Reaching the top of search engine rankings is a challenging process. It takes time, resources, analysis, perseverance, and creativity to pick the first slot of the organic results.
It is the Holy Grail of all online businesses worldwide. The top position alone gets over 30% of all clicks. The first 3 positions share around 70% of users’ engagement. Only 5% of people dare to visit the second page of Google.
Search algorithms change, and so do people. Companies must adapt their digital strategies to match everyone’s expectations. Getting online visibility is a crucial step for brand awareness and sales.
This article will reveal professional techniques to improve search engine rankings and appear at the top of the results page.
Improve Your Website Core Web Vitals
The core web vitals gather 3 main metrics that evaluate the overall user experience on web pages. They are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
- First Input Delay (FID).
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
Core Web Vitals
While the core web vitals focus on the content loading speed, other web vitals consider the page level of security, the device responsiveness, and the interstitial experience.
They all represent the foundations of website ranking. Slow web pages never perform well. The best content in the world cannot rank high on a poor website.
All businesses should optimize those metrics, especially the core web vitals. Google released a major algorithm update in 2021 about those crucial ranking factors.
We will explain below the 3 main core web vitals.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
The Largest Contentful Paint is the time needed to load the main page content. It takes the real user’s point of view between the click and seeing most of the on-screen elements.
The best way to measure the LCP is to input your website’s URL into the Google PageSpeed Insights tool. The Largest Contentful Paint should stay below 2.5 seconds.
To improve the LCP, your developer must optimize the following:
- Critical Rendering Path.
- CSS files.
- Image and video size.
- Web fonts.
Businesses should always keep an eye on this core web vital. The LCP changes with time. Developers may need to apply new fixes later.
First Input Delay (FID)
The First Input Delay represents the first user’s impression of the page’s responsiveness. It measures how fast a website visitor can interact with the pixels on the screen.
As for the LCP, we can check the website FID with the free Google PageSpeed Insights resource. A good First Input Delay is 100 milliseconds or less.
Here are a few optimization hints to ensure a smooth FID:
- Third-party scripts and code (ads, social, software).
- Main thread work minimizing.
- Low requests count.
- Small transfer sizes.
Of course, the First Input Delay is more important on web pages having a Call To Action button (CTA) or a contact form than on blog articles where there is only text content.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
The Cumulative Layout Shift checks how steadily the page elements are loading. With a low CLS, the different images, content fields, and buttons may move around the screen. It confuses the user and, more importantly, could lead him to miss-click on the wrong button.
Developers can review the CLS thanks to the same Google tool. To provide a decent user experience, the Cumulative Layout Shift must be at a 0.1 score or lower.
We can polish the CLS as follows:
- Define the size attributes of all page elements.
- Fix element slots to prevent any layout change.
- Add new screen elements below the fold.
This core web vital is critical for e-commerce websites or any web pages having payment methods. We do not want users to proceed with an online transaction by mistake.
Publish Relevant & Authoritative Content
Once your web vitals work correctly, the next phase is to produce valuable content. The purpose is to share useful information with the rest of the world.
People go online to find answers to their questions. To improve search engine rankings, businesses must publish content that matches the users’ search intent.
For example, if looking for the newest smartphone becomes a trend, then brands and retailers should optimize their web pages around this model. Online consumers can find their products easily.
The first step to writing good copies is to perform keyword market research.
To identify the most profitable content opportunities, we need to investigate the data available on the internet. Every day, people make online requests to find solutions. To catch them, we must answer their queries. There are many tools available to help with keyword research. Each of them has a specific purpose. We recommend considering the list below.
4 Must-Use Data Sources to Establish the Right Content and Keyword Focus
Best keyword tools to get started:
Best keyword tools to benchmark the competitors:
Best keyword tools to finalize the list:
The first group of software above helps to narrow down the keyword research from broad ideas to actionable keyphrases. Take notes and refine them as you go deeper through the insight process. Your goal is to keep relevant keywords and have significant search volumes.
