Getting to the Top of Google with SEO Success Secrets

Ranking high in Google can reap major rewards
Last updated December 11, 2018
Posted by Luke      No Comments

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the holy grail of online marketing when it comes to ROI.

It’s also the subject area that interests me more than any other. 

The reasons for this are simple:

  • I have no life
  • It’s always changing — there are always new things to learn or try
  • There’s no barrier to entry — anyone can do it
  • I have no friends
  • It allows for passive traffic and income

However, SEO is also the thing that most people get wrong when starting or running a website.

If you get it right, SEO can generate you visitors and sales on autopilot. 

I demonstrated this in my affiliate blog case study.

Despite the fact I would take weeks (or months) off at a time, the site was optimised so effectively in an extremely targeted niche that I would earn passive income whilst I slept. I’m sure that’s the dream for many people — I know that earning without customers or clients is my preferred way of working. 

If you ranked number one in Google for a really competitive term, you’d struggle not to make hundreds of thousands a year at a minimum.

Most of SEO is extremely simple; it often relies on your ability to put in more effort than your competitors, rather than particularly having more technical ability.

There are some parts that get more complex, such as optimising your code.

Technical SEO is a specialist area and it’s one we’ll avoid, for the most part, in this lesson focused around SEO for beginners.

Whilst technical SEO can be used to identify major issues with your existing site, you’re unlikely to have too much wrong if you’ve recently set up your site on WordPress

In this guide, we’re going to look at a variety of on-page and off-page SEO techniques for getting to the top of Google.

How Does SEO Work?

Let’s look at traditional marketing methods for a hot minute. 

Image (cropped) credit: David Phan on Flickr

Think of an advert in any form — TV, radio, newspaper, leaflet, business card, chat up line, it really doesn’t matter — what is the aim of the ad?

In the examples above, every single one has the intention of getting you to buy or use the product or service being advertised.

They’re pitching to you.

It could be the best advert of all time, but if you have no need for the product being advertised then you’re still not going to buy it. 

SEO works in the complete opposite way to traditional adverts.

You will never see an SEO ‘advert’ (or a link in Google’s organic search results, which aren’t paid for so they’re not really adverts but just stick with me on this one) that you don’t have a need for.

When you search for something in Google, it returns highly relevant results 99.99% of the time.

Let’s say you want to hire a cleaner for your home. 

Like most people have done for all tasks for at least the last 10 years, you head to Google to try to find someone suitable.

The cleaners you find will be the ones with the most optimised site for search — the ones with the best SEO. 

You aren’t going to see links for make-up or dog grooming or Chinese takeaways; the usual stuff you’d typically find being advertised alongside stuff you may or may not be interested in.

This means, when you’ve got effective SEO as a site owner, you’ll only bring people to your site that are actively looking for the product, service or content you offer.

People probably aren’t searching for your brand name or website most of the time. They’ll be searching for the exact stuff you offer, then finding your brand as a result of that.

You receive visitors that are warm to what you offer. You’re not pitching to anyone, they’re coming to you. 

You then have an extremely good chance of turning this visitor into a customer — but that’s one for another lesson.

Let’s quickly cover the mistakes people make with SEO so that you understand why people usually don’t get it right.

SEO Mistakes That People Make

I’m gonna break this down into three subsections:

Being Passive

It’s ironic how search traffic is exceptional for passive results, but you need to be active with your strategy and workload. 

The number one passive SEO mistake would obviously be ‘not doing anything’ — my favourite pastime. If you do nothing to positively affect your chances of getting search traffic, well, you can’t expect to get search traffic. 

In order to be successful with gaining passive traffic to your site, you need a hands-on strategy to ensure you’re bringing searchers from Google to specific posts or pages on your site. 

Doing Things Wrong

Worse than not doing things at all is doing them incorrectly. 

If you have a well-optimised site but you aren’t working on making things better, well, you’re just missing a major opportunity. 

If you do things incorrectly, i.e. by setting things up wrongly on your site or by trying to cheat the system, you risk your site being undiscoverable altogether. 

