So, how do you get your website into the top position in Google?
This is going to be a long guide. But not because I’ll ramble on and fill it with fluff, but because there are so many different ranking factors in 2017.
Let’s start with a little bit of background on ranking methods.
There are two general approaches to ranking a site in Google. One is known as whitehat, and the other blackhat.
Whitehat is a long term slow and steady approach. You play by the rules, and don’t try to be sneaky or deceptive in ranking your website. You put in a lot of elbow grease, and patiently wait for the results to start appearing.
Blackhat is the quick and dirty method. Your goal is to exploit any trick you can find which results in an improved ranking, even if it is something Google has publicly announced they frown upon.
Whitehat is safe. If you follow whitehat ranking methods you should have great long term results. Blackhat is risky in that Google could take a manual action against your website, and reduce your organic traffic to zero overnight.
We always preach following the Google guidelines (see further below) and focusing on white hat methods.
All too often I have seen websites ‘optimized’ using low quality techniques, and finally reach the top of Google, only to be whacked back down to page 10 or 20 in a matter of weeks. It is a waste of time (and often money) treating your website as such a disposable asset, unless of course your entire strategy is to rank as #1 for a few weeks or months and make a quick dollar.
What’s not a commonly known fact is that Google actually hires thousands of manual website reviewers who take a look at top performing websites, and investigate whether they are breaking any of their rules to get quick rankings with low quality websites.
If you are found to be ranking too well, too quickly, Google will put your website under the microscope and you may be given a penalty by one of the manual reviewers.
Why is a Top Google Ranking so Desirable?
Because ranking in the top position in Google means you will get the biggest piece of the pie in terms of traffic.
Why do you want the biggest piece of the pie? Because more traffic is beneficial to your website no matter what your site is about.
More traffic means more sales, which means more revenue, and more profit.
Or if you aren’t selling anything, more traffic, means more eyeballs, which means more people are aware of whatever you may be preaching.
Or it could mean more eyeballs, which results in more revenue from advertising sales.
It is no secret that a number one ranking in Google:
- Will get you the majority of clicks for that search term; and
- Many more clicks than if you were in the second position; and
- Significantly more clicks than in any position lower than this.
Whatever your goal is, ranking number one in Google is a great achievement for any business.
However this is all assuming that you have a great meta title and meta description written for your website.
A number one ranking that is not enticing for the user to click on is not going to make the absolute most of your high ranking.
To generate the maximum number of traffic from your high ranking, you need a well written page title, and an enticing page description (also know as the meta title and meta description).
We have a full guide on writing both meta titles and meta descriptions, but if you don’t have time to read that guide now, I’ll explain the key points for you here.
- Keep your meta description and meta title within the recommended number of characters to ensure all of what you write can be viewed on all devices (otherwise you risk it being automatically truncated by Google)
- Use a call to action in your meta description. This may be achieved by ending the description with something along the lines of ‘Sign up today” or ‘Read more’.
- Create curiosity in your titles and descriptions. This is more easily achieved in the meta description when you have more characters to play with. You could try writing ‘Find out why’ or ‘We have discovered the best…’ to create the feeling of curiosity.
Tick these three boxes and your click through rate (CTR) from any position in the Google results should increase.
Can you pay to be ranked #1 in Google?
The simple answer is yes, you can pay Google to be ranked number one. But there is a little to explain regarding how this works, so don’t stop reading now!
Most Google search results will show some paid results, before the organic results.
Organic results are 100% free, and Google decides which site gets ranked highest using its complex algorithm.
The paid results (called Adwords), are managed via an auction-type system, when the highest bidder generally takes the top spot, and is charged every single time a user clicks on their websites link.
(This is over simplifying the auction process a little bit. If you would like to know exactly how this works, we recommend you read Googles basic explanation, and Wordstreams article on the Google Ad Auctions.).
The amount you pay to be #1 using Adwords varies greatly from industry to industry. Competitive industries like insurance, banking, and law often have cost-per-clicks (CPCs) ranging from $10 to $50.
Other industries may have 50c to $1 clicks. These are generally smaller niche markets that sell specific products or services. For example, the term “bridesmaids dresses Boston” will be much cheaper than “California law firm”.
To summarise, yes you can pay to be ranked number one in Google using Google Adwords, but it will generally be expensive and the companies with the biggest budget wins.
When people talk about search rankings, they are generally talking about organic rankings and excluding paid results.
For this reason, this particular guide is going to focus on how to rank top in Google in organic search.
Onsite and Offsite Search Optimization
Any article about search engine optimization needs to cover the difference between onsite optimization, and offsite optimization.
The difference is as follows.
Onsite optimization is anything that you can do within your website that will help it rank highly. This includes, but not limited too:
- Writing quality meta titles and meta descriptions
- Using compressed images with description alt tags
- Having well-managed redirects and internal link structures
- Ensuring your site speed is high
- Designing with mobile responsiveness in mind
- Considering the use of rich snippets
- Having well-written, quality content, which contains your keywords
- Does not have any hidden or deceptive content to help you rank
Offsite optimization includes everything your can do outside of your own website to help your website rank well in Google. This includes, but also isn’t limited too:
- Building backlinks to your website (quality backlinks)
- Social media shares and links to your content
- Editorial and press related to your website
- RSS links and directory submission
Deciding whether your should focus more on onsite optimization or offsite optimization is something that will take a little trial and error.
You could also ask 10 different SEO experts and half would say focus on writing quality content (onsite optimization) and the other half would say focus on building high quality links (off site optimization).
