There is more competition online than ever before and sometimes it feels like it is impossible to actually get your website ranked. However, if you’re having this problem, the issue might be that you are going about it wrong.
How does Google Rank Pages?
Google has its own algorithm for ranking web pages and no one fully knows all the components of the formula. This is largely because Google likes keeping at least some of this information secret.
However, there are a few things we do know.
1. Google is constantly changing/improving its algorithm
Over time, Google has tweaked its algorithm, and the company continues to make changes – some of them small, some of them large.
The truth is, no internet marketer knows what Google will do six months from now, and we don’t know for certain whether the techniques that work now will work later. Many times, Google’s changes have made some approaches to ranking entirely redundant.
Early on, pages used to be ranked simply by how many times they used a given keyword.
This led to the practice of keyword stuffing where people would try to include a keyword as many times as possible. As you can imagine, this led to some pretty poor writing. Some websites went even further and had invisible keywords in the white spaces throughout their site.
If you tried that now, Google would probably blacklist your site and refuse to rank it at all. Even if Google did rank your site, you wouldn’t rank well.
2. Google doesn’t like manipulation
Many of Google’s changes have been specifically aimed towards people who are attempting to manipulate its system.
This issue has led to the white hat/gray hat/black hat terminology.
In general, black hat techniques are ways of ranking your website that blatantly go against Google. In many cases, these techniques will work to rank your site, but only until you get caught.
Some people get around this issue by making quick throwaway niche sites using black hat techniques and just move onto a new one when Google stops ranking their site.
Honestly, this technique only ever works for people very experienced in internet marketing and even then, it isn’t a good long-term strategy.
In contrast, white hat techniques are the ones that Google favors. If you are using white hat techniques, then you will probably continue to rank in Google regardless of the changes that Google makes. You may have to change small things if Google makes a significant algorithm change, but you won’t lose months and months of work.
Finally, gray hat is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and tends to include approaches that Google isn’t that clear on.
The take-home message here is that Google does not like sites that attempt to manipulate the system, and they will come down hard on those that do. If you stick to white hat techniques, you can develop and grow a business over time without the risk associated with black hat.
This means that the fastest answer for how to improve Google ranking is to use black hat techniques, but the best long-term answer is to use white hat techniques.
3. Google likes content and relevance
Google has been moving towards encouraging the development of quality, relevant content and this has had a huge impact on internet marketing.
Google’s algorithms are becoming increasingly aware of the content within an article, and ranking accordingly.
For example, if you are using the keyword “Best Cat Litter for Kittens”, Google would look for other relevant works in your post and even in your site. This includes things like other cat or kitten products and even links to other sites that specialize in this area.
So, I could use the keyword “Best Cat Litter for Kittens” dozens of times in this post (don’t worry – I’m not going to), but I probably still wouldn’t rank for it.
For that matter, Google seems to preferentially ranking sites that it perceives as having significant authority. No one fully knows how far this goes, but it can certainly be difficult to rank against sites like WebMD, regardless of your SEO and content versus theirs.
Now, this effect could simply be because of SEO and content – it’s just one part of Google’s approach that no one completely knows.
4. SEO still works
SEO is dead!
No, it’s not, but I’m sure you’ve heard that at least once.
SEO is changing, and things that worked once certainly don’t work now, but that doesn’t mean the whole field is dead.
In fact, many sites continue to effectively use SEO. The trick really is to tune into what Google wants people to do and go from there.
Perhaps the biggest example of how SEO is still effective is keyword research.
People continue to use tools like Jaaxy and Google’s own keyword tools to work out what keywords to target for their websites, and these keywords help them rank. I have talked about keyword research in more detail in another post, but it is a common and effective technique.
5. Google is focused on smarter searching
A final note is that Google continues to ‘improve’ the way that it searches for information.
This means that you have to be careful about what keywords you choose because some won’t lead where you expect them to.
One example of this is questions that have a simple answer. If you type in something like ‘What Time is it in Hawaii’, you will get a little box that actually tells you the answer to your question, without having to go to any sites.
Likewise, many searches involving the name of a person will bring up an infobox to the side that tells the viewer who that person is and some basic information.
For most viewers, this approach is more useful than annoying, but if you are trying to rank for keywords, you might want to check what comes up in a basic Google search.
Another example of this is misspellings.
Some people intentionally target misspelled keywords, because they are searched for often. This isn’t a good idea because it really makes your site look bad – but there’s another problem with it too. The issue is that Google will automatically correct most misspelled words, like this:
So, even if you target (and rank for) the misspelled keyword, hardly anyone will see it because Google automatically corrects for it.
A final note on this topic is to be careful of any word with multiple spellings. Good examples of this are grey and gray or organisation and organization. All of those spellings are correct, but some are only accepted in America while others are common in the United Kingdom and some other parts of the world.
Most of the time, when you search one spelling in Google, the algorithm will look for both, like this:
This can make ranking tricky, and most keyword research tools will show the statistics for each term (in this case “organization profit” versus “organisation profit”) separately, even though Google does not.
What does all this mean for how to improve Google ranking for your site?
Let’s start at the beginning.
