Ranking well on Google can mean the difference between success and failure for your online business.
If that sounds a little dramatic, consider that the top 3 Google search results account for about 54% of all clicks. And that the #1 result usually grabs 25% of all clicks.
But increased traffic isn't the only benefit of a top Google ranking. Grab that top spot for the right keywords, and your brand awareness and conversions will shoot through the roof.
In this step-by-step guide, I'll walk you through exactly how to rank number 1 on Google so that you can start reaping these benefits.
What you will learn
- Keyword research is crucial to picking a keyword with ranking potential and that’s relevant to your business.
- There are 4 factors you need to consider in order to choose realistic keywords: keyword difficulty, search intent, business potential, and search volume.
- Help search engines understand the intent and context of your content by including related keywords in your article and paying attention to on-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
- Boost content visibility by promoting it through link-building, email, and social media after you publish.
- Create content hubs to cover many aspects of a topic and help you establish topical authority that can boost your Google rankings.
- Analyze your competitors' content to save time and effort. They've already done the research to figure out which topics search engines consider relevant.
- Track your keyword rankings, impressions, and pageviews over time to monitor the results of your content efforts.
- Review your posts every 90 days to identify any issues or new opportunities, and update your content if it's outdated or not ranking.
1. Research keywords
The first step to getting your content to the first page of Google search results is to invest significant time and effort in doing keyword research.
Specifically, you need to identify keywords that your target audience is searching online for and that your site has a realistic chance to rank well for.
To start with, draw up a list of keywords that are relevant to your business.
For instance, if you’re building a website for a concrete repair company, some of your seed keywords might be concrete repair, driveway repair, sidewalk repair, and foundation repair.
Or you might start with the tools of the trade, like trowel, sledgehammer, groover, and concrete float.
You can use the Keyword Surfer Chrome extension to easily generate even more ideas. Just type your keyword into Google, and Surfer does the rest:
Do that a few times and you'll have a solid list of relevant keywords that fit well with your niche and that your potential users are searching for.
But you won't be able to land on the first page of Google for all the keywords you identify in this step. Depending on how authoritative your site is, you will likely need to narrow down your focus.
2. How to choose realistic keywords
It can be tempting to just target the keywords with the most Google searches. But those are also the most competitive keywords, which means they'll be harder to rank for.
You'll do much better in the Google rankings if you instead narrow your focus to keywords that are realistic targets for your website.
To do that, focus on these four key factors when picking your target keywords:
You need to determine how likely your site is to rank for any keyword you're considering. Pick one that's too competitive, and your content will get buried in the search results.
A simple way to get an idea about keyword difficulty is to browse through the search engine results. For example, here's what the first page of Google shows for "concrete float":
More than 28 million results! And the top of the list is dominated by huge retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, and Amazon. That's tough competition no matter how you slice it.
But if we look at one of Surfer's suggested related keywords, the situation is different. Here are the Google results for "concrete float vs trowel":
There are still nearly 1.4 million results, but the top few are all informational articles from other business websites and blogs. Not an ecommerce giant in sight!
There's also a question from StackExchange among the top 10 results. That's a good sign, because it means people are going to forums to find answers they can't get other places online, like blog posts.
If you can fill that void with your content, you have a good chance to rank. Overall, this is a much less competitive keyword than the base "concrete float."
You also need to have a solid understanding of what users are looking for when they search for a particular keyword before you try to write an article for it. You can get a pretty good idea about what Google thinks the search intent is for a keyword by looking at the SERP.
Taking our example of "concrete float vs trowel" from above, we see that the top results are focused on teaching people what these tools are and how to use them.
In particular, Google shows results that help people figure out how to use concrete floats and trowels to do their own repair jobs.
That's definitely relevant to the work that our hypothetical concrete repair company does, so this might be a good fit. But there are still other factors to consider.
Before you decide to write an article targeting a particular keyword, make sure you know how that content will bring real value to your audience. In particular, if you can satisfy the search intent of your potential reader while writing about topics relevant to your business, then you probably have a winner.
