Neil Patel

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The Step-by-Step Guide to Improving Your Google Rankings Without Getting Penalized


Top rankings are a pinnacle of online business success.

According to a study by Infront Webworks, the first page of Google receives 95 percent of web traffic, with subsequent pages receiving 5 percent or less of total traffic.

I’ve talked to a lot of business owners and managers – newbies and veterans – who have gone crazy trying to unlock the secrets of how to improve Google ranking and performance without incurring penalties.

I was 16 years old when I entered the world of search engine optimization (SEO), and I’ll admit that I was one of those people too.

I wish I could tell you that there’s a magic button to press that ranks your site in the #1 spot without fail.

But the truth is, it takes resourcefulness, dedication, persistence, and creativity. This is especially true because of the constantly-changing nature of Google’s algorithm.

While there’s no magic, there are steps you can take to soar to the top of a search engine results page (SERP).

I learned this the hard way. But luckily, you don’t have to.

I’m going back to basics with on-page SEO to help you understand the new SEO rules, learn how to optimize for both humans and search algorithm crawlers, and to master on-page and off-page SEO.

Here are the steps I will cover in this guide:

Step #1: Get to know the Google ranking algorithm

I could jump right into some actionable SEO strategies to use on your site right now.

But I want to set you up for long-term success so that you’re not penalized once a new update rolls out.

Google executives like Gary Illyes and John Mueller confirm that Google is constantly changing their algorithm, even though most of these changes aren’t publicly announced or described.


Moz estimates that there are 500 to 600 changes per year!

While Google does make major update announcements, the exact inner workings of the algorithm are unknown (and a bit mysterious) to the general public. A good majority of information out there is just speculation from industry professionals.

So it makes sense that 40% of marketers cite changing search algorithms as their biggest obstacle to SEO success.

After all, if everyone knew exactly how to rank in the first position without penalties for shortcuts or black hat SEO strategies, Google wouldn’t succeed in ranking only the best results. Anyone could hack their way to the top without putting in the work.

Not only would this make it hard for honest people like you and me to succeed, but it would also seriously compromise Google’s mission statement:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

The best knowledge we have of Google’s algorithm comes in the form of major algorithm updates like:

  • Mobile-friendly update (April 2015), favoring websites with mobile-friendly versions and setting the stage for future penalties if sites don’t comply.
  • Pigeon (July 2014), working to integrate local search results like Google Maps.
  • Hummingbird (August 2013), aiming to understand the context and intent behind a user’s search instead of just looking at the literal words they typed.
  • Penguin (April 2012), targeting spammers and sites that buy unnatural links to boost their rankings.

Not to mention Panda, Google EMDs (exact match domain names), and the Private Blog Network (PBN) deindexing updates. Then there’s Phantom, which first appeared in May 2013 and is believed to have been updated four times – but has never actually been confirmed by Google.

So how are you supposed to keep track of all these?

There are some great resources to help. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History is an awesome database that organizes updates chronologically. Check out Google Webmaster Central and The Webmaster too.

Check out the video below to learn more about my strategies for link building, on-page SEO, and user metrics when trying to rank on Google.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the algorithm, let’s get down to those actionable strategies I mentioned earlier.

Step #2: Assess your current search ranking

In order to improve your ranking, you’ll need to know where you stand now. This is true even for new sites. Thankfully, there are several tools and resources that can help you.

Use to check your site’s keyword rank

If you’ve been targeting specific keywords in page content, use to assess your rank. Type in your keyword (I used “content marketing” in this example) and your site URL. You also have other options like looking at Yahoo results, choosing between desktop or mobile, and drilling down on local rankings by city or ZIP code.


The results page will show a few items:

  • Where your site ranks in search engines for the term
  • The first page on your site that comes up in search results for the topic
  • Your average monthly searches
  • Your average cost-per-click for the keyword (for paid search like Google AdWords)


Check your site speed

Next, it’s important to check site speed, as this is a major Google ranking factor.

If your site is slow, you have little chance of a high search position. It will affect your ability to convert and sell new customers, too.

According to WebPerformanceToday, Walmart experienced a sharp decline in conversions when its page load times increased from one to four seconds.

If this happens, it doesn’t matter what your on-page SEO, meta description, or title tags are. The search algorithm will punish you, even if you’re a giant like Walmart.


That’s why it’s important to run your own site speed test to figure out how to improve Google rankings. There are dozens of tools that can help you do this. Some of my favorites are:

Here’s how to test your page content speed with Pingdom.

