How to Rank Highly on Google
Google just celebrated its 20th birthday. Yay, go them. How do you use this giant to propel your small business? Knowing you need to rank highly on Google is one thing. Knowing how to do it is another. SEO writing, you’ve heard, is one of the weapons you need. You need to know more.
At The Content Ninja we’re used to hearing the desperation in a client’s voice: “I need to rank more highly on Google.” We understand your concern, we really do. But we’d be lying to say there was a quick route to success. Search engine optimization (SEO) – the art of search engine ranking – is notoriously slow acting.
This isn’t BAD news. Really.
It may be slow acting but it is powerfully long-lasting. You need to commit for the long haul. Given you’re not planning on your business giving up the ghost any time soon, we’ll assume that’s no problem.
That said, and being pros at SEO writing we know, there are some shortcuts and quick fixes you can take. You may still be a slow snail, but you’re marginally faster than all the others in the race. And that’s all that matters really.
So, how do you improve your Google rankings? There are two key strategies you need to master: SEO writing and making use of your analytics.
Let’s take a look in more detail.
SEO writing as a weapon in ranking wars
Copywriting is the art of putting words on a page. SEO writing is the art of putting words on a page that Google thinks are important. This is an interesting marriage between two, quite distinct, niches: writing and SEO. The two aren’t always the most amicable bedfellows.
There are some basic rules to SEO writing:
1. Write for the audience: Not yourself, not your ego, and not what you want to sell. Instead write about things you genuinely know your audience will be interested in. This gives the piece a decent shot at having good organic search potential (or, natural growth).
2. Create the best: Then, armed with the topic, your piece of content has to be streets ahead of anyone else’s. It has to be more informative, more authoritative, longer, and frankly more all-singing-all-dancing.
3. Use links: Links – both backlinks to elsewhere on your site, and external links – raise the authority of your content. They trigger action whilst also building knowledge and reputation.
To achieve success with these rules, you’ll therefore need to start with some research. For the majority of small businesses, this means getting some keyword analysis done. This will throw up some immensely useful information on what you’ll need to do to outperform your competitors on particular keywords.
As tasks go, getting some keyword and SEO analysis done isn’t too hard. You can outsource it and buy it as a set job from a freelancer and Bob’s your uncle.
The hard part is what you do with that: how to craft SEO writing.
SEO Writing Skills
Taking you back to the basic rules of SEO writing, we talked about writing for your audience. This is absolutely true. However, we need to split your audience in to two types: your readers and your linkers.
Readers: These are the “Joe Bloggs”, who are interested in what you’ve got to say. They are the potential customers.
Linkers: These are the people who themselves are SEO writers and will link to your writing as a source of authority. Building backlinks to your content raises its ranking, so you need to appeal to these guys.
Then, armed with a keyword you’re targeting, go and have a play. Take a look at what’s coming up on the first page of Google when you enter the keyword. You need to don your detective hat and try to spot commonalities. This may be that you spot a long list of ‘How to’ guides. It may be that most high ranking results are blog articles of a certain length. It may be straight-forward salesy stuff, rather than good content.
Whatever it is that they have in common, you need to do the same, but outperform it. These pieces of content are ranking super highly because Google love them. So spot what they are doing, and do it better.
This forms the start of your SEO checklist. You’ll need to check that on all vital Google parameters, you are ticking off as ‘better’. So this will include everything from number of backlinks, to Google’s E-A-T (we’re going to write a post dedicated to this soon, but in short it stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness).
Now we have a little tip here. Frequently, a Google user turns to the search engine with a question. They are searching precisely because they need answers. Therefore, work out what the questions would be around your keyword and topic. These are another way in when it comes to SEO writing. They form what we call long-tail keywords, another SEO tool.
At this point you can start crafting your SEO writing using the usual SEO tips you tend to hear:
Put the keyword in the title.
Put the keyword in the first and last paragraphs.
Now, before you write any more, go back to those top ranking competitor pieces. Whizz through and spot their links to external sources. Follow them and see where they take you. Do it for a few different pieces and spot the common ones. You’ll need to use these, and more. Yes, it’s a bit laborious but it’s worth it. Whilst you’re at it, you can use your own sense of what makes this page great. Is it relevance? Accuracy? Is it that it is frequently freshened up? Is it just a darn good yarn?
You could be all geeky about it and set up a spreadsheet to write down the good, the bad and the ugly. Mimic the good, improve upon the bad and cut out the ugly. We grant that this is a crazy long-winded way of writing a piece of content. However, it’s worth it for some key pieces. For others, a SEO writer armed with your keywords is the best solution.
Next there’s another crucial little thing to do: find your USP. This is the specific USP for that particular piece of content. It’s your angle that is different from all the rest.
