How to Improve SEO Rankings in 11 Steps

Amanda Milligan

Feb 11, 202214 min read
Ways to Improve SEO

If you’re looking to improve your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and see improvements in ranking, follow these 11 steps:

  1. Track metrics with Google Analytics
  2. Optimize existing content for SEO best practices
  3. Create new content based on keyword research
  4. Diversify your backlink portfolio
  5. Structure content to aim for featured snippets
  6. Optimize images
  7. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
  8. Optimize for on-page SEO factors
  9. Decrease load times
  10. Improve local SEO
  11. Use your results to perfect your strategy

This article will focus on how to improve your SEO to better compete for those position one rankings. 

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1. Track Metrics with Google Analytics

A great first step for any SEO is learning how to understand metrics in Google Analytics. 

Metrics will help you understand your audience and how you are ranking so you can better curate content for them. 

Some of the metrics that help you learn about your site visitors include: 

  • What browsers they’re using: Improve user experience by finding out which browsers your users favor and adjust web design accordingly
  • The most popular devices used to visit your site: Do your users typically visit your site from desktop or mobile? Knowing the breakdown allows you to create content tailored to the most commonly used screen size, enhancing the overall user experience. 
  • Referral traffic: Google Analytics also provides data that tells you where your website viewers are coming from. You can see where traffic is from and whether it’s organic, direct, or paid.
  • Understand your competition: See insights on competitor traffic and use that data to figure out how you’ll update your content strategy to be more effective. This could mean looking for content gaps to meet the customer’s needs in ways the competitor is not.
  • Know what your users are reading: You can research what pages typically bring in users, how many pages they visit, how long they are on your site, and where they drop off. This could help you understand the customer’s journey on your site so you can optimize your content better.

Currently, 12 tools in Semrush can integrate with Google Analytics and Google Search Console so you can analyze and run reports in one central location: 

  1. Position Tracking (GA)
  2. On Page SEO Checker (GA & GSC)
  3. Backlink Audit (GA & GSC)
  4. Organic Traffic Insights (GA & GSC)
  5. My Reports (GA & GSC)
  6. Site Audit (GA)
  7. Content Analyzer (GA & GSC)
  8. Link Building (GSC)
  9. SEO Dashboard (GA & GSC)
  10. Brand Monitoring (GA)
  11. Marketing Calendar (GA)
  12. Social Media Ads (GA)

2. Optimize Existing Content

If you want your content to rank well, you’ll need to create engaging content that is relevant and follows trends in your industry.

Semrush offers a few tools that can help you audit content to see where it’s lacking and where it can improve.

Content Audit Tool

The Content Audit tool can help you identify low-performing content quickly based on a variety of potential issues, including:

  • Minimal backlinks 
  • Lower number of social shares 
  • Oldest pages
  • Thin content (meaning low word count) 
  • Low organic search traffic 
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Topic Research Tool

Once you identify pages that could use a face-lift, it’s time to think about new keywords to target. 

Using our Topic Research tool, we’ll provide content “cards” that can help you identify which content ideas see the most search volume

Topic research results for Hardwood flooring

Ultimately, this can decrease the amount of time you will need to spend developing content and ensure that the work you put into it will reward you. Developing an effective content plan based on your audience’s interests helps improve audience engagement.

While creating your content marketing plan, consider what content will resonate with your audience. From there, you can examine what headlines would do well with that topic and if there are any spinoff topics that you can create. 

Create a Mind Map

Some content marketers find mind maps helpful when planning their content strategy.

Using a mind map can help you present all of your potential topic ideas for visual people. It can assist you in creating higher-level content pieces that can lead to more specific complementary pieces. 

Our Topic Research tool allows you to see more topics to better visualize where you might begin with content repurposing.

