Follow this expert guide to rank higher on Google search results and get quality eyeballs on your content. (And yes… in record time!)
Here, you’ll find:
- A step-by-step guide to ranking on Google’s first page
- [Bonus!] Step 18: Hire experts to get you to page one
- How to rank for local search queries
- How long it takes to rank on Google
- The takeaway
A top ranking on Google is about as difficult as walking through the streets inMidtown Manhattan — the most populated business district, not only in NYC but in the entire world.
An office space in the flashy district would be the dream of most ambitious business owners. It offers an excellent opportunity for exposure BUT it also comes with lots of competition.
Just like a popular business district, Google offers a massive opportunity for exposure. There are about 3.5 billion searches every single day. To meet this demand, millions of blog posts are published.
Take a look: The long-tail query “How to outrank your competition on Google” returns over 700,000 search results.
Yet, our post ranked first page within a month of going live and even snagged the high-value featured snippet.
This isn’t luck or guesswork. It’s the result of a hard-to-fail strategy backed by years of experience and a wicked smart team of creators.
For this guide, we share this strategy including lightbulb-moment quotes from 5 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts.
A step-by-step guide to ranking on Google’s first page
You need exceptional, shareable content plus great off-site and on-site SEO to rank high on Google. We’ve broken the process down into 17 actionable steps:
- Step 1: Conduct an SEO audit
- Step 2: Target the right keywords
- Step 3: Analyze the SERPs
- Step 4: Target longtail keywords
- Step 5: Develop comprehensive content
- Step 6: Create E-E-A-T content
- Step 7: Integrate LSI keywords
- Step 8: BLUF your intros
- Step 9: Add relevant and up-to-date statistics
- Step 10: Include videos to show, not tell
- Step 11: Add helpful visuals
- Step 12: Include a table of contents
- Step 13: Implement on-page SEO
- Step 14: Build a web of internal links
- Step 15: Build backlinks
- Step 16: Refresh content that’s already ranking
- Step 17: Monitor your results
- [Bonus!] Step 18: Hire experts to get you to page one
Step 1: Conduct an SEO audit
An SEO audit is the process of checking how well your website is optimized to be found by search engines. An SEO audit is important to find and fix errors, take advantage of opportunities, and improve your site’s overall performance.
Here at HawkSEM, we’ve passed our Core Web Vitals assessment. This uncovers what your real users are experiencing in SEO terms.
While the scope of an SEO audit varies, it typically covers:
- Keyword research
- Backlink profile
- Core Web Vitals
- Indexing and crawl issues
- Site architecture
- Page speed
- Duplicate content
Some of these issues can be checked manually. But when you have hundreds of web pages, it becomes inefficient to do so. You then need SEO audit tools. Some tools we recommend are Google Search Console, Semrush, Google PageSpeed Insights, and ScreamingFrog.
For example, this is the summarized result for HawkSEM’s recent page speed test.
Our overall “Performance” score is 3 points short of a perfect 100, which is great. We can still improve on that. Page speed isn’t a Google ranking factor but contributes to the overall user experience. Relevant content on a slow website…a waste of time (pun intended).
Our site is also mobile-friendly, as shown below. This means that we show up well on mobile devices. Check yours with this simple mobile-friendly test tool from Google.
The gist: an SEO audit is vital to avoid shooting in the dark. For example, a big technical SEO error can jeopardize all your blogging efforts (e.g, Editing your permalinks makes you lose all the page authority you’ve worked hard for).
Are you an enterprise? If yes, check out our enterprise SEO audit steps and steal our free template.
Step 2: Target the right keywords
The right keyword is relevant to the focus of your website, valuable to your target audience, and possible to rank for given your current domain authority. The right keywords make up a successful keyword strategy.
Generally, with a higher website authority, you increase your chances of ranking for a competitive keyword.
Use the Ahrefs website authority checker to analyze your Domain Rating.
Now, let’s Zoom in at what makes a keyword right for your business goals, such as its:
- Search volume. Search volume is the number of searches a keyword has over a 30-day timeframe. A higher search volume indicates a higher traffic potential. That said, don’t neglect lower search volume keywords. Google revealed that 15% of all search queries have never been searched before.