Go to and type in your URL. Choose the location you’d like to test from and click “Start Test.”


Quick Sprout registers a performance grade of 81. As long as your site registers over 50, that’s a good start.

If you get a performance grade of less than 50, your page content is really slow and you need to work on improving it.


Check the page load time, too.

Quick Sprout is doing pretty well at 1.89 seconds. Aim for under 2 seconds for a really fast site and under one second for mobile devices. According to a research cited by Optimizely, artificial latency included in the Telegraph’s website caused an 11% decline in page views for a 4 second delay in loading time and a 44% decline for a 20 second delay. Therefore, anything more than a few seconds of loading time could cause you to lose a significant amount of web traffic.

Check your site’s health

After looking at keyword search engine rank and site speed, assess the health of your site before you start to optimize.

Have you experienced a sudden drop in organic traffic after months or years of consistency?

Are you wondering whether Google has deindexed (or banned) your site?

There are a lot of great tools to help piece together this puzzle. Try the MxToolBox Domain Health Report tool to check for major issues in 5 different categories: general site problems, blacklist, mail server, web server, and DNS.


Just click the box for each category to see specific errors and warnings. From there, you can work one-by-one to fix them.


If you want to check if you’ve been penalized by one of the major algorithm updates, check out FE International’s Website Penalty Indicator tool.


You’ll see a graph that shows your site’s traffic in relation to rollouts of major updates. This comparison takes you one step closer to knowing if an update directly affected your site.


Another aspect of site health to search engines is domain age. While Matt Cutts said in this video that “the difference between a six-month-old domain and a one-year-old domain name is not huge at all,” that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

Search algorithms will still see it and value seniority.

SerpIQ analyzed over 160,000 SERPs and 1.6 million URLs and concluded that domain age contributed to #1 rankings for the majority of the domain names in their study:


This also means that you need to be patient. As your domain ages and the links pointing to your site age, your search engine ranking should increase.

Step #3: Track and measure the right metrics

Next, it’s time to track some vital metrics of your site to find out what other factors you need to improve. Here are the most important metrics to assess.

Organic traffic

It’s important to know how many visitors find your site via Google. A study from BrightEdge showed that organic search drove 51% of B2B and B2C website visitors, crushing non-organic channels like paid search and social media, which drove 10% and 5%.

The study also showed that organic search was the highest source of revenue for every industry except media and entertainment, where email, display, and referrals led by a small margin.


To find out how many visitors reach your site, log in to your Google Analytics account and check out the acquisition channels report. This helpful Google Analytics video tutorial will guide you.

Organic traffic conversions

As well as analyzing your search traffic, it’s worth paying attention to the keywords that generate traffic for your site.

One way to find these is a simple tool called SERP Scan. I’ve been using it to identify the keywords that convert organically for my site.

SERP Scan will show you the keywords that have sent organic traffic to your site within the last 12 months. It includes an on-page SEO keyword performance chart.

This tool makes it easy to get the data that you need from Google Analytics and to understand the broad picture relating to keywords on your site. But, you still need more.

Keyword ranking for commercial keywords

The #1 keyword research mistake is not spending enough time on commercial keywords.

That’s because commercial keywords are the ones that make money. To improve your search engine rankings and earn revenue, you need to understand the difference between commercial and informational keywords to improve Google rankings.

If all of your keywords are informational, you will still generate organic traffic, but it may be difficult to convert those visitors to buyers or people who share on social media.

The reason is because visitors who search for informational keywords like:

  • how to clear acne with home products
  • how to install WordPress
  • make money online for free
  • free ebook download
  • top 10 free article spinners

If they’re not in the buying mood, they want you to speak their language – the search engine language of free.

In contrast, there are people who use keywords like:

  • best acne products
  • top 10 web hosting providers
  • web designers in NY

These folks are probably searching for a solution that they can buy.

If you’re in the e-commerce industry, you’ll hopefully already know that commercial keywords tend to convert well.

Keywords that have the words below as a prefix (before) or suffix (after) to the rest of the keyword phrase tend to do well:

  • Buy
  • Review
  • Purchase
  • Discount
  • Coupon
  • Deal
  • Shipping
  • Order

Earlier, I talked about the keywords that are sending you organic traffic. They should also be used in the meta description as well as on-page SEO (more on this later).

Here’s another example. Can you spot the difference between informational and commercial keywords?


Set up an SEO dashboard to track these metrics

I recommend that you set up an SEO dashboard so that you can track all of the important metrics at any time.

