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SEO: The Ultimate Guide to ranking on Google

Intro to SEO

Why SEO?

SEO is all about optimizing for the organic, non-paid section of Google's search results. It's an insanely great tool for targeting, leads and new customers - or in other words: free money.

In case you're not convinced yet, check this out:

According to Growthbadger, 60% of all website traffic is coming from Search Results
According to Growthbadger, 60% of all website traffic is coming from Search Results

With this out of the way, it should be crystal clear by now that SEO is the backbone of any online business. Let's see how it works.

How it works

When you search for something in Google or any other search engine, an algorithm works in realtime to bring you what that search engine considers to be the best results.

In order for a website to be considered, it needs to be in Google's Index.

But how does Google determine the best result in their trillions of indexed pages?

Even though Google has over 200 ranking factors, luckily you don't need to know all of them. In fact, you only need to know the most important ones:

  • Relevancy: Google looks for pages that are closely related to the keyword you entered into the search bar
  • Authority: Since there can be millions of relevant pages, Google needs more anchors to determine the best result. This is where authority comes into play. Google looks for pages that are linked to by other pages, aka backlinks. The more backlinks, the more authority.
  • Usefulness: If the content of a page is organized and easy to understand, it can trump Relevancy and Authority. Google measures the usefulness of a page by how users interact with a page. If the bounce rate is low and people spend a lot of time on the page, it's considered useful.

Find keywords

Keyword research is the process of finding keywords that customers search for. Keyword research impacts every other SEO task that you perform, so you should pay close attention to getting it right:

  • Keywords are like a compass for your SEO campaigns, and they not only influence on page SEO, but also your email outreach and content promotion strategies
  • Researching keywords also help you better understand your target audience. They give you insights into what customers are searching for, and the exact words and phrases that they use
  • Keyword research is like market research for the 21st century

How to find keywords

Let's say you have a website that sells meal plans. The intuitive but wrong approach would be to fire up a keyword generator tool like Ahrefs or Semrush and entering "meal plan", then proceed from there and pick the best results. This is no good approach, because it might be that your customers don't search for "meal plans", but for "diet plans" instead. Using keyword generator tools thus is like poking in the dark and hoping for the golden goose - a bet that you will most likely lose.

A more systematic approach is finding solid seed keywords, also known as the right keywords to type into a keyword research tool.

Develop a handful of seed keywords

First, you want to brainstorm words and phrases related to your business. You want to ask yourself:

  • What topics do people search for that are related to my business? In the "meal plan" example, it could be "workout", "diet", "nutrition", "weight loss", "muscle gain", etc.

Next up, you should find "Searches Related to" terms in Google Search. To do this, enter a keyword into the Google Search and scroll down until you hit the "Similar results" panel by Google. This way you get presented with similar keywords that people actually search for, and it's completely free on top of that!

The "Related to" section for a "meal plans" search
The "Related to" section for a "meal plans" search

You can even go a step further and follow one of the eight suggestions. That in itself will bring up another "Related to" section, and so on. This strategy is popular to detect a pattern and hence find the valuable seed keywords you're looking for.

Check out Wikipedia

Another free yet valuable strategy is to go to Wikipedia and enter a broad term related to your business. In the meal plan example, you could enter "meal" and then check the table of contents:

The table of contents for "Meal" on Wikipedia
The table of contents for "Meal" on Wikipedia

Same as with the "Related to" section, you can follow the table of contents of internal links for even more keyword ideas that are hard to find otherwise.

Use Semrush's Keyword Magic tool

Unlike other tools, Semrush's Keyword Magic tool generates smart keyword ideas. That means that even if you enter non-seed keywords, it will find related seed keywords that are not just a variation of the keyword you entered.

Browse Reddit

Another great place to find seed keywords is Reddit. Enter a broad search term in the searchbar and find Reddit posts with a lot of comments. The comments can reveal a lot of related keywords that are organic by default.

Generate keyword ideas

Now that you have a list of 5-20 seed keywords, it's time to generate keyword ideas. You can use free tools to get non-seed variations of your seed keywords, for example Semrush's Keyword Overview tool or Ahref's Keyword Generator.

Divide and conquer

Now that you have a bunch of keywords, you should narrow your focus on 5 keywords. For those you can create compelling content, and then go back to this step and tackle the next 5 keywords. This way you don't get lost in the process and can focus on the most important keywords first.

Which 5 keywords to pick?

When it comes to choosing the most promising keywords, there are 4 factors you should consider. The tools from above show all of these metrics:

  • Keyword competition: This is how hard it is to rank for the keyword on Google. Especially in the beginning, you should focus on low competition keywords with a difficulty below 30
  • Search volume: You want to target keywords that have a high monthly search volume. Depending on your industry, the minimum monthly searches you should consider can vary. For example, in B2C a monthly volume of 25k is a lot, while in B2B it's relatively low.
  • Revenue potential: Refer to the CPC (Cost-Per-Click, aka how much an advertiser is willing to spend for a single click on Google Ads). The higher the CPC, the better the revenue potential.
  • Product Keyword Fit: The closer the keyword is to what you sell, the better. That being said, it is possible that you can rank for keywords that are not directly related to your product. If you still target people from your industry, you can still convert them into customers later, let them follow you on social media or subscribe to your newsletter.

Create content

Great content is the foundation of SEO. Since the secret of SEO is having a website that people love, it goes without saying that if your content is great, people will stick around longer! Let's dive deeper into what makes awesome content, and how to create it.

