Wondering how to get to the top of Google search results?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through how Google Search works. And explain exactly what you need to do to rank highly.
How Does Ranking Highly Benefit Your Business?
Over 4.3 billion people use Google. But only the top few Google results get all of the attention.
More specifically, the top five results on a Google search engine results page (SERP) have a collective organic click-through rate (CTR) of almost 70%.
Which suggests that, the higher you rank, the more likely users are to click on your link in search results. And, hopefully, become a paying user or customer.
Additionally, content (e.g., blog posts and videos) that ranks organically on Google can produce results for months or even years. Unlike paid ads, where the results stop as soon as you stop investing.
But to rank highly on Google, you need to learn a bit about Google’s algorithm first.
Let’s dive in.
How Does Google’s Algorithm Work?
Google finds and ranks sites using a three-step process.
- Crawling: Google’s bots, or “spiders,” start things off by scouring the web. They search for new or updated webpages and download text, images, and videos.
- Indexing: Google examines the data from the URLs it found. It looks at what’s on each page, including text, images, and other media. All this info can be stored in a giant database called the Google index.
- Serving: Finally, Google decides which pages match up best with specific search queries. The Google search algorithm uses various ranking factors to decide which pages to show at the top.
Read more about how Google works in our guide to SEO.
5 Key Google Ranking Factors
Here are the five main factors that Google's algorithms take into account when ranking organic search results:
- Meaning and intent: Google’s algorithm uses advanced language models to figure out exactly what users are looking for based on the search query. And matches those queries with content that best meets that search intent.
- Relevance: Google’s systems analyze a webpage’s content to assess whether it contains information that seems relevant to what users are looking for. The most basic signal that a page could be relevant is when a page contains the same keywords as the query.
- Quality: Google values authoritative content that shows expertise and trustworthiness. Google looks at backlinks from reputable sources and various other indicators to determine a page’s quality.
- User experience: Google values the user experience, especially mobile-friendliness and page speed. A mobile-friendly site ensures content is accessible and usable across devices. Fast-loading pages provide a smoother experience, especially for users on slower networks.
- Context and location: Google personalizes results based on a user’s location, search history, and preferences. For instance, if you search “pizza,” Google may tailor results to local pizza places based on your location.
By understanding these factors, you can tailor your website and content to align with what Google’s looking for, giving yourself a better shot at landing those prime search result spots.
How to Get to the Top of Google Search Results in 6 Steps
In this section, we’ll walk you through the steps you need to follow to reach the top of Google.
1. Perform Keyword Research
Keyword research is important to figure out what your target audience is searching for. Because searchers use keywords to get answers on Google.
For example, if you want to learn more about different types of cat food, you’ll probably enter the keyword “types of cat food” into the search bar.
There are two types of keywords that you need to look into:
- Keywords you already rank for
- Keywords you want start ranking for
Find Keywords You Already Rank For
You can use Google Search Console to see which keywords are driving traffic to your site.
Open Google Search Console. Click “Search results” under “Performance” in the menu on the left.
Then, scroll down to see a list of your top keywords in the “Queries” tab. Along with the number of clicks and impressions (i.e., number of times Google showed your site) you got from each keyword:
Find Keywords You Want to Start Ranking For
Let’s say you’re in charge of SEO at a women’s fashion brand. And your goal is to sell more dresses.
First, open the Keyword Magic Tool from Semrush.
Enter your seed keyword, (i.e., the initial main keyword). In this case, we used “dress with pockets.”
Then, select the country your target audience is in. And click “Search.”
You’ll see a list of potentially thousands of keywords related to your seed keyword.
But don’t get overwhelmed. Here are three important pieces of information to help you find out which keywords to target:
- Search intent: What searchers want to find when they use a specific keyword
- Keyword difficulty (KD%): How difficult it likely is to rank for that specific keyword based on data gathered about the top 10 search results
- Search volume: The estimated number of times a keyword is searched for per month
Now, let’s use filters to narrow down that list:
- Set the intent filter to “Commercial” and “Transactional.” Since your goal is to get more sales, you want to target commercial and transactional keywords.
- Set your KD% to 49% in the “to” field. If you own a newer website with lower domain authority, then consider targeting keywords that have a KD% of 49% or lower to increase your chances of ranking well.
