With 8.5 billion (yes, with a “b”) daily searches on Google alone, being at the top of the results pages is critical if you want to:
The real challenge is figuring out how to get your business on the first page of Google.
No one understands all the details of Google’s algorithm apart from the developers who made it. That’s some top-secret IP owned by one of the largest companies in the world.
But savvy content marketing pros have figured out a thing or two about how to rank content on the first page of Google. So here are the basic SEO principles you need to understand.
Let’s start by looking at the specific language you’ll need to know to discuss SEO properly. These are the most common terms you’ll come across, plus what they mean.
Organic traffic means website visits that come from users clicking on search results that aren’t paid advisements.
Paid traffic means website visits that come from users clicking on paid advisements that pop up in search results.
Put another way, an “organic result” is a clickable link on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) that Google’s algorithm determines is one of the best web pages available for whatever the user searched for.
A “paid result” is an ad that a business pays Google to show on the first page of SERPs when a user searches for a specific keyword.
A keyword is a word or string of words that a user enters into the Google search engine. When users search for a certain keyword regularly, such as “how to lose weight,” you can create content that responds to that keyword as comprehensively as possible. The goal is for Google to see that your content answers those users’ questions well, in which case Google will rank you high in the SERPs.
If successful, your website receives a share of the organic traffic generated by people searching for that keyword and clicking on organic results. It’s easier said than done, but knowing the basic SEO principles involved helps immensely.
A click is just that — a click on a link in the SERPs. It takes the search engine user away from the SERPs and, ideally, to your well-ranked website.
In recent years, Google started providing answers to users’ questions right there in the SERPs, meaning they often don’t have to click away from Google to get the information they’re looking for anymore.
This way, Google keeps users’ attention on the page containing the ads that generate most of the search engine’s revenue. However, you can still take steps to encourage more clicks away from the SERPs.
CPC is the average cost of a user’s click on a paid search result (a Google ad) for a given keyword.
It’s a volatile number that changes as advertisers increase or decrease their ad spend and as certain search terms gain or lose popularity. Google Ads supplies the most recent and accurate CPC values for your list of target keywords.
It can be useful to know the CPC, even if you’re creating blog content targeting a specific keyword. A high CPC signals a high purchase intent, which is why businesses are paying many dollars for each click.
Put another way, a high CPC means that someone searching for that keyword is ready to make a purchase.
Monthly search volume indicates how many times per month people search for a keyword in a particular region or country. SEO software provides conservative search volume estimates, so you can consider it a minimum number of monthly searches for a keyword.
The monthly search volume corresponds to individual variations of each keyword. For example, the total monthly searches for the below variations of the same keyword would be at least 350.
Typically, a post will target a single version of a keyword, usually the one with the best metrics. If all other factors were equal, we’d target keyword #3 in the example above because it’s searched for most often.
However, Google is smart enough to know these keywords are synonymous. If you provided a high-quality piece of content targeting keyword #3, the algorithm would typically reward you with credit for all three variations of the keyword. In other words, your content would stand a good chance of showing up on Page 1 of the SERPS if a user searched for any of these keyword variations, provided the overall SEO strategy was solid.
Keyword density is a measurement of how often a search term appears in text relative to the total number of words on the page: (# of keywords / # of total words) x 100%. For example, if a keyword appears five times in 100 words of text, the keyword density is 5%.
Excessive keyword density, though, is a good indication of search engine spam, and Google’s algorithm actually penalizes content for excessive keyword use. If a keyword appears too often on a webpage, search engines will downgrade the website, making it appear lower in search results.
This is the number of keywords a website ranks for in the SERPs. Broadly speaking, the goal of SEO is to grow the number of keywords a site ranks for. The more (relevant) keywords you rank for, the greater your chance of drawing customers to your site to facilitate sales.
The number of keywords each site captures depends on many factors, including:
See the diagram below for an explanation of the different parts of a website’s address or “domain name.”
Backlinks are clickable links from other websites that lead users to pages on your website. A backlink profile is a collection of the backlinks from these external websites, which are also known as “referring domains.”
Google assesses your website’s backlink profile on the strength of its referring links, looking at factors like:
Domain rating (DR) and URL rating (UR) are metrics used to rate a backlink profile. These are the more nerdy metrics used by SEO experts, and most business owners won’t need to worry about them unless they’re reviewing backlinks themselves.
DR is a measure of the quantity and quality of the backlinks going to an entire domain, while UR ranks the backlinks going to a specific page or URL.
Metadata refers to the various tidbits of information that help Google’s algorithm understand the nature of the content on a page. Important components include:
There are many more types of metadata but, for the purposes of content marketing with blog posts, these are the main ones to know.
As mentioned above, Google wants to answer more and more searches right there in the SERPs. However, a compelling meta description and title can go a long way to increasing the likelihood of getting organic traffic by enticing users to click through to your website.
SEO is not for weekend warriors. It’s an intricate skill that changes all the time and takes 3-6 months on average to produce results.
Google’s algorithm looks at over 200 factors when determining where to rank a site in the SERPs. It’s an exhaustive list — and an exhausting pursuit to make sense of most of it. But if it was easy, everyone could do it, and Google’s front page wouldn’t have much value. Instead, only the highest quality, most thoughtful content makes its way onto Page 1 in the SERPs.
Still, here are a few key SEO principles that help with high rankings:
Because backlinks are seen as impartial votes of confidence, good quality backlinks add strength and relevance to your site. Google doesn’t just monitor the number of backlinks your site has — it also looks at their authority and quality, as mentioned above.
For example, if you only have a few backlinks, but they come from very high-quality domains, such as international publications or government websites, your site will rank better than one with hundreds of low-quality backlinks (all other factors being equal). It’s definitely a quality over quantity situation.
Additional backlink criteria:
The above graph gives you an idea of the weighting involved. Google updates its algorithm regularly, so these weightings may change one way or another over time.
The most critical SEO principles behind keyword choice are purchase intent and keyword difficulty.
Monthly search volume, mentioned above, is also a consideration when selecting a keyword. However, if the keyword difficulty is too high and search intent is very low, then all the monthly search volume in the world won’t make a difference to your bottom line.
For that reason, purchase intent and keyword difficulty are the primary considerations. Low-intent keywords are sometimes fine too, depending on the stages of awareness, but that’s another topic.
In addition to the CPC, another way to better understand a keyword’s search intent is to Google it yourself.
The types of results you find on Page 1 are what Google has determined people are looking for when they type in that phrase.
For example, if you’re a dentist considering writing a blog post about a teeth whitening service you offer, you can Google the term “teeth whitening.” If nine out of ten of the top results are product pages selling at-home teeth whitening devices, this probably isn’t a great keyword for your in-house whitening service. Google has discovered that when people search for that keyword, they’re actually looking for home-use devices, so it shows them what they want — and it won’t show them in-house services.
Search engine optimization isn’t an overnight process. The amount of time it takes to get to the first page of Google is usually 3-6 months, and even that depends on many parameters, including:
If the prospect of juggling metrics, pleasing Google’s algorithm, and creating search-optimized content seems overwhelming, I get it. It’s a lot to take in.
Start by mapping both your existing and future content to the user journey, scope out your competition, and — arguably most important — work with someone who can explain keyword research and intent in a way that doesn’t sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Those three steps will put you in an epic position to rank your website, increase your organic search traffic, and grow your business.
Joel Widmer is the Founder & CEO of Fluxe Digital Marketing—a content marketing shop that helps smart businesses create, produce and promote their content through a unique one-on-one interview process. When he’s not working, Joel can be found trying new restaurants with his wife, son, and daughter.