Here’s one example, from


In addition to setting up dashboards in Google Analytics, you can get even richer keyword data by connecting Google Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do that from

Step #4: Ensure your website is mobile-friendly

It’s estimated that up to 60% of searches take place on a mobile device, and this number continues to grow.

According to Smart Insights, more U.S. searches take place on mobile devices than on desktops!


While some algorithm changes remain unclear, Google left nothing to the imagination when it comes to mobile. On January 10, 2017, the Google Webmaster Blog said:

“Starting today, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.”

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test offers a quick and simple way to help you determine if your site is mobile-friendly or on its way to Penaltyville. Just type in your URL and click “RUN TEST.”


The results will give you a clear “yes or no” answer along with a list of the page loading issues it encountered. This way you can fix and optimize to ensure your mobile site running smoothly.


You’ll be able to look at page loading issues like redirection errors and pages where robots.txt blocked the Googlebot from crawling the page.

Google’s Search Console also has a Mobile Usability Report that will give you a list of your site’s mobile usability issues.

Tips to make your site mobile-friendly

If your site isn’t mobile, I recommend that you add this to the top of your to-do list.


Make sure that your site uses responsive web design (RWD) best practices, which helps to make sure that it keeps full functionality across mobile devices and uses. Add the meta viewport tag to the head of each page to tell browsers that the page will adapt to different devices:

<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0″>

For additional SEO insight, check out Google’s tips for how to improve website ranking on mobile.

Mobile and local: an SEO friendship

There’s a connection between mobile and local search. Google is on a continuing quest to cater to hyper-local search, connecting consumers and brands as smoothly and quickly as possible.

That’s why it’s recommended to make sure that your Google My Business profile is up-to-date and as comprehensive as possible.

These profiles can be a make-or-break for someone who’s searching in your area, so claim and update your business listing ASAP if you haven’t. This also goes for other local listing sites, like Yelp, Facebook, Better Business Bureau, and more.

See HubSpot’s local business listings and directories list for a comprehensive look.

Step #5: Diagnose and fix your current penalties

Now that you understand your search ranking and have set up tracking for the most important metrics, it’s time to examine your site in detail to see if there are any penalties in effect.

This is fundamental because there is no point in promoting or building links to an unhealthy site.

How link building has changed

Up until 2012, spammy links improved search engine rankings for thousands of people. This Moz case study shows how one site used link schemes to build inbound links.


Recent Google updates changed search algorithm patterns to make sure that link schemes don’t work anymore.

Regardless of on-page SEO, bad links do hurt you. Use them and you’ll incur a penalty rather than your intended goal of working to improve Google rankings.

That’s why it’s essential to think about how you generate links to your site.

As Matt Cutts says, ”links shouldn’t just LOOK natural, they should BE natural.”


To achieve that, you need to identify and eliminate unhealthy links. Here’s how you do that.

Analyze links: First, analyze inbound links to your site. There are several link analysis tools you can use to do this:

Let me walk you through a link analysis using SEOprofiler.

Sign up for a free account and go to Link Profiler → Backlinks. Let’s use


The results show the most important elements to look for when analyzing your backlinks:

  • Unique Active Backlinks – This shows the number of links that directly or indirectly affect your Google ranking. “Unique” means that the links are from different IP addresses. That’s one way to identify a natural link. These links have been indexed by Google in the last 90 days.
  • Nofollow links – Problogger has 10.2% nofollow links, which equals 1,522 backlinks from the total of 14,922. Google introduced the rel= “nofollow” tag in 2005 to stop spammy blog comments from artificially manipulating rankings. After the Google Penguin update was rolled out, it became essential to diversify your link profile. And as Matt Cutts mentioned, you need a mix of dofollow links (links that pass ranking value to search engines) and nofollow links (links that don’t pass ranking value).
  • Industry – If you read the content of Problogger, you might think that its industry is “blogging” or “internet marketing.” But, when you look at this analysis, it turns out to be “media.” Knowing your industry can help you identify relevant links that will improve your backlink profile in the search algorithm used by the search engine.
  • Link Influence Score – This shows how links from the website influence the search engine rankings of linked pages. The higher the score the better. As a very popular and influential site, Problogger’s score is a whopping 99%! Check your own site and see what your score is.
  • Anchor text – Click on the link in the left menu to access data for anchor text (anchor text is the text that becomes your link and points to your page) linking into your site. Google’s Penguin update was rolled out to prevent site owners from manipulating search results with exact match anchor text. If you want to stay under the search algorithm penalty radar, diversify your anchor text.


