How to Rank for a Keyword in 10 Steps


How to Rank for a Keyword

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.

Step 1: Lay the Groundwork

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:

  • A strong website – The longer your website has been around, accruing authority and links, the better. It’s also key that your entire site follow SEO best practices – start with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines if you don’t know what that means.
  • A network to draw on – In order to rank quickly for a keyword, it’s very useful to have a built-in network to share new content with – a blog following, an audience on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, email contacts you can reach out to for occasional help with a link. If you don’t know what that means, it’s time to start thinking about link building as relationship building.

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.

Check out our free download: 25 Ways to Increase Traffic to Your Website! 

Step 2: Do Your Initial Keyword Research

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:

  • Choosing a keyword with good volume, but not too much volume – In general you don’t want to target a keyword that has low relative search volume if there’s an equivalent term that is much more popular. For example, there are usually over twice as many searches for “blah blah jobs” versus “blah blah careers.” However, don’t always automatically go for the keyword with the highest volume; some keywords are simply too competitive and not worth your time. You’re not going to rank for “airline” unless you are, in fact, an airline.

    find keywords to rank for
  • Choosing a keyword that’s relevant to your business model – You’re more likely to succeed in ranking for a keyword if the term is relevant to your site and your business. You’re also more likely to get some real return on your ranking – remember that rankings in and of themselves aren’t particularly valuable, unless they’re driving worthwhile traffic and leads. For example, a party planning business might target “how to cook for a party” – but “how to cook rice” isn’t really going to be relevant to them or their target audience.

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.

Step 3: Check Out the Competition

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:

  • The domains and URLs – How many are exact match domains? Does every URL in the top 10 include the keyword?
  • The titles – How do the title tags incorporate the keyword?
  • The type of content that’s ranking – Product pages? Blog posts? Videos?
  • The types of businesses that are ranking – Are they huge brands? Small businesses? News sites?
  • How authoritative those sites are – You can use a plugin to check the age of the sites in the top 10, the size of their link profiles and so on.

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.

Step 4: Consider Intent

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:

  • glasses
  • eyeglasses
  • discount eyeglasses
  • discount eyeglasses frames
  • discount eyeglasses frames for kids

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.

Step 5: Conceptualize the Content

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:

  • An article
  • A blog post
  • A product page
  • An index or directory of links (to other pages on your site or around the web)
  • An authoritative guide
  • An infographic
  • A video

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.

Step 6: Execute

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.

Step 7: Optimize for Your Keyword

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.

Wikipedia Keyword Rankings

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.

Step 8: Publish

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.

Step 9: Promote

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:

  • Share your content through your business’s social accounts – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn et al. If you can, do this through your personal accounts too.
  • Use social buttons or widgets on your site to promote independent sharing – Make it easy for readers and viewers to keep the chain going. They’re more likely to tweet or share your article if all they have to do is click a button.
  • Build links to your content – Whatever the future of PageRank, link building is still a huge part of SEO (even if it is the most annoying part). Check out our blog archive on the topic if you’re looking to learn about link building.

How to Increase Keyword Rankings

Accruing page views and social shares will help you accrue links, which will help you earn that ranking.

Step 10: Analyze

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:

  • Is truly optimized
  • Is truly high-quality
  • Is truly visible

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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Robert Vignoli
Nov 14, 2012

Great blog post! Well writtien, great information and easy to understand and implement! Most people think SEO is too complicated but its not really and you did a great job of explaining the process.

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 14, 2012

Thanks so much, Robert!

Bradley Elliot
Apr 11, 2014

nice content strategies,,,,

May 31, 2013

I have always said that SEO isn't hard work, it is just a lot of work. I think this is more often than not why a business will choose to hire an SEO consultant or an SEO company to handle the work for them. Most would prefer to keep thier mind on their own business and let someone else do all the "grunt" work that comes along with SEO activities. IMO

George Emmanuel
Sep 12, 2015

I quite agree with you Tim. SEO aint a childs play it gets ready for you only if you are ready for it.

Apr 17, 2015

Thank you so much

Jan 15, 2016

Yeah bro

Adwords Montreal
Sep 19, 2013

Very informative post and very good steps to get to the objective which is to get your keyword ranking in the first page of Google results!

Sep 30, 2013

 Im new to keyword research. simply wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the excellent article Thanks for sharing. 

Oct 02, 2013

Very informative article regarding how to rank for a keyword. The best thing about this article that it only recommends white hat seo for keyword ranking. Most authors  on the other hand sstuff their article with suggesstions that even include grey or black hat seo which eventually penalize a site.

Sep 23, 2013

Truly appreciate the post and the way it lays it out in a step by step methodology.  I will be using this as a blueprint.  Also like the timeliness associated with panda and penguin updates.

Barbara Vega
Aug 12, 2013

Great article!  Very well written and thorough.  May favorite is the conceptualize the content area.  It's so important to have a variety of articles and videos etc so that you can become a resource for your audience.  Great job!

Aug 11, 2013

Great information, thanks! that will be very help ful. Regards

Vellore Information
Aug 09, 2013

Hi,      I am happy reading your blog and get more ideas about keyword research for website rank on google search.       

Aug 28, 2013

Nice post Elisa,What I've found that also helps your website's ranking and traffic is blo commenting.  It still does wonders for a website.

Shashank Bhattarai
Aug 29, 2013

Thanks for the information but i would like to know how can i rank single keyword in the top of search engines with off page optimization techniques.Is it just creating links with that keyword ? i mean backlinks ?

Ranjeet Kashyap
Sep 23, 2013

First of all i would like to say thanks and secound thing is that i want know is it good to work with low competition and medium search?