There are about 50 nitty gritty details across both onsite and offsite optimization techniques that you also need to be paying attention too. These are explained below, starting with onsite optimization.
Onsite optimization in itself is huge topic to cover. The great thing about onsite optimization is that you don’t need to be an expert analyst to know what to do.
Tools such as our very our Pulse Auditor will analyze your website for you, tell you what’s broken, why it should be fixed, and how to fix it.
Onsite optimization is often black and white, with few grey areas of debate.
For example, every single page of your website should have a fast load time. Likewise, every single page should have an enticing meta description to maximise your click through rate from search.
As this article isn’t specifically about onsite optimization, we won’t go into it in depth here. But we will however call out all the main things you need to check on your website, and why you need to pay attention to these particular things. Let’s get started!
Meta Titles: Keep your meta titles to about 65 characters, and try to use your keyword(s) in them. Don’t force your keywords into them if they don’t fit or it sounds unnatural.
Meta Descriptions: Meta descriptions should be about 165 characters in length. Like meta titles, include your keywords in your meta description. Because your page’s meta description is what appears on Google when your site displays, make it enticing for the user to click. Create curiosity, and end it with a call to action.
Alt Tags: Every single image should have an alt tag. There isn’t really any excuse not to have one. Alt tags should be well-written and describe the image, or what the image is representing on the page. Avoid any characters or numbers unless they are absolutely necessary.
Image Compression: All images should be compressed to the smallest file size possible, without losing too much quality.
Image Filenames: Image file names should be logical and easily understood in plain english. If you have a photo of a female office worker, call the image female-office-worker.jpg and not stock46_femaleoffwrkr300x600.jpg
URLs: Keep your URLs concise, and try not to go over about 100 characters. Avoid using unusual characters, including underscores. A simple dash between words will work just fine.
Redirects: Keep your site structure tidy. Avoid 404 errors, and redirect any deleted pages using a 301 redirect to alternative content about the same, or similar, topic.
There are about 40 other factors you should be considering when optimizing your onsite SEO. We won’t cover them all now, however consider a 14-day free trial at Pulse to run a site audit today, and all the onsite issues you website faces will be quickly identified.
Offsite optimization is not something I claim to be an expert in – but have done plenty of reading on the topic over the past 10 years.
Essentially it all boils down to this…
If I had to summaries how to rank number one in Google to someone quickly during an elevator ride, this is what I would say.
Create a website that follows all technical best practice, and delivers well-written high quality content to your audience. This will result in backlinks naturally being created to your exceptional content, which you can supplement by proactively requesting other authoritative websites to link back to your content.
What a mouthful!
Let’s break it down a little bit, chunk by chunk,
“Create a website that follows all technical best practice”
This covers all the essentials of onsite optimization. Any website audit tool will be able to tell you what best practice your site is not following.
Ensuring your website follows onsite best practice is essentially building a strong foundation for everything else to build upon.
If you don’t follow best practice (for example, having an extremely slow loading website with no set meta titles or meta descriptions) you could write amazing content, and have a hundred high quality links, and still not achieve a top ranking in Google.
“and delivers well-written high quality content “
Well written means content that is grammatically correct, and easily understood.
You should avoid paying a freelancer $10 for 1,000 words article if you are outsourcing your work, as chances are English will be a second language for them.
When you are positioning yourself as an authority on a topic, not only does your content need to provide valuable meaningful insights, it also needs to flow well, and be structured in a manner that makes the reader want to continue reading.
For web content, this often means short punchy paragraphs, often consisting of no more than 2 or 3 sentences.
Large slabs of text can be off putting for people scanning through a website for a quick answer to their question – particularly if they are on mobile.
Additionally, they won’t be an expert in the topic, so you won’t be receiving high quality content.
High quality means the content is better than any of your competitor’s content. You can’t realistically expect to compete with the top spot in Google if they have written a 5,000 word guide, with original diagrams, and cited sources, and you are coming to the party with a 500 word slab of text.
High quality content is also relative. You might be in an industry where the first ten results on Google for a popular search term is all extremely good content, in which case you are going to have to battle hard and create even better content.
Alternatively, you may be lucky and find yourself in a market where the top 10 results in Google for your target keyword have 200 – 700 words of poorly written garbage. In this case, blow them out of the water and write something five or ten times better for a great chance at securing the top spot.
“This will result in backlinks naturally being created”
Getting backlinks to your content is hard!
You could spend a day gathering a list of 200 websites who may be interested in linking to your newly published article, then a few hours emailing them all or reaching out to them on Twitter or Linkedin.
Of these 200 webmasters you have contacted, 15 might reply to you, and you may be lucky to get 2 or 3 links.
And that is a lot of work for one person to carry out!
There are thousands of articles available on effective backlink building, and hundreds of experts that will share with you their best way to build backlinks.
However it all boils down to grinding hard and contacting as many people as you can. It’s a numbers game.
So it goes without saying that the best way to get backlinks is to have them naturally appear around the web, without you having to manually contact anyone.
To have backlinks naturally appear, you need content of such a high quality that other website owners will want to share it with their own readers.
They may even go as far as removing a link to another website, and replacing it with a link to your own website which has the superior content.
“…which you can supplement by proactively requesting other authoritative websites to link back to your content.”
Although your goal is to have backlinks start appearing organically, if you want to be ranked number one on Google, your need every edge you can get.
Even though I just explained how tedious requesting backlinks can be, it is a process worth going through.
I’m not going to go into the intricacies of link building now, as there are literally thousands of guides online, all preaching the best way to build back links.
Following this high-level advice will put in in a good position to start stepping towards the top spot in Google.