Nothing is more frustrating than seeing your website on Google’s 15th page despite your efforts.
I’ve been there often.
Nothing works sometimes. You don’t know why Google hates your website.
If that sounds familiar, keep reading.
Google ranking tips:
- Find underperforming keywords
- Pick a keyword to rank higher for
- Figure out why you’re being outranked
- Beat the other pages where it matters
- Track rankings
- Repeat for other keywords
Step 1: Find underperforming keywords
Most SEOs advocate pushing page 2 rankings to page 1.
10+ spot gains aren’t always easy.
If you want more traffic, page 1 isn’t enough.
First point is obvious. Imagine:
Two goals behind is easier than ten.
Consider the average CTR curve for the first couple of Google results pages.
As you rank lower, clickthrough rate drops exponentially.
This means moving from #5 to #4 will increase traffic more than moving from #20 to #10.
It’s not insignificant.
Suppose your primary keyword gets 10,000 monthly searches.
54 = +210 visitors/month
2010 = +8 visitors/month
Find the keywords you rank #2-#10 for and focus almost exclusively on those.
Paste your domain into Ahrefs Site Explorer, go to the “Organic Keywords” report, and filter to show only the keywords for which you rank #2-10.
Site Explorer > enter domain > Organic search > add filter
Finally, to see “true” rankings, filter out owned SERP features. Click “Exclude,” select “All features,” and check “Only linking to target.”
Step 2. Pick a keyword to rank higher for
This filtered report contains keywords for which you rank, but not first. There’s room for improvement.
Skim this list for keywords you want to rank for.
There’s no point in pursuing low-value or difficult keywords, though. Here are some ways to spot the best candidates.
a) Keywords that already drive the most traffic
If you want to maximise organic traffic, focus on keywords near the top of the report.
Because they bring in the most traffic.
Here’s Ahrefs’ filtered report:
If you look at the “traffic” column, you’ll see that despite our low rankings, a few keywords drive a lot of traffic to our posts.
We wouldn’t need to rank much higher for these keywords to increase traffic, as a one-position boost can increase CTR by 93% on average.
b) Keywords with high search volumes
One position improvement can almost double keyword traffic. Nothing doubled remains nothing.
Check “Volume” to see if the keyword is popular.
c) Keywords with low KD scores
Our Keyword Difficulty score is KD. Higher scores are harder to get than lower ones.
It’s harder to rank for a KD50 keyword than a KD20.
Skim the KD column and prioritise those with a lower score.
d) Keywords with high business value
More organic website traffic is useless if it doesn’t increase revenue.
Prioritize business-related keywords.
Imagine you own a New York bakery to illustrate.
“New York bakery” is a better keyword than “cupcake recipe” Those looking for the former are more likely to pay.
“New York bakery” is more valuable than “cupcake recipe,” despite having 7x more searches.
e) Non-branded keywords
I mean third-party keywords, not your own.
One Ahrefs blog post ranks #6 for “google keyword planner.”
This seems like a good keyword for SEO. If we click the “SERP” dropdown to view the top-ranking pages, we see this isn’t true.
Google ranks most pages above us.
This is because Google’s Keyword Planner is a branded keyword.
We’d never outrank Google for this query, no matter how hard we tried.
f) Keywords without SERP features in the positions above you
Google sometimes shows featured snippets and “People also ask” boxes.
Ahrefs ranks these features.
Ahrefs ranks our Google Trends keyword research guide #4 for “how to use Google Trends.”
If you look at the top-ranking SERP pages, you’ll see that only SERP features rank above us.
Some SERP features can be ranked, but that’s a different story. Keep things simple and don’t chase keyword rankings for now.
Step 3. Figure out why you’re being outranked
One website can outrank another for hundreds of reasons, but don’t be discouraged.
Many (including us) have studied “ranking factors” and found three things to correlate highly with rankings and traffic:
But before we get to those, there’s an even more important ranking factor you need to nail.
Google aims to return the most relevant search results. Their business model depends on doing this consistently across hundreds of billions of searches. They’ve invested heavily in understanding query intent, or why someone typed something into Google.
No top-ranking “link building” pages are from companies offering link building services, but rather informative blog posts and guides.
Google knows that link building searches are educational, not commercial.
So what? If your page doesn’t match search intent, you’re doomed.
How do you determine search intent?
The fastest way is to analyse the current first page of results for the three C’s of searcher intent:
Blog posts, products, categories, and landing pages are common content types.
Blog posts and landing pages use formatted content. How-tos, tutorials, list posts, and opinion pieces are common blog formats.
A landing page tool could be a calculator.
It’s your content’s USP. It’s a unique hook that convinces searchers to click on your page.
We jumped from #40 to #6 in four days by matching search intent.
We rank #1 for “backlink checker” because we match searcher intent.
If your content doesn’t match searcher intent, fix it first. You’ll lose otherwise.
Let’s examine “traditional” ways to rank higher.
a) Number of referring domains
We studied nearly 1 billion web pages and found a correlation between referring domains and rankings.
Getting backlinks from more domains should help you rank higher. Look at the SERP and count the referring domains to outranking pages.
To do so, click “SERP” in your keyword’s “Organic keywords” report. See “Domains.”
We rank #7 for “SEO tools” with 97 referring domains, as shown in the screenshot above.
But pages above us rank 3-34x higher!
We need more unique links to rank higher.
