While there are over 200 factors that impact a site’s Google search rank, a thorough SEO site audit may take into account the top 50 or 100 factors and attempt to optimize them.

That said, by prioritizing the on-page factors that have the biggest impact on search ranking (namely, keywords, page titles and content), you can significantly improve your sites rank. In this article, we’ll walk through the following three strategies to optimize your SEO efforts:

  • Complete a Thorough Keyword Research
  • Formulate Winning Page Titles
  • Optimize On-Page Content

Tackling these strategies in this order will flow naturally with the way a site is developed and launched.

Strategy: Complete a Thorough Keyword Research

When deciding what content to put on your pages, the first step is always keyword research. Keyword research will unearth what search terms provide the biggest opportunity for new pages to rank well (factoring in current competition, as well as the amount of currently monthly search volume—read: total searches for that term).

Although a keyword (or set of keywords) may be relevant for your site/page, ranking well for those terms may be nearly impossible due to the ‘authority’ that your competitors already have for those terms. Easily determine how to prioritize your target keywords with the following tactics.

Tactic: Select the long-tail keywords with low quality, high volume search results

Keyword length distribution pie chart. Total make up out of 1.4 billion total keywords: 5+ words (41.7%), 4 words (22.8% words), 3 words (21.9%), 2 words (10.8%), 1 word (2.8%).
Users are getting more sophisticated – the length of search queries continues to go up.

One way to increase your chance of ranking well is to tailor your site or page around long-tail keywords, or specific 3+ word search phrases. For instance, instead of your page having a focus keyword of “online marketing”, “online marketing strategies” may be a better focus. By doing so, you’re more likely to be ranked well for that more specific term, and the traffic that you drive to that site or page via search will be more targeted.

Amongst hundreds of factors that influence rank, for this tactic we’ll focus on one: domain authority. Sites with high domain authority likely have TONS of other sites linking to them, generate a lot of traffic, and are well established. If a search results page is only populated with sites with high domain authority, it will be extremely difficult to get your page to rank well for that term.

This is why long-tail keywords with multiple, high ranking and low quality search results are a good target to after with your keyword strategy. You may have a decent chance of ranking well for those long-tail keywords, dethroning some of the lower quality results.

How to find your target keywords

  1. Create a short list of 20 keywords relevant to your site.
  2. Type each in of your keywords into Google.
  3. In a spreadsheet, record the long-tail auto-suggestions that match or are related to your site.
A picture of Google's auto suggestions.
‍Google makes this easy by auto suggesting long tail keywords once you enter a basic query.
  1. Download the free “Moz” bar in order to see the page and domain authority directly within Google search results.
  2. Input each of the relevant long-tail keywords in a Google search.
‍A view of the “Moz” bar. The leftmost column lists page authority and the middle column lists domain authority.
  1. In the spreadsheet, record the organic results (not the ads) that appear for that term on the first page, along with its page and domain authority.
  2. Average out the page authority and domain authority for each first page result.
  3. If the page OR domain authority is below 30, it is a signal that there is opportunity to rank well for that term (especially if your own site has a comparable or higher domain authority).

This gives you a good idea of what keywords will provide the best opportunity for you to get ranked.

Tactic: Plan content by comparing current and predicted popular keywords

Google Trends provides an extremely quick and simple way to determine the popularity of keywords and predict future trends as well.

Using Google Trends is an easy way to:

  • Plan content around content/topics that are trending up in popularity
  • Tailor your page content to ride the trajectory of hot search terms and get a leg up on your competition
  • See if a certain keyword/topic is gaining momentum or declining in interest
  • See terms related to your search term
  • See how your branded keywords compare in popularity to your competitor

Getting started with Google Trends is easy. 

  1. Input multiple keywords into Google Trends (use quotation marks so it gives you the exact phrase, instead of a broad match)
  2. Filter by country or language
  3. And bam! Trends will instantly plot out popularity of the terms over time, like so:
A view of the Google Trends dashboard.