I don’t want to worry you if you’re new to this — it’s hard to do things so badly wrong that you mess things up irreparably. But it can happen, so you need to be aware.

Failing to Persevere

This final mistake looks at those that are doing things correctly, but they’re just not doing enough of it, or giving up completely.

To see results from SEO, you need to not only do things properly but also do them consistently for a prolonged period of time.

Improving one thing across your site or gaining a backlink from a trustworthy blogger is great, but you then need to move onto working on improving the next thing, or getting the next backlink (or 10).

Sites that do extremely well in search continue to work on their SEO for months and years — often earning millions by doing so

It is highly unlikely, unless you choose a very specific niche, that you will have traffic flooding in from Google just a few weeks or months after launching your site. It can happen, but it probably won’t. 

You need to not only do the following things, but continue to do them until you reach the top of the rankings for your target keywords and phrases.

And then maybe do a little more to stay there.

With the right strategy, any website can compete in any niche — as long as you commit enough time and dedication to it. 

How to do SEO Correctly & Efficiently

SEO is never finished.

There is always work to be done. 

How much work you will do and can get done will depend on so many variables; your budget, your time, your niche, and more. 

Needless to say, a big-budget brand can commit overall investment more to SEO than a one-person-side-hustler. 

However, the below strategies can be done by absolutely everyone, regardless of how much time or money you have.

If you have more time and more money to invest in SEO tools (Mazepress has a great guide on some of the best options), or you have an extremely non-competitive niche, SEO results will likely be a little quicker.

Content

Let’s begin by looking at your on-page content; blog posts, product pages, service information, and similar. 

Start with the Longtail

Start by targeting long queries in great detail. 

Use keyword research tools like KWFinder (that’s an affiliate link, but it’s a cheap product that I find incredibly useful) to find exactly what people are searching for and how many people are searching for it. 

God dammit Google stopped people finding search volume for betting-related terms

I don’t just find what words and phrases people are searching for but also the questions they’re asking.

Then I ask the questions in the content to myself — and answer them, too.

Try to rank product and category pages for longer, relevant search terms that aren’t commonly searched for.

You’re much more likely to rank for ‘the best SEO consultants in Nottingham’ than you are for the more commonly-searched ‘SEO consultants’. 

You’re more likely to pick up visitors for a ‘leather iPhone X flip cases’ category than you are for one optimised for the broader term ‘iPhone cases’.

The latter in both examples might be a much bigger potential pay-off, but you’re unlikely to compete (any time soon) with the biggest sites in the world that already rank for those terms.

Take every opportunity you can to be descriptive in your product and category names in order to bring in a small trickle of visitors.

It’s better to pick up 25% of low-volume longtail searches (10-50 searches a month) than it is to pick up 0% of high volume searches. 

Create Something Worthy of Ranking

A lot of people think there is a dark art to ranking highly in Google, and in some ways there are — there are definitely naughty tricks that work. 

However, in 99% of search results, the pages that show at the top of the results are there because they deserve to be there. 

Exceptional content can be made in any niche, as shown by Nerd Fitness in this Paleo guide

The content that shows up — whether an article, a product page, or whatever — satisfies the searcher intent. It meets the goal of the person who searched for an answer to their query.

The paleo guide gets an estimated 35,000 visits each month from Google alone by satisfying searchers

With this in mind, you should always set out to create the best page you possibly can in order to rank for the terms you wish to rank for. 

This does not just mean a page that looks nice.

It needs to look good, sure, but it needs to provide all of the necessary information that anyone could be looking for.

Go the extra mile — and then a few more miles — to produce the best content every single time you hit ‘Publish’, no matter what page it is on your site or how many people you think will see it. 

A little trick most people avoid, but absolutely shouldn’t, is linking out to other websites where it’s relevant to do so.

Pages with relevant, high quality external links tend to rank better than those that do not link out.

If you’re linking to other resources that genuinely help your readers, or you’re crediting original sources for their information and data, Google (and humans) can see that you’re doing things in a way that is trustworthy, reliable and fair.

Page Title (h1)

The main title, which should be the only <h1> tag on your page (WordPress does this automatically to titles), should include a keyword you’d like to rank for. 

