How to Rank Higher on Google in 2018

a picture of Tom Donohoe
Written by: Tom Donohoe
Last updated: July 1, 2018

I’m guessing that you have a website that you spent a lot of money on.

But you’re not getting any website visitors. And it gets worse – no sales.

You’re probably wondering:

“How do I rank on the first page of Google?”

That’s the right question to be asking. Ranking on Google helps drive a ton of people to your website.

And here’s the good news:

In this guide, you’ll learn how to improve your rankings in Google and get to the first page.





How to Rank Higher on Google

Ranking on Google is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Here’s the deal:

You must dedicated months or even years of efforts to get big returns. The good news is that the techniques and best practices are well documented on the internet.

And the tried and tested process is pretty simple. I’ll cover the four-step process to ranking in Google below.





How to Rank Higher on Google: a 4-Step Process

There’s a lot of information on the internet about ranking in Google and SEO in general. It can be pretty overwhelming for a beginner.

But want to know the best part?

I’ll break it down into four steps to follow that will help you rank in Google.

I’ve covered in-depth steps one through to three here: Search Engine Optimisation: The Definitive Guide. So if you’re unfamiliar with those steps be sure to check out that guide.

But here’s a quick summary:

Step 1: Build your technical SEO foundation

You need to get the technical SEO right first.

Making sure your website is accessible for Google to crawl and index is crucial to ranking. If Google can’t find your website how will they rank it?

Step 2: On-page optimisation of your web pages

Your website is your online brand. And you’ll want to optimise each webpage to meet people’s search intent through a range of tactics.

You’ve probably heard of keywords but that’s not all you need to do. Optimising page titles, meta descriptions, images, content and internal links are all important.

Step 3: Off-page optimisation (e.g building links)

Without links you’ll never be able to rank in Google for competitive keywords. But links aren’t the only thing you should be focusing on.

You want to work on building your brand awareness across the web. Also engaging on social media and forums with your audience and more.

I’d say most importantly building quality relationships with people in your space. Like bloggers, influences, journalist and other website owners which you can leverage.

Step 4: Keeping yourself informed with Google’s updates and webmaster guidelines (and acting on them).

SEO changes every year and what worked last year won’t always work this year. Keeping up to date is crucial for staying ahead of your competition.

For the rest of this guide, I’ll focus on techniques and best practices that will help your rank in Google this year.




Tactic #1

Leverage Rank Brain and User Experience Signals

Last year Google told us that RankBrain is their third most important ranking factor.

At the time it was only impacting 15% of search results. Now it’s involved in every search query making it more important than ever in 2018.

You might be wondering:

“What is RankBrain, and how can I optimise for it?”

Well, let’s jump right in.





Google RankBrain Explained

RankBrain is a machine learning system (AI) that helps Google better understand search queries.

It’s designed to think like a human and understand phrases as if you were talking to another person, not a computer.

RankBrain will run tests on Google’s algorithm by itself. It does this on a keyword level, increasing or decreasing the importance of ranking factors. Then it measures user engagement, if engagement gets better it keeps the changes and if not it will change back and try something else

Here’s my attempt at a visual to explain the process:

how Google RankBrain works infographic

How RankBrain Picks a Winner

Ok, cool so RankBrain is doing this all on its own.

You might be thinking:

“How does it know which result people like best?”

Answer: user experience signals. It looks at metrics like click-through rate, bounce rate and time spent on a page. These are indications to if the Google searcher was satisfied or unsatisfied.

For example, Google knows if you click a search result and if you come back to their results straight away. In this case, it would signal a bad experience, and they may demote that result.

But if you stay on the page for several minutes and engage with the content it’s a great experience. And Google would keep this result higher.

How You Can Optimise For RankBrain

You can optimise your website for RankBrain to help rank higher in Google. Here’s how you can send positive signals to Google RankBrain:

Reduce your bounce rate

Look at landing pages that have higher than your websites average. You can do this in Google Analytics in Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages.

Go through those pages and analyse why people might be leaving. Here are my three tips to reduce bounce rate:

  1. Bring important content above the fold.
  2. Break up big areas of text with white space or images
  3. Improve the quality of your content

Improve your CTR

Next you want to go into Google Search Console and look for pages with low click-through-rates.

To do this go Search Traffic > Search Analytics > Pages > Filter by CTR. Once you’ve identified your worst pages, here’s my top tips to improve them:

  1. Write more compelling and keyword rich headlines.
  2. Use numbers, people love numbers. For example, “101 Actionable SEO Tips For 2018
  3. Use emotion in your titles.

Increase your time on page

Finally, you need to get people to stick around on your website longer.

Again in Google Analytics, you want to look at your Landing Pages report. Look at avg. session duration and if anything is under 3 minutes you should try to improve it.

Here are my tips:

  1. Use shorter sentences and 3-4 per paragraph.
  2. Make your content longer and more in-depth



Tactic #2

Create Long Form Content, It Wins Everytime

You’ve heard content is king. Well, that’s not true if your content sucks.