Topic research mind map for hardwood flooring

On Page SEO Checker

The On Page SEO Checker identifies your website’s weaknesses and suggests improvements for on-page SEO tactics based on your top 10 competitors. For specific pages, you can learn more about:

  • Strategy: Suggests keywords you should target and ways to potentially improve your rankings
  • SERP Features: Deduces the likelihood of your ranking for a featured snippet
  • Content: Gives suggestions for your content based on the top 10 ranking pages 
  • Semantics: Provides any semantically related keywords your content should also target
  • Backlinks: Shows you specific domains where you’ll want to earn backlinks
  • Technical issues: Identifies technical SEO issues, including whether there is duplicate content and if you’ve used an effective meta tag
  • User experience: Tells you how to improve the experience for visitors
On Page SEO Checker results

3. Create Content Based on Keyword Research

Researching keywords for your content not only helps to develop the framework of your piece; it also enables you to understand what your audience wants to read so you can build a content strategy that caters to them.

Here’s how you can create great content after doing keyword research.

Researching With the Keyword Magic Tool

You should write content that flows naturally. Google-friendly writing is dependent on demonstrating a balance between keywords and everyday language. 

Keywords should naturally come up in your content and shouldn’t feel forced. One way to do this is by identifying semantically related keywords to your primary keyword target. 

Our Keyword Magic Tool allows you to look up keywords related to your primary keyword. From here, you can see search volume, keyword difficulty, and related percentage to your primary keyword. This list of keywords can help you identify what kinds of pages you will write about.

Keyword Magic Tool results for how to make ice cream

In the Keyword Magic Tool, you can also look at questions related to your primary keyword. Many marketers have found success in using question keywords because they mimic how humans ask questions in search engines. 

Additionally, many users ask questions using the voice search feature. Examples of voice searches could be “how to improve website SEO” or “where can I get coffee in New York.”

In the Keyword Magic Tool, you can filter your results between “All” or “Questions” to help you identify the related questions that match your primary keyword.

Keywords will include question indicators such as who, what, where, when, why, and how. For this reason, you should list keywords or key phrases that include these question indicators and create more conversational content. 

Even if you follow all of the tips related to on-page SEO, your content is still not guaranteed to make the front page of Google. Therefore, generating backlinks from high-authority sites should be a big part of your strategy.

Backlink diversity can come from two sources, specifically:

  • The type of backlink: Generally, your backlink will be a follow or nofollow link, with a follow link carrying more weight
  • A site where the backlink originates: If you’re promoting your content and targeting publishers to run a story, the site that links back to your content would be the source of your backlink 

A varied backlink portfolio tells Google that your site is an authoritative source and that you’re generating links in a natural way versus relying on outdated approaches or other spam tactics. 

The Backlinks Analytics Tool can identify your referring domains and total backlinks. We offer the ability to compare up to four competing URLs to get a sense of where there might be an opportunity.

Backlink Analytics results for Nike.com

Some ways to grow your backlink portfolio include:

  • Directories or “best of” lists: Reach out to sites curating lists in your niche to offer your expertise along with your high-quality content.
  • Shareable Content: Social media shares are a quick way to generate backlinks, so create linkable assets to share across multiple platforms.
  • Newsworthy content and publisher collaboration: A successful content strategy should include creating data-driven content that tells a story. Whether through an original survey, public data, or internal data, create content around your results and share this with publishers. 
  • Follow the trends: If you’re able to tie it to a trending news story, there is a high likelihood that the publisher will want to feature your data and credit you back with a link.

Getting backlinks does require some work, but there are various ways to get them. This includes writing a guest post, using HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to communicate with journalists, or asking supporters and partners to link back to your site. 

To learn more about getting backlinks, check out our Link Building Guide.

And don’t forget to build a solid internal linking structure on your site as well.

When developing content, you want to be mindful of your content’s quality, relevance, and structure on the page. 

Every page should logically organize content, ensuring that the most crucial information is at the top of the page and headers inform the reader what they’ll learn in each section. 

80% of readers spend most of their time looking at the content at the top of the page, so it’s important to hook them from the start. 

However, Google doesn’t necessarily index content solely on what’s at the top of the page. 

To best enhance content for the reader and better your chances of earning featured snippets, consider adding jump links at the top of your page. This makes for easier navigation and a more enjoyable user experience. It also allows you to use your header tags creatively to go after featured snippets. 

table of contents

For example, your headers in the text can help your content show up in featured snippets, where they can click into the result and learn more. 

Consider the query “10 benefits of massage.” 