It should also be written in a way that is engaging, clickable and sharable.

Glen from Detailed.com does a great job of mixing keywords with shareability in titles

If this post was just titled for SEO — how we’d have done this in 2010 — it would probably be called something like:

‘SEO Tips 2018: On-Page SEO Beginner Tips & Linkbuilding Tips for SEO’

…but that’s just not engaging enough and looks kinda extremely spammy. 

Instead, I chose to go with ‘Getting to the Top of Google with SEO Success Secrets’.

I think it achieves the objectives of being interesting enough to want to read (although isn’t as fun as my original title of ‘How to SEO the Shit Outta Your Site’) whilst still including some low-volume keywords to try to rank for. 

Subheadings

Subheadings is something you should also include within your longform content. 

Not only do subheadings break up pages to keep them more engaging, which helps user experience and SEO, it also allows you to write about more content, include more keywords, and try to rank for more things. 

They also help with automatically generating sub-navigation with plugins like Table of Contents Plus, which can result in improved Google exposure:

You should keep subheadings highly relevant to the main topic of the page, but they can also be used on e-commerce stores. 

An example of this is seen on the RAC Store’s car battery page, who sell products at the top but include more information at the bottom; with a subheading for ‘Car Battery Fitting or Home Delivery’ hitting multiple keywords and allowing for expanded content to be placed under it.

They also cleverly include links to other relevant car battery related information within their site, which in turn all links back to this main category page.

Meta Title

The meta title is the title for your post or page that will be visible in Google’s search results. 

You’ll want to apply the same logic we used above with your regular <h1> title — engaging and clickable, with keyword(s) included — but you’ll also need to be smarter with your character limit. Most people use Yoast’s free SEO plugin to set a meta title. 

In fact, that’s a huge lie. 

Most people have Yoast, but can’t be arsed to set an appropriate or effective meta title. 

Doing this is an easy opportunity to get ahead of half the sites that won’t do more than the bare minimum; write words, hit publish, hope for the best. 

The default title is a missed opportunity:

You can use this space to add modifiers like ‘in 2018’, and to slightly change up the keywords you use in your <h1>. I advise using something similar, but definitely something that is at least a slight change to your on-page title. 

Meta Description

If you don’t amend your meta description then Google will automatically pull something it thinks is appropriate from your page. 

By setting a meta description, you are giving yourself a chance to pitch your post to a reader to make them click. What can they expect from your post? 

Some advice:

Don’t put ‘in this post…’ or ‘this guide will…’ — you’ve already wasted precious characters. 

Be more succinct and confident in your delivery:

‘Learn the basics of ranking high in Google with this huge range of beginner-friendly SEO tips’.

Or similar.

That can be improved, it’s just the first thing I thought of when I was pressured. Yes, pressured by myself. And by you, faceless person.

Meta titles and descriptions are things that can be monitored (performance-wise) in Google Search Console and tweaked every few months for further ranking improvements and higher volumes of clicks. 

Images

Images that assist a visitor or engage a reader are worth including wherever possible.

Remember when you were a stupid, smelly child and you loved the pictures in books more than the words?

Well, according to Analytics data, none of us ever really grew out of that. 

Pages with engaging images keep people reading for longer and sharing more.

There are three important things to remember:

  • Images should always be uploaded in the size you wish them to be displayed (don’t resize them in your Content Management System, like WordPress, or by using CSS or HTML)
  • You should add descriptive title and alt tags so that Google can understand what your image is showing
  • You should compress images to reduce their file size — I use the lowest quality image that I’m happy with, and then also use the EWWW Image Cloud Optimiser (which costs $0.003 per image) to automatically remove unnecessary image data when I upload to my site

I generally try to keep image sizes below 100kb, although of course there will be exceptions to this when the image looks too distorted.

It’s a balancing act between looking good and performing well.

Resizing and compressing images is a pain, but this means it’s also a pain for your competitors.

Remember what I said at the start:

“Most of SEO is extremely simple; it [just] relies on your ability to put in more effort than your competitors.”

