At RankHigher, we have been experimenting with our own web properties and performing SEO to rank them on Google. Today, I am going to discuss about one of my websites, which I managed to rank in top 5 of Google.com targeting keywords with search volume in the US of over 10,000 per month.
Who is this post intended for?
- If you are a business owner/marketing manager and operate in a niche in a particular Geography
- If you are targeting a country which is different from where your business exists
Before I start with the process, I assume you already have these answers ready for the following questions
- Value proposition
- Who are your competitors in the geography you are targeting
- Who is your target audience and what problem are you solving for them
The idea for this website was discussed way back in March this year. My colleague and I brainstormed the niche which we wanted to target. We did the relevant background research and the website was launched in April 2014. By beginning of November 2014, the site was on page 1.
Steps to rank your website in Google Page 1
- 1. Keyword Research
This is hands down the most important step in the SEO process. We invested almost one month to come up with keywords we wanted to target. Given we were targeting Google.com, and the keywords were not local to any city/state, we had to be sure that we picked the right keywords. We have covered keyword research in depth earlier. We will highlight few steps that are relevant to this discussion
1.1 Brainstorm with your peers to find all possible keywords for your business
1.2 Check their monthly search volume on Google keyword planner for your target geography
1.3 Analyse competition for each keyword. Refer to this article to help you analyse SEO Competition.
1.4 If some very big players are ranking for the keyword in top 5, ignore the keyword. Check Domain Authority, Page Authority of competitors in top 10 to find out their strength.
1.5 Look out for potentially weaker sites in top 5. If you can spot them, that means you have found one of the keywords to target.
1.6 Trick to find weaker sites – Low DA, PA (Moz). They may be small review sites or listing sites. They may have less on-page content. May not be optimised for the keyword. Check their backlink strength in Majestic/Ahref/Moz. Check Anchor text of backlinks. Check how many are do-follow backlinks. This will help you find potentially weaker sites.
Google prefers authoritative content. For our site, we created long form content of around 2000 words for each keyword we targeted. You can use freelance content writers to create content for you, if you do not have an in-house writer already.
Some may argue that long form content may put off users and is not a good user experience. I would urge you to find your sweet spot. You can do your own AB testing to see how users react to your website. At the end of the day, you need to justify your long form content to your users. If your article provides value and there is a takeaway from every word you write, then go ahead and write.
It is better to be trusted as an authority by few than be seen as “one more” by all.
This is where a lot of publishers go wrong. We ensured that each page is optimised for the following:
3.1 Title Tag (Very Important) – Keep the keyword at the beginning of the tag
3.2 Header Tags – Have only 1 H1 tag. Use multiple H2 tags. Do not keep using the exact match Keyword everywhere. Alter it. Make it look natural.
3.3 Keyword Density – Keep it less than 1%. So if I am writing a 2000 word content, make sure that your keyword does not appear more than 15 times.
3.4 Self Link the Page – We tried this and it worked. So essentially we passed the link juice of the page back to itself.
3.5 Link to an authority domain – An external link helps to build trust. So linking to an authority domain like Wikipedia will help.
3.6 Interlink the pages carefully – Remember that Google traverses pages based on interlinks. So make sure pages are interlinked.
We ensured that the page load speed is as close to 2 seconds as possible. Being a wordpress site, this was difficult to obtain. We ended up in between 2-3 seconds.
A good developer can help you in optimising your speed. Do not obsess over getting it to 1.5 seconds. If you attain in between 2-3 seconds, it is fine.
I cannot emphasise enough on getting the technical bit right. I have experienced a situation on another website where a technical flaw on the website resulted in complete disappearance from search engine for over a month.
If you are using a WordPress site, you can use SEO Yoast plugin to generate sitemap automatically for you. If you do not have a CMS, you cannot create sitemap automatically. Your developer needs to write a script to generate sitemap.xml.
Always remember to submit your updated sitemap to Google webmasters.
Get rid of 404 errors (broken links) from your site. As more pages are added to your site, there is a high chance that some of the old links would be broken. Take care to remove them from Google webmasters.
The most overused and misunderstood term in SEO. I can say safely that after keyword research and content, backlinking is the 3rd most important aspect that got my website to rank in top 5.
Too often, people get hung up on ethical and white hat and black hat without understanding what they mean. Yes, it is great if you can “earn” your backlinks. But be prepared to be in the game for at least 1-1.5 years, if you leave your entire backlinking strategy to earning.
Let’s be honest, you might be an awesome business, but people will not flock to you and start writing about you immediately. This will need considerable PR, push from influencers till it reaches a point where people link to you naturally and you earn your link. Unfortunately not all business can hope to “earn” that glamour in a period of 6 months – 1 year. Trust me, you won’t, unless you have big media houses in your pocket who can give you the push you need. More than 99% businesses do not have this privilege.
So, what do you do in that case? We have to create backlinks. We will need to have a solid backlinking strategy that will not raise any alarm, yet give you enough juice that can help you climb up the ranks. So here are my do’s for backlinks
6.1 Find High PR backlinks – Professional SEOs know this. They know how to find backlinks which have high page ranks. They could be forums, blogs etc. Link from there
6.2 Focus on websites with high DA,PA – Google did not update PR in 2014. This means PR will soon lose significance. Instead focus on links from high DA,PA sites.
6.3 Social Bookmarking – Google may not accept this. But Social Bookmarking has definitely helped my site. Social bookmarking from high DA sites do help in increasing your site’s DA.
6.4 Vary your anchor text – Do not use the same keyword as your anchor text. Vary it as much as you can. I will not recommend using Exact anchor text more than 10% of your entire backlinks
6.5 Focus on Relevance – If you are a website in the retail niche, make sure to get backlinks from a retail site. This helps more.
Caution – Backlinking requires deeper understanding of SEO. Don’t try it unless you know it. Else it can harm your site’s ranking.
We used steps 6.1 to 6.5 consistently to enable us to get to page 1.
What we experienced during this 7 month journey?
Your site’s ranking will keep changing drastically. From being on 5th page to complete disappearance from rankings. From being in 2nd page, suddenly it will jump to 5th page and again come back after few days. We experienced this several times.
We have experienced a period of no SERP movement during this process. This is popularly know as “Google Sandbox” period. During this period, your site will get stuck in a particular range for almost a month or more. We were stuck in page 2 for more than a month with Zero movement. This is a frustrating period. Because you are doing everything right, yet it doesn’t seem to impact. You need to be patient during this period and not do anything drastic.
Social Media Metrics have not impacted
We created a Facebook Page, Twitter Page and Google Plus page. But those pages have no engagement. This goes to show that social shares may not impact as much as we think at the moment.
How traffic has grown over the last 7 months
It has been one heck of an experience ranking a brand new website in the US, sitting in India. It has consistently started to get organic traffic and has started to do deliver what it was intended for. The steps outlined here can be replicated on any website, in any niche and results are bound to follow. I am currently replicating the same strategy on another website and it has already started to deliver. Patience is very important in today’s SEO.
So what are you waiting for? Start implementing these steps and take your website to success.
Any other steps you think we should use as well?
Check out our Top SEO Trends 2015.
If you would like us to help you with your SEO, do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org