Here’s the deal:

If you want to rank in Google short, low-quality and keyword stuffed content doesn’t work anymore.

Instead, you need to create in-depth content that covers an entire topic. And it needs to be the best out there.

In this chapter, I’ll cover exactly what you need to do.





Write In-Depth Content That Google Loves

If you want to rank in Google, a short 800 word blog post isn’t going to work.

You’re next question is:

“How many words do I need to write?”

An interesting study by SERP IQ found that Google’s top results usually clock in at over 2,000 words.

serp iq content research chart showing long-form content ranks better in Google

Now you can’t just write a bunch of useless content. You need to cover many topics in one piece of content. A study by Marketmuse revealed that content that covers 8 topics rank the best.

research graph revealing content that covers multiple topics ranks higher on Google

I use this strategy on my own blog and with clients. I always try to create in-depth guides that have many chapters or topics.

Build More Authority with Google Using Topic Clusters

Hubspot created the idea of topic clusters for SEO. It involves creating a single “pillar page”, which acts as the cornerstone for several pieces of content.

Each page in a topic cluster should link back to the pillar page and each other. This passes around authority and signals to Google that they are all related.

hubspot topic cluster model

You want to create a topic cluster for every high-level topic that is relevant to your business. For example, I have a cluster for SEO, paid search, analytics, and content marketing.

By doing this you rearrange your site’s architecture to look like the image below. And algorithms like Google RankBrain, which I wrote about earlier, will reward this.

hubspot seo site struture with the cluster model

Add Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords to Your Content

To seal the deal you need to add LSI keywords to your in-depth quality content.

LSI keywords are words and phrase that are related to your target keywords. You want to sprinkle them through your content like salt and pepper.

They send signals to Google that your content covers many topics. For example, when covering search engine optimisation here are some LSI keywords:

  • What is seo
  • How does seo work
  • Search engine optimisation techniques
  • Search engine optimisation tips

There are a few easy ways to find LSI keywords:

LSI Generator

lsi generator

Enter your target keywords and this tool will do the rest for you generating a bunch of LSI keyword ideas.

lsi generator

Google Keyword Planner

The process is similar to LSI Generator. Here you can enter all your target keywords and hit “Get Ideas”.

google keyword planner

Now you should see a big list of keyword ideas. Pick out the most closely related keywords and scatter them through your content.

google keyword planner 2

Google Search Suggestions

The easiest way to find LSI keywords is to use Google’s search suggestions.

You’ve probably seen this:

picture of Google's search suggestions

Do a few searches with your top 3-5 keywords and pick out the most relevant LSI keywords.




Tactic #3

Mobile-First Index: Get Ahead of the Pack

In late 2016 Google Announced, they’d be moving to a mobile-first index.

You might be wondering:

“What is a mobile-first index?”

Let me explain. Google’s ranking system looks at the desktop version of your website. And the mobile-first index will look at the mobile version of your website instead.

This is big news. And we can expect mobile-first indexing to start this year. Now I’ll cover how you can prepare.





How to Get Your Website Ready for Mobile-First Index

In December 2017 Google released some tips for getting ready for the mobile first index.

If your website is already mobile responsive then you don’t need too much. As long as your serving the same content and markup on all devices.

But Google did offer a few extra tips to get ahead of your competition:

  • Make sure you have high-quality content on your mobile site.
  • Use Structured data
  • Metadata: like page titles and meta descriptions
  • Make sure the servers hosting your website have enough capacity to handle potentially increased crawl rate.

But if your website isn’t mobile responsive or using m dot then you have some work to do.

Responsive Design: Everything You Need to Know

Responsive web design makes your web page look good on all devices (desktops, tablets, and phones).

Using code your website’s content will resize, shrink, enlarge or move to make it fit and look great on any screen.

responsive web design example

When choosing a vendor to design your responsive website, I’d recommend you choose a designer who takes a mobile-first approach.

This means that they will design from mobile to tablet to desktop. Making sure the design looks optimal on mobile devices.

mobile-first web design example

How to Move from M Dot Urls to Responsive

If you are using separate urls for your mobile and desktops website:

Example [dot] com = desktop

M.example [dot] com = mobile

You will need to setup 301 redirects so you don’t see any traffic drops. Here’s the step by step process as per Google’s guidelines:

  • Get your responsive site ready
  • Configure 301 redirects on the old mobile URLs to point to the responsive versions (the new pages). These redirects need to be on a URL basis from each mobile
  • URLs to the responsive URLs.
  • Remove any mobile-URL specific configuration your site might have, such as conditional redirects or a vary HTTP header.
  • As a good practice, setup rel=canonical on the responsive URLs pointing to themselves (self-referential canonicals).

m dot to responsive 301 redirect example

Let’s talk about Page Speed

Google recently announced that starting in July 2018, pagespeed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches.

We’ve known that it’s been a ranking factor on desktop searches for a while but this is big news.

What can you do?

Run your website through Google Page Speed Insights and take a look at your score on mobile. If it’s green then that’s great you won’t need to improve it. If it’s red or orange there’s room for improvement.