It’s also important to know which links are harmful to your site so that you can remove them. Google Penguin 2.0 made it much easier to identify low-quality links. Those are links that:

  • Come from PR-n/a or PR0 websites
  • Are mostly sitewide links
  • Are from referring domain names with little traffic
  • Come from sites on the same IP class address
  • Come from web pages with a lot of external links

There are many free tools to help you identify unhealthy links. Two that I’ve tried include Monitor Backlinks and Linkquidator. Here’s how to check for unhealthy links with Linkquidator.


Simply type in your site URL and click “search” to find unnatural links.

Moz has a detailed tutorial on which links can harm your site and what to do about it.

Remember that you also have to export the list of unhealthy links once you find them. That way, you can refer to them later.

When you discover spammy links pointing to your page, don’t be in a rush to remove the page itself. It’s the links that you need to remove so the search algorithm doesn’t penalize you.

That’s the next step in cleaning up your link profile, and there are two ways to do it.

1. Request manual link removal – Visit the website where the unhealthy/unnatural links are coming from and contact the site owner. Ask the site owner to either remove your link (the better option) or add a nofollow tag to it.

If you have outsourced link building in the past, you can also contact the person who placed the links for you and ask that person to have the links removed. Here’s an excerpt from a post at Search Engine World to show how this works:


In this case, don’t ask the site owner to remove your links because they might assume you’re a spammer and ignore you. Instead, follow this tutorial from Search Engine Journal to learn the best way to contact webmasters about link removal.

2. Use Google’s disavow links tool – If you’re unsuccessful in getting unhealthy links removed, your only option is to use Google’s own disavow links tool.

While manual link removal is best, this is a good second choice.

The disavow tool is part of Google Search Console. Once you open Search Console, you’ll see a list of all of your sites.

Go to the site for which you want to disavow links. This is what you’ll see:


When you check for unnatural links, you have the option to export the links that you find. If you have done this, upload the file and click “done.”

Like you, Google can’t actually remove the links as they don’t have access to the referring sites.

However, doing this authorizes Google to stop passing link juice (value) from those links to your page content.


3. Diversify anchor text distribution – Anchor text can play a key role in improving or utterly destroying your search ranking. As I mentioned earlier, if you want a natural link profile, you have to diversify anchor text.

Anchor text distribution looks at how you spread keywords when building links. The chart below has some recommendations:


When distributing your anchor text, think about including these types:

Let’s assume your page content sells blue denim jeans. If your domain name is, how do you distribute your anchor text?

If you want to link three times from a particular site, it’s ideal to use this link profile:

  • Anchor text 1: site – target page: homepage
  • Anchor text 2: denim jeans reviews online – target page: a page where you reviewed the item
  • Anchor text 3: reviews – target page: your store

4. Avoid over-optimization – When you overuse anchor texts, it can result in over-optimization and can get you penalized. Geoff Kenyon suggests the percentage below:


To avoid over-optimization, follow these two guidelines:

  1. Avoid excessive keyword-rich anchor text – If you want to link to your internal pages on a topic, like “link building strategies,” don’t use that same keyword phrase as your anchor text. Instead, use something like “learn more about link building” or a combination of a generic plus the exact keyword. Variety is key.
  2. Avoid irrelevant links – What’s the point of linking to your dog training site using “best golf trainer” as your anchor? It doesn’t make sense to improve Google rankings and could actually result in a Google penalty.

If you need a detailed guide on over-optimization, see How to Avoid Over Optimization For your Site.

Step #6: Improving SEO with keyword research

When you have gotten rid of unnatural links, it’s time to improve on-page SEO the right way.

One essential element of an effective inbound marketing strategy is keyword research. You won’t get far in your online business without understanding how it works.

Learn how your audience finds your site

To be effective, you need to pinpoint the keywords that your target audience is using to find your site. Here’s how that works.

Step #1: Visit Ubersuggest, Enter Your Keyword and Click Search

Step #2: Click on Keyword Ideas

Step #3: Review Keywords and Search Volume for the Month

Here’s how that helps you.

When you research keywords, you’re getting firsthand information about your target audience, the information that they want to know, and how they want it.

For example, when someone searches for “html5 tutorials for beginners,” you know that the searcher is a newbie who might have searched extensively for solutions and wants content that helps with this topic.

That can guide you to write headlines and content that ranks well in the Google search results.

It’s helpful to figure out the buyer personas and customer lifecycle of your target audience, so that you understand what motivates them. Then, provide relevant page content that will help you increase your Google ranking.

