Everyone uses it, but it’s still a mystery to all the experts.

Google search.

Google protects their search engine algorithm as well as KFC protects the Colonel’s famous chicken recipe.

As a business owner or marketer looking to improve your website’s ranking, all of Google’s secrecy can be frustrating. But there is hope.

We know Google’s goal is to provide users with the best results for each search. That undoubtedly means high-quality content that answers questions and is relevant to a given search.

If you focus on nothing else, make sure your site has high-quality content.

Once you have quality content, you can do several more things to give Google confidence in your content. The more confidence Google has in your content, the higher your site will rank.

Let’s look at some of the tactics you can use to increase your website’s ranking on Google.

Use Keyword Research to Know How Your Audience Thinks

“SEO is dead. Keyword research isn’t important any longer.”

False and false.

While both SEO and keyword research has changed dramatically, both practices are still vital to ranking on Google.

Keyword research used to mean looking for the exact phrases people use to search.

“Used cars” and “pre-owned vehicles” meant different things to Google 5 years ago. Now Google is smart enough to know both phrases mean the same thing.

Keyword research today is more about understanding the concepts and topics your audience is looking for.

You can use keyword research to understand if your audience searches more for used Fords or used Chevys, or new cars vs used cars.

You can use it to know what questions your audience has about your industry, or what problems they’re trying to solve.

You’ll get to know your audience very well by looking at the searches they conduct.

So, how do you do keyword research?

How to Do Keyword Research for Modern SEO

Just like any other type of research, there is an infinite number of ways to do it. We typically use a three-step process using our favorite tools: Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush.

Step 1 – Brainstorm

The first step is brainstorming ideas. Set a timer for 10 minutes and make a list of all the searches your audience could make. Don’t edit. The goal is the volume of keywords. The more, the better.

Think about the problems your customers want to solve, list the questions they could have about your product or service, and even consider ideas from your competitors.

Step 2 – Get More Ideas from Google

Google Keyword Planner is a free tool from Google. You only need a free Google AdWords account to get started.

Keyword Planner will help you get new ideas for keywords based on your brainstormed list. You can even get search volumes for all your keywords.

(Note: don’t take the search volume data from Keyword Planner literally. Use it to compare phrases and understand broad popularity.)

To use Keyword Planner, copy a group of related keywords and paste it into Keyword Planner as shown below.

Keyword Planner

When you submit your list, the tool will present you with the search volume for each of the terms you entered as well as a list of related keywords.

Keyword Planner Volumes

Now you have more keywords, possibly hundreds more!

Step 3 – Look at The Competition

The last step of our keyword research process is looking at competitors. We use SEMrush to do this because it’s super easy and fast.

Just put a competitor’s website into SEMrush and the tool will show you the exact keywords (and ranking position) for that website.

Semrush Keywords

Using this report, you can understand several things about keywords in your industry:

  • Which keywords are popular
  • Keywords for which your competitors rank high
  • Opportunities for you to rank for keywords your competitors don’t

Step 4 – Review, Edit, Finalize

You should have a huge list of keywords now. It’s time to narrow the list down to something that is more manageable. Here’s how we do it:

  • Remove duplicates
  • Remove misspellings
  • Remove plurals and very closely related terms (Google treats them as the same)
  • Remove unrelated terms
  • Sort by highest search volume
  • Highlight terms that you’d like to rank for

We call the highlighted terms your target keywords. You’ll use these target keywords to optimize your site’s content (keep reading) and to decide what new content to create.

Now, armed with target keywords from keyword research, you know how your audience thinks. When you know how your audience thinks, you can create content that aligns with your audience.

When you create content that aligns with how your audience thinks, they’ll read it more often, visit your site more often, and even share your content. We know all those activities will help your site have a higher search ranking in Google.

If you’d like help researching the best keywords for your business, contact Strategy today.

Learn What Your Audience Likes

The next thing you can do to help improve your Google rankings is to create content your audience likes.

Since you know how your audience thinks from doing keyword research, take your research a step further and understand what kind of content they like.

One of the best indicators of popular content is social shares. We use a tool called BuzzSumo to see the most often shared content (and who shares it).

To use BuzzSumo, type in one of your target keywords … the broader the term, the better to start.

As you can see from the screen below, we researched “paleo.” It’s a popular topic based on the number of shares – the top page has almost 300,000 shares!