Strategy: Formulate Winning Page Titles

Now that you’ve got your long-tail keywords, take your most important ones and those you have the best chance of ranking well for and use them in one of the most important aspects of on-page SEO – page titles. Titles give Google insight into the core theme or message of a page and also appear on search engine results pages. Being thoughtful when constructing titles can increase your click rate, leading to significant positive results for search ranking. Here are some great tactics to employ:

Tactic: Make titles clickable.

Along with the keyword(s), use words like “Best” “Top” “Greatest” etc in titles to increase the perceived value of the page content. In addition, include the current year in a title to help visually differentiate your titles from others. Searchers value “current” information.

The titles of the top search results for “best credit cards” all include a date. We can then conclude that this title structure works well for this industry – including yours, perhaps.

Tactic: Avoid unnecessary words.

Titles should be “easily digestible”, so forgo any filler words in the title that don’t add meaning or value. Titles that are bloated are often “skimmed” over by searchers. A good rule of thumb is to keep title tags short than 60 characters to ensure it will display correctly on Google.

Tactic: Do title research.

Writing titles is a science and the most successful sites have figured out a title structure and approach that works well. I like to derive title inspiration by doing Google searches that are related to highly competitive industries (for example, credit cards and auto loans). This is a simple, yet powerful way to create titles that generate positive results in search.

It’s important that, once you get those clicks, the content also serves the searcher's needs. Reducing bounce rate and increasing time on page are also signals to Google that the page ‘solves’ a searcher's need. Conversely, pages that get a high number of clicks but have a high bounce rate will tell Google that the page doesn’t actually align well with the search term/the searchers needs.

Strategy: Optimize On-Page Content

You’ve formulated your keywords and decided on one long-tail keyword for each page.  You’ve created a powerful title for that page that is optimized for clicks. Now it’s time to consider content ON the page.  There are 100+ on-page ranking factors you can apply to your page structure, content, etc. In this section, we'll go through 3 content approaches that can significantly impact your rank with limited effort.

Tactic: Add to existing content

Creating original content is time consuming and can be difficult to do at a regular cadence. While sharing existing content is an easy way to generate content for your website, Google punishes sites that rely too heavily on duplicate content. Therefore, don’t copy and paste content in full and use quotes and citations sparingly, making sure to include a link in the post that gives credit to the original content source.

If you’re going to use existing content in a page or post, be sure to add additional value and information around that referenced content. One way to do this is to combine multiple sources into one post.

For example, let’s say you’re creating a page on “why SEO is beneficial”. Instead of only including content from one source, find multiple pieces of content from around the web that support your argument. This will increase the depth of your content, and will provide additional value around your post/page. You have to give Google a reason to rank your page ahead of the other established pages you may be referencing.

Tactic: Keep your pages updated

When a new page goes live, or when it is updated, Google deems it more “fresh” (see here for more info) and therefore, more likely relevant for searchers. Hence, these “fresh” pages are more likely to be ranked higher. That’s why you often see posts on the first page that have THIS year’s date and not a previous year.

To keep your ranking sustainable:

  • Don’t think of a post/piece of content as something static. Instead, your most popular pages should be updated periodically to show Google that they are fresh and dynamic.
  • If you want to update a blog post, add a “What’s New” or “Updated on XX/XX/20XX” header to the top of your post and include updated information below it.
  • Change the official publish date—easy to do in a CMS like Wordpress—to the updated date.

Tactic: Provide tables and answers

Featured snippets, also called “zero rank”, are text or information blocks that appear above paid and organic search results. Featured snippet content typically has a much higher click-through-rate (CTR) than paid and organic results – often 4 to 5 times the normal CTR.

An example of a Google featured snippet.

Google uses a formula to choose featured snippets, but you can optimize your content to increase your chances. For example, if your page includes a list, comparison table, or directly answers a question, it may be a good candidate for a featured snippet. Pages that already rank in the top 10 are the most like candidates to have content pulled for featured snippets.

For questions, the formula is simple:

  1. Ask your target question in your article (that may be a subheading)
  2. Immediately follow the question with a one-paragraph answer
‍Comparison charts and simple lists (that provide an answer to a question) may be grabbed by Google and added to a featured snippet—with no special code or markup required.

Like search results, rich snippets change over time. Monitor and adjust your content plan accordingly.

Follow this guide to optimize your approach to SEO and start generating more organic traffic today.