- Set the volume filter to “100” in the “from” field. In general, target keywords with a search volume of at least 100 per month. After all, you want to target keywords that your target audience is actually using.
Now you have a much narrower list of new keywords to potentially target.
Select the keywords that align with your goals and products by clicking on the checkbox beside each keyword. And then hit the “+ Add to keyword list” button.
Another way to find new keywords to target is to look at which keywords your competitors are ranking for. That you’re not yet ranking for.
First, open Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool.
Then, enter your domain and up to four of your competitors’ domains. Then, click “Compare.”
Next, scroll down to see an extensive list of keywords that you and your competitors rank for, like this:
You can use your competitor’s top keywords as inspiration for your keyword strategy.
Add the potential keywords to your list again. By clicking on the checkbox beside each keyword and hitting the “+ Add to keyword list” button.
This will give you a list of new keywords to target. Once you have chosen your keywords, you will need to craft high-quality content that covers those keywords. Keep reading to learn how.
Understand Search Intent
We touched on search intent a bit earlier. But let’s get more specific.
User intent refers to the underlying purpose or motivation driving a user’s online search queries.
Understanding user intent is crucial because it enables you to align your content with what users are seeking. And your content needs to match the search intent in order to rank.
There are four main types of search intent:
- Navigational: The user is searching for a specific website or webpage (e.g., “Amazon”)
- Informational: The user is looking for general information on a topic (e.g., “do dresses have pockets”)
- Commercial: The user is researching their options before making the final decision on which product to buy (e.g., “women’s dresses with pockets”)
- Transactional: The user is searching for a specific product or brand with the intention to make a direct purchase (e.g., “buy dress with pockets Amazon”)
To find out the intent behind a keyword, do a quick search on Google.
Take note of the kind of content that is currently ranking. Is it educational how-to content and basic “what is” information? Product pages on ecommerce sites? Or a combination of these? This will help you understand what Google thinks the search intent for that keyword is.
Another way (one that’s a bit more efficient) to identify search intent is with the Semrush Keyword Overview tool.
Let’s search for “womens dress with pockets.”
Under “Intent,” you’ll see immediately that the intent for this keyword is commercial.
If you enter the same keyword into the Keyword Magic Tool, you’ll get a list of related keywords and their search intents.
For example, “dress with pockets meme” is purely informational. Meaning searchers just want to learn more about the topic.
2. Start Creating Your Content
The next step is to create high-quality content that is truly helpful.
To do that, you need to understand how Google defines and evaluates quality.
Review Google’s Definition of Quality Content
Google has specific guidelines on what constitutes high-quality content that deserves to rank.
A fundamental concept when it comes to content quality is E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness).
E-E-A-T is part of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines—the handbook that quality raters (people who work for Google) use to measure the quality of search results.
According to Google, quality content should demonstrate the following:
- Experience. That the author has first-hand experience working with the topic
- Expertise. That the author is an expert on the topic they are writing about
- Authoritativeness. That your brand has a good overall reputation in your industry
- Trustworthiness. That your content is accurate and cites trustworthy sources (among other factors)
The Semrush Authority Score provides a site authority metric out of 100. It’s not an exact measurement of authoritativeness as it relates to E-E-A-T, but it can give you an idea of where you stand.
The easiest way to do this is to navigate to Domain Overview. Enter your site’s domain, select your location, and click “Search.”
You’ll find your authority score at the top, like this:
Another important concept to be aware of is Google’s helpful content update. Google prefers to show content that is:
- Helpful to users
- Written for people
Learn more about how to optimize for E-E-A-T (and YMYL topics) in our complete guide.
By now, you should have a pretty basic understanding of the kind of content Google wants to see. So, let’s put theory into practice and start creating content.
Create Optimized Content
Go back to the list of keywords that you created in step one. And plug one of them into Semrush’s SEO Content Template. Then click “Create content template.” Like this:
This will give you content and SEO suggestions to help you rank for that keyword. Like semantically related words, readability, and length.
Write your content according to the brief, optimizing your content with the recommended semantic keywords.
When you're done, plug your written content into the SEO Writing Assistant.