You can see right away that people want to see paleo recipes because the most shared content is recipes.

If you were selling a book about the paleo diet or a paleo energy bar, you’d want to make sure to have plenty of paleo recipes on your site.

Try searching for a variety of your target keywords and synonyms. Also, experiment with putting phrases with and without quotation marks in the BuzzSumo search.

You’ll soon find trends.

You’ll notice popular topics, popular headline styles, popular content mediums (article, video, infographic, etc.). Make notes of those trends to guide your content creation process.

When people share your content, your Google rankings will improve.

Now it’s time to look at your existing content: the pages on your site that Google has already ranked. When you hear people say, “SEO,” this is the work they are typically referring to.

Optimizing your content for Google is all about giving Google the most confidence you can about that piece of content (think blog post to keep it simple).

A good blog post will meet certain criteria regardless of service, product, or industry:

  • Addresses one main topic
  • Focuses on one target keyword from your list
  • Provides value to the reader
  • Uses natural language (written for a human reader, not a search engine program)

Assuming your content hits these marks, we can give Google more confidence about the content in a variety of ways:

1. Title Tag

This isn’t the headline of your blog post, but a piece of meta data that Google uses to understand what the page is about, display in search results, and show in the tab of your browser. It’s the most important signal you can send to Google about your content.

To improve your ranking make sure your Title Tag:

  • Is 50–60 characters long
  • Includes the keyword
  • Compels the reader to click
Title Tag Meta Description Example

2. Meta Description

This is the text that shows up below the Title on a search results page. The meta description doesn’t display on your website, though. Its sole purpose is to tell the searcher what the page is about before they click.

To improve your ranking, make sure your Meta Description:

  • Is 140–160 characters
  • Includes the keyword
  • Includes a compelling call to action

3. Headlines

Each headline and subhead on a web page is given a place in a hierarchy. The main headline is an H1, secondary headlines are designated H2, H3, and so on. Think of it like an outline. H3’s are under an H2 section.

To improve your ranking, make sure your headlines:

  • Only have one H1 per page
  • Include your focus keyword in the H1
  • Include your focus keyword and/or semantic variations of your keyword in a natural way in your H2’s and H3’s
  • Don’t include keywords in a forced, unnatural way

4. Body Content

Google obviously looks at the actual content of your page for signals, as well. This includes the actual copy as well as any videos, images, and links.

To improve your ranking, make sure your copy/media/links:

  • Content includes the focus keyword in the first paragraph (or so)
  • Use semantic variations and synonyms of your keyword throughout your content
  • Use keywords in the file name of your media when it’s natural
  • Use descriptive file names for media (not the gibberish from your digital camera)
  • Use keywords in alt tags of your media when it’s natural
  • Don’t have empty alt tags for images, videos, or links

If you follow these simple guidelines, your content will begin to rank higher in Google than before you made the changes.

We recently used this process to get a client a 96% increase in Organic Search traffic.

If you’d like help optimizing your content for higher search rankings, contact Strategy today.

One of the ways you can give Google confidence in your content is to get others to link to your content. A link from someone else’s site to your content is called a backlink.

Google loves backlinks.

Some experts believe a backlink is the single most powerful signal you can give Google about your content.

Not all backlinks are created equal, though. A link from usatoday.com is much more meaningful than a link from your friend’s personal blog.

Of course, Google doesn’t quantify this difference for us. We just have to work on the concept that backlinks from more popular sites are better than backlinks from less popular sites.

We also know that backlinks from related sites are desirable. It likely won’t do much good to get a link from FoodNetwork.com if you run a motorcycle dealership.

So how do you go about getting backlinks?

Acquiring backlinks is much more of an art form than a science. Getting backlinks is also the most time-consuming SEO activity you can do.

There’s no way around it: backlinks are just labor-intensive.

With that being said, there is still lots of opportunity for backlinks because most people don’t have the time or aren’t willing to spend the time to work on them.