After this analysis, you will have a clear list of key phrases. To polish them, you should test against the competition. Use the tools from the second bullet point to verify what keywords your competitors are ranking for. Compare with your notes and refine again.
All the last tools come from Google. They are useful to make sure your list of keyphrases has a high potential, based on Google’s database. Compare your keywords with your current web pages’ performance and analyze the trends. Once you finish your keyword research, it is time to start writing the content.
Business websites need lots of content, from simple product previews to detailed blog topics. All those sections require keyword research to ensure they address the online users’ expectations.
Anyone can write content. However, producing high-quality content is challenging. The internet hosts too many plagiarized or poorly written pages. If you want to rank high on search engines, you must publish unique content that answers people’s questions.
Consider these tips if you want to produce content that will improve your search engine rankings:
- Identify the competitors ranking high for keywords like yours.
- Read what those top competitors wrote.
- Do not copy any of their content.
- Improve the copywriting quality.
- Share useful info only (no “text filling”).
- Produce at least 1,000 words for 1 blog article (more is better).
- Insert unique images and infographics.
- Insert unique videos when possible.
When it comes to technical products or services, we strongly recommend writing the content yourself. No one knows better than you about your area of expertise. Besides, it complies with the E.E.A.T. framework (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness).
For lighter or more generic topics, like food and drinks or travel, the amount of content required may be high. In this case, you may request the support of professional content writers or freelance copywriters. Just make sure to revise their work before publishing.
As we said above, you must ban duplicate content at any price. Review your copy through tools like check-plagiarism and publish unique text that is useful for online users.
Writing good content as described in the section above is a necessary step to improving organic search rankings. Besides, businesses must apply some basic SEO to their web pages.
From your Content System Manager (CMS), you should perform the following onsite edits:
- URL slug.
- Page title.
- Headline or H1 header.
- Meta description.
- Subheads (H2, H3 headers, etc.).
They are the most important on-page technical items to optimize. The URL slug is the address of the page. It must be unique and descriptive. Keep it short and try to include the page’s main keyword if possible.
The page title must also be unique and have the main keyphrase of the content. It helps search engines like Google understand what the page is about. Keep it under 60 characters. Like the page title, the H1 header describes the page content. We recommend keeping it unique, even if Google officially states it does not negatively affect the website’s SEO efforts.
The meta description is less important than the page title or H1 header SEO-wise. However, the “page content preview” affects the Click-Through Rate (CTR). It should have a length below 160 characters.
The subheads (Hx headers) break down the content into smaller pieces. It makes the writing more digestible for readers and helps search engines segment the topic.
Businesses should also consider the featured snippets. They appear at the top (also called the “position zero”) of the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and provide immediate answers to internet users.
In short, they grant extra online visibility even for web pages that do not rank very well. To pretend to position zero, you need to anticipate how people would formulate their queries. If you provide a straightforward, neutral, and expert answer, you may be eligible for the featured snippets.
After publishing, the content’s journey doesn’t end here. We should always update old articles regularly. Search engines like fresh content and it is more cost-effective to edit an existing page than producing a new blog entry.
Backlinks are one of the best ways to improve your search engine rankings.
They are links coming from other websites and pointing at yours. Usually, web pages link out to your website when you have interesting content that is useful for their readers.
To work on backlinks, you must use professional tools. The best ones available on the market are:
If you want to compete seriously in your niche, you must have at least one of those two software. Ideally, you should invest in both as they have separate databases which are insightful to cross-check.
Ahrefs and/or SEMrush will allow you to analyze your competitors’ online performance and your personal website’s backlink profile as we will explain below.
Build a Sustainable Backlink profile
To get started with the backlink research phase, all businesses should compare their websites with their competitors. This analysis becomes even more valuable if those other players are operating for a long time.
By using Ahrefs or SEMrush, you can benchmark the backlink profiles of your competitors. It allows you to understand how challenging it is to beat them for specific keywords.
For example, if a competitor ranks for a keyphrase like yours, and if this web page has 120 quality backlinks while you have none, you know it will take time to rank higher on search engines.