Use proven content templates

Templates can speed up the content creation process by 5-10x. They also help to ensure that your content is primed to rank in Google - exactly what we want!

Let's get to know the most popular content templates:

  • Expanded list post: Unlike normal list posts, where you have a list of items with a short description, expanded list posts have a long and comprehensive description for each item. This way you can rank for more keywords and provide more value to your readers.
  • The ultimate guide: This is a complete ressource that takes a deep dive into a specific topic. This tutorial falls into that category.
  • The tools of the trade: In this type you provide a list of tools that you recommend, and is not limited to software. The tools should help people to solve a problem.

You can view more post types on Ahrefs.

Optimize your content for SEO (On-Page SEO)

To rank high on Google, you need to tell Google what your page is all about. On-Page SEO is making sure that Google can find your webpages, and having relevant content for the keywords you want to rank for.

To double check that your content is optimzed for Google, here are the top 3 tips for On-Page SEO:

  • Your title tag is key: Google says "it's important to use high-quality title text on your web pages". To get started, you want to front-load your main keyword in the title tag. For example, if you main keyword is "Meal plans", you want to use "Meal plans: The Ultimate Guide" over "The ultimate guide to meal plans".
  • Use internal linking: Make sure to inter-link your pages with each other. But don't just randomly link your pages. Instead, make it feel as natural as possible to link related pages. Breadcrumbs, Sidebars, the Navbar and the Footer are a great place for thoughtful internal links.
  • Optimze for User Experience (UX): Do not sacrifice UX for SEO. For example, when front-loading your main keyword in the title tag looks weird and can lead to user confusion, don't do it. A good UX can not only keep the bounce rate low, but also motivate other people to link to your site, hence increasing your authority.

Once you're done with these steps, we recommend that you analyze your On-Page SEO with Semrush's free SEO Writing Assistant.

Building backlinks is the most important part of SEO. In fact, it's so important that it's the #1 ranking factor for Google. In this section we'll cover the best strategies to build backlinks.

Backlinks can vary in their weight when it comes to SEO. Broadly, you should consider the following factors:

  • Authority of the linking site: The more authority a site has, the more SEO value it passes to your site. You can check the authority of a site with tools like Ahrefs Backlink Checker.
  • Relevance of the linking site: Links from sites related to yours pass more SEO value than links from sites in other industries. Links from relevant sites also show Google that your site is legit. Tools like Semrush Analytics show you the category a site falls into, so that you can see if it's relevant to your site.
  • Editorial links: A big distinction between links is whether they are editorial or not. Editorial links are placed by the site owner and indicate that your content is awesome, while non-editorial links can be placed by you, for example when you link your own website on your Facebook page. Obviously, non-editorial links don't hold nearly as much value as editorial links.

There are multiple strategies to build backlinks. Let's dive into the most popular ones:

  • Skyscraper technique: With this technique, you type your keyword into Google and pick the most popular result. Since only a great backlink profile gets you into the top results, you can assume that the page you picked has a high authority and great backlinks. Now you want to create a better version of that page, and reach out to the sites that link to the original page. Since your page is better, you have a good chance that they will link to your page instead.
  • Broken link building: First, find a page on the web that you'd like to get a link from. Then, use a tool like Check my links to find broken links on that page. Next, reach out to the person running the site, telling them about their broken links, and offer to replace these broken links with links from your site.
  • Publish original data & studies: When done right, a single case and well performed case study can get you a lot of backlinks. Bloggers and Journalists from all over the internet value interesting data they can cite, so if you have that, you might want to publish your findings on your website!
  • Unlinked brand mentions: Every now and then, people name your brand on their site, without linking to your site. In case you discover such an "Unlinked brand mention", reach out to the site owners and ask them nicely to include a link behind the brand mention.
  • Competitor analysis: Different industries have their own wrinkles. So if you really want to find out what works best for your industry, you should analyze your competitors. To do this, you can use tools like Ahrefs Backlink Checker.

Email outreach

If done right, email outreach can greatly increase your chances of getting a backlink. Make sure to actually provide value to your receipients, and not just pitch them your product or spam them with your content.

Track and Monitor

SEO is a lot of work. So it's only natural that you should validate regularly if your SEO work pays off, or if you should tweak your strategy as needed.

Let's look at the metrics you want to keep an eye on:

  • Organic traffic: the ultimate goal of SEO is to get more traffic from Google. Hence, if your organic traffic is constantly increasing, you know you're on the right track!
  • Google ranking: While an increase in your Google position doesn't necessarily come with more traffic, it still shows that your SEO efforts are working. Plus, it can make you diagnose which exact keywords are responsible for your organic traffic.
  • Clicks and impressions: Google Search Console allows you to monitor your Clicks (total amount of users that clicked your site in the search results) and Impressions (total amount of users that saw your site in the search results)
  • Traffic cost: The traffic cost of your website is how much one would have to invest on Google Ads to get the traffic your site has. This metric doesn't just reflect traffic quantity (like clicks), but also traffic quality.
  • Search Engine Visibility: This metric is not as important as the others, since impressions are not important when no conversion follows. But it's still a metric to keep an eye on, and you can track it over Semrush's Position Tracking tool.
  • Conversions: After all, the goal of SEO is to sell more stuff. Accordingly, tracking your conversions (for example via Google Analytics) is a must.