It's much better to rank for a low volume keyword that fits your business than to target less suitable phrases just because they have a higher search volume.
And speaking of search volume, it's important to pick keywords with enough monthly searches that they have the potential to drive decent traffic to your site.
But don't ignore long-tail keywords with lower volume. Some very specific phrases with modest search volume may have great conversion potential.
For example, most SEO tools show that "best concrete float" is searched for fewer than 100 times per month. But chances are pretty good that people who search for that term want to buy a concrete float.
If you can get your review article to the first page of Google, your chances of converting a few readers into buyers are pretty high.
3. Include related keywords in your article
Google and other search engines are getting better at understanding the search intent and context of a user's query all the time. That lets them deliver the best and most relevant results for each search performed.
You can help Google understand where your content fits by including terms related to your main topic in each of your posts. By covering semantically relevant keywords, you improve your chances of ranking well for various related terms because you're leaving clues about the queries your content answers.
It's not always obvious which terms belong together in the same article, though, and which would be better served with separate pages. For example, "sidewalk crack repair" and "garage floor crack repair" might seem very similar, but the Google search results are completely different.
Luckily, you can use Google itself to find great related keywords for your blog posts.
- Start typing your seed keyword in Google and note other keywords that come up in the Autosuggest dropdown.
- Check out the questions in the "People also ask" section.
- Scroll down to the bottom of the results page and note the terms Google lists in the "Additional searches" section.
- From these three tools, make a list of additional keywords to include in your article.
- Repeat steps 1 through 4 for the new set of keywords until you have enough semantic terms for your blog post or until you start running into repeats.
Not all the keywords you gather using this process will fit the article you're writing, so the final step is to figure out which ones you want to use.
For example, weed out the ones that don't match the intent of your post.
In our "sidewalk crack repair" example, Google tells us that related searches include both "sidewalk repair kit" and "driveway crack repair":
If we're not writing about driveways, we'll want to skip using "driveway crack repair" in our post.
4. Perform on-page optimization
Paying close attention to on-page optimization gives your content the best chance of ranking on the first page of Google. By including your keywords in four basic areas of each post, you help search engines understand the context and intent of your content.
Specifically, the four locations where you need to include your keywords are:
The page title signals the basic subject of your article and also appears as the H1.
The text in the title tag should be 60-70 characters long and contain your primary target keyword. It should also be a real title that humans can understand.
Header tags (H2-H6)
The sections and subsections of your post should be well-organized to help the reader follow the content flow. Don't use your primary keyword in the H2-H6 header tags for these sections, though.
Instead, target keyword variations and the related keywords that you discovered in step 3 above. This provides additional clues to search engines about the overall scope and intent of your article.
Include your primary keyword in the URL structure of your post. This is another indication to search engines about the subject of your post.
You should also keep your URL as short and simple as possible while still including the target phrase.
The meta description gives you 155-162 characters to provide a short summary of your article. It's basically the promise you make to search engines about what you will deliver to readers, and it also appears under your page title and URL on search result pages.
Adding one or two of your keywords to the meta description can help improve search rankings.
The meta description is also a chance to entice potential readers to click through to your content. Keep it short and snappy, but make sure you give the searcher a taste of what they'll learn if they read your post.
5. Promote your post
Writing and publishing your post is only half the job. You also need to promote your article to make sure as many people read it as possible.
Here are the three main ways to build traffic to your content:
Email and social media can give you a quick influx of traffic to your blog post, but that will be a short-term boost. And it won't help improve your organic search results.
"The #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10."
Here are a few ways to build backlinks to your content:
Write guest posts
By writing posts on other blogs, you not only get your content in front of a new audience, but you also get a quality backlink to your own site -- if you do it right.
When undertaking a guest posting campaign for building backlinks, look for opportunities on sites that satisfy these criteria:
- The site has content that's relevant to your site.
- The site is legitimate and authoritative.
- You get at least one dofollow link back to your content.
You should also try to guest post on several unique domains rather than posting multiple times on just one or two sites.
