How to Improve Your Organic Search Engine Optimization Efforts
Having your web pages rank high in Google’s organic search listings for important keywords can be incredibly valuable for driving traffic to your site. And while Google is constantly tweaking their search engine algorithm, here are some fundamental strategies to get you started on improving your organic search engine rankings.
1. Define a Keyword List
It’s unreasonable to assume that you will pull top rank in Google for every keyword relating to your industry. Your goal should be to secure high organic rankings for your most desired keywords. This is an exercise that will take the effort of both marketing and management. Think about how people would search for your products and services, make a list of these keywords, and check the traffic and competition for each term with a tool like Ahrefs, Semrush, BrightEdge, or Google’s Keyword Planner. Keywords with high volume and low to medium competition are the sweet spot — they have high traffic potential and are easier to rank for. You can also learn how customers actually talk about your products by using AI-powered conversation analytics tools like Signal Discovery.
2. Target Keywords That Match Intent
Once you’ve identified your top keywords, the next step is to match those keywords to search intent. There are 3 main types of search intent according to Google:
- Informational: This kind of query indicates that the searcher wishes to get information, guidance, or how-to content about a topic. An example of an informational query is “How to change a tire”
- Transactional: This kind of query indicates that the searcher wishes to make a purchase. An example of a transactional query is “buy new tires”
- Navigational: This kind of query indicates that the searcher wants to visit a specific site or find a specific vendor. An example of a navigational query would be “Monro tires”
The trick is to identify which type of intent each keyword is aimed at and create content that would fulfill their needs. For example, if someone searched “how to change a tire,” you would create a comprehensive article with images showing them how to accomplish the task. If someone searched “buy new tires,” on the other hand, you would create a product page that gives them reviews, product specifics, an online shopping cart, and anything else they need to make a purchase.
3. Don’t Be Afraid of Low or Zero-Volume Keywords
Some content marketers place too much weight on keyword volume. As a result, they go after only the highest volume queries, which can often be very top-of-funnel and competitive.
High volume keywords can undoubtedly be valuable for your SEO strategy, but your team should also take a look at lower volume — and even zero volume — keywords. Though these keywords garner a lower number of searches each month, the people placing these searches are often further down funnel and ready to complete a purchase.
For example, the search volume for “How to change a tire” is far higher than for “Best priced snow tires.” However, people searching for “Best priced snow tires” are likely further down the funnel and in the market for new snow tires, since this is a transactional keyword. In addition, since the query is so specific to their needs, there are likely less competitors you need to beat out to rank at the top of the SERP.
In addition, Google is starting to place more emphasis on thought leadership — if your site is going after the same keywords as everyone else, the algorithm will see that you’re not adding anything new to the conversation. When you start to develop more niche content, Google will add more weight to your site in search results, since you’re acting as a thought leader.
4. Good Content Will Win Out in Organic Rankings
Before you dig into some of the more technical ways to improve SEO ranking, always remember that writing high-quality content that attracts interest and compels visitors to share it and link back to it is vital. Good content has the best chance of being viral content, and Google rewards content virality heavily in its rankings algorithm. To ensure you’re meeting Google’s standards for high-quality content, invest in quality writers, back up your content with expert sources (sites with high domain authorities), and make sure you cite those sources.
5. Build Topical Authority with a Hub-and-Spoke Content Strategy
Google’s algorithm favors websites that stay true to their expertise and create clusters of content about relevant topics, rather than targeting a bunch of disparate keywords. To gain authority with Google, create clusters of content around main topics — for example, since our call tracking solution is aimed at marketers, we often write blogs about marketing best practices. These blog posts about marketing strategies would be referred to as “spoke” content. Once you create your spoke content, link all of it to a relevant central page that can act as the “hub.” In this case, we link marketing content to the call tracking product page. This allows Google to see the relationship between your content and visualize your site in terms of subtopics.
