The view from the top ain’t bad
Got your sights on a keyword? Want to see your website on the elusive first page of Google for a given search term? Prepare yourself: Unless you’re Wikipedia or The New York Times, it won’t be easy. But it’s not impossible, either. Seriously – we do it all the time!
Ranking for a keyword in organic search is a repeatable process. You won’t get the results you want 100% of the time, especially if you’re a new website trying to rank for a popular keyword, but if you take content marketing and SEO seriously, you can start to make things happen. Things like rankings, and traffic, and sales, oh my!
Here are the ten steps to rank for a keyword in Google.
This is really more of a pre-step than a first step. You’ll need to have some basics in place before you can hope to rank for any random keyword. These pre-requisites include:
Don’t rush this stuff in your race for Internet gold. If you don’t do things right the first time, you’ll just have to do them again later.
You may think you know what keyword you want to target, but fact-check your instincts. Use several keyword tools to get a sense of the search volume for the keyword as well as the competition before you finalize your keyword choice. Your main considerations will include:
At this stage of the process, you should also make a list of close variations on your primary keyword. These will be helpful in writing and optimizing your content later on.
Once you’ve settled on a keyword, do a search for it on Google and a few other search engines to see what your competition is already doing. Pay particular attention to:
You’re looking for ways that you can differentiate yourself. You’ll need to do at least as much as your competitors are doing to beat them. Ideally, you should be doing more, and doing it better.
The more specific the keyword (think long-tail keywords), the easier it is to gauge the searcher’s intent, and the easier it will be to serve up what those searchers are probably looking for. In search marketing, “intent” is our best guess at what the person using the search query really wants. Consider the following keywords and notice how much easier it is to guess the intent from the words alone as you go down the list:
Ask yourself, what kind of content best serves the keyword? In this case, it would obviously be a selection of kid’s eyeglasses for sale. From the first term, you can’t even tell if the person is looking for eyeglasses or drinking glasses. And even for the second, the person might just be looking for pictures of eyeglasses; there is no clear intent to buy. An e-commerce business is mostly going to be trying to rank for commercial keywords.
Google’s founders have said that the perfect search engine would serve only one result. You want to be that one result that satisfies the searcher’s need so they don’t bounce back to the search results, looking for a better answer.
Next, form a plan for the actual content you’re going to create that will – hopefully – rank for your chosen keyword. There are many paths to ranking for a keyword, including but not limited to:
How long will it take to create the content? Who should create it? Will you be doing everything in-house or outsourcing? Do you have all the resources and budget you need? Don’t get defeated: No matter your size or your budget, you have the ability to create a blog post. Content like infographics and videos will require more resources. Sometimes, the best way to answer a search query is with some sort of tool, like a mortgage calculator. If this is the case, you’ll need engineering resources.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Execute on your plan. Again, you shouldn’t rush any of these steps, but it’s especially important not to rush this one. More and more, search engines are looking for high-quality content that benefits the searcher, not keyword-stuffed spam or pages full of ads that only benefit you. If you’d rather buy traffic than put in the effort it requires to earn “free” organic search traffic, investigate PPC. “SEO isn’t easy” should be your mantra.
In reality, steps 6 and 7 should be intertwined. Optimize your content while you’re creating it, rather than applying optimization after the fact. This is where the list of keywords you formulated in step 2 comes in. Leverage those keywords where you can in your content, but not to the point of sounding like a crazy robot. Remember that there are a lot of “invisible” places for keywords, and I’m not talking about using white text on a white background or anything else that violates Google guidelines. I mean stuff like image file names – users won’t see these if they’re not looking for them, but they can increase your keyword rankings.
For a full list of on-page optimization factors, check out SEOmoz’s guide to the “perfect” page. Another good tip is to copy Wikipedia, whose pages tend to have stellar on-page optimization.
Before you hit “publish,” it’s a good idea to quickly double-check your keyword research. It’s possible that your content has evolved during the development and creation phases, and you’ll need to make sure that there’s still alignment between keyword and content.
It’s (finally) time to push your content out into the world. Depending on the type of content it is, you may need to be careful about scheduling this step. This isn’t usually a consideration for evergreen content, but it may be important for content that’s tied to something in the news, an event or a trend. You may also need to coordinate with PR or other interested parties at your company, for example when launching content related to a new product or service.
This step is important and should come immediately after publishing – in fact, for big pieces of content, it’s great if you can do some media outreach before the piece goes live. Make sure you do what you can to get your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible before it even has a chance to rank for the keyword:
Accruing page views and social shares will help you accrue links, which will help you earn that ranking.
You’re not quite done yet! The web is a living medium, and it’s never too late to better optimize your content. Check your keyword ranking manually (be sure you’re signed out and not seeing overly personalized results) or with a rank checking tool. Also use your analytics to see what keywords your content is actually ranking for – they might not be the exact ones you initially targeted. If, after a couple of weeks or so, you’re not ranking for the right keywords, you have more work to do. Make sure that your content:
It’s also possible that the keyword you chose is too competitive and you need to scale back your ambition. Try targeting less competitive keywords until you’ve built up more authority.
That’s it! This is the process we follow to rank for hundreds of keywords related to search marketing. Whatever your business niche, you can make the same process work for you. So GET STARTED!
Image via Ragnar Jensen
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