Plenty of sites have broken links that point to articles that no longer exist or that have technical problems preventing them from loading.
You can help those sites out while picking up some new backlinks by pointing out the problem and offering your content as an alternative for the broken links.
Chances are, your competitors have backlinks from sites that aren't linking to your content. Most SEO tools these days give you a full backlink profile for any domain, so it's not too hard to figure out who's linking to your competition.
Once you have the list, find the sites that aren't also linking to you.
Then, reach out to see if you can write a guest post, or point out a piece of content on your site that would make a good reference (backlink!) for one of their articles.
One relatively easy way to find backlink opportunities is to search for your site or company name on Google. Look through the results and identify any sites that mention you in their content but that aren't actually linking to your site.
Then reach out to those other sites to thank them for the mention and to ask them to go ahead and add a link back to your site.
Backlinks from authoritative domains remain one of the strongest ranking signals in SEO, so you definitely need to invest some time and effort here.
You can use a cold email tool like Postaga or Mailshake to help set up and manage your link-building campaigns.
Email your subscribers
While link-building is key to making your post successful in the long term, you should also send an email to your list right off the bat.
Not only will you get eyeballs on the new content, but your email list is likely to engage strongly with the post and might also point out mistakes that you missed.
You can also get your post in front of other people's lists if you have existing partnerships set up.
Post on social media
You should also share your new content on the various social media platforms. You won't get long-term results from social, but you can get some early traffic.
Social media marketing is also a good way to engage with your broader niche community and maybe land some brand mentions.
6. Build content hubs
Instead of writing a single article on a topic, you can set your site up for sustained success by building out content hubs.
Content hubs allow you to cover several different aspects of a topic with a series of interlinked blog posts. Each one can go deep into a specific subtopic so you can really flesh out the overall topic over time.
This type of full coverage is important for building topical authority, which helps your content rank well in search engine results.
A great example of a content hub is Zapier's guide to working remotely:
They have built their guide as a series of articles that all tackle a different aspect of remote work. This approach allows them to cover all the angles in depth while building on their already strong topical authority.
Applying this strategy to a hypothetical concrete repair company, you might build a content hub focused on sidewalk repair. To really cover the topic in depth, you would want individual blog posts focused on subtopics like:
- sidewalk crack repair
- sidewalk leveling
- sidewalk maintenance
- sidewalk repair tools
- who is responsible for sidewalk repair
You can add other related topics to this cluster, too. Just make sure they're all tightly related to the root topic of "sidewalk repair" and help your readers understand the overall topic better.
7. Analyze your SERP competition
Tracking your competitors' content is a powerful SEO strategy that can save you time and effort while helping your site rank faster.
After all, your top-ranking competition has already done the research to identify the keywords and types of articles that rank well in the SERPs. Follow their lead to find insights for your own articles and avoid repeating their mistakes.
The first step is to identify your organic competitors. You can do this by searching for your target keywords on Google and noting which sites occupy the top spots.
Surfer and other SEO tools can also help you generate that list.
Next, use your SEO tool to find your competitors' top keywords and compare that list to the keywords your site ranks for.
Any keyword that's on their list but that's missing from your list is an opportunity for you to build and rank new content.
8. Measure blog performance
Tracking your content's performance over time is crucial to the long-term success of your site for you to. It's the only way to determine if all your effort in publishing and promoting your articles is delivering the results that you want.
The good news is that you don't have to spend all your time measuring your blog performance.
In fact, Databox reports that 86% of companies track 10 or fewer metrics, while 46% rely on just 3-5 key indicators of SEO performance.
With that in mind, here are three key categories of metrics you should track for the content you publish:
Keyword ranking and impressions
The ranking of your target keyword in search engine results should improve over time. The number of impressions, or the number of times your article appears in search results, should also increase right along with your ranking.
Average SERP position and impressions over time give you a good idea of your post's overall search visibility.
Pageviews and sessions
A strong keyword ranking and lots of SERP impressions don't mean much if people aren't clicking through to read your article.