Here are some ideas to get you started on getting your own backlinks:

  • Appeal to Experts’ Ego – Reach out to an expert whom you quoted in a piece of content on your site. Ask him or her to review your post for accuracy and provide feedback.The expert may share your content on social media or even link to your content in his or her own blog. Don’t be afraid to ask for the link.
  • Find Broken Links – Search industry sites who already link to content like yours. Find broken links on their site (this is a good tool – Check My Links) and directly email the site owner. Tell them that you found broken links on their site and ask if they’d like to know which ones.When they reply, suggest a live link on your site that has the same/similar content.
  • Find Outdated Resources – Similar to the broken link method above, you look for opportunities when names or URLs change, services are stopped, a business closes, etc.You’ll have to use general industry knowledge or search google for phrases like “service no longer available” here, but the benefits could be huge.
  • Infographics – This is an incredibly effective way to get backlinks. The first step is to create a killer infographic. A good infographic is unique and interesting. Follow what you know from your keyword and audience research.Once you have your graphic, it’s time to distribute it. There are literally 100’s of sites to publish your infographic, but you should do email outreach to your industry contacts as well. Offer to write a unique intro for their site if they’ll publish your infographic.
  • Guest Posting – When you write a guest blog post, most sites will allow you to put at least one “follow” link in your content and/or bio. This is a great way to earn backlinks to your site where you can control the process – you just need to write a quality piece of content for someone else.To find guest posting opportunities, search Google for “guest post [your industry].”

There are many, many more methods to getting backlinks out there. These are just a few of our favorites.

Take Full Advantage of Local Listings

If your business has a physical location (retail store, restaurant, etc.), there is a whole world of local search available to you. Think of the map results when you search Google for a good Italian restaurant near you.

Local Listing Search

Local search is primarily about three things:

  1. Consistent NAP (name, address, phone number)
  2. Complete listings
  3. Citations

When we’re talking about local search, we’re talking about anywhere your business info could appear online. Places like:

  • Google Business
  • Facebook
  • Yelp
  • YellowPages.com
  • Superpages.com
  • Yahoo Local
  • Industry-Specific Directories

Make Sure Your N.A.P. Is Consistent

While it may seem obvious, a consistent NAP isn’t always a given. Because Google gets business information from a variety of sources (data providers, other websites, the government, other users, and even the Google Street View cameras), your business information can be inaccurate.

To improve your Google rankings:

  • Identify the top directories for your industry
  • Correct any list errors
  • Pay special attention to abbreviations, making sure all are consistent

Have Complete Listings

Google also looks at your business listing for completeness. If your business listing has all the possible information available, Google has more confidence in your listing. The more confidence Google has in your listing, the higher you’ll rank.

To improve your Google ranking:

  • Review each of your business’s listings
  • Provide information to complete each listing, including photos
  • Remove incorrect information

Acquire More Citations

Like backlinks, citations from popular websites will significantly help your business rank higher in local searches.

A citation is an instance of your business’s NAP – even without a link to your website. There are limitless opportunities to get citations. They can come from literally any website, not just business directories.

Here are some of our favorite sources of citations:

  • Local Search Engines – Google crawls other local search engines for citations, so these can be an easy opportunity to get more citations. Look up your business on sites like Yelp, Foursquare, and Hotfrog. Add or correct your listing on each. Here’s a list of 50 local search engines to get you started.
  • Local Blogs – Find the blogs in your neighborhood or city. These are great sources of citations because they are highly relevant by nature and usually have a high level of trust. To get started search for “[your city] blog.”
  • Local Directories – Like local blogs, local directories are closely associated with your geography and well-indexed by search engines. Search “[your city] directory” to get started.
  • Industry Blogs and Directories – Like local blogs and directories, industry resources are typically well-indexed by Google and provide relevance to your industry. You won’t have the related geography in this category, but your citations will likely still count as these resources are typically indexed by local search engines.

Local search is a potentially untapped resource for your business. Many people overlook local SEO assuming the directories are automatically populated or that the information is always correct.

With more directories accepting user data (see Facebook), the more important it is that you monitor and manage your local listings.

With a dedicated effort, you can improve your Google rankings with some work on local SEO.

If you’d like help getting more visibility in local search for your business, contact Strategy today.


Even though Google’s search algorithm may be our nation’s most protected secret, there are proven tactics you can implement to improve your Google ranking.

Start with good research on how your audience thinks by using keyword research.

Next, learn what your audience likes by investigating content that is most often shared in your industry.

Armed with an understanding of your audience, you can consider on-page optimization techniques with meta data, content structure, and keyword inclusion.

Finally, you can employ off-page SEO strategies around backlinks and local search.

When used in harmony, the principles in this post will decidedly improve your rankings on Google, and, in turn, increase the traffic to your website.

If you want help improving your site’s search rankings, contact Strategy today.

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