Take note of the improvements Google suggests and try to implement them. If they are too technical and go over your head talk to a web developer.

Now you’re ready for mobile-first indexing!




How to get your business website ready for voice search

Increased mobile searches and voice assistants has changed the way people search. And you need to get your business ready now before it’s too late.

For now voice assistants are reading content that ranking in the Featured Snippet:

Example of Featured Snippets in Google search

According to Stone Temple, 30% of 1.4 million Google queries they tested now show Featured Snippets.

And it’s increasing year on year:

Graph by Stone Temple showing 30% of 1.4 million Google queries they tested now show Featured Snippets

The takeaway here is that if you don’t rank as the featured snippet result you’ll never get picked up on a voice search.

How to optimise your content for the featured snippet

Getting in the featured snippet isn’t easy. According to Ahrefs, Google only features pages that already rank in the top 10.

And even if you’re in position one you’re not guaranteed the featured snippet. Ahrefs found that only 30.9% of snippets went to the top spot. The rest spread quite consistently among the top 5.

But there is a formula that seems to work well for me. I have to give credit to Matthew Barby, Ahrefs and search engine land. I’ve combined a lot of their finding paired with my own to come up with this process. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a page that answers a questions and make it the best damn page on the internet.
  2. Your target keyword must appear in a header and then the content you want to appear in the featured snippet below it. I find that you get the best results if this is at the top of the page.
  3. You should summarise the ‘answer’ that sits under the header to be between 54 and 58 words long.
  4. On the page create an image that supports the answer with the image alt tag containing the keyword.

Note: If your answers are logical you should include “Step 1: do this”, “Step: 2: do this”, etc as subheadings on the page. And it will look like this:

Example of step by step Featured Snippets in Google search

Featured snippets are hit and miss you can do your best to optimise for them following this process. But one day you can be featured and the next your not.

But nonetheless, it’s very important if you want to get better rankings in 2018.




Tactic #5

Secure Your Website with HTTPs for a Rankings Boost

Search engines have been pushing hard to make the web more secure.

And having a secure HTTPs enabled website is a confirmed ranking factor on Google.

If that’s not enough to convince you to switch. Google and Mozilla have both made changes to their browser this year.

The changes display a “Not Secure” in the search bar of websites not using HTTPs. This could impact your conversion rate big time in 2018.





HTTPs: a Simple Explanation (With Pictures)

You’re probably confused by the idea of HTTPS.

But here’s my shot at simplifying it:

HTTPs was developed to allow authorisation and secured transactions on the web. Unlike an HTTP website which is at greater risks of attacks and having your sensitive data compromised:

Example of a HTTP website

When your passing confidential information you want it to be safe, right?

Well, that’s what HTTPs does. It offers an extra layer of security because it uses SSL to move your data.

Example of a HTTPs website

They are the exact same website except HTTPs is the secure version.

Example of my HTTPs website

HTTPs Is a Google Ranking Factor (And You Should Care)

Back in 2014, Google announced that they were using HTTPs as a ranking signal.

This was when it started to catch professional SEOs attention. Webmasters began migrating their websites to a HTTPs version.

Google said that it was a “lightweight” ranking signal. But research shows that HTTPs correlates with higher rankings on Google’s first page.

And that it’s definitely worth implementing on your website.

Https correlates with google rankings study graph

Why HTTPs Is Even More Important in 2018

In January 2017 both Google (Chrome) and Mozilla (Firefox) introduced new versions of their browsers.

The address bar will show “Not Secure” on a page that contain login forms or credit card information.

example of google chrome not secure vs secure

In Late August 2017, Google said, “Beginning in October 2017, Chrome will show the “Not secure” warning in two more situations:

  • When users enter data on an HTTP page
  • On all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.
  • This means that any data point on your website (eg. your contact forms) will be “Not Secure”.

Eventually, Chrome will show a Not Secure warning for all pages served over HTTP. Regardless of whether the page contains sensitive input fields or not.

You can see that Google is taking this seriously. And if you want to rank higher in 2018 you should too.




Tactic #6

Focus On Content and Links: They Still Matter

In the end to rank higher in Google it all comes back to your content and links.

If you don’t have high-quality links, you’ll struggle to outrank competitors that do. And if your content is low-quality, you won’t ever get high-quality links.

In fact, Google’s even confirmed that content and links are their top 2 ranking factors.





Why Content and Links Matter (And What You Should Takeaway)

If you don’t believe me take it from the horse’s mouth.

Google confirmed that content and links are their top ranking factors.

Many industry studies prove that ranking in Google correlates with backlinks and high-quality content.

Key takeaways:

  1. Get the SEO basics right: like I mentioned in the begging of the guide.
  2. Build your SEO foundation around amazing content and high quality links.
  3. Optimise for 2018 ranking factors and trends.



Over to you

I hope after reading this guide you’re feeling more confident about ranking in Google.

Tell me..

Which strategy are you going to try in 2018?

Let me know in the comments and ask any question you have from this guide.



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