LSI Keywords

LSI is something that sounds incredibly complex — Latent Semantic Indexing — but in reality just means ‘use similar words to your target keyword (i.e. synonyms) and talk about related subjects’

Example:

This post talks about ranking highly in Google. 

What is semantically linked to ranking in Google?

Well, there’s loads of stuff:

  • Getting to the top of Google (different words, same meaning)
  • SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation
  • Backlinks and linkbuilding
  • Metrics like Domain Authority and PageRank
  • Tools like Moz and Ahrefs 
  • Google search team employees like Gary Illyes and John Mueller
  • Google algorithms like Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird

I could talk about some, most, or all of those things in order to make this page be as closely associated to what I’m actually talking about as possible. 

I also, ideally, don’t want to mention things that aren’t semantically related, like other search engines such as CENSORED and CENSORED

If an NFL website started talking about the likes of Manchester United and the Premier League on its homepage, Google might not be able to tell whether the website is about real football or American Football.

When Google can’t work things out with your site, you usually don’t rank as well as you could.

In the good ol’ days, including your target keyword a whole load of times on a page (known as stuffing) typically saw ranking improvements. It was awful to read, but it worked.

These days, fortunately for content consumers, Google is smart.

But to be so smart it does need your assistance. Using LSI keywords means Google’s Artificial Intelligence can understand exactly what your page is about. 

This article claims there is no evidence to support LSI working, but whilst there is no ‘evidence’, there are strong correlations between pages that rank well and pages that use synonyms and similar subjects effectively.

Truth is:

There is often no definitive evidence that things work with Google, only correlations. 

Do LSI keywords directly cause your page to rank higher and get more visibility? I can’t say. But they do correlate with higher rankings and increased visibility, so, yeah.

That article baited me for a link and it bloody worked. Grr.

Backlinks

We’re now going to move into what is still the most underrated and underutilised tactic for ranking your site.

The reason for the above is simple:

It’s easy in theory, but hard in reality. 

People don’t wanna put the effort in to get links back to their content so instead they hope that other SEO tactics perform well enough to balance out their laziness. 

Links are vital.

It’s not just any of links, either, you need good quality links from good quality websites.

Linkbuilding is an art.

Real blogs, forums and news sources linking to your site ‘organically’ (i.e. not via an advert or self-spamming) can result in huge lifts in your rankings and search traffic. 

Ideally, you want to get links that use anchor text — a link to this post using wording like ‘SEO tips for beginners’ or ‘SEO tips from ClicheWebsite’ would be much better than a link that simply read https://clichewebsite.com/seo/ranking-high-in-google/. 

Links to specific posts that you want to rank is also the perfect situation, although links to your homepage or other pages on your site will also prove beneficial and will help you to keep a natural and balanced backlink profile. 

Linkbuilding

Acquiring links can be done in three major ways:

  • Manual — signing up to sites that allow inclusion of a backlink
  • Outreach — emailing sites to see if they will link to you
  • Natural — people sharing and linking to your stuff organically

Suffice to say, only the first two are things you have any control over. 

However, the more work you put into the first two things, the more likely you are to reap the rewards of the third. 

Manual linkbuilding, i.e. placing your links yourself onto other websites, should be done as a priority on a new site.

These links likely won’t have major benefits as they are so easy to acquire, but at least you’re not working from a blank slate — every little helps.

Social networking sites, major forums and relevant business directories are all places you can sign-up for an easy backlink.

Many links from these will be ‘nofollow’, meaning they don’t help your search rankings directly, but they will pass other useful benefits and signals that can help your site and brand overall. 

Manual is the easiest but lowest return form of linkbuilding (by far), but it’s still worthwhile. 

In contrast, outreach — and acquiring natural links from respectable bloggers or journalists — is hard, time consuming, and has a low (and declining) success rate. But results can be monstrous. 

links and traffic
10-15 quality backlinks doubled my niche site organic traffic in a month

Not only does it take time to find and contact hundreds of relevant candidates for linking to your stuff, you also have to ensure you have something worthy of linking to. 

I know I’ve already covered linkworthy content — I wanted to emphasise it, but I won’t beat a dead horse.