Alexa can help you work out audience demographics, as in the example below for Upworthy.


Remember when I mentioned commercial and informational keywords?

When you do keyword research, you can easily figure out whether users are simply looking for information or wanting to buy.

That’s called user intent, and here’s how it looks for the keyword research example used earlier.

In this example, free web design is an example of an informational keyword. Free web design courses is an example of a commercial keyword.

You need both informational and commercial keywords in your page content to improve the Google rankings of your website.

Commercial keywords target buyers who have been pre-sold (educated on the product) before coming to Google to conduct a search.

Informational keywords build on-going rapport with those who are not yet buyers/customers.

It’s your job to educate, inform, inspire, and build interest before recommending a product.

Informational keywords can be used to build email lists and nurture prospects before offering a product for sale.

When doing keyword research, don’t ignore long-tail keywords.

Rand Fishkin of Moz shows how targeting long-tail keywords produced an 80% increase in traffic & improved Google rankings.

image32 1

Spy on competitors

If your competitors are ranking ahead of you in Google search results, it’s time to spy on them.

If the search algorithm likes them, you can learn and copy their strategies.

I like to use Google Keyword Planner for this because it gives me an accurate estimate of competitors’ keyword targets.

Let’s assume you’re in the “survival knife” sub-niche. One of the authority blogs that you can spy on is

On the Ubersuggest homepage, instead of inputting a seed keyword, simply type your competitor’s URL into the landing page box and click search.

Then scroll down the page until you see “SEO Keywords.” You will see the keywords that your competitor is targeting.

In addition to the keywords, other data includes:

  • Volume – The number of searches the keyword has during a month.
  • Position – The position the URL is ranked for in Google search.
  • Estimated visits – The estimated traffic the webpage gets for the keyword.

For example, your competitor ranks number 1 for the term “survival life.” With the top spot, they receive roughly 395 visitors per month for the term. So, if you’re successful in overtaking them, you know what type of traffic to expect.

This works for any niche and can help you uncover hidden keywords that will help improve your ranking.

Boost lower ranking keywords

If you find your web page on page 2, how can you boost its ranking to the first page of Google?

You can use the skyscraper method, popularized by Brian Dean from Backlinko.

Find a post or article that’s ranking already, improve it, and promote it everywhere. This led to a 457% organic traffic increase for him.


If you want to do this for your topic (for example, “outsourcing guide for small business”), follow this simple guide:

  • Extensively on the topic, including research studies.
  • Identify the keywords to target using the strategies I’ shared with you in this post.
  • Write a more in-depth post (that’s longer, more accurate, and actionable).
  • Link out to authority blogs that are doing outsourcing well.

It’s also essential to write a powerful and clickable headline.

For example, if your first headline is:

Outsourcing Guide For Small Businesses

You can improve it like this:

The Complete Guide to Outsourcing for Small Businesses

An In-Depth Guide on How to Outsource for Small Businesses

X Ways Outsourcing Can Revolutionize Your Small Business

Contact the blog owners that you mentioned in your post and ask them to check it out.

Hopefully, you’ll get a handful of authority sites to link back to you.

Doing so will improve Google rankings on your page content.

Use keyword analysis to improve content

Let’s get one thing straight.

There is no optimal ratio for placing keywords in an article.

However, knowing the right keywords to target is of the utmost importance. That’s the basis of keyword analysis.

Wordstream defines keyword analysis as:

The starting point and cornerstone of search marketing campaigns. By understanding what queries qualified visitors to your website type into search engines, search marketers can better customize their landing pages to increase conversion rates.

Unless you know the queries that qualified visitors type into Google, you’ll find it difficult to improve your ranking and conversion rates.

By now, you know how to do keyword search engine research. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is knowing which keywords are bringing in organic traffic.

Earlier, I walked you through the process of generating the best keywords using SERP Scan. Now, we’re looking at the results to find the real keywords that people type into Google before your web page shows up.

You can use these to write on-page SEO content that matches user intent (remember that?). This will improve the Google ranking of your web pages.


How should you place your target keywords in the content?

Let’s assume you want to write an in-depth review on “best senior irons for seniors.” Here are some titles that you could use:

  • Top 10 Best Senior Irons For Seniors
  • Buyers’ Guide For The Best Senior Irons For Seniors
  • Best Senior Irons For Seniors – The Ultimate Guide

To start your introduction, you could begin like this:

There are several senior irons in the marketplace. But knowing the right one for you is the most difficult decision. If you read this guide from start to finish, you’ll know the best senior irons for seniors that are affordable and reliable.

