How do I improve my search engine rank?
This is the most common question I get when business owners learn that I own a company that provides SEO services.
This is understandable—improved search engine rankings can be transformative for a business, providing a steady stream of new customers without constantly spending on advertising.
While paid advertising—such as PPC advertising—can be effective when partnering with a PPC management service, once the budget is spent, it’s gone. SEO is an investment which builds upon itself over time, gradually increasing traffic to your website through improved search rank.
My favorite analogy on the topic:
If paid advertising is buying apples from the store, SEO is planting an apple tree.
This article will walk you through the steps you can take to improve your search engine rankings, drive more traffic to your website, and ultimately turn that traffic into customers.
1. Optimize Your Site Architecture
There is a reason that I’ve placed this first in the list. In my experience, if a site has less than optimal site architecture, this is the fastest way to improved search rank. Let’s take a look at an example of a recent project we completed and the subsequent improvement in search rank:
There was an immediate improvement in search rank and clicks upon relaunching the website in early February. After a COVID-induced drop in traffic due to this being a healthcare website in NYC during quarantine, the website has had steady improvements and clicks that the client confirmed had resulted in more patient appointments.
All we did was improve the site architecture. We added no content and built no links.
So how do you “improve site architecture?
Optimize Internal and External Linking
There are two benefits to optimizing your website’s internal and external linking.
First, it maximizes the amount of PageRank flowing to the pages that you care about.
When a page on your website earns a link from another website, it distributes that link equity throughout the links on that page. That includes links in the content, the header, the footer, and sidebar.
Start by removing unimportant links.
Are you linking to pages you’re not trying to rank in the header or footer (or both)?
Check your analytics. Do visitors go to that page in any significant numbers? If not, take it out of the navigation.
Take a look at the social media profile links you’ve included on the page. Are you trying to drive visitors to your social media profiles? How is that working out?
If the answer is “no I’m not” or “not particularly well,” understand that you’re passing PageRank to these pages that would otherwise be passed to pages you want to increase the search rank of. Nix the social media links if possible (you can always include them as “sameAs” in your schema markup if you want Google to know about your social media profiles).
Add internal links between relevant pages and blogs
Spend some time going through your content to see where you can find opportunities to link to valuable pages within your site. For example, a plastic surgeon should look for opportunities to work in links to a rhinoplasty page using the anchor text “rhinoplasty surgeon in Tampa.” At the same time, remember that every time you add a link from a page, you’re diluting the amount of PageRank being passed through all of them. Be judicious in your internal linking and save it for your important pages.
Adding breadcrumbs to your blog might be a good way to automate the internal linking of your blog content. Check this article out to learn more about breadcrumbs before making a decision to blindly add them to your website.
2. Hire an SEO to Perform a Technical Audit
This is the only step that probably will require a skilled SEO to handle.
Even a 7-page website for a local business can potentially benefit from a technical audit. This guide will not go into detail about what goes into a technical audit, but if you get one and it uncovers issues holding your website back, it could be the fastest way for you to improve the search engine rank of your website.
From noindexing autogenerated pages that you’re not interested in ranking, to ensuring your developer didn’t do anything that would prevent Google from accessing parts of your site, to checking basic things like your page speed and SSL install, it’s worth having this done whenever you do a website redesign.
3. Consolidate Old Content Wherever it Makes Sense
This is often an easy way to move the needle with improving your search engine rank.
If your blog is anything like many of the blogs we’ve inherited from other SEO companies, there’s a good chance that you have redundant content on it.
Log into your Google Search Console (if you don’t know what that is, the end of this article has a section about it, click here to check it out).
Click on the performance option on the left sidebar:
Click on “Pages” and sort by clicks:
Find all the articles on your website that have had less than 5 clicks. Check all of these URLs in Google Analytics to see if they’re getting page views; if they’re not, either delete or consolidate them.
If you decide to consolidate them, you’ll need to find an article on your website where this content would add value. Once you find it, copy and paste the sections that compliment the other article, then delete it and set up a redirect.
Although Google has never confirmed it, some SEOs believe the company has something similar to the Quality Score it calculates for PPC. If it does have such a score, removing underperforming content will certainly increase it.
I don’t know if Google has such a quality score for calculating organic search rank, but I have seen this tactic help to improve search engine rank many times. Even if it doesn’t have such a score, it certainly reduces chances of keyword cannibalization, while using content that isn’t really helping your website to build up content that is getting visitors.
4. Create and Execute a Content Plan
Content is the most misunderstood aspect of SEO. Period.
Writing tons of content for your website will not improve search engine rank. Writing content that informs your potential customers about topics related to your product or service can generate leads or even create an audience for you, however.