This result shows an actual list that users can view quickly or visit to find more information. If you look at the source code for the article that generates the featured snippet, you can see that all of the massage benefits are nested within H2s instead of a simple bullet list in the post. 

featured snippet for 10 benefits of massage

Combined with relevant content, strategically using header tags helps search engines the understand content better. Headers will let search engines know what your content is about, so inserting relevant keywords can be helpful.

Additionally, you can have the greatest content on the internet, but readers aren’t likely to stay engaged unless it’s structured well and easy to skim.

Web pages with walls of text are, by nature, unappealing and intimidating for many readers. However, headers are a great way to break up your content and help with your site's overall user experience.

6. Optimize Images

It’s easy to look at image optimization as an afterthought in terms of boosting SEO. However, it can help drive traffic to your website when done correctly.

Benefits of Using Visual Content

Since people are visual creatures, it makes sense to utilize visual content. There are many benefits to incorporating visual aids into your content.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Helps break up a wall of text 
  • Aligns with Google’s future goal of visual searching 
  • Gives better context to your webpage’s content 
  • Allows readers to comprehend written content better 

Tips for Optimizing Images

Improving the SEO of your images can be inherently easy. However, when you’re going through your website and optimizing images, there are a few things that you should keep in mind: 

  • Image file size and format: JPEGs are smaller in size than PNGs, so they load faster
  • Descriptions and Names: That includes alt tags, image file names, and image titles
  • Copyright: Make sure the images are yours 
  • Relevancy: Ensure the images are relevant to the content
  • Mobile-friendliness: View the images to ensure they have the correct mobile dimensions

How to Write Effective Alt Tags

One of the best ways to improve your SEO instantly is to optimize your alt text. When writing alt text for your images, be sure to follow these rules: 

  • Be descriptive: Describe the image in as much detail as you can. Imagine you are describing it to someone who can't see it. In addition to being helpful for search engines, this also helps those who use screen readers better understand images.
  • Be distinctive: You should not use your content keywords as the alt tag for every image on the page.
  • Be relevant: Just like keywords, alt text should be used naturally without feeling forced. This means you shouldn’t overdo it and keyword spam.

To learn more about determining if your images need optimization and how to optimize for each aspect, visit our guide on Image Optimization Tips.

7. Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

Recent studies indicate that close to 70% of Google searches come from mobile devices. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that you optimize your website for mobile. Google rewards websites that are mobile-optimized.

To optimize for mobile SEO, you’ll want to research and compare mobile and desktop keywords separately. Using an SEO tool can help you discover mobile analytics insights, which helps you discover content or keywords gaps you might be able to fill with your mobile-friendly content. 

Some believe that developing a website with a mobile-first approach can ultimately help your desktop account. This is because you can initially remove your website’s unimportant aspects when working on the mobile interface. Taking this approach will help you prioritize your content so you create quality content from the start. 

When you are producing mobile-optimized content, you should consider: 

  • Creating concise content that can bridge the gap between small mobile screens and desktop monitors
  • Placing the most engaging and helpful material toward the top of the page so that it will load first 
  • Targeting readers with mobile-optimized keywords 

To see if your website is mobile-friendly, take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Mobile friendly site example
Photo courtesy of Google

8. Optimize for On-Page SEO Factors

In addition to making sure your content and structure are optimized for featured snippets, as we mentioned earlier, having all your ducks in a row for on-page SEO should be your next priority.

Your URL and meta title are key factors in helping Google understand what your content is about.

There is no hard and fast rule about the length of either of these to improve your rankings. However, your goal should be to make them both as concise and clear as possible while including your target keywords.

And while meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings, they can be the determining factor of whether a user clicks on your page or not. 

While Google does change meta descriptions roughly 70% of the time based on what it thinks is best for the user, it’s important to provide one still.

Keeping your description around 150 characters is a good rule of thumb so that you give enough information without all of it getting cut off in the SERPs.