Farhan Fawzer
Jul 12, 2013

Spot on and very simply explained.

Jul 01, 2013

How do you think? If we are doing a blog post in any other form with just content and if we are not hyperlinking any of the keywords in it . is it useful for Keyword ranking? Or if people have much more links on the single keyword that is if we can take the example of Email Marketing is having more 1000 links with Anchor "Email Marketing" But still is on top with very few links.. Can we get the correct idea with lesser number of links also we can rank on few strategies.

Aditya@ Connecting Bharat
Jun 21, 2013

Ya , I agree with your Tips but there are certain circumstances where quality of the content is dominated by Page Rank so better watch that out too .

Jun 17, 2013

Great Answer Elisa :)

Jun 11, 2013

Does social bookmarking for a specific keyword will do the job?

Aug 26, 2013

Mostly I want to improve to how rank my website but this now. with a new knowledge for this article reading. thanks

Jun 10, 2013

Nice stuff, I want to know that how much links I have to get to rank a keyword with 0.29 competition score in Google adwords? Search volume is big but competition is low and please also tell from where I have to get those links forums, blogs or social media?

Jun 03, 2013

Very basic, and doing the above will only get you ranking for low comp keywords, if it were this easy I'm sure we'd all be millionaires.No offence, but I bet the author has never ranked a website high in the serps for any keyword higher than a low comp.

May 31, 2013

If you want my advice, abandon the sinking ship that is Google right now. Head on over to Bing and Yahoo, their search results are much more relevant now a days. It appears as though Google is more obsessed with combatting spammers than delivering relevent results. This is just what I have been noticing while trying to search for general information and, I have noticed that I am not the only one seeing this. I would be interested to know what everyone else's thoughts are on the subject.

Martin Eggeling
Jul 23, 2013

A piece of advice: Picking highly competetive keywords like in your snapshot example may not be the wisest move for a new website. Choose low or medium and a local search volume (broad) of 500 to 5000. Once you manage to rank THOSE you can think bigger by adding website content with stronger keywords.

May 30, 2013

Good info. I am new to all of this and trying to figure out basic SEO. Very helpful and clear! Thanks!

May 29, 2013

Hi This actually was a very well explained article. I was searching for ways to rank my website better and this actually help me understand the logc of optimization better 

Game Developer
May 28, 2013

All these tips are sounds great for the starter but i have one question, If i want to rank particular keyword in few weeks, what should i do for that.

Sep 06, 2013

Thanks for the great post!! I will try your suggestions!! Thanks

Feb 11, 2013

Thanks for this awesome information!!! I actually learnt that how to rank the keyword. 

Jul 25, 2013

Really nice and informative article. I wish I could have got some domain URL's from where we can get good high quality backlinks.  

Aug 08, 2013

Excellent article on seo.  I make sure i put my keywords in every paragraph.  Search engines prefer you place them in the first sentence and last.

Dinesh Kumar
Feb 11, 2013

Sir, very good post but i have one question my site is ranking well in search engine, but  my Page Rank is not increasing what shall i do suggest me please   

Darin McCall
Feb 25, 2013

Amazing content.  Thank you so much!  I had previously been studying these topics but the idea of how to actually RANK the keyword once it was included and uploaded as content somewhere confused me.  But now I totally dig it.  Thanks again.

Betsy Muse
Mar 01, 2013

IIt doesn't matter how well you know this process, seeing it in writing - and so well written - is a great help. I will share your link with some writer friends who are just getting on the keyword bandwagon.

Mar 05, 2013

 Thanks for this informative post.

Mar 20, 2013

 Thats really a very wonderful stat. I can see you’re already doing well with your new niche sites. Kudos.I too believe so much that SEO is still very vital towards the success of any blog new or old. Thank God I’m beginning to learn the act small small.I’m also working on creating some niche sites of which i will register one of the domains tomorrow.I’ve really learnt much from you my man. Keep it up the SEO master..Haha.Enjoy your weekend and here is to our success.

Angela Adam
Apr 03, 2013

Thank you so much for great post.. Lots of useful info here. I think every small business owner must read this for increasing their online presence & Growing their Business.

wealth dragons
Apr 24, 2013

SEO link-building is the most annoying part, I agree with you!

Apr 26, 2013

Thank you for this great information on SEOKEEP GOING

Apr 26, 2013

thanks for the great tips! much appreciated...

May 02, 2013

thanks Elisa for this nicely decorated article. I have a question, how to outrank a strong competitor. Say My site has better content, but its too new and some of the competitors in top 10 are there for many years. What to do in that case? 

Tech Honey
May 06, 2013

Great Post. I absolutely loved the info I am doing On Page SEO for my website (dealing with HTML, PLSQL and Oracle ERP). I haven't yet started Off Page SEO. If I search "PL SQL Synonyms" in my site ranks 2nd or 3rd, but as soon as I search for "Oracle PL SQL Synonyms" my site goes way down to 8th or 9th spot. Can you please tell me the reason for such a behavior? (I am new to SEO) Thanks in Advance 

CA Course
May 09, 2013

Nice post... backlinks really are necessary for SEO but they are really difficult to get.... It seems that Google is on its way to dish out some new alogrithm changes now... maybe its time for the Zebra Update 

Feb 08, 2013

It is awesome to see the example of venture terms used in wiki, Just want to know,  not exact but related terms as used in there will be providing any help for ensuring the keyword density to develop?

May 13, 2013

Thank you Elisa for this valuable article. I'd been struggling lately. I hope this helps me. 

May 28, 2013

thx for sharing.. i found its hard to rank 1 these day on google

Sep 18, 2013

Hi Elisa .........                             Really Great article and very helpful   Thanks for sharing RegardsRuby