Keeping track of how your pageviews grow or decrease helps you determine traffic trends and patterns. Generally speaking, you want to see pageviews for each post grow over time.
The same goes for tracking sessions, which gives you a count of the number of times visitors enter your site. At the page level, this helps you determine which posts are bringing in the most organic traffic to your site overall.
Ideally, you will have many more pageviews than sessions. That indicates that visitors click through to multiple articles once they're on your site.
Click-through rate (CTR) and time on page
Click-through rate gives you a good measure of how closely your post title and meta description align with search intent.
If your article appears in search results but your title and meta description don't seem to match what users are looking for, they won't click to read. Your CTR will be low as a consequence.
Similarly, the time on page gives you a good idea of whether your content itself hits the mark.
If your CTR is good but people spend only a couple seconds on your page before heading back to the results page, something's probably not right. Most likely, your article either doesn't meet the reader's needs or is hard to read.
Either way, a low CTR or time on page means your content is missing the mark for readers.
If you can figure out what the problem is and fix it, you'll better serve your target audience and see better overall results.
9. Review every 90 days
You need to closely monitor your content over time in order to identify new opportunities for growth and diagnose any issues that may be affecting your SERP rankings.
Even if you hit the top spot in Google for your target keyword, chances are you won't stay there long. Ranking algorithms change all the time, and the competition gets tougher every day.
Most posts also need to be updated from time to time to account for new information or emerging trends. Even evergreen content can get stale after a while as new research and social norms change the way we think about things.
As a general rule of thumb, you should review your content every 90 days with a tool like Google Search Console to make sure it's doing well in the SERPs and to keep it fresh and accurate.
How much does it cost to rank #1 on Google?
While you could use Google ads to appear at the top of search pages, you can't pay to rank on the first page of Google organic results.
Instead, your costs for a #1 ranking will come from the time and effort you dedicate to building strong content that hits all the points we've talked about in this article.
And, of course, you'll need to pay for any tools you use in the process, as well as writers if you're not creating the content yourself.
How long does it take to rank in Google?
It can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks or even longer to rank on Google. The exact time it takes to rank depends on a number of factors.
For instance, new websites generally take longer for content to be indexed and ranked than older, established sites. It's not uncommon for startup sites on brand new domains, for example, to take several months to start ranking.
On the other hand, sites with a long history of producing quality content might see new posts rank within a matter of days.
To put some numbers to this idea, a few years back, Neil Patel studied 20,000 newly published pages across a wide range of sites.
He found that, on average, they peaked at Google position 1.81 for their primary keywords. It took them an average of 3.39 months after they were published to get there
The good news is, you can potentially rank faster by implementing internal linking and building backlinks to your website. By creating internal links between pages on your site, you help Google understand the structure and context of your content.
And, by building high-quality backlinks from reputable sources, you can increase your website's authority and improve your chances of ranking higher in the SERPs.
The important thing to remember is that ranking on the first page of Google is a long-term commitment. By consistently producing quality content and taking a systematic approach to SEO, you can achieve strong, sustainable results that will keep your blog growing.
- Strong keyword research is the foundation for ranking at the top of Google search results. Pick the wrong keywords for your niche and site, and you won't get anywhere. Target the right keywords, though, and you'll set yourself up for success.
- Help search engines understand the intent and context of your content by including related keywords in your articles and taking care of on-page SEO. Build content hubs to increase topical authority and give your readers a complete resource to answer their questions.
- Keep an eye on metrics like click-through rate, impressions, and pageviews to keep track of how well your content is performing over time. Make adjustments as necessary and always be on the lookout for opportunities to improve your content and rankings.
- Remember that ranking on Google takes time and effort. You won't see results overnight, but with careful planning and attention to the important ranking factors discussed here, you can build sustained success.
Ranking number 1 on Google requires a systematic, dedicated approach to keyword research and producing quality content that meets user search intent. It takes time and a lot of hard work to land on the first page of Google on a consistent basis, but the reward is increased organic traffic and an authoritative blog that delivers real value for your readers.