- Search intent. People make queries on Google for different reasons. Usually, they want to learn more about a topic, or they want to make a purchase. Search intent is the reason behind the query. So choose keywords that you can create content for that matches what searchers want.
- Search difficulty. Search difficulty or SEO difficulty describes how competitive a keyword is in organic search. If you enter a keyword and all the sites on the first page have a DA of 70+, that’s a difficult keyword. Ranking with a 30+ DA site would be a significant achievement. Choose keywords that aren’t too difficult to rank for depending on your website’s authority.
- Cost Per Click (CPC). CPC is a popular term in PPC marketing, but it’s also relevant in SEO and choosing keywords to invest in. Cost per click is the amount ad buyers are willing to pay Google to show up as an ad for a particular keyword. If a keyword has a high CPC, then it’s highly competitive and is likely a valuable keyword to rank for.
For the keyword, “SEM marketing agency” HawkSEM ranks top three on Google.
This is a very valuable keyword. It has 100+ monthly searches and an average CPC of $33.66
Also, the Search Engine Result Pages, SERPs, show that people searching for “SEM marketing agency” aren’t looking for an ultimate guide, tutorial, or “what is” post. Rather, they’re already in-the-know and looking for recommendations on what agency to move ahead with.
Of the top five posts, four are agency roundups and one is a service page. Choosing the right keyword is key to ranking well on Google.
Pro tip: Our proprietary software, ConversionIQ uses machine learning to uncover the best keywords that’ll lead to conversions. We use this tool with every partnership to ensure you get the best results (aka traffic that converts).
Step 3: Analyze the SERPs
We began SERP analysis in our last step. It involves checking what type of content is already ranking. Some other things to look for in competitor sites include:
- Word count
- Search traffic
- Number of backlinks
- Domain Authority, DA
- DA of referring domains
- Anchor text of backlinks
Here are some details of the top ranking page in our last “SEM marketing agency” example:
- Via Ubersuggest, Clutch.co has a Moz DA score of 69. That’s high.
- The ranking post also has 100+ backlinks.
- Not only that, a referrer domain has a DA of 88 with others over 50.
- Very important to note is the relevance of the page. Clutch is a review site, and the search intent of the keyword shows that people are trying to make a decision.
These stats set Clutch up to rank first for this keyword. Be sure to run through these details for the top five ranking posts for your target keyword. SERP analysis will inform your content strategy and make it easier to rank higher.
Here at HawkSEM, we use Clearscope to grade our content against top posts on the SERPs.
For this post, we’ve got an A++ content grade. We’ve also exceeded the typical word count for our target keyword.
Since the number one post on desktop is graded A+ by Clearscope, we have a good chance of beating it based on content alone. Remember, off-page SEO factors play a huge role. (more of this in Step 15).
Apart from Clearscope and Ubersuggest, SEO tools like Semrush and Ahrefs are useful for performing a competitor analysis.
Step 4: Target long tail keywords
Long tail keywords are made up of 3+ words and are very specific. They’re an excellent addition to any SEO strategy because they’re typically low competition and target pre-qualified traffic.
Carly Hill, Operations Manager of Virtual Holiday Party, a Team Building brand, shared an example with us. She targeted “Virtual Christmas Party Ideas” — a long tail keyword. They created content around it which ranks top five on Google.
This keyword drives targeted traffic that’ll most likely be interested in Team Building’s services like hosting virtual parties.
“Selecting less competitive keywords that are based around more specific and unique searches significantly improves a website’s ranking on Google,” explains Hill.
Step 5: Develop comprehensive content
Comprehensive, longform content that provides information gain is the way to go if you want to rank higher on Google search.
Many topics in the SERPs are near-identical in terms of what they mention and how they mention it. Information gain in content marketing is introducing new and relevant details (SEO speak: semantic entities) to the SERPs for your chosen keyword.
Take a look at this high-value keyword, “PPC competitor analysis.”
Content of over 2,500 words provides information gain much easier than 500-word blog posts. Include the following to beef up your content without adding fluff:
- Descriptive screenshots
- A fresh perspective or POV
- Insights from Subject Matter Experts, SMEs
- Additional H2’s or H3’s that add to the content
- Takeaways like checklists, templates and workbooks
- Original research (use Typeform, Google Forms, or LinkedIn polls to create a survey and publish the results)
We took the featured snippet for “PPC competitor analysis.” Check out our title: We not only provided a standard “how to” article, we also provided a checklist. Now, that’s how to provide information gain.