A great thing about outreach is that it can lead to a spike in natural exposure, backlinks and virality. 

Let’s say you create a piece of content so good that sites like the BBC or the New York Times use it as a reference for a story of their own. 

This will likely result in tens or hundreds of other websites picking up on the story and many will also use your content as a reference.

Online music accessory retailer Superfi made use of hype around the first new Star Wars movie in a while to release their Star Wars bands content.

The content showed that sometimes less is more, with a simple collection of Photoshopped images that attracted links from all over the globe.

The content attracted links from some of the world’s most authoritative websites, shown with their high Domain Rating in Ahrefs.

If you’ve provided images or data (or both together, like an infographic), the chances of your content receiving a viral explosion increases dramatically.

But you don’t have to aim for home-run content pieces. 

If you can create great super-niche content and get 5-6 backlinks to it from really good quality sources, that has a big chance of helping to rank highly. 

The final thing to cover here is an important one:

Should you buy backlinks?

Buying backlinks breaks Google’s guidelines. 

Sites like Fiverr will sell a load of backlinks for cheap, but they’re going to cause more harm than good. Low quality links, low quality sites. Don’t do it.

As for buying links from respectable bloggers or journalists, it’s a strange area. It breaks Google’s guidelines and could land your site in eternal banishment from the search results, but if it’s done smartly, looks natural and your content is genuinely worth linking to…how would they ever know?

Backlink Software

There is a variety of different pieces of software you can use to check how many backlinks you have (they’re reported in Search Console), I personally use Ahrefs

But checking your own backlinks is something you only need to do once in a while…

…Checking your competitors’ backlinks is a much more juicy and profitable exercise. 

By looking at the backlinks that competitor sites are picking up you an reverse-engineer their strategies. 

Ask yourself:

“How did they get this exact link?”

And…

“How can I also get a link from this site?”

A common strategy is to recreate the content that has been linked to, but make it significantly better whilst doing so. Then all you need to do is reach out to the linking site and say something along the lines of “plz link to me instead k? luv ya xox”.

Site Optimisation

The final area we’re going to look at is optimising your site’s performance.

This has a large bearing on your SEO. 

Image credit: Sourced

Speed

Ensuring your site is fast is one of the key components of SEO and user experience (UX).

UX also impacts SEO by itself — if a user has a poor experience on your site and leaves straight away, Google will recognise this.

It’s really important to ensure your site is fast. It’s the number one reason that people leave sites. 

There are many speed optimisations you can carry out. 

On my main niche site, I must have tried every easy and medium difficulty speed optimisation there was. 

It didn’t matter how many guides I read, it didn’t matter how many optimisations I made, I could never reduce one important thing:

Server response time.

This is how long it takes to load the very first piece of your website on-screen for a user, also known as ‘Time to First Byte’ or TTFB. 

You’ll find this statistic (and a range of other improvement opportunities) on a free tool like Pagespeed Insights or Pingdom

A 4.5s TTFB is extremely slow, but unfortunately this is not an unusual result. Results taken from a random blog.

After hosting ClichéWebsite with a new company for the first time in years, I realised I no longer had TTFB issues — also for the first time in a long while.

The host I went with was Kinsta, and I’ve since moved my main affiliate blog, as well as my friend’s e-commerce store, to the Kinsta platform.

All of the sites now have rapid TTFB times, something no optimisation has ever fixed for me. 

The TTFB on ClichéWebsite is under 0.2s on average

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Kinsta. I wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t know they were awesome. You can check them out here — they’ll help you move to their WordPress hosting if you require assistance. 

The other great thing with Kinsta is that you don’t need to worry about some slightly complicated things like setting up caching plugins or CDNs.

Caching is handled automatically.

If you’re within another host, I recommend installing the WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache plugin.

A CDN will load your site from a server close to a visitor’s location, rather than from a single point in the world — data takes time to travel.

If you’re in need of one, Cloudflare offer a free CDN service that is probably the world’s most popular. 

Speed is definitely something I’ll need to write a full guide on in the future. 

For more recommendations, use the tools mentioned above or also check out GTMetrix (again, it’s free).