Now, I’m going to assume that you actually are doing keyword research and targeting keywords for your site. If you’re not, then this is the wrong article for you to read, and you should look at my article on keyword research.
So, what happens if you are targeting keywords but you still don’t seem to be ranking in Google?
The first thing is that you might be targeting the wrong keywords.
When you get started in internet marketing it’s really easy to get overenthusiastic about keywords, and try to rank for keywords with amazing traffic, but pretty high competition. Everyone has their own level of competition that they are happy with, but in general, you should be looking low when you first start.
What about this keyword:
This is from a Jaaxy search, and the QSR term indicates competition. Generally speaking, anything under 300 is okay, but the lower the better. If you had an established site in this niche, then this might be a good term, but even then, it would take a while to rank for.
Personally, I would say that you should steer clear of this particular term, and anything with this level of competition until you are already ranking for other keywords.
For anyone early into a website, the key is to look for long-tail keywords because these tend to be more specialized and have less competition.
In this case, a good alternative might be the following keyword:
Even though the number of monthly searches is much lower, the competition is also lower, and that’s the important part.
The thing to remember is that if you are ranking for keywords with low searches, you will still get some traffic. However, if you aim for a more challenging keyword and don’t rank for it, then you won’t get any traffic from that keyword.
While I’m on the topic of keyword selection, it’s really important to check out the competition for your keyword.
By this, I don’t mean the QSR or whatever measure of competition the program you are using follows.
Instead, I’m talking about the actual websites you are competing with.
For some keywords, the level of competition might seem low, but the sites that you are competing against are pretty hard to compete with. One example of this is the following keyword:
It looks incredibly easy to rank for, but have a look at some of the main competition:
You’ve got WebMD, Psychcentral, Huffington Post and others. A lot of these are really big names, and they are sites with a lot of authority. You probably can’t rank against those sites, particularly with a new or almost new site, regardless of how good your SEO is.
So, overall, if you are trying to figure out how to improve Google ranking for your site, the first step is to have a close look at the keywords that you are actually choosing.
Titles and Descriptions
The title and the description tag that you give your web page are very relevant to ranking in Google and also to actually getting people to click on your link once they do see it.
Despite common belief, you don’t actually have to put your keywords in your title or your description. Sometimes you might, sometimes you mightn’t.
In general, you want both the title and description of the page to be relevant to the content that is on it and actually be interesting.
If you can do this and actually get keywords in there too – great! However, always choose what sounds natural over what sounds a little odd or unusual, because that will play a key role in ranking.
Be Careful with Links
One of the most common approaches that people take when they are trying to work out how to improve Google ranking is through links, specifically inbound links.
The general concept is that the more links that go to your website, the better it will look to Google.
This is only partly true.
The big thing that people miss is that the quality of links matter and this matters a lot.
If you have a lot of low-quality links going to your website, then this may actually decrease your ranking in Google, and in some cases decrease it dramatically.
One problem is that it can be quite hard to find and get rid of bad links going to your site, particularly if you have a lot of them.
A key thing to consider is that you want the links going to your website to be relevant to your site and from quality websites. This includes avoiding things like spamming blogs with links, getting links from generalized article directories or links from articles that have been directly copied or spun.
You can’t be certain how Google is going to respond to any given link, so the best approach is to err on the side of caution. Good quality links can still help with ranking, but nowhere near as much as they used to.
Realistically, if your website isn’t ranking and you think it should be, having poor quality links may very well be the reason.
Additionally, you really can rank just by using good keyword research and keyword selection, without risking anything in link building.
Personally, I don’t recommend looking into link building at all until you are very confident in your internet marketing and are successfully ranking on your own.
Before we finish, I want to bring up a quick point. I’ve talked about this in the past, but I want to briefly mention keyword density.
A lot of people say you should have a specific density of your keyword in a given article. The exact percentage ranges depending on who you ask, but the concept itself is pretty common.
As I mentioned before, Google did once pay a lot of attention to keyword density, which is why keyword stuffing was so common for a while.
However, in recent years, Google has really been moving away from this trend. Recent comments from Google suggest that keyword density is no longer a significant part of the ranking algorithm.
Instead, Google is focusing much more on how natural content sounds and the context of the article.
This means that it really is time to stop focusing on how many times you put a given keyword in your article, and focus on writing an article that is high quality and that helps your reader. You’ll find that with the right keywords, this on its own should be enough to get your site ranked.
A final note is to be very careful about the advice you read online for ranking your website.
The internet marketing field changes rapidly, and with it, the methods of effectively ranking a page also change.
However, there are still a lot of older web pages out there, as well as people who simply haven’t caught up with the times, and they may give you incorrect advice about what is effective for ranking your page.
The thing is, following incorrect advice can be really damaging. This doesn’t just mean that your page mightn’t rank, but it means that you might dramatically lose ranking in Google if some of the techniques you follow get penalized by Google.
One of the best ways to avoid this is to use a training site that you know is up-to-date, and that has a community you can talk to about the latest changes online.
My personal choice is Wealthy Affiliate because I love how the community interacts with members and the way that there is always someone around to answer questions that you might have. It is also a fantastic place to go for training on all aspects of internet marketing, including improving your ranking in Google and many other aspects.