6. Consolidate Pages with Similar Content
If you have two pages that cover similar topics and target the same set of keywords, you are likely to run into a duplicate content issue. There are two big problems that happen when you have duplicate content. The first is that search engines, like Google, will not be able to discern which page is best and will end up not showing either one or each page will rank for fewer keywords since they’re competing against each other. If both show up in the SERPs you can then end up with fewer backlinks to each page. Instead, you should review both pages and consolidate the content so that you now have one strong page that can enjoy lots of quality keyword rankings and backlinks. Review your pages or blog library periodically to ensure you don’t run into this issue. You can also use a tool like SEMRush to check for keyword cannibalization which indicates a duplicate content issue is at play.
7. Refresh Old Content for a Boost
One of Google’s primary ranking factors is the recency of your content. The more up-to-date your pages are, the better chance they have of reaching the top of the SERP.
To ensure that your site continues to rank well, check if your old content is decaying — especially blog posts with dates on them. To do this, you can use Google Search Console and see which pages have lost, clicks, impressions, or rankings. Then, prioritize the posts that are losing the most traffic and start updating them.
When you refresh old content, simply slapping a newer date on the post won’t do much for Google’s algorithm. You need to also make significant changes to the copy to ensure that it’s still relevant. You can also do a quick audit of competitors who are gaining ground and see which points they’re covering that you can add to your content as well.
8. Remove Pages That Don’t Provide Value to Your Site or Audience
Quality is far more valuable than quantity when it comes to your website. If you have a large number of pages that aren’t delivering value to your audience, they could be harming your rankings. Having too many pages on your site can lower your site speed — a key ranking factor for Google. In addition, these pages could be cannibalizing rankings from more valuable pages if the subject matter overlaps.
But which pages are worth removing, you may ask? Here are a few ways to determine if a page has become dead weight on your website:
- The page has no backlinks
- The page has poor keyword rankings or ranks for keywords that aren’t relevant to your audience
- The page has declining or low sessions
- The page has a high bounce rate
- The page is old and covers a topic that is no longer relevant to your audience
Once you’ve determined the low value pages on your site, you should see if the content should be deleted or redirected. If there’s another higher-performing page that covers similar subject matter, you can redirect the low-performing content to that page. If not, go ahead and send it to the chopping block.
9. Work Your Target Keyword and Keyword Variations Throughout the Content
The best way to rank for a keyword is to use it. You should include important keywords early in your page titles, headlines, and body text, since early placement can be a signal of relevance. You should use your focus keywords often throughout your copy — but never at the expense of good writing. Google’s algorithm has become adept at spotting “keyword stuffing” and penalizes pages that use keywords excessively, in ways that interfere with the reading experience. A good way to avoid being penalized for “keyword stuffing” is to read your copy aloud — if your keyword use sounds unnatural, you may get flagged for stuffing. To correct this, you can replace your focus keyword with secondary keywords you want the blog to rank for.
Secondary keywords are incredibly important because they help you cast a larger metaphorical net into the search engine sea. Secondary keywords should be closely related to your focus keyword and have the same intent. For instance, if we were to write an article about “healthy dog treats” our secondary keywords could be “low-calorie dog treat”, “organic dog treats”, “best dog treats for weight management” etc. All of these keywords add depth to the article while also supporting the main topic and keyword. Now when someone is looking for any of those keywords, we’ll have an optimized page that is useful for that audience.
10. Optimize Your Page Titles
The <title> HTML tag defines a web page’s title and is meant to be a concise description of that page’s content. It is the first line of hyperlinked text Google displays in their organic search results, and it is what appears in the top frame of most web browsers for that page and in tabs. Google’s algorithm considers this to be a crucial on-page SEO element. When you write your page titles, keep them less than 70 characters, since any text beyond that will be cut off when listed in Google’s organic results. You should include your important keywords in the title, preferably in the beginning. If you have extra space, consider including your company at the end to increase brand awareness.