SEO Writing: time to put pen to paper
Ok, so your Word document is currently looking a little lame. You’ve got a title and maybe a keyword friendly opening paragraph.
Now you really can start writing the content. At this stage, get the framework down. You can tidy it up afterwards. You can also bulk it out later too (given that we know size matters).
From here, go back to that introductory paragraph. This paragraph is so important we cannot stress it enough. Not only that true, but the first line of the first paragraph is like the keyhole of a door. If you don’t even get the reader to put the key in the lock, the rest of the page is wasted.
The first paragraph in SEO writing
The first sentence of your first paragraph needs to clearly signpost the reader (and Google) that this piece of content answers the question. It needs to show completely relevance to what you’re going to be writing about. This is crucial to get them to read the rest of the intro.
Then, the rest of the introductory paragraph (as well as including your keyword), needs to cement for them that they are going to get valuable information right here if they just keep reading.
You’re gaining trust, and a reader. Promote your solution to their problem. Pique their curiosity.
The rest of the content
The rest of the content is where you develop the idea. You go on to take your unique angle and provide real solutions. This is what you’re doing for your readers.
But we know we mustn’t forget the linkers. The rest of the article is also ideal territory for building linking triggers. Remember you took a look at the links in the high ranking results? You need that info now. Whilst we’d love to think backlinks happen organically, that isn’t really the truth. You have to work hard for them.
This is where you need to look at the content and outreach for backlinks. These are little hooks in the content that will get others coming to you as the authority. Great ways of doing this are your own unique data from your own research that no one else has. Hint: this involves more work. Again, it’s worth it.
The importance of length for SEO writing
Length is one of the huge conundrums when it comes to SEO writing in terms of ranking highly on Google. Your average reader doesn’t have the greatest attention span. Google, however, loves getting its teeth stuck in to something meaty. Balancing these two contradicting ideals is just one of the many reasons why ‘SEO’ and ‘copywriting’ aren’t necessarily best buds.
This is where a good rule of thumb will help you out. Go for length, but with no padding. Whilst fluff helps readability, your reader should be getting at least one new point per paragraph. If they aren’t, scrap it.
Also use some tricks to help the appearance of length. Keep sentences quite short. Try to limit them to 3-4 per paragraph. In SEO writing you need lots of whitespace to make it readable. What’s more, website readers are skimmers and this helps that.
Other great SEO writing tricks are:
Images (not forgetting alt tags)
Broken up text
Bold, italics, underlining to highlight points
Bucket brigades (little copywriting tricks to keep readers on the page, we’ll write about this one day soon).
Semantic phrases (ones which are like your keyword which boost the relevancy of the pieces).
Lastly, for the love of all English pedants, check your spelling and grammar. Get a third party proof reader in on the act.
Analytics as a weapon in ranking wars
Back at the start of this post we mentioned you had two key weapons for ranking highly on Google: SEO writing and analytics. Once your content is written and ready to be uploaded, you then move on to this second weapon.
Given how much effort you (should) have put in to your SEO writing, you don’t want to ignore this one.
In a nutshell, this is the process of quantitatively checking how your SEO writing is doing, and how the page in general is doing, and refining it. The clue is in the name: Search Engine Optimization. It’s not a one-off process per piece of content. To get it to rank highly, you have to go back, and back, and back again.
If you simply want to rank highly for ‘something’, then Google Analytics will help you out here. You can use your Google Analytics reports to see which pages function most effectively and target your revisiting efforts on them.
To be fair to our readers, analytics and its use in SEO writing is a mammoth topic in itself. We can’t do justice to it here. However, for now it is important to know that you can’t just hit ‘publish’ and be done. You’ll need to keep reviewing and optimising.
Much of this is trial and error. Make some changes, give it a few days, and then come back to your analytics. Are there changes? Small changes can be incredibly powerful.
Ranking highly on Google takes effort
So there we have it. There isn’t a quick fix. However, no effort is wasted. Get SEO writing ‘right’ and it goes on giving for a very long time in to the future. These pieces of SEO writing are the ones which will drive real traffic to your site.
We’ve possibly made you despair at the amount of effort involved. However, remember that this isn’t a one-shot wonder. It’s a process of refinement. If you’re struggling to know where to start then follow this process:
Get a keyword analysis done.
Get a marketing manager, such as Helen Cox, in to the mix to help create your marketing strategy.
Get SEO copywriters writing pieces to target relevant keywords.
When you can, refine the pieces through analytics.
Get your SEO writing now in our content shop.
Chris Brown is chief copywriter at The Content Ninja. With a focus on SEO strategy paired with powerful writing, The Content Ninja does content marketing differently.
Image source Flickr