2012, which included an over-optimization anchor text penalty, and the weight of importance of surrounding text to the link.
Bottom line, try to get well anchored links, but if you are building your own links in high volume, make sure to vary the anchor text – a lot more than what was previously recommended – as it is very unnatural that 80%+ of a website’s links come in the form of “field hockey,” for example.
Common sense, hard work, and a lot of testing
Common sense plays a large role in learning how to be number one on Google. Do not spam your website – neither by stuffing keywords or by building spamming back links, and do not violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Things like this will all come back to haunt you later. Search engine optimization takes a lot of hard work. Things will not always work out the way we wanted them to. You need to be able to understand why, isolate what is working and what is not, and fix the ones that are not.
So again, there is no secret as to how to be number one on Google, but hopefully these things can get you started in the right direction.
Thoughts or opinions? I would love to hear from you in the comments.