11. Use Header Tags to Structure Your Content and Send Signals to Crawlers
Having a strong headline structure is crucial for improving your rankings. The best practice is to include a relevant H1 on each page that frames exactly what the content is about. You should then divide subtopics with H2s, H3s, and H4s so that the content is clearly divided and easily scannable. When you structure your headlines this way, you create a strong information hierarchy, which is what search engine crawlers use to understand the content of your page.
12. Write Meta Descriptions that Drive Clicks
The <meta name= description content= > HTML tag is meant to be a concise explanation of a web page’s content. Google displays your meta description beneath the page title in their organic results. Meta descriptions aren’t nearly as important to Google’s ranking algorithm as page titles — rather, their function is to drive clicks from users. People read descriptions as a preview of your page and use it to determine if your content is worth visiting. Therefore, you need to provide a clear value proposition about what they’ll gain by visiting your page and reading your content. Consider using words that inspire action like “learn more,” “find out,” or “get...” Below are a few examples of meta descriptions that drive clicks:
13. Use Keyword Variations as Anchor Text for Internal Linking
Anchor text is the visible words and characters that hyperlinks display when linking to another page. Using descriptive, relevant anchor text helps Google determine what the page being linked to is about. When you use internal links (links on web pages that point to other pages on the same web site), you should use anchor text that is a close variation of your target keywords for that page, instead of phrases like “click here” or “download here”. But at the same time, avoid overuse of exact match keywords. Using close variations will help you improve your organic Google rankings for more keywords.
14. Optimize ALT Tags, Especially for Images
ALT tags are HTML elements used to specify alternative text to display when the element they are applied to (such as images) can’t be rendered. ALT tags are a signal for Google’s ranking algorithm, so when you have images and other elements on your web pages, be sure to always use a descriptive ALT tag with targeted keywords for that page.
15. Use Concise Yet Descriptive URLs
Search engines prefer URLs that are readable for humans, so keep yours clean and relevant to the page. Avoid blocks of numbers and special characters. Shorter URLs perform better in Google search rankings than longer ones, so keep that in mind when you architect your site. You should also include keywords in your URL names, and try to place them closer to your domain name.
16. Optimize Your Site for Mobile
In 2015, Google first announced that it would be using mobile friendliness as a ranking signal. This triggered the infamous “Mobilegeddon,” as brands scrambled to optimize the mobile versions of their sites. Since then, Google has been gradually increasing the importance of mobile friendliness in its rankings — in 2020, it moved to mobile-first model, meaning its algorithm now values mobile performance above desktop performance .
Below are some tips to optimize your website for mobile:
- Test your site using Google’s mobile-friendly tool
- Design for touch — fingers come in all sizes and can easily make incorrect taps
- Make your CTA buttons accessible to mobile users
- Redesign your pop-ups for mobile devices
- Enable Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- Implement caching
- Compress your images to improve loading time
- Use heat maps and mouse tracking tools to understand how people user your website on mobile and make optimizations accordingly
17. Adhere to Google’s E-A-T Guidelines
According to Google, EAT is one of the top three factors for gauging page quality. Here’s the breakdown of what the acronym means:
Expertise: Google wants to see that a website demonstrates expertise in your field. This is especially pertinent to the medical, financial, and legal industries. You can establish expertise by providing clear, accurate information and citing reputable sources in your content.
Authoritativeness: Show off your authority. This can be demonstrated through credentials, positive reviews, and customer testimonials. You can highlight this information throughout your website.
Trustworthiness: Make sure users feel safe on your site. It’s important to have an HTTPS site and an SSL certificate, especially if you accept any monetary transactions online. Studies show that Google ranks secure domains and sites with SSL certificates more highly. 75% of first-page Google results have an SSL certificate.