It checks your content for readability, SEO, originality, and tone of voice.
Just paste in your text, enter the keywords, then click “Get recommendations.”
You’ll receive feedback on the readability and SEO. And get tips on how to improve.
3. Optimize Your Content for On-page SEO
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing on-page content, title tags, internal links, and more.
Google looks at these elements to determine whether a page matches what a user is looking for. If your content seems relevant, it will appear higher in search results.
Here are our top tips for performing on-page SEO:
Optimize Your Meta Tags
Your title tag is the first thing users see in search results. A clear, compelling title tag improves your chances of ranking. And encourages users to visit your page. Like this one:
To make your title tags click-worthy and optimize them for SEO, follow these best practices:
- Use one unique title tag for each webpage
- Mention your target keyword in your title
- Stick to under 60 characters
- Avoid generic and vague titles, like “Home” for the homepage
- Include a target keyword
- Make it compelling, but avoid clickbait
Optimize Your Images and Videos
Engaging multimedia elements like videos and images enhance user experience. As long as they’re optimized for SEO.
Here are some ways you can optimize images for SEO:
- Ensure all images contain descriptive alt text. This helps ensure they’re accessible to all users, like those who rely on screen readers.
- Compress images for faster loading times. Google prefers faster loading times. And your users won’t wait for your site to load if it takes too long.
- Choose file names for your images that include valuable information relevant to the image’s content. This can help search engines understand and index your visuals effectively.
Use Internal Links
Internal links guide users to related content within your site, providing more value and encouraging them to explore further.
Search engines also use these links to understand the structure of your site and the relationships between pages.
Review your blog articles, product pages and other important content. See where you have opportunities to link to related content on your site.
Link to pages that are contextually relevant. It’s also a good idea to prioritize pages with valuable information that need a traffic boost.
Read our comprehensive article about internal linking strategy for more ideas.
Bonus: Get More On-Page SEO Optimization Ideas
You can use the Semrush On Page SEO Checker tool for free. It will give you suggestions on how to improve the on-page SEO elements of any website.
Just enter your domain. Then, click “Get ideas.”
Select your target location and click “Continue.”
Add the pages you want to analyze. Then click “Collect ideas.”
You will find a bunch of ideas on how to optimize your pages. And a list of the top pages to optimize.
4. Track How You Rank for Your Target Keywords
After optimizing your content, you’ll want to know how well you rank for your target keywords.
Automate progress tracking with the Position Tracking tool so you can easily identify pages that need to be updated.
To get started, open the Position Tracking tool. Enter your domain and click “Set up tracking.”
Then, pick “Google” as your search engine. And select the most relevant device, location, and language to your target audience.
When you’re finished, select “Continue To Keywords.”
Then, add the keywords you want to track.
You can add them manually or click the “Import from…” button to import a list from an existing resource like a CSV file or a previous campaign.
If you don’t add any keywords yet, the tool will suggest some for you.
Then, click “Start Tracking.”
Now your setup is complete and the tool is automatically tracking how you rank for each of your target keywords.
After some time, the tool will show you a progress report based on how your content has ranked over time (starting from when you set up the tool). Like this:
To stay updated on your changes in rankings, click the settings icon at the top of the page and click “Get weekly updates via email.”
That way, you’ll get a report whenever you gain or lose positions.
5. Get Backlinks
Backlinks act as digital votes of confidence in your website.
When reputable websites link to your content, they essentially vouch for your credibility. Search engines may view these endorsements as a signal that your content is valuable and worth showing to users.
People link to content that they find valuable. Here are a few content types that are good for getting backlinks:
- Expert takes (e.g., an interview with a medical expert)
- Case studies
- Research documents with stats
As long as your content is a great source, you can get backlinks. But the process can be slow. Especially if you’re just starting out.
So here’s how you can actively seek backlinks from websites.
Head to Semrush’s Link Building Tool to find potential sites that are likely to link to your website.
To get started, enter your domain and click “Start Link Building.”
Then, add relevant keywords connected with the content you want to rank for.
After you add keywords, click “Competitors” at the bottom of the screen.
Add the competitors you want to outrank. Or proceed with the competitors automatically suggested by Semrush.