Or, you could start your introduction by asking a question:

Do you want to find the best senior irons for seniors? This page will not just tell you about the irons but will show how to use them to improve your golf game and provide practical tips on getting a huge discount for your purchase.

Do you see how I placed the target keyword in the first paragraph, without making it seem like spam?

As I’ve said before, target a specific keyword in a natural manner – don’t just try to make it look natural.

Step #7: Increase Google ranking with on-page SEO

Now that you know which keywords you want to target – and should be targeting – to maximize your performance, you’re equipped to make meaningful on-page SEO changes.

Backlinko has an excellent infographic that breaks down 16 on-page SEO factors that will earn you big points with Google and your visitors.

Let’s break down a few key considerations.

Optimize your title tags

Title tags have withstood the test of time. They’re still a big part of how your site will perform.

Make sure that every one of your title tags is descriptive, unique, and catered to your targeted keywords.

Avoid using the same keywords and title tags over and over. This way, you’ll diversify your opportunities while avoiding cannibalizing your own efforts.

Say that you’re an ecommerce company. A good formula for your product pages could be:

[Product’s Name] – [Product’s Category] | [Brand Name]

Like this:

Curly Hair Leave-in Conditioner – Hair Care | Diana’s DIY

Here are some more title tag optimization tips:

  • Use pipes ( | ) and dashes ( – ) between terms to maximize your real estate.
  • Avoid ALL CAPS titles. They’re just obnoxious.
  • Never keep default title tags like “Product Page” or “Home.” They trigger Google into thinking you have duplicate content, and they’re also not very convincing to users who are looking for specific information.
  • Put the most important and unique keywords first.
  • Don’t overstuff your keywords. Google increasingly values relevant, contextual, and natural strings over mechanical or forced keyword phrases.
  • Put your potential visitors before Google – title tags can make-or-break traffic and conversions.

Keep in mind that Google will show roughly 60 characters on a SERP, but don’t cut yourself off if a longer title suits the page content. The search snippet title that Google displays can be dynamic based on the search query. So ultimately, you might be doing yourself a favor by getting more descriptive.

Plus, desktop snippet titles are limited by pixel width, while mobile display titles are typically longer.

Here’s an example from Hobo Web:


In the image above, Google displays as many characters as possible from the beginning. But in the image below, Google truncates the middle of the title to show the term “Hobo” at the end to show relevance to the user’s query.


While meta descriptions have negligible (if any) impact on your rankings, they still serve the important purpose of helping to determine your search snippet and adding an extra factor of uniqueness. This in turn can influence your click-through rate (CTR) from SERPs.

Check out this Kissmetrics article on making the most of meta descriptions for your CTRs.

Use schema markup (aka structured data markup)

Searchmetrics estimates that nearly one-third of Google SERPs incorporate rich snippets that are supported by schema. But only 0.3% of websites are actually taking advantage!


Schema markup can be thought of as extra “labels” on information that tells Google what your content means.For example, let’s say my name appears on an article, so Google displays my name in a SERP entry.

But if I use the right schema around my name in the article’s HTML, I can indicate to Google that I’m the author of the article, not just another term in a sea of indistinguishable words.



Not only does schema markup help Google understand your website, it also makes a massive difference in attracting traffic to your website.

Schema helps give users more relevant information in a visually organized and aesthetic way.

Plus, featured snippets are featured more on mobile SERPs, which we discussed are more common in the U.S. than desktop searches.

Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is a great tool for implementing schema markup on your site.

You can use schema tags to identify various types of SERP information, including:

  • Articles
  • Book reviews
  • Events
  • Local businesses
  • Movies
  • Products
  • Restaurants
  • Software applications
  • TV episodes
  • TV episodes with ratings

Schema can also be used to identify information in HTML emails like:

  • Bus, car rental, event, flight, lodging, restaurant, and train reservations
  • Orders
  • Parcel delivery

This Kissmetrics article offers a step-by-step schema markup tutsrial to get you started.

Create a search engine sitemap

A sitemap tells search engines about the organization of your site’s content.

That way, when Googlebot reads the file, it can more intelligently crawl your content. This helps make it more readily available for ranking on SERPs.

Sitemaps also provide valuable metadata about pages on your site like when they were last updated, how often you make changes, and how the page relates to other pages on your site.

You can use, a simple sitemap generator.

Once you have your sitemap, check out my article on XML Sitemap that will walk you through the process of downloading your sitemap file, putting it into the domain root folder of your website, and adding the sitemap URL to your Google Webmaster account.