On the contrary, if this competitor ranks on the first page of Google SERP while having only a few backlinks, there is an opportunity to do better with a minimum of effort.
This analysis gives you a sense of the ranking difficulty. In most cases, it helps businesses prioritize their outreach investment. If they need results fast, they shouldn’t compete on those challenging keywords.
Besides checking your competitors’ strengths, you should also review what kind of backlinks they are getting. Websites pointing out at them could also consider your website for backlinking. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, and this is a huge time-saver.
Website Backlink Audit
Checking at your competitors will tell you what kind of backlinks you should earn.
Before initiating the outreach step, you need to audit your website. Your current profile is the starting point of the backlinking process.
Keep using Ahrefs and/or SEMrush, and focus on the following backlink factors:
- Number of backlinks.
- Backlink’s quality and relevance.
- Spammy backlinks.
- Backlinks pointing at 404 pages.
- Anchor text.
The number of backlinks is an important metric for improving search engine rankings. However, it must not become the ultimate target. Few quality backlinks will always be more valuable than tons of poor backlinks. Search engines like Google can penalize suspicious domains by downgrading their SERP rankings.
Quality and relevant backlinks come from websites that make sense to your business. If you sell apparel, you do not want to receive backlinks from gambling websites. If your website is in English only, you do not want backlinks from Japanese language domains.
Pay attention to spammy domains from India (.in) or Palau (.pw). They will certainly point at your website for no reason, which may harm your backlink profile.
The anchor texts are the content of the hyperlinks from which the link starts. For example, it can be Prodima English Blog. A good practice is to have diversified anchor texts, with a balance between the brand name, a simple URL, a keyword, or a key phrase.
In general, avoid backlinks coming from the following kinds of domains:
- Irrelevant to your business.
- Low domain rating (DR).
- Not from the right language or country.
- Poor traffic websites.
- Domains sending tons of external links.
Eventually, keep an eye on backlinks that point to old web pages or 404 error status code pages. Websites evolve with time. You do not want to lose “link juice” because valuable domains are pointing at outdated pages.
The outreach process is time-consuming, but it is worth it. The website audit on your backlink profile lists your harmful backlinks. You must get rid of them. Keep in mind this work never ends and should be monitored permanently. To remove the bad backlinks, the first step is to contact the website owners. Ask them politely to remove, or at least add a rel=”nofollow” tag.
This request is necessary before considering the next option. In case the website owners ignore the demand, you can disavow those backlinks from the Google Search Console tool. Google may ask you to send proof (for example, screenshots) of your efforts in contacting the harmful domains.
Then, as confirmed by Google, the best way to get backlinks is to earn them. Websites earn backlinks by publishing attractive content. It is the reason why the previous section is so important.
You can also reach out to relevant websites and propose to point to one of your pages. For this, you need to convince them that doing so will provide value. It must be a win-win situation. No website will point at yours if it only benefits you.
Another way to receive genuine backlinks is to write guest posts. Those are articles that you produce yourself and publish on another domain with the website owner’s approval. This guest post should provide value to this other domain and your website would benefit from a new backlink.
Earning backlinks must be a sustainable process. Never go for black hat practice. Never purchase any backlinks. Never create 10,000 backlinks to a new website having no profile history yet.
Monitor & Update
Google updates its algorithm every day. There are official announcements for the most important ones. Despite this, the algorithm changes remain a black box. It is hard to know what is going on without speculating and testing. Many industry and SEO professionals keep a close eye on those updates.
To follow up on this, check out this comprehensive source of the Google algorithm update history. Moz made a useful summary from 2000 up to now. The pieces of advice we shared in this article will help your website rank higher on search engines.
Those good practices work for both desktop and mobile versions. Do not forget to optimize for smartphone browsers. In 2019, Google released a mobile-first index update which significantly impacted the search engine rankings. Besides, 60% to 70% of people surf the internet from their mobile devices.
Continuous improvements are essential to improve your search engine rankings. If you need help, ask SEO experts to give you a hand.