In addition to the tips above, you can ensure EAT compliance with these best practices:
- Include author bios if you have a blog and be sure to mention any credentials that demonstrate the author’s expertise
- Go after high-quality backlinks and disavow spammy backlinks
- Make sure your website has accurate information on your About, Contact, and Customer Service pages
- Guarantee that all content directly related to your visitors’ money or life (think financial advice or medical information) is written by qualified experts
- Cut or edit low-quality EAT content
18. Say No to Black Hat Techniques
Black hat SEO refers to the practice of trying to trick search engines into giving you higher rankings by using unethical tactics, such as buying links. The risk is just too great. Even if you enjoy a temporary boost in rankings due to black hat tactics, it’s likely to be short lived. Google is getting better and better at spotting dirty tricks and sooner or later the progress you made will be wiped out by an algorithm update, or worse, your site will get removed from the index altogether.
19. Leverage Broken Backlinks
Broken backlinks on your website can indirectly harm SEO by affecting bounce rate, time on site, and how you pass link juice. Broken links also directly harm SEO rankings by sending signals to Google’s algorithm that your website is outdated. To ensure broken links aren’t harming your website, you should regularly use a tool like Google Search Console or ScreamingFrog to audit your site for them and fix them.
In addition to maintaining your own broken backlinks, you can leverage other sites’ broken backlinks to improve your backlinking strategy. For example, if a reputable website has a broken link to one of your competitors’ articles, you could reach out and offer them a relevant link to one of your own articles to help them correct it. This outreach strategy is often successful because it is mutually beneficial — the other site is able to correct a broken link that is harming their site health, while you’re able to acquire more link juice for your own website.
20. Employ a Link Building Strategy
Link building is a catchall term for the practice of acquiring new links to your site from external domains. Beyond creating great content people want to share, guest blogging and asking webmasters from authoritative sites relevant to your business to link back to your pages are great ways to build links. The higher the domain authority of the site you receive backlinks from, the more your ranking will increase. These sites, in effect, pass authority from their site to yours through those backlinks. SEOs often refer to this phenomenon as “link juice.” You can use a domain authority checker to evaluate which sites can pass the most authority to your site.
Use relevant keywords as the anchor text for your backlinks, as this will help send signals to Google that your pages are relevant for those terms.
21. Maintain Good Technical Health
A site with poor technical health will have a harder time ranking than a site with good health. What exactly make a site “unhealthy”? Well, there are several factors that can harm site health, including: broken links, slow page speed, poor mobile performance, improper indexing, duplicate content, images that aren’t formatted correctly, and improper redirects.
To identify these technical issues at scale, you can use a tool like ScreamingFrog, the audit tool from Ahrefs, or Semrush’s site auditor. Once you’ve corrected the errors, it’s important to maintain your site health by performing regular crawls and audits.
22. Try A/B Testing Your Pages
Great SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it process. To ensure you maintain top rankings, you need to continually optimize your site. A great way to improve your performance over time is to A/B test elements on your pages.
For example, you can test different meta titles and descriptions, try different H1s, change your headline structures, show content higher on the page, add photos, and much more! Tools like Google Optimize can help you track performance and see what’s working and what’s not. You can then apply your best practices across your entire site and reap the benefits.
23. Track The Visitors and Leads Your SEO Is Driving
Securing top organic search engine rankings is only half the battle. To prove your value and optimize your results, it’s important to measure the impact of your efforts on web site traffic and lead/sales generation. Google Search Console can give you important insight into how your site is functioning and identify potential errors you should correct. A tool like Google Analytics is helpful for measuring changes in search traffic as well as tracking visitors’ interactions with your web site that are a direct result of SEO. You can set up Google Analytics reporting to measure how well your organic traffic is converting to subscribers, leads, and customers.
While marketers often track the online conversions organic search is driving, many fail to track call conversions. As a result, they’re not getting credit for all the revenue their optimizations are driving. Call tracking tools can tie leads and sales back to the web pages that drove them. This allows you to report all the conversions your best SEO pages are driving — both online and over the phone.
Want to learn how to track the call conversions your organic search rankings are driving? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Conversation Intelligence.