Now that we’ve covered some key on-page SEO factors, it’s time to discuss how to differentiate your brand from good to great with unique, strategic, and purposeful content.

Step #8: Use your keywords to create great content

Although I’ve touched a bit on keyword placement, in this section, we’ll look more at going after the keywords that you’ve researched.

Sadly, a lot of people misunderstand the whole essence of keyword research and placement.

Even before Google rolled out their first Google Panda update in February 2011, the best search marketers knew that quality, valuable, and useful content should target a particular group of people.

Optimize for informational keywords and improve your search ranking by writing resourceful and detailed content while supplementing it with descriptive meta description and title tags.

This process attracts raving fans, gets your content shared on social media platforms, and garners relevant and high-authority links naturally.

If you want to write resourceful and detailed content, follow the guide below:

Use data-driven articles: According to ConversionXL, data-driven approach can increase your traffic,. Back up facts with accurate data so that people will see your content as authoritative and share it on social media, expanding your organic reach. This post on how to create and promote an infographic is an example of data-driven content.

Other examples of data-driven content include:

The Science of Productivity [Video]
5 Things You’re Measuring Incorrectly with Digital Analytics and What To Do About It
7 Proven Strategies To Increase Your Blog’s Traffic By 206%

The resources below will help you to backup your content with accurate data:

Hubspot’s Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics
38 Content Marketing Stats That Every Marketer Needs to Know
Marketing: 96 Amazing Social Media Statistics and Facts

100+ Fascinating Social Media Facts and Stats [Infographic]

Statistics: Release Calendar

Techniques to try include experimenting and writing case studies for your audience or expanding on what others have done.

You can even micro-target content. For example, if a blogger experiments with niche marketing, take it a step further and try niche marketing with an aged domain name, then write it up.

Use storytelling: Stories can captivate your audience, evoke emotions, and improve your conversion rate.

Alibaba’s China story, which centered on their passion for trading, helped them grow into a multi-billion-dollar ecommerce company.

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Here’s how to tell a story that captivates your audience:

Begin with something unique: Harvard Business School recommends that you start with a unique message that resonates with your audience. Ideally, this should connect with your audience’s questions or pain points.

Infuse your own experiences: It’s called a story for a good reason. Use your own experiences (whether good or bad) as part of the message. No fakery allowed!

Jon Morrow used this on-page SEO content technique to grow his blog to 1,740 loyal subscribers in just seven days. Here’s the post that helped him connect with his audience: How To Quit Your Job, Move To Paradise and Get Paid To Change The World.

Add a call-to-action (CTA): Every story must have an ending. Once you capture your reader’s’ attention, they will expect you to let them in on the solution. After all, your story is supposed to solve a problem, not nurture it.

Use a call-to-action link or button to lead people to your funnel and convert them. MatchOffice increased its conversion rate by 14.79% by changing its CTA copy.


Unbounce provides some more examples of actionable CTA buttons to replace your generic ones:


Write shareable headlines: Google has made a lot of changes to search rankings, but one element remains crucial: the headline.

If you write a shareable headline for your post, nothing can stop it from getting clicked, read, and shared by true fans.

Peep Laja of ConversionXL increased his conversion rate by changing the word “today” to “now” in a headline. It also helped him increase sales by 332%.

Headlines truly win the clicks.

Even if your web page is ranked at #1 in Google for page content, that doesn’t mean that you’ll get the most clicks.

On-page SEO gets you in the running but the title can convert impressions to clicks.

Let’s search for the term how to outsource. Note that the most clickable headline is in position #2.


The perfect example of a website that uses shareable headlines to boost conversion rate is Upworthy.

I’ve used Buzzsumo to analyze Upworthy’s headlines. Check out the amazing number of shares the first article has racked up.


If I wanted to craft a better headline for my own content, here’s what I’d do:

Add numbers: Upworthy’s post was shared over 1.6 million times on Facebook because it has a definite number. If the headline was “Americans are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact,” I’m sure that the total number of social media shares would be lower.

Here are some more examples. When I wrote this post, these headlines were ranked in the Google top 10 for their respective keywords. But, a simple tweak would result in a higher click-through rate.

