Brodie Cornett

Brodie is an SEO Associate and account lead at Sagapixel. He specializes in on-page SEO and content marketing.

7 Actionable Steps to Ranking for Keywords on Google

Table of Contents

If you’re struggling with how to rank for keywords on Google, you’re not alone. Many businesses find it challenging to navigate the complexities of Search Engine Optimization, or, in short, SEO.

However, by following these seven actionable steps, you can significantly improve your rankings and drive more traffic to your website – even as an SEO novice.

If you’re interested in getting a customized SEO strategy built to fit your business (and budget), click here.

1. Conduct a Comprehensive Site Audit

The first step to improving your keyword rankings in Google is to analyze your site as it stands. This will help you find any simple improvements and quick wins that can help improve your rankings. Additionally, it provides you with a starting point for optimizations and a reference point for how your future SEO efforts improve.

Check Site Speed & Performance

Your website’s speed and performance are critical to both user experience and search engine rankings. Google uses technical elements like load times, responsiveness, and layout shifts as part of their Page Experience ranking factors. Using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix can help you identify areas where your site could be faster. Additionally, optimizing images, leveraging browser caching, and minimizing JavaScript and CSS files will improve load times.

Ensure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

With an average of 63% of users performing searches on their mobile devices, having a mobile-friendly website is essential to ranking highly on the Google SERPs. Google prioritizes mobile-first indexing, meaning your site’s mobile version must provide a streamlined and seamless user experience. Use responsive design when building or updating your website and test your site’s mobile compatibility with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Identify Underperforming Pages

Identifying pages that are not performing well in terms of traffic and engagement can help you prioritize your optimization opportunities and maximize performance. Use Google Analytics to track which pages drive conversions and Google Search Console to track organic traffic and search rankings and make necessary improvements, such as updating content, improving page speed, and optimizing for keywords.

2. Perform In-Depth Keyword Research

Keyword research forms the basis of your content strategy, including identifying queries for each stage of the buyer’s journey. You’ll likely need to use a 3rd-party SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush, but Google Search Console and Google’s Keyword Planner are also viable if you have access to them. Most commonly, the keywords you’ll want to target will fall into three distinct categories: Informational, Transactional, and Navigational.

  • Informational Keywords are searched by users looking to learn or answer questions.
  • Transactional Keywords indicate a user’s intent to make a purchase or complete an action (like booking an appointment).
  • Navigational Keywords are searched by users trying to find a specific website, location, or page.

But, how do you find the right keywords to target?

Analyze Competitor Keywords

Understanding what keywords your competitors are ranking for can provide valuable insights for your SEO strategy. Use tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush to analyze competitor keywords and identify gaps in keywords that you might be missing. This is a great way to find valuable opportunities and keyword ideas.

Identify Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords, despite their lower search volume, can drive highly targeted traffic. Users are much more likely to click on your result if the page can provide an answer to a specific query. Use keyword research tools to identify long-tail keywords relevant to your business. While these keywords often have lower search volumes, they also tend to have higher conversion rates.

Map Keywords to Your Buyer’s Journey

Ensure that your keywords align with the stages of your buyer’s journey. Use informational keywords for the awareness stage, navigational keywords for the consideration stage, and transactional keywords for the decision stage.

For example, a Med Spa may target a keyword like “Botox in Tampa” as a transactional keyword or “Botox vs. Dysport” as an informational query. Both of these examples target users on the buyer’s journey but capture their attention at different stages.

3. Optimize for On-Page SEO

On-page SEO includes anything you change on a specific page. Any edits you make to your content, Titles, and headers fall into this category. Optimizing for on-page SEO involves creating better page experiences and establishing topical relevance for Google’s index.

Optimize Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

Your title tags and meta descriptions are the first things users see in search results. Crafting compelling metadata will help improve your click-through rate (CTR) by showing the user exactly what they’ll get from a specific page. An optimized title tag and meta description will also help Google understand how relevant the page is for a specific keyword. Include your target keywords and ensure your title tags are within 60 characters and meta descriptions within 160 characters.

Click-Through Rate

A higher CTR indicates to Google that your page is relevant to the search query, which can boost your rankings as Google has admitted to using user signals (clicks, time-on-page, etc.) when considering rankings. Make sure your meta descriptions accurately describe the content and include a call to action to guide your potential customers on what you want them to do.

Use & Optimize Good Header Tags

Header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) structure your content and make it easier for both users and search engines to understand. Ensure your H1 tag includes your target keyword and use H2 and H3 tags to break down the content logically.

Here is an example of a page with an optimized heading structure:

Use & Optimize Good Header Tags

As you can see, the H1 is the first heading on the page, subsequently followed by H2s, H3s, and H4s.