Some benefits of developing comprehensive content:
- Increased Time on Site. The by-product of publishing content that truly satisfies the reader’s query is they actually read it. And when Google sees that people stay long on your site, your Time on Site or Session Duration increases. Time on Site is calculated by dividing the total duration of all sessions by the number of sessions.
- Higher Click Through Rate, CTR. Higher CTR means more website visitors. It’s calculated by dividing the number of clicks by the number of impressions and multiplying that by 100 to get a percentage.
- Improved Conversion Rates. Helpful, long-form content also leads to more conversions as readers are more persuaded to take up your offer.
- Make sure it is from a reliable source (Like Harvard Business Review or other trustworthy studies in your industry)
- Don’t link to outdated stats. The popular standard is no more than two years old.
- Avoid linking to the same statistics page twice in one piece. You can link once then reference it throughout the article.
- Don’t copy/paste from the original source to avoid plagiarism. Re-word the content.
- Make sure your videos are high quality and well-produced
- Promote your videos on social media and other websites
- Use relevant keywords throughout your videos
- Optimize your videos for search engines
- Publish new videos regularly
- Explainer graphics
- Annotated screenshots
- Title tags
- Page Speed
- Search intent
- URL structure
- Internal linking
- Schema markup
- Meta descriptions
- Keyword placement. Your main keyword should be included in the introduction or first 50 words of your post. It’s also helpful to mention it in the conclusion.
- Meta description. Meta descriptions should be between 150 to 160 characters to appear entirely in the SERPs. Include your primary keyword at the beginning (Front Load) and a secondary keyword within the content.
- Title tags. Keep title tags short. The best length is 50 to 60 characters. Also, Front Load your primary keyword.
- Headings and subheads. Format these properly and add secondary keywords.
- URL structure. Your URLs should contain your main keyword, be short, and void of numbers or special characters.
- Create link bait content. A blog post can be “link bait” if it’s so comprehensive or so niche that people simply refer to it when writing about the topic. Even better forms of link bait content are statistics posts and original research. Create these, and the links will flow in.
- Leverage unlinked brand mentions. Sometimes, other sites mention your brand without linking back to your site. Sometimes reaching out to the owner or webmaster via email could get you a backlink.
- Engage in broken link building. Here, you check for broken or dead links in sites which you’d like to get a backlink from. If found, reach out to the website owner and request that your live link be added in its place.
- Create a resource page. Resource page link building is a strategy that involves creating a page on your website that lists other websites and resources that are relevant to your industry. The goal is to get other websites to link to your resource page, which can improve your website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Respond to journo queries. According to Max Ade, CEO and co-founder of Pickleheads, whenever you write guest posts for a blog or answer queries from reporters, you may have the opportunity to acquire a link back to your website.
- Update the content to make it more relevant to current search trends
- Add new images or videos to make the content more visually appealing
- Change the title and meta description to make the content more relevant to search intent
- Promote the refreshed content on social media or in your email newsletter
- Google SERPs. Google your target keyword to see your current position in the SERPs. Do this in incognito mode for the most accurate results.
- Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a free tool that allows you to track various data related to your website traffic, including the number of visitors, the pages they visit, and where they come from.
- Search Console. Search Console is another free tool from Google that tracks your website’s performance in Google Search. You can see how many people click on your website’s links in search results, and identify the keywords people use to find your website.
- Rank tracking tools. There are different rank tracking tools available, which show how your website is ranking for specific keywords in Google Search. Some include SE Ranking, Pro Rank Tracker, and Moz.
- Expertise. SEO companies have the expertise and experience to help you improve your website’s ranking in search engines. They know the latest SEO techniques and strategies, and can implement them on your website.
- Time savings. SEO can be a time-consuming process, especially if you’re not familiar with it. Working with an SEO company can save you a lot of time — they’ll take care of all the research, implementation, and monitoring for you.
- Results. SEO companies are results-oriented. They’ll work with you to set realistic goals, track your progress, and make adjustments as needed to ensure you achieve your goals.