Original headline:

SEO Basics For Optimizing Your Site

Let’s add some numbers:

  • 6 SEO Basic Tips For Optimizing Your Site
  • 12 SEO Basics You Need To Optimize Your Site

Original headline:

  • Freelance Writing Tips For Stay-at-Home Moms
  • Freelance Writing Jobs To Make Money

Let’s add some numbers

  • 5 Freelance Writing Tips To Help Stay at Home Moms Make Money
  • 10 Freelance Writing Jobs You Can Make Money From

Invoke curiosity: Curiosity will cause people to click your headline, but do it with caution and make sure that you deliver on the promise of your headline with quality content.

For example, if your title is:

Top 7 Body Building Secrets You Didn’t Know

Then make sure that you reveal the ‘7’ secrets, and ideally, what you reveal needs to be new or unique.

Here is another example of shareable headlines that invoke curiosity:

Create a multimedia experience: While regular blogging is important, don’t settle there.

Hone in on your keywords to learn the questions that brought your visitors to your site to begin with. Then use diverse types of content to answer those questions, like:

  • Videos
  • Guides
  • Ebooks
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Demos
  • Checklists
  • Email series
  • Animated GIFs
  • Comics
  • Podcasts

For a comprehensive list, see HubSpot’s 20 types of lead generation content, as well as 14 types of experimental content that you should try out.


Abolish duplicate content: Use tools like Copyscape, SiteLiner, and Screaming Frog to make sure you’re not repeating yourself.

While the occasional duplicate content won’t destroy your rankings, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by showing Google that each piece of content is original, relevant, and useful.

Once you have great on-page SEO content that includes informational and commercial keywords and tells a story that appeals to your audience, it’s time to build links the right way to improve Google rankings.

Step #9: Build links the right way

Earlier, I showed you how to analyze links to your site using SEOprofiler.

Here’s another analysis I did for Business Insiders site.


Note that it shows a range of different types of anchor text for inbound links.

That’s exactly what you need to build links the right way.

Here are some of the ways to do that and the types of links that you need.

Anchor text linking (in-text links): Anchor text links are simple links that appear within the content. See an example below…


I discovered that when you place anchor text links “above-the-fold,” it can increase conversion rates.

The anchor text linking strategy is mostly used when you’re looking to rank for a particular keyword.

You can use your target keyword as anchor text, but to be on the safe side and avoid penalties with the search algorithm, mix it up with generic keywords.

For example, if your primary keyword is digital camera reviews, when building your links from another site, link naturally like this: find the best digital camera reviews, top digital camera brands, etc.

A good mix is smart on-page SEO.

Image links: You can also use images to build links when you write articles or guest posts. Here’s how you do that in WordPress.

When you’re ready to add an image to a post, type the keyword that you would like to use as your anchor text in the “Alt Text” box. Images are indexed by Google, and that means you will get a link back to your site.


Editorial links: If you follow this SEO guide, you should be able to create useful and sharable content through social media that naturally results in valuable inbound links.

A good example is the post on 200 ranking factors that Brian Dean wrote. It’s been cited multiple times.


For Google, what other people say about you is much more important and relevant than what you say about yourself to improve Google rankings.

Over the years, I have created thousands of rich, data-driven, and useful blog content.

If you search for anything related to content marketing, Quick Sprout and pop up, which means that I get a lot of editorial links.

Copyblogger links out to useful and relevant resource posts that contribute to the engagement that they already have with their audience.

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I strongly believe that the site owners didn’t do anything to get those editorial links.

They simply earned the links because of the usefulness of their content. Focus on exceptional content if you want to earn links that will improve the rank of your web pages.

Scale link building: Link diversity is the ultimate way to generate Google-friendly links and improve Google rankings while staying off the penalty radar.

This complete tutorial from Chris Liversidge will show you how to scale your link building to benefit in the search algorithm.

Old techniques, like directory submission, forum marketing, wiki sites, and even guest blogging and press releases don’t work as well as they did in the past.

To get a diverse inbound link profile, write page content that will gain links from local, regional, and international sites relevant to your own.

Then, you’ll build a natural link profile with natural, targeted on-page SEO that will withstand anything Google throws at it.


Unlocking the challenges over how to improve Google search ranking has a certain level of mystique. But ultimately, there are some key strategies that will reliably help your website perform well.

You’ll need to take the time to study and truly understand your target audience and their desires.

Do the research needed to identify the long-tail keywords that they’re using to get to your site.

Once you have this info, you can create killer content to meet their needs, solve their problems, and keep them coming back for more.

Keep churning out great content and promoting it with all you’ve got.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and I guarantee you’ll dominate search engines while avoiding penalties from algorithm updates.

How did your site do in the most recent Google update? Did you see any change in rankings, traffic, and conversions?