Optimizing your headers also makes your content easier to skim. Of course, we’d all love it if users read the entirety of our written content, but most users won’t look beyond your headers. So, your headers need to adequately outline your content and establish topical relevance.

Optimize H1 to Grab Attention

Your H1 tag should be attention-grabbing, clearly state what the page is about and work to keep readers on the page. It should also include your main keyword to signal relevance to search engines and a sort of appeal to users.

For example, instead of having an H1 be “Med Spa” a better H1 would be “Med Spa: Achieve Younger Looking Skin” to appeal to a potential patient’s reason for being on that page.

Mention Target Keyword in First 10% of Content

Including your target keyword early in your content helps search engines understand what your page is about. Ideally, you should include an explicit mention of your target keyword (or as close to a variation as possible) in the first sentence of your article and above the fold (the point where your page cuts off on screens). If nothing else, you should absolutely include your target keyword within the first 100 words of your content.

Be More Thorough Than Your Competition

Creating comprehensive content that covers a topic thoroughly will position your page as a valuable resource and signal to search engines that you are an authority on the subject. Look at the top-ranking pages for your target keywords and ensure your content is more detailed and informative.

When you’re producing content, it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t a matter of length or word count. More thorough content will naturally be longer as you address sub-topics and customer pain points or hesitations, but you shouldn’t set a hard word count you need to reach.

Include Your Own Experience & Expertise

Adding personal insights and expertise makes your content unique and trustworthy. This can help differentiate your content from others and build authority in your niche. What’s more, adding your unique, personal experience and knowledge helps fight against the deluge of AI generated content that simply re-works existing content but doesn’t add anything new to your niche.

4. Create High-Quality, Engaging Content

Any SEO expert will tell you to “write high-quality content,” but knowing what that means is a different story. Essentially, your content needs to be original, up-to-date, accurate, match user search intent, and provide a good user experience. It should also be free from grammatical errors, follow a sensible heading structure, and ultimately, provide value to users.

Write Original Content

Original content is crucial for SEO. Search engines prioritize unique content that provides value and covers a topic thoroughly. While some companies may use the same copy across all of their service pages, duplicate content can actually hurt your search engine rankings. Avoid duplicate content and ensure every page offers something new and informative to stand out from the competition.

Update & Refresh Dated Pages

Over time, as other websites publish new pages, your content will naturally begin to decay or see a drop in performance. Regularly updating your content keeps it relevant and can actually improve rankings, as Google uses “freshness” as a ranking factor. Refresh old posts with new information, updated statistics, and fresh insights. Barring that, you might need to delete pages that haven’t proven valuable at all.

Ensure Content Matches Search Intent

Align your content with the search intent behind the keywords you are targeting. Whether users are looking for information, to make a purchase, or are seeking a specific service, your content should meet their needs.

Creating or optimizing a piece of content with mismatched intent in Google’s search engine results page means you either won’t rank for that query or, even if you do rank, potential customers will pass up your page for a competitor that more closely matches what they’re looking for.

You can easily tell what a keyword’s search intent is by looking at the SERPs (or search engine results pages) when you type in the keyword. Take a look at the top-ranking posts – are they educational blog posts, service pages, or a combination of both?

Use Visual Content

Visual content such as images, videos, and infographics can make your content more engaging and shareable. Images and infographics are good for improving time-on-page, but video continues to prove a fantastic way to keep users engaged and on a page for longer.

Integrating Video & Repurposing Content

Videos can boost engagement and time spent on your site, both factors Google has recently admitted to considering for rankings. Consider repurposing blog posts into videos or infographics to reach a broader audience and then embed those videos onto relevant pages on your website.

Additionally, our agency has recently implemented a strategy that allows your video content to work twice as hard. With meticulous SEO optimizations, we can utilize a video transcript and turn it into a complete blog post.

Enhance Readability for User Experience

Use short paragraphs, bullet points, and subheadings to break up text and make your content easy to read and skim. Readability enhances user experience and can improve your Google keyword rankings as web crawlers better understand what a piece of content is about based on the sections established by your header tags.

5. Off-Page SEO Strategies

Off-page SEO is anything you do elsewhere on the web to boost your website’s rankings. This generally includes link building for moving page rank to your site and social media to improve brand awareness. That said, local businesses also need to optimize their Google Business Profile to improve their rankings within the Maps results.

Build High-Quality Backlinks

Backlinks from reputable sites signal to Google that your site is authoritative. Essentially, backlinks are a “vote of confidence” from one site stating that they trust your website as a source of information or for a service or product. The more authoritative a site is, the more impactful that vote is in your favor. Focus on earning backlinks through guest blogging, partnerships, digital PR, and creating link-worthy content.

Leverage Social Media & YouTube

Social media platforms can drive traffic and backlinks to your site. Share your content on social media, and consider creating a YouTube channel to further engage your audience. By using video content on YouTube, you can ensure users who find you through organic search can engage with video directly on your website. You can also ensure that users can find you on other social media platforms when searching for key queries on your buyer’s journey.