In essence, content provides opportunities to get links or to get visibility. It will not directly improve your search rank.
If you’re a local plumber, writing blogs isn’t going to magically increase your search rank for “plumbers near me.”
At the same time, writing a guide to fixing a specific plumbing issue can earn links to your blog and if it does, this can increase your search rank. We call this type of content a link magnet.
Writing an article on a topic that your customers would research before contacting you would be another reason you would publish a blog. We call this buyer’s journey content.
The key is to ensure every piece of your content checks off these three boxes:
- You’ve done keyword research and chosen a keyword to target that is of an appropriate difficulty given the backlink profile of your website
- Your keyword research showed that there is significant enough monthly search volume that there is an audience for this content
- The topic is either on the buyers journey or it is likely to earn links over time.
Buyer’s Journey Content
A buyer’s journey is the process a customer goes through before buying a product or hiring someone to provide a service.
Buyer’s journey content would be articles or videos that cover the problems that you solve. For example, a person Googling “how to stop my house from being foreclosed” can benefit from the services of a mortgage foreclosure attorney. A bankruptcy lawyer’s SEO would benefit from writing on this topic since the person that would perform this search is likely to have the problem the lawyer can help with.
I shot a somewhat low-production value video for internal use at Sagapixel that goes through this process. It’s important to understand how to uncover these opportunities so you’re not wasting your time writing about:
- Stuff that you’ll never rank well for
- Topics no one searches for
- Things no one will ever link to
- Issues that don’t cover a problem your product or service solves
Link Magnet Content
Content that attracts links usually has something that will support something else on the web.
Publishing studies, statistics, surveys, or other data that can support something someone else is writing about is a great way to passively earn links over time.
Typically, your content is going to have to be really good and provide some sort of tangible value if you want it to passively earn links, but if you’re successful, this is very likely to improve the search engine rank of much of your website.
Let’s get a little further into the topic of link acquisition.
5. Acquire Links to Improve Search Engine Rank
Google uses a system it calls PageRank to pass along “authority” signals throughout the web.
The idea is that if a number of high-quality websites are linking to a page, the content on that page should be more valuable than the content on a page without any links at all.
You’ll be able to improve your search engine rankings by acquiring links from high-quality websites. This is commonly referred to as link building.
Link building is arguably the hardest part of improving the search engine rank of a page.
There are many tactics for building links. Many go against Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in your website being penalized or entirely removed from Google’s index. You can view these guidelines here.
It is important to undertake your link building efforts in a manner that is scalable, yet safe from penalties. The following section will go over the most common methods SEOs use to build links and improve search engine rankings for their clients.
Claiming local citations involves getting a website listed on local directories.
For example, a business that operates in NJ would claim its NJ.com directory listing.
While these links are typically NoFollow links that do not pass PageRank, the information on the pages is used to verify the information in your Google My Business profile, which can result in an improvement in search engine rank in the local map results:
If you’d like to claim your local citations, I recommend this list by Moz.
If you’d like to simply have someone do it for you, we can help.
Whatever you do decide to do, please take our advice and avoid using services like Yext.
Offer to Do Guest Posts
Becoming a guest contributor to other websites is a slow, but steady way to earn links to your website. Also, it provides an opportunity to develop relationships with other website owners, which can provide countless benefits.
One word of caution: excessive guest posts can result in a penalty, so don’t do 900 guest posts in 3 months.
6. Install Google Analytics
Installing Google Analytics will not directly improve search engine rankings, but it will provide you information that you’ll need. You’ll find out:
- what pages people visit
- how long they stay on certain pages
- what pages they visit before contacting you
- and much more…
It’s always better to have information that you can use to increase your search rank, but again, installing Google Analytics itself won’t help.
7. Set Up Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) has a number of uses that are essential to improving search rank. It will:
- Alert you to any issues Google is having with indexing your website
- Allow you to submit a sitemap
- Request a recrawl of a page that has been changed
- Alert you of any penalties that could be affecting your search rank
- Provide data on the queries used to find your website
- Let you see how often your pages are showing up on the search engine results pages (SERPs) regardless of whether you earned a click or not
- Allow you to track all your search engine visibility over the last 16 months
GSC is an indispensable tool for SEO and improving search engine rank. This video will walk you through the process of verifying your Google Search Console account:
Improved Search Engine Rank Through SEO Fundamentals
I hope this guide was helpful. It doesn’t go particularly deep into any of the topics, but it does provide an outline on topics you should learn about in order to improve your search engine rankings. Handling each of these areas of SEO should be more than enough for most websites wishing to improve search engine visibility.