- Peace of mind. Working with an SEO company can give you peace of mind knowing your website is in good hands. You can focus on other aspects of your business.
These are all metrics Google considers when ranking sites and creating longform content is your best bet to achieving positive results.
Step 6: Create E-E-A-T content
“E-E-A-T” is short for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Although it’s not included among ranking factors, It’s a component of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. E-E-AT gauges the qualification of content creators on Google.
The whole point of E-E-A-T is that Google values and favors creators/blogs/websites that bring real-life experience with a product, service, or concept over others that don’t.
Thus, rewarding these blogs with higher organic rankings.
Step 7: Integrate LSI keywords
LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. LSI keywords are words, phrases, or entities that are semantically related to your primary keyword.
These keywords help search bots to understand what your content is about.
So, how do we find these LSI keywords?
First off, there’s a handy tool called LSI Graph. Pricing starts at $43.99/mo. You can get cheaper deals if you pay for 12 months or 36 months.
If this isn’t something you’re ready to invest in, SERP features hint at LSI keywords. For example, the People Also Ask section.
And the Related Searches section:
Tools like SurferSEO and Clearscope also help with extracting semantic entities to include in your blog posts.
For Lisa Richards, the CEO and Creator of the Candida Diet, implementing semantic SEO strategies has had a profound impact on her website.
Richards shared that by creating content that addresses semantically related topics and answers common questions improved her rankings and user experience.
“With Google’s advanced algorithms that understand the context and content depth, my website now enjoys increased visibility and exposure,” says Richards.
Step 8: BLUF your intros
BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” When you BLUF your intros, you hit the main point first before expanding on it later. In content marketing, this technique helps the reader grab the necessary information first.
When readers are satisfied early on, they can then decide to dig deeper for more information. And hey, you’ll come top-of-mind when they think of quality content.
Here’s a sample BLUF intro from our post titled “SEO Pricing: How Much Should You Pay? (+ 10 Options)”:
It’s engaging, straight to the point, and succinctly answers the primary question.
Below is a subheading intro from the same post, it also follows the BLUF approach:
To BLUF successfully, craft the gist of the section or post and place it at the top.
Step 9: Add relevant and up-to-date statistics
The good news is statistics boost the authority and trustworthiness of a piece of content.
The bad news is they can be poorly executed.
Here are some general guidelines to follow when adding statistics:
Backing up your claims with relevant statistical data is great for E-E-A-T and gets you on the good side of Google.
Step 10: Include videos to show, not tell
To rank high on Google, include videos in your content. Images are great, but videos are even better, especially if you’re trying to show or explain a complex idea, concept, or process.
An example of this is found in our post on PPC marketing shown below:
Videos are more engaging and informative than text or images, and can connect with your audience on a deeper level. Additionally, videos are shared more often than other types of content, which can improve your website’s visibility and ranking.
“Video SEO has been crucial to my strategy,” shares Richards. “I’ve created compelling product videos, optimized them with relevant keywords, and included them on product pages. These videos not only help keep visitors on my site for longer but also improve my rankings since Google values multimedia content more and more.”
Here are some tips for creating videos that’ll help you rank high on Google:
Step 11: Add helpful visuals
Images are a must if you want to improve your keyword rank and get to the first page. Images help the reader assimilate content better, especially if it’s long-form content. So, break up chunks of text with:
To further enhance the impact of your visuals, implement image SEO.
Step 12: Include a table of contents
Including a table of contents with jump links is an absolute necessity for long-form content. It helps to elevate the user experience by making it easier to find what they’re looking for and jump there with a click.
Step 13: Implement on-page SEO
On-page SEO or on-site SEO encompasses all activities carried out ON a webpage that aid in ranking well on Google.
On-page SEO factors consist of:
This graphic from Semrush summarizes the differences between on-page SEO and off-page SEO:
While on-page SEO is a whole topic on its own, there are a few techniques you can implement right away.
Precious Abacan, Content Marketer at Softlist.io thinks schema markup is an unconventional way of improving Google rankings.
According to Abacan, schema markup helps Google understand our content better, which can result in rich snippets, thereby attracting higher click-through rates and increased organic traffic.