Then, click “Start Link Building.”
The tool will take a minute or so to collect and analyze the data. Then, you’ll see a confirmation pop-up showing how many prospects it found. To view the results, click “View prospects.”
You’ll find a list of websites you could reach out to for backlinks:
For guidance on how to reach out, check out our full guide to link building.
6. Optimize for Technical SEO
Technical SEO involves optimizing technical factors that impact a website’s search engine ranking. Like page speed and mobile experience. Here are some best practices to bear in mind:
Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly
Google uses mobile-first indexing. That means Google mainly uses the mobile version of your site for indexing and ranking.
So, your website must adapt seamlessly to various devices and screen sizes.
To check if your site is optimized for mobile SEO, check on the “Mobile Usability” report in Google Search Console.
The report shows you the number of pages with poor mobile usability. It also lists the specific issues, so you know what to improve.
A quick way to gain basic insights is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Just enter your page and hit “Test URL.”
Google will tell you whether your site is usable on mobile. And direct you to Search Console for more detailed information.
Need help optimizing your site for SEO? Check out our complete guide to mobile SEO.
Prioritize Fast Loading Times
Users and search engines like pages that load quickly. Slow-loading pages frustrate users. And if a website loads faster, search engines can crawl it faster.
To check how fast your site loads, use the Semrush Site Audit tool.
Just enter your site in the search bar, and click “Start Audit.”
Then, choose the number of pages and crawl source. And click “Start Site Audit.”
You’ll see a dashboard like this one. Click on the “View details” button under “Site Performance.”
Within the “Site Performance” report, you can find your average page load speed in seconds.
As a guideline, you’ll want to aim for a page load speed of less than three seconds. The faster, the better.
There are many things you can do to make your site faster. To get some ideas and step-by-step instructions, take a look at our guide to page speed.
Make Your Site Search-Engine Friendly
Search engines discover and rank pages through crawling and indexing.
If Google can’t find or read your page content, it won’t show your pages in search results.
If your pages don’t seem to be ranking even after you’ve optimized them for SEO, then you might have a technical issue.
To find that technical issue, run your website through Semrush’s Site Audit tool.
And go to the “Issues” tab.
It will show you a list of the errors on your site. And call out any pages that can’t be crawled.
You can take this report to your website developer or IT team. Or conduct further research to fix the issues yourself.
Bonus: Consider Local SEO
If you own a business that has a physical location or serves a specific geographic area, you’ll want to rank for searches specific to that area.
That’s where local SEO comes in. Local SEO is all about ranking for local keywords as opposed to general keywords. For example:
- “Best pizza in downtown Vancouver” vs. “Best pizza places”
- “Hairdressers near me” vs. “Wedding hairstyles”
Ranking for local searches can be a big advantage for local businesses because they appear right at the top of the search results page.
In addition to Google’s usual ranking factors, its local search algorithms use three main factors to decide which sites to rank:
- Relevance: How closely related a Google Business Profile result is to what a user is searching for
- Distance: How geographically close the business is to the user
- Prominence: How reputable Google thinks a business is
Learn more in our complete guide to local SEO.
Keep Tracking Your SEO Performance
Once you’ve created and optimized your content, it’s essential to track the results. So you can measure the impact and identify areas for improvement.
One way to do that is with Google Analytics. You can check to see if your organic search traffic has changed for the pages you optimized.
Open Google Analytics. In the menu on the left, click “Acquisition” and then “Traffic Acquisition.” You’ll see the number of users and sessions from organic search. You can change the time frame to see the development over time.
Google Analytics will tell you how much traffic you get from organic search.
A good way to track your SEO rankings is with the Position Tracking tool.
The Position Tracking tool provides insight into how well different pages of your site are ranking for your target keywords.
With a tracking campaign, you can monitor your (and your competitors’) rankings on a daily basis. And with custom notifications, it’s easy to stay on top of any changes in rankings.
Get to the Top of Google with Semrush
Now, you’re equipped with the essential insights and strategies to reach the top of Google’s search rankings. But why stop here?
Take the next step by signing up for a free Semrush account. From in-depth keyword research to backlink analysis, technical optimization, and much more, Semrush has everything you need to maximize your SEO performance.