The question of this generation seems to be: “How do I get more traffic?” One of the biggest pieces of the answer lies in understanding how to get Google’s search hive-mind to find your content and present it in search results, but this can be an incredibly complicated thing to do.
There are tons of ways to start getting your content to rank on Google, with basics like setup and how to use Google Search Console tools to more advanced strategies like amount of new content posted and meta tags. These strategies are important and will get you a lot of the way there.
However, when your organization or brand is in a competitive niche, you might find that getting onto the top of the front page of Google feels next to impossible. According to a Chitika study, an average of 33% of search traffic goes to the first search result, so sitting around the #6 or #7 mark can be irritating when you’re getting less than 5%.
As you may have already intuitively realized from your own search habits, this study proves that the vast majority of Google search users will click on the top three results for any given search, with a few percent going to those further down the list. If you’re ranked number 11 or more for a search term, you may as well not be ranked at all. Almost nobody clicks through to the second page, even if relevant search results on those pages would help them. They trust Google to give them the best results for their search on the first page, so rather than clicking through to a second page, most users are more likely to adjust or amend their search query.
I’m going to show you how you can break through the wall onto the first page of Google, and then how to use minute strategies to feel out your frontpage competition and start moving up to the top spot. Using these strategies may help to take you from being in no man’s land getting less than 5% returns to being #1 for your target keyword, netting you tons of free traffic every month.
Google does a number of important things to crawl through your website’s information and find out how it is relevant to their (and therefore your) audience. Remember that Google wants to show off your content if it helps their users. You just need to hold Google’s hand a little bit.
I’m going to assume that you are already interested in doing a better job of your SEO. Be sure to read the other guides on this blog about this – there is a great article here on how to get out of a traffic slump, and some not so obvious SEO tips in WordPress here.
Of course, using WordPress has the benefit of being able to use a plugin to automate a lot of the tedious technical side of content SEO, some of the popular free ones include The SEO Framework and All-in-One SEO, but if you are serious about getting your content up on Google there is also the SmartCrawl plugin.
You’ll also need to have set up your Google Webmaster Tools and have at least three months of data coming through there. New sites don’t usually get onto Google without first going through a few months of anonymity, and rarely will google give much attention to a new site unless it is coming from an “authority site” (authority in terms of Google means a site that is top ranked in its field and is well known and linked to, e.g. NY Times, Buzzfeed, Amazon…) or with a lot of backlinks from authority domains. This article is about moving up on Google, so if you are struggling to get noticed by Google at all check out the articles above first and come back when you have a few months of ranking data.
Some SEO plugins automatically update your sitemap on a daily or weekly basis, but I personally go through and click Resubmit manually myself to make sure. If Google can’t see your sitemap, chances are you’ll never get on google at all.
Remember to resubmit your sitemap after making changes.
“What gets measured gets managed.” – William Thompson
When you measure your results you will find that you are more able to control what you are producing. If you are in control then you can change the outcome, so keep this in mind as you use your data to measure your performance. This will take some time; it may even take months for your changes and alterations to get recognized by Google users, but once you start seeing the needle move you’ll have an indication of what you need to do to keep moving up the ladder.
If your website is trying to kick an authority domain off the top spot, give some real thought to whether you truly believe that your site can do that. For some of the content aggregate sites, it is totally doable to kick off sites like Wikipedia, Quora or reddit. I’ve done it, and really those sites aren’t usually optimized for SEO very well and simply rank because they are well-known domains.
If you are trying to smash your way to #1 in the same space as a killer like Amazon, Buzzfeed, the BBC or the NY Times then you had better bring a pretty big hammer cos you might be bashing away at that nail for a long time.
In your keyword research you’ll want to be looking for phrases that have reasonably low competition on the Google Keyword Planner and enough traffic to justify spending time on building a page for this audience (in a lot of niches this will be somewhere between 3,000-20,000, but it could be lower if your niche has a strong conversion rate). Just because there is a lot of traffic for a keyword that you might be able to get to number 10 or below on, don’t go crazy for the chance to get a small piece of a big pie when we’re trying to get you half of a highly converting pie.
First step is getting on the first page. You need to do your keyword research and know what you want to rank for and which users searches will most benefit from your result. I’m not going to go too deep into this one as it is already covered quite extensively here, but suffice to say that keywords are important but a piece of a much bigger pie.
Your content must be useful, relevant, up to date and highly enticing to click. Once you’ve done that (and I’ll trust you to know how to write amazing content for your niche), you’ll want to go to the Search Console and get Google on the case. Re-submit your sitemap and don’t forget to recrawl your site through google regularly. Making sure that Google knows about your up to date content is the first step to getting on their radar.
