Your main objective must be to serve your readers with valuable information. But to reach potential new visitors, you need search engines.
And the best way to get new visitors from search engines is to help them understand your topical expertise.
Do not think about “gaming” the search engines. Instead, make it easy for them to read your content.
This is also why you should continuously focus on ranking existing articles in search engines. And you will find that it is often easier than ranking a brand-new article.
It is essential to understand that long-term success in search engines has to be earned. There are no shortcuts with lasting effect. It takes time, patience, and dedication.
Excellent information is no guarantee for success
Anyone can achieve good rankings with hard work and dedication. You can outrank more prominent websites. But you have to earn it. And it will not happen overnight.
And it does not mean you can rank for any search term in your chosen industry.
You must be prepared to wait at least 6 months for your true ranking to show. I know it seems like a long time. But this is also why it is an excellent idea to continuously improve the ranking of existing articles.
From my experience, your website will jump around a lot in the search engine rankings during the first 6-12 months.
Remember, search engines want to show your content as long as it is the best available information.
Here is my checklist to go through those days when you are full of doubt.
Checklist for search engine rankings
1. Stay focused and avoid “shortcuts”
First, there are no shortcuts worth pursuing if you are building a website for the long term.
You will, over time, get bombarded with different shady practices. And sure, these “tricks” could yield short-term boosts. I say short-term as the search engines are smart. And they do catch people who cheat or try to game the system.
I do not believe in using anything not considered good practice by search engines. It will come back to haunt you.
And, after all, you are trying to build something for the future. Why risk it?
2. Analyze the competition
Arm yourself with 10 keyword phrases and go to your favorite search engine. Search and make a list of the competitors in the top 10. Now, compare your website to your competition using the below criteria:
Age: If your website is less than 2 years old, there is always a risk you are treated as the new kid on the block.
But, everything else equal, it will be “easier” to rank existing articles higher.
You should expect your rankings to jump around for the first 6-12 months.
Keep your head down and take comfort that others may quit – but not you.
Content: Look at your competitors and try to rank the quality and user experience they deliver objectively.
Are you sure your content can compete? Would you prefer your website to theirs? If not, why not?
Let your competitors inspire you, and learn what you could do better. But never copy, or there can be severe consequences.
Links: Do they have more links pointing to their website and webpage? If they are an older, more established website, they most likely have more external links.
Keep plugging away on HARO and outreach to find ways to build relevant links to your website.
But you should also focus on internal links. Internal links are links from your articles. Make sure to link to your web pages where it makes sense. Here you can make an immediate improvement. All it takes is time and effort.
There are many ways to see links to a competitor’s website. Both Ahrefs and Ubersuggest offer free online backlink checkers.
3. Select a keyword phrase with a search volume (& act your age)
It is hard to rank in the top 10 in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS). The top 3 are, of course, even harder. But it can be done with careful planning and hard work.
And it is hard to rank for any keyword. So make sure that you target realistic keywords with an existing search volume.
- What keyword phrases is your article targeting?
- Can you compete? Is it realistic?
- Should you look for alternative keywords? It could be smarter even if search volume is lower.
There are many ways to see search volume data. There are even some free tools available.
Ahrefs is very popular, and it is an excellent tool. But it starts at $99 per month, and the cheaper free trial option is no longer available. It is a worthwhile investment but a burdensome cost to stomach when you start.
The Chrome extension Keyword Surfer will also give you search volume data. And it is free.
Knowing search engine data will help you pick keywords worth fighting for.
4. Keyword and search intent
You need to dig deeper when you have picked a keyword with an existing search volume.
Looking at your selected keyword, ask yourself if your article answers the question or solves the problem for visitors. Is there a way to add more value to help the article rank?
It is vital to stay user-focused and provide answers and solutions.
An excellent user experience will lead to visitors spending more time on your website. And search engines pay attention to stickiness and will reward you.
There are several questions you can ask yourself:
- Would a 10-year-old understand my article?
- Do I assume a certain level of knowledge for a beginner-level question?
- Could a novice follow my instructions and be successful?
You should never dumb down your content. You need to be clear and paint a complete picture.
And always look at how other websites are presenting their information. If they rank in the top 10, they must do something right.
5. Look closely at the top 10 search results (again)
Search for your keyword in your favorite search engine and look closely at the top 10 returned results.
Are these websites like your website? Or are they something completely different?
If you are running a blog-type website, it will be challenging to rank if the search engines prefer to rank e-commerce stores or video content like YouTube videos.
If you are not seeing websites like yours in the top 10, you should rethink your selected keyword. The search engines say they prefer the answers and solutions to be presented differently.
You may disagree. But you will face an uphill struggle if you target keywords where search engines reward other media and websites.
Improve the ranking of existing articles
At this point, you have looked at
- search engines
You have hopefully found some reasons to explain why your competitors are outranking you.
Some factors you have to accept as they are outside your control. The age of your website and external links to your web pages are good examples.
You should prioritize outreach and external link-building from day 1. And I am not talking about any links. Look for links from websites that complement your niche. If you, for example, are writing about herbs and vegetables, partnering up with a website offering food recipes would make sense.
But there are also things you can do. Here are 3 action points where you are in complete control.
1. Write more content
Looking closely at your old articles, you may find blind spots. Areas your competitors but not you are covering.
When you analyze 10 competitors, it is not unusual to see 3 or 4 angles that need to be covered.
Using your own words, write that content and make it excellent.
More content will add to the user experience and help old articles rank higher.
2. Produce better content
Are you so busy producing new content that you forget your existing articles?
That is a mistake.
You need to revisit the articles you have already published. Add a revisit day to your publishing schedule and make it a daily routine.
You are spending a lot of time writing articles. And your writing will improve over time.
You also learn more and get more experienced as you educate yourself to stay on top of the developments in your niche.
Ensure that this experience, skill, and knowledge are reflected in your earlier articles. Better content will make old articles rank higher.
Do not be afraid to update and improve. Your website should be living and dynamic.
Note: If you have a web page that ranks extremely well you should be careful to update or change the article. Instead analyse and learn from the article.
3. More relevant internal links
Building external links take time, and you are not in control of the process. You must wait for other publishers and potential partners to respond to your outreach.
But you are in control of internal links from your web pages.
It is far too common to write an article, publish it and then focus all efforts on the following article.
Look at the articles you have already published and look for internal links from your web pages.
You must stay focused and on topic. The internal link needs to make sense and enrich the user experience.
But when you write articles in a well-defined niche, you will find many opportunities to link within your web pages.