Google admitted to using user signals to determine page rankings in the results. So, if someone learns of your brand through social media and then searches for your business by name, that can then help your organic rankings.

Claim & Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Local businesses need to claim and optimize their Google Business Profile (GBP), formerly Google My Business. An optimized GBP helps in getting your business ranking higher in the Maps and local results.

6. Focus on User Experience (UX)

At the end of the day, all of your SEO efforts need to focus on creating a better user experience. Generally, everything you do that benefits a real, human user also benefits a web crawler for understanding your business. The user experience can be made up of a variety of different elements, including clear website navigation, fast loading times, high-quality content, and a mobile-friendly design.

Use a Sensible Navigation & Site Structure

A well-structured site helps users find information easily and helps search engines crawl your site. By structuring your site in a sensible manner, you better clarify your business’s overall niche and sub-topics through interlinked pages. Use a logical hierarchy and include a clear, intuitive navigation menu.

sagapixel top menu

On the Sagapixel site, our navigation is broken into a few distinct categories. Users can easily access pages describing our services (SEO, Web Design, and Google Ads), view our past case studies under Results, navigate to our blog, or easily fill out a contact form.

Optimize for Mobile Devices

Ensure your site looks and works well on all devices. A mobile-optimized site improves user experience and can boost your rankings in mobile search results. What’s more, Google uses mobile-first indexing, so your site needs to provide a good user experience and work well on mobile devices.

Improve Page Load Speed

Fast load times improve user experience and reduce bounce rates. According to Google, users are more likely to leave your site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Additionally, load times are part of Google’s Page Experience update, which outlines technical factors that affect rankings. To enhance speed, optimize images (use appropriately sized dimensions and compress their files), use a content delivery network (CDN), and minimize HTTP requests.

Add Internal Links & Silo Content

Internal linking helps distribute link equity across your site and improves navigation by connecting closely related pages and topics together. Silo your content into related groups to create a clear topical hierarchy and clarify to web crawlers the topics you’re targeting.

7. Monitor & Track Performance

Of course, you can’t keep developing your SEO efforts without monitoring and tracking updates to rankings and traffic. There are a variety of tools to monitor your SEO strategy’s effectiveness.

Google Analytics & Google Search Console

Google’s tools should be your go-to SEO tracking tools.

Google Analytics is better for monitoring which pages are actually converting. Poor conversion rates on a page may indicate a need to adjust your strategy.

Google Search Console is more focused on tracking traffic and average positions. However, it also provides tools for making crawling your site easier including submitting your sitemap for Google’s web crawlers and monitoring technical problems on your site.

Third-Party Tools

SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz can offer additional insights into your SEO performance. However, since these are third-party tools, the veracity of their metrics should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re generally better used as research tools to give you an idea of estimated search volumes, tracking backlinks (both yours and your competitors), and further technical optimizations. Use them to identify issues and opportunities.

Adjust Strategy Based on Insights

Regularly review your analytics and adjust your SEO strategy based on the data. Stay flexible and responsive to changes in search engine algorithms and user behavior.

Mistakes That Can Hurt Ranking for Keywords on Google

As with any SEO strategy, there are certain mistakes you’ll want to avoid so Google doesn’t penalize your site by dropping you in rankings or even removing you from the search results altogether.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is basically the practice of using the same term over and over again. Overusing keywords can harm your rankings and create a poor user experience. Aim for natural keyword inclusion and focus on providing value over direct mentions of your target term. Afterall, the search engines (and your users) favor easily readable, grammatically correct content.


Cloaking generally means hiding content through styling or behind other on-page elements. For example, adding a bunch of related keywords to a page but styling it as the same color as the page’s background.

Presenting different content to search engines and users is against Google’s guidelines, which may result in penalties for your site. Ensure your content is consistent and visible.

Spamming Backlinks

Building backlinks through spammy techniques can lead to penalties and ultimately hurt your site’s organic performance. Even if you manage to avoid penalties, there’s a good chance Google will devalue those spammy, bulk-bought backlinks, so they wouldn’t benefit your site at all. Focus on earning quality backlinks from reputable sources.

Get A Custom SEO Strategy for Your Business with Sagapixel

Ranking for keywords on Google requires a strategic and multifaceted approach. By conducting a comprehensive site audit, performing in-depth keyword research, optimizing for on-page and off-page SEO, creating high-quality content, and focusing on user experience, you can improve your chances of ranking higher. Remember to monitor your performance and adjust your strategy as needed. Start implementing these steps today and watch your rankings soar.

For more tips and insights on effective SEO strategies, contact our team and let’s take your online presence to the next level!

Schedule a call with us