Below are some SEO tips and best practices for keeping your URL and meta as clean as possible:

  • Use a consistent structure that keeps future posts in mind. Whether you’re organizing specific content to one area of your site or creating similar content down the road, you’ll want to keep your URL and meta description structure somewhat similar for related content. 
  • Avoid superfluous language. Avoid fluffy language. Each should be short and to the point. 
  • Make them keyword-rich. Again, be sure that your URL and meta description includes the primary keyword you’re targeting. It’s best to only include as many words as you need to tell users what they’ll find on the page, as well as remove unnecessary stop words.

9. Decrease Load Times

Slow loading times are one of the primary causes of high bounce rates. Additionally, the average human’s attention span lasts eight seconds, making having a fast site more important than ever.

According to Google, “speed equals revenue,” which essentially means that slow loading times increase the odds that your site visitors are going to leave your website page. For this reason, your SEO ranking is dependent on the speed of your website. 

An auditing tool like Site Audit can be a valuable resource to understand your website’s speed and where you might be able to improve it. It can also scan for common SEO mistakes.

To test your site’s speed for both desktop and mobile, enter your domain on Google’s Page Speed Insights page. 

Google PageSpeed Insights

Once the audit is complete, you will get various diagnostics that address performance, page speed, and other core vitals.

10. Improve Local SEO

So you’re enhancing your site’s on-page SEO, and maybe you’ve done great at targeting on national or global levels. But what are you doing to improve your online visibility for local or regional searches? 

With 46% of Google search queries seeking local information, improving your local SEO is essential, especially if you want to generate traffic and leads from your area. 

But what is local SEO, and what steps can you take to improve it?

Local SEO is an SEO strategy that helps your business appear in local search results.

Here are some of our recommendations for optimizing for local search:

  • Claim your Google Business Profile
  • Run performance audits for your Google Business Profile and Google Search Console
  • Make sure your contact information is correct
  • Add weekly posts or offers to your Google Business Profile
  • Respond to reviews
  • Create location pages for your website
  • Optimize your metadata (URL, title tags, and meta description)
  • Ensure your online directories are consistent across the web
  • Add a location to your Position Tracking campaign in Semrush
  • Oversee your listing via Listing Management in Semrush

Local search queries typically yield results in “the map pack” or “local pack,” which includes Google Maps results, local business listings results, and organic search results. Ideally, your business should show up here when local users search a related term.

Google Business Profile map pack

11. Assess Your Analytics to Perfect Your Strategy

Tracking your website’s performance can help you understand what works for your audience and what doesn’t. This way, you can create more pieces of content with their likes and dislikes in mind. 

Below is a breakdown of common metrics that you should consider referencing as you improve. 

  • Average time spent on a page: Looking at the number of time visitors spend on a page provides you with valuable insight into their reading habits. For instance, if your users spend less time on a page than others, it can show you what type of content your audience prefers. 
  • Average pages visited per session: Your analytics can tell you what page your users entered your website on and which page they dropped off. This helps note if or when they made it pages that would produce a lead.
  • Traffic sources: This metric can show you which sources bring traffic to your website and where you should focus your efforts for the best results. For instance, if your website gets the most traffic from Instagram but not as much from Facebook, you can maintain your Instagram strategy while finding new ways to improve your Facebook strategy.

Our Domain Overview tool can help you determine these metrics, look for the weaknesses, and make improvements. See the image below on how to access those metrics.

Domain Overview results for Nike.com

Final Thoughts

Because content is produced and published rapidly around the world, search engines are working overtime to rank the billions of websites on the internet. Even though you can’t drastically increase your rankings overnight, you can make minor adjustments to gradually improve your SEO for the long term. 

By using tools to look at essential factors that impact your website — such as loading speed, content issues, meta tags, linking, and crawlability — you can improve your SEO strategy and your chances of rankings better on the SERPs.

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Amanda Milligan is the Marketing Director at Fractl, a growth marketing agency that’s worked with Fortune 500 companies and boutique businesses alike. Throughout her content marketing career, she's managed the creation of 200+ content campaigns and led the strategy for 20+ clients. She spoke at 2019 SMX Advanced and 2019 Pubcon Pro Las Vegas. Her content marketing advice has appeared in Forbes, Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs’ Marketing Smarts Podcast, CMO and more. She also currently hosts the Fractl podcast Cashing In On Content Marketing.
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