After a few weeks of your content being online (and obviously ruthlessly promoting it through other sites, social media etc.), you can start the next phase which is checking your search analytics after you’ve gotten noticed by Google.
Using the search console’s analytics is simple when you know what you are looking for. The default settings lack the right information for what we are doing, so let’s adjust the fields so we can see what we need to start bumping off other sites. Turn on the toggles for position and impressions, and then on impressions rank by volume biggest to smallest. This should give you something that looks a bit like this:
Not too bad, but not where we want to be. There is a lot of potential here; getting the top spot on Google will net maybe half of those 2,788 weekly impressions. So let’s get you there.
Now change your data to organize by position, descending, and look for keywords that have “decent” impressions and that have you ranked number 10 or less. Depending on your niche that may be as low as 100 impressions, or it may be 50,000. You know your niche and what the value of each click could be for your site, so I’ll let you decide.
For my niche, I’m going to look for something getting over 500 search impressions per week. Less than that and it won’t be worth chasing after.
This top one looks good, ranking on the top page and getting nearly 2,000 impressions per week. To avoid having my website’s ranking keywords poached or coloring your perspective, I’ll keep the keywords a secret.
Now go to Google and type in the exact search keyword that you chose. Take a long and serious look at the top three to five results. What do they say? There is a reason that they are ranked #1 right now and you aren’t: they are answering the search question with their title and their description, so people click on them!
This is the key to moving from halfway down the first page to the top!
Now that you know what your competition is saying, you need to sabotage them in the nicest way possible. What do I mean by that? I mean taking what they are saying for that keyword and making yours look better than theirs in every way.
Here are some ways you can do that.
If you think 5 is cool, how about 37? How many times have you seen a list that says “5 ways to amaze your friends with blah blah blah” and clicked on it. There is a psychological pull to bullet pointed or lists giving answers to your questions. So if you want to kick a top 5-er off the top spot, why not go bigger. Yes, I mean literally bigger!
Would you click a “top 5” when you can click a “top 37?” When people see those close to each other, chances are some will click on your link with a bigger number. Maybe theirs is ranked #1 and they will still get the lion’s share of the traffic… for now. But as the CTR (Click-Through-Rate) of your page goes up, Google will start to take notice and start bumping you up the rankings. Nothing tells Google that content is relevant more than having more people click on it.
Pinterest did this in 2014 and it worked in a huge way when they started adding “1000+ ideas about [topic]” in their SEO titles, and while I don’t mean that you need to have thousands of points on your pages, it seems as though in a lot of niches, bigger is better.
- Short and sweet: Your titles should be short, but make sure not to forget the sweet part. Lots of titles sound boring and only when they hit a psychological nerve will they affect the kind of change that they are aiming for.
- “11 different packed lunches you can make for your kids”: …is a title that may turn a few heads and have all the right keywords, but it doesn’t hit on any emotional cues that people live and die for.
- “Packed lunches your kids will love you for!” – … is an emotive cue for parents searching for this kind of information. Think about the psychology of your audience and what they wish for and you can make your title much better.
- The Description
Your description is the other big part of the puzzle that will get people clicking on your link, so you really need to be paying attention to this and not just using the default that just uses the first 160 characters of your post. Go in and customize that description! Again the psychology of your audience is key here, so you have to entice them with a description that looks like it solves their problem. Look again at the top spot and see what they are saying. Using our healthy food niche again as an example, the top result for “healthy food for packed lunches” says:
“Pack yourself a lunch box to look forward to – use up leftovers from the night before, … For a super healthy lunch, throw together ready cooked spelt, smoked trout …”
Smoked trout? Eughh…
You can crush this ranking if you’re already on the first page just by hitting the same emotional cues and leaving out the trout! What if you tried something like this:
“Healthy lunchbox with fresh fruits like apple, raisins, or banana … use brown rice to hold together avocado, lettuce and tomatoes with any leftovers …”
Yes we have immediately given a small but promising answer to the question. Even though we sort of poached an idea of what our competitor’s description is suggesting to people, we’ve done it better and without once mentioning smoked trout!
This isn’t an exact science, and when we are looking at the behaviors of thousands or even tens of thousands of people, we will make some mistakes. Losing ranking is as common as gaining it, so you need to make sure you are always being honest with your audience when writing, and providing real value in your post. You’ll need to make alterations, but be sure to give Google some time (at least two or three weeks) to figure out what changes you made and propagate them to their search engine.
Among other things, Google also measures how much time people spend on your page, so if they click on it and then realize within 10 seconds that your content blows, expect to start dropping off in the rankings. Once you get up to the top you can expect between 40 and 70% of all clicks for that keyword on Google! It’s worth the effort!