Search engine results pages (SERPs) are a gateway to visibility, whether you realize it or not. Most of us conduct several searches every day, or even dozens of searches, without consciously thinking about it. We remember we need to buy something, or we want the answer to a curious question, so we type in a query, and bam — we’re presented with millions of websites we could visit for the answer.
This high volume and near-ubiquitous visibility are the motivations behind search engine optimization (SEO), the strategic efforts designed to get your website to rank higher in SERPs. With the help of tactics like onsite content creation, onsite technical improvements, and of course, link building, you can get your site to climb the rankings.
The higher you’re ranked, the better — which is, for the most part, intuitive. Higher-ranked websites are seen before lower-ranked ones; after all, how often do you click to page two or page three of Google search results to find what you’re looking for? Higher-ranked sites get more traffic and make more money.
But you may not intuitively know just how vital a #1 ranking will be for your company. Rank 1 is better than rank 2, sure, but rank 2 is great as well, right?
Not necessarily. According to some studies, the webpage in rank 1 gets as much as 33 percent of all organic traffic for a given search. The page in rank 2 only gets about 18 percent, barely more than half the traffic of rank 1. By rank 3, you’re getting around 10 percent, and the percentages drop off even more from there.
There are a few big takeaways here:
- Rank one generates almost twice as much traffic as rank two. If you’re interested in the highest possible volume of traffic, you should recognize that while rank 2 is good, rank 1 is almost twice as good. Rising just a single position in rank can instantly double the traffic a page of your site is getting.
- Rank four and below are barely worth the effort. It takes time and effort to climb the SERPs for any search query, even if you’re only getting to page 2 or 3. If you spend all that time and money and only get to rank 4, it may not be worth it (depending on search volume). It’s often better to have a single rank 1 position than dozens of page 2 positions.
- Visibility and authority flow from rank one. Getting to rank 1 isn’t just about getting more traffic. It’s also about getting more visibility, since you’re the first webpage that people will see, and more authority, since many people know how much effort it takes to get to rank 1.
It was likely already obvious that rank 1, for any relevant search query, was valuable. What was less apparent is how rank 1 is much more valuable than other rankings.
With that in mind, what steps can you take to make sure you hit rank 1 as often as possible?
Understand the Core Components of SEO
First, you need to understand the core components of an SEO strategy. There are more than 200 ranking signals worth considering, but most of your strategy is going to boil down to one of these factors:
- Strategic focus. You need to choose the right targets for your SEO strategy. If you focus on keywords that are outside your area of expertise, or ones that are already being dominated by competitors, you’ll end up completely exhausting your budget long before you see any meaningful results. Everything starts with your targeting strategy.
- Technical website changes. Google and other search engines preferentially rank websites that function correctly and serve users well. That means your website needs to be up to Google’s technical standards – and that all your content is easily accessible for users.
- Onsite content. Speaking of content, you need it. Your onsite content needs to be original, in-depth, well-researched and targeted to your audience. It will help you build authority and optimize for specific topics simultaneously.
- Link building. Did you know that rank 1 webpages typically have 3.8x more backlinks than their competitors in positions 2-10? Backlinks pass “authority” to your site; accordingly, the more links you have, and the more authoritative those links are, the better. Earning and building backlinks is indispensable if you want to climb the SERPs. But if you want to reach rank 1, you’ll need almost 4 times as many backlinks as your closest competitors.
Start With the Right Keyword Targets
If you want to target the right people, and maximize your chances of getting to rank 1, you need to target the right keywords.
- Prioritize relevance. Think about the terms your audience is going to use to search for a company like yours. You don’t want to optimize for irrelevant or peripherally relevant terms just because they’re conveniently accessible.
- Identify your competitors. Get to know your biggest competitors. How are they currently ranking? Which terms are they targeting? Who is their audience and how is it different from yours?
- Find the balance between competition and search volume. Terms with higher search volume tend to be seen as more valuable because they’re more visible – but they also tend to be more competitive, making it much harder to get to rank 1 for them. Try to find terms that offer some volume, but also a reasonable level of competition.
- Go after the low-hanging fruit. Long-tail keywords and less commonly searched terms tend to be devoid of major competition. Target this low-hanging fruit first to firmly establish yourself in the SERPs.
- Start with only a few target terms. Don’t generate a list of hundreds of keywords to target; this can spread your strategy too thin. Instead, start with just a handful of targets and make those your biggest priorities.
Become the Foremost Authority on a Given Subject
Choose an area of expertise that doesn’t have much competition and make yourself an authority on the subject.
- Do thorough research. See what else is out there and read everything you can. The more research you do, the better your content is going to be.
- Offer original thoughts. Try to offer an original take on the subject. That could stem from original research, or just your original thoughts.
- Write long-form content. Longer, more in-depth content tends to reach rank 1 more reliably than short-form content. Aim for several thousand words in each article.
Promote Your Best Work
When you create work you’re proud of, work to promote it.
- Build links. The most important thing you can do is build links, since they pass authority that allows your article to rise in SERPs. Earn and place natural, organic links as often as possible.
- Share on social outlets. Share your work on social media and regularly reach out to new people to build your audience from the ground up.
- Network. Get involved in more groups and reach out to peer experts. The bigger your network is, the more people will see your work.
- Advertise. Advertising can be expensive, but it’s a fantastic investment for building momentum to your latest writings.
Avoid Keyword Cannibalization
Finally, avoid keyword cannibalization. Each page of your website should focus on one primary keyword; if you have multiple pages of your site competing for the same keyword, they’ll end up conflicting with each other. This is known as keyword cannibalization, and it can greatly limit the efficiency of your strategy (and prevent you from reaching rank 1).
SEO isn’t something you can fully automate, nor is it something you can utilize intuitively. If you want to succeed with this marketing strategy, you’ll need to do exhaustive research, plan your strategy meticulously, and be willing to invest time and money to climb the rankings.
Still, if you can do that, and get to rank #1 in SERPs for at least a few terms — you can end up dominating the competition.
Image Credit: quang ngyen vinh; pexels; thank you!