“Despite its effectiveness, I’ve noticed this strategy isn’t as widely adopted, possibly due to the technical knowledge it requires for correct implementation,” says Abacan.
If you use WordPress, plugins such as Yoast and Rankmath help keep your on-page SEO on check.
Step 14: Build a web of internal links
Internal linking is the process of adding links to web pages that lead to other pages on the same website. It’s easy and profitable to build a web of internal links, but some content marketers treat this like an afterthought.
Internal linking keeps searchers on your site and reduces bounce rate.
Here’s a snapshot of internal linking in action on the HawkSEM blog:
Via internal linking, we pass on Page Rank from top-performing pages to new and upcoming pages.
In general, your anchor text should describe the page you’re linking to. The Google algorithm accepts exact-match anchor texts for internal links, so use them as you like.
Step 15: Build backlinks
Backlinks are created when a website links to your website with an anchor text. Backlinks are also known as “inbound links” or “incoming links.” When you link to another site, those are called “external links”
Despite countless Google updates and rollbacks, backlinks remain the biggest off-page SEO component. Ahrefs has a free Backlink Checker you can take advantage of.
Other tools like Semrush have similar offerings.
Now here are some effective strategies to build backlinks the right way:
“The higher the ranking of the site that links to you, the better impact it will have on your own,” Says Ade. “There are plenty of services that entrepreneurs can use to find journalist queries to respond to.”
Step 16: Refresh content that’s already ranking
Some posts are low on page one or are still on page two of the SERPs. These posts are termed “low-hanging fruit.” Our job is to keep track of them and give them a revamp or refresh to boost their ranking potential.
To find low-hanging fruit, use a tool like Ahrefs to see which of your pages are ranking well but could be improved. After identifying some low-hanging fruit, update the content, adding new images or videos, or changing the title and meta description. Also, try promoting the refreshed content on social media or in your email newsletter.
Here are some tips on how to refresh content that’s already ranking:
Refreshing content that’s already ranking is an SEO service that can improve your search engine ranking and drive more traffic to your website with minimal effort.
Step 17: Monitor your results
Once you start trying to rank on Google, implement good SEO tracking and monitor the results of your SEO campaigns. This will determine what’s working and what isn’t, so that you can make necessary adjustments to improve your results.
Since we’re always tracking our results, we know that we rank number three for the relevant keyword, “SEM blog”:
There are several ways to track your SEO results, but some of the most common include:
Tracking your SEO results, ensures your SEO campaigns are effective and that you’re getting the most out of your investment.
[Bonus!] Step 18: Hire experts to get you to page one
The easiest way to consistently rank on page one of Google is to hire experts with experience in ranking sites.
In your search for experts, look no further than HawkSEM. We start with SEO consultancy to learn more about your business. Then we put together a strategy that helps you reach your organic traffic goals.
Some benefits of working with an SEO marketing agency over taking a DIY approach are:
With B2B SaaS company, Prismatic, we were tasked with developing a winning strategy and assisting the writing team. At the end of our time together, we delivered some stunning results, as shown above.
How to rank for local search queries
To rank for local search queries, optimize for local keywords and create a Google My Business listing.
Local SEO is a digital marketing strategy that involves gaining visibility on local search results. Whether you own a big or small business, local SEO is ideal for local businesses that want to rank for location-specific keywords.
For example, top results for “Dentist in Dallas” are Google Business profiles.
Google My Business is a shortcut to ranking first and you can always link to your website’s homepage for an additional SEO boost. This means customers that click on your listing can be directed to your website.
How long does it take to rank on Google?
Ranking on Google takes between six to twelve months, but can be faster depending on the competition and quality of the content.
Since SEO is a longer process relative to paid search to get ranked, you want to ensure your strategy is sound prior to rolling it out. Quoting our CEO Sam Yadegar, “The last thing you want is to put a lot of effort into content creation and wait 3 to 12+ months only to realize the strategy was off and the results aren’t there.”
Ranking on Google requires developing in-depth, high-quality content and great SEO. There are a lot of details to consider.
Whether its ranking tops on Google, PPC, or carrying out your content marketing campaign the team at HawkSEM is ready for a challenge.
Request a free consultation to get started with your SEO strategy.