URLs

Something really important to get right (ideally when you first set up your site) is your URL structure. 

If you already have a site that is generating traffic via Google or has backlinks, be very careful changing your URLs. 

Any URL change could lose your ranking short-term — and potentially long-term if you do not have correct redirects set up. 

Bad URL (or ‘permalink’) examples:

  • https://clichewebsite.com/?p=131
  • https://clichewebsite.com/2010/02/04/seo-tips
  • https://clichewebsite.com#seotips

The first example is bad because it contains absolutely nothing of use. 

The second example is bad because it contains a date archive. This brings issues regarding future-proofing and ranking effectively in the future. 

The final example is bad because hashes usually refer to an anchor point on a page. For instance, if you use my quick navigation/Table of Contents links, they scroll you to a section within this same post — and do so by using hashes in the URL.

If you’re using hashes to access different pages on your site, rather than jumping to certain sections, Googlebot can get confused.

When used correctly, URLs are a great chance to include your target keyword. Keep them short and snappy so they look attractive when shared elsewhere. 

The URL for this post is https://clichewebsite.com/seo/rank-high-in-google/. 

Adding the dashes between words helps Google and users easily see exactly what a link says. Always do this.

Internal Links

The only way that Google can crawl the internet is via links. It hops from one page to another at lightning-quick speed, but if a page has no links to it from anywhere, Google has no way of finding or accessing it. 

Internal links also give you full control over exactly how Google sees your own content — you choose which pages are linked to and can set the anchor text yourself.

If I was to internally link to this post from another, I’d always use anchor text like ‘how to rank high in Google’ or similar — something descriptive, but also uses the exact words I want to rank for. I’d also ensure that links from other pages used slightly different phrasing, as it is possible to be ‘over-optimised’.

I’d never use wording like ‘click here’ — although sometimes would for an external link.

Relevant pages should be linked to each other so that Google can understand relevancy and also judge whether you are an authority in a niche. 

If you have a site about sport but then wrote a single post about how to make a website, it probably wouldn’t rank because Google knows your site is mainly about a totally different subject.

Linking to your relevant pages in a natural-looking way within text can be great for helping to rank but also for helping readers, by offering them further information to check out.

Sitemaps

A sitemap is basically a list of every page on your website that you’d like to be indexed (meaning ‘be listed’) in Google. 

Sitemaps are handily generated via the Yoast WordPress plugin.

Submit your sitemap(s) to Google Search Console so that they can hopefully crawl every URL on your site. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use internal links — they’re still extremely important.

Mobile-Friendliness

Are any sites really not mobile friendly these days?

With Google releasing ‘mobile first’ indexing, mobile-friendly websites get the priority in almost all of their search results pages (SERPs) for searchers on their phones. 

This means Google now has different results depending on the device you’re searching from, in addition to your location and a range of other things.

There’s a tool for checking your site; the Mobile-Friendly Test.

Ensure your website is mobile-friendly by opting for a responsive design, which adjusts your layout depending on a user’s screen size.

I’m talking to you: people that haven’t updated your website since 2013.

HTTPS

Taking your site secure, meaning it starts with ‘https’ instead of ‘http’, is one of very few ranking factors that Google themselves admit will give you a very small ranking boost.

I haven’t seen evidence of anyone seeing dramatic increases as a result of moving to HTTPS. However, doing so can also result in many indirect benefits that positively affect SEO long-term. 

For example:

A site with HTTPS is seen as more trustworthy. It receives the padlock symbol in Chrome whereas basic HTTP sites have a ‘Not Secure’ label, meaning even those that aren’t security-conscious can have their opinion swayed — even subconsciously. 

Sites that are seen as more trustworthy are more likely to be engaged with, shared around and linked to. They’re also more likely to generate sales, leads, subscriptions and more. 

On-Page SEO Checklist

We’ve now reached the end of lesson 5 of the website success blueprint

To finish things off, I thought I’d leave you with a checklist for getting your SEO right each time you publish any new content on your website.

Feel free to save, print out or share the checklist. With credit, plz.

If you have any thoughts, questions or any of the other things, leave me a comment down below and I’ll do my best to respond.

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