If you do the same for “find email address,” you’ll see that we have more referring domains than the others.
We’re #5… (Or #3 without SERP features.)
This means the number of referring domains isn’t the issue.
We’re hampered by something else.
b) Page authority
PageRank, Google’s ranking algorithm, measures web pages’ “backlink authority.”
Google confirmed PageRank’s importance two years ago.
Google stopped publishing PageRank in 2016. Now you can’t see a website’s PageRank.
Ahrefs has URL Rating, a PageRank-like metric (UR).
URL Rating, like PageRank, considers both the quantity and quality of backlinks and internal links. 0-100 scale.
UR and organic search traffic:
Pages with more “backlink authority” rank higher and get more traffic.
You should analyse not only the referring domains to top-ranking pages, but also their UR.
Check the “UR” column in the SERP overview for your target keyword.
The two pages outranking us for “keyword research” have much higher UR scores.
To rank higher for this keyword, we may need to improve this.
c) Website authority
Google’s signals on “website authority” as a ranking factor remain mixed.
Gary Ilyes tweeted that Google doesn’t use it:
Google’s John Mueller said they look at metrics that “map to similar things.”
The answer is…
Domain Rating (DR), Ahrefs’ “website authority” metric, correlates with rankings, though not as strongly as other metrics.
Most SEOs agree that Google favours high-authority websites for some queries.
Example: “designer dresses”
The top-ranking pages average 80.4, and the “weakest” site has 74.
Uncertain if this is because searchers expect big brands to rank or because Google uses website authority as a ranking factor.
Unless you’re a big, well-known brand with a lot of “authority,” you won’t rank for this keyword.
So, check the DR of the top sites.
You want evidence that this isn’t just a “big players” keyword. If you see sites ranking above you with similar DR, that’s a good sign—you could rank higher.
Creating a more focused article may be the only way to rank a less authoritative site for a keyword.
“How to name images for SEO” is a good example.
Most top-ranking pages are from high-authority sites, but #5 is from DR50.
SIDENOTE. This page has fewer referring domains and a lower UR score than others.
This page from a lesser-known website appears to rank well because of its focused content. It discusses how to name images for SEO, while most of the other pages are general guides to image SEO that presumably mention naming images correctly.
So, this is never exact. Use your intuition to decide if a site’s authority and popularity matter for your keyword.
Step 4. Beat the other pages where it matters
You should know why you’re outranked, so plug those holes.
If the number of referring domains is the main issue
Improve your page’s links. That’s it
Guest posting, replicating competitor links, “skyscraper” link building, pursuing unlinked mentions, etc.
We have many link-building guides. Next.
- 9 EASY Link Building Strategies (That ANYONE Can Use)
- How to Get Backlinks: 7 Tactics That Don’t Require New Content
- How to Execute the Skyscraper Technique (and Get Results)
- Guest Blogging for SEO: How to Build High-quality Links at Scale
- A Simple (But Complete) Guide to Broken Link Building
- A Simple Guide to Turning (Unlinked) Brand Mentions into Links
If page authority is the main issue
Page-level backlinks (see above)
Internal links are “powerful” and relevant.
If your page only needs a small boost, add internal links. If page authority (URL Rating) is low, build more backlinks.
Both are possible.
SEO Internal Links: A Practical Guide
If website authority is the main issue
It takes the longest to solve.
If your DR is low compared to pages that outrank you, try a “easier” keyword.
It’s possible to crack SERP by winning on the page, though.
That means adding internal or external backlinks.
If you do this consistently over time, your DR will improve. In general, that will help your website rank for more competitive keywords.
Create a “linkable asset” to improve DR, then use internal links to direct some of the resulting “authority” to the page you want to rank higher.
Step 5. Track rankings
To rank higher on Google, you must track your rankings. You need Ahrefs Rank Tracker for that.
Rank Tracker tracks 10,000 keywords (depending on your plan). We track each page’s primary keyword.
Select a project, click “Add keywords,” paste or type the keywords you want to track, and then click “Add keywords.”
Rank Tracker > Project > “Add keywords” Choose countries
Finally. Now tracking your rankings.
Rank Tracker’s graph shows keyword rankings over time.
Step 6. Repeat for other keywords
High keyword rank is great. But being popular is better.
Once this process works for one keyword, start over and repeat. Then repeat.
You’ll rank high for hundreds of keywords and get tonnes of organic traffic like us.
Before obsessing over rankings, consider this…
Rankings are overrated; traffic is what counts
We analysed the top 10 pages for more than 100,000 keywords and found that only 49% get the most organic traffic.
SEO isn’t just about ranking #1 for a keyword.
Consider the SERP for “keyword research” to see why.
Despite ranking #3, our page gets 3-7x more organic traffic than the top two.
Two things cause this.
Our page ranks for more keywords than those two—over 2,600! (See “Keywords” in the SERP overview above.)
The second is that other keywords for which we rank get us a lot of traffic.
Third-place for “keyword research” only accounts for 6.4% of that page’s US organic traffic.
Other keywords account for 92.5% (17k+ monthly visits).
How can you get traffic from thousands of keywords?
Create a topic “authority” page
Learn more here.
Google rankings aren’t complicated. But it’s harder for some keywords. Why chase rankings for uncompetitive keywords you already rank for?
Then, figure out why you’re outranked and fix those issues.
If you have questions, comment below or tweet me.