First, let’s find the phrases that you’re almost ranking in Google high for. It’s in Google Analytics in this report: Acquisition > Search Console > Queries.
This report shows:
all the phrases you rank for
the number of times you’ve appeared in Google (impressions)
the number of times your pages have been visited from these phrases (clicks)
how high you rank for the phrase (average position).
2. Set an advanced filter
We’re looking for phrases that already rank in Google, but could use improvement. We need to use an Advanced Filter to find just the phrases for which we rank high, but not too high.
Here’s what that filter looks like.
The idea is that a page that ranks greater than 10 is high on page two. This assumes that there are 10 organic search listings on page one, which really isn’t the case, but it’s close enough for us to make this work.
3. Sort the report by rankings
Click the column header “Average Position” to sort the report. Actually, you’ll have to click it twice so you can see the 11s at the top.
ProTip! Make an Analytics “Shortcut”
Save your filtered, sorted Queries report as a shortcut. This will make it easier to get to next time. Just click the “Shortcut” link above the report, name it and click OK. Now the report will be available anytime in the left side navigation of Google Analytics.
4. Dig through this list, find phrases and confirm the rankings
You’ll quickly notice that this report shows some strange phrases. Things that seem irrelevant. Don’t worry about them. Every site ranks for unrelated phrases. Just ignore them and keep looking.
Ideally, you’ll find some buyer-related keyphrases. Remember, there are two kinds of keywords…
Phrases entered by people who are researching a problem, without yet knowing how they want to solve it.
Example: “why does cold water hurt my teeth?”
Phrases entered by people who know how they want to solve their problem and are looking for a presumed solution. They are often ready to spend money.
Example: “emergency dentist chicago”
5. Confirm your rankings
Start searching for the phrases in Google to confirm your rankings. Now you’ll notice that the “average position” really isn’t the same as rankings. Sometimes, you’ll see yourself ranking in Google higher than the report suggests. Other times, you won’t see your site at all.
There are a lot of reasons for the discrepancies.
Your site may have more than one page that ranks for the phrase.
Your site may rank in image search results.
Your site may rank differently today than the average ranking in Google across the date range in the report.
Your search results may be personalized for you based on your location, browsing history, etc.
You can avoid that last issue by doing a few things before you search: logging out of Google, using “private” or “incognito” settings in your browser, using a browser you don’t usually use, using a proxy server to connect to Google or using Google’s Ad Preview tool. Don’t expect the data to be accurate. You’re just looking for clues. Find a page that ranks for a phrase, but not too high? Great. Let’s keep going!
6. Check to see how the phrase is used on the page
Now we want to see how well the page was optimized for the phrase. Does the phrase appear on the page in the right places? Was the page indicating relevance?
It’s possible that the phrase hardly appeared on the page at all. It’s possible the ranking in Google was completely accidental. If so, you now have an opportunity to indicate the relevance and improve the rankings with very little effort. Here’s how to check:
While viewing the page, search for the phrase (using control+F or command+F on a Mac) just like you would inside a Word document.
Does the phrase appear on the page?
Does it appear all together, or is it broken up?
Where does it appear? In the title, header and body text?
How many times is it used in each location?
If the phrase isn’t in the title, header and body text, then this page wasn’t really optimized. The Google rankings were accidental.
If the page already ranks for another phrase, check the volume in the Google Keyword Planner. Is the phrase more popular? Is it a more relevant phrase that may bring more targeted traffic?
If either answer is yes, don’t hurt the relevance for this phrase. Go back to the beginning and start again, or proceed to the next step using the better phrase.
7. Improve the page and indicate the relevance for the phrase
Search engine optimization is all about indicating relevance. We indicate relevance using on-page SEO best practices, which we’ll summarize here.
Use the keyphrase once in the page title
This is the <title> tag, which appears in the code, but not on the page itself. It does show up in the browser tab and it’s often the clickable link in Google search results. If your site is in WordPress, the titles may be managed within a plugin such as Yoast.
Ideally, the target phrase appears at the beginning of the title and words of the phrase are kept together, with no words breaking it up.
Use the keyphrase once in the header
This is the <h1> tag, which is generally the headline on the page.
Use the phrase several times in the body text
There is no magic number for keyword frequency, but high ranking in Google pages tend to be long, with 1500 – 2000 words. Remember, Google is a research tool built by library scientists. Google loves text!
If your page is 1500 words, it’s likely that four to six instances of the phrase feels natural. If the page is short, don’t try too hard to fluff it up by adding length. But make sure the phrase appears at least once, all together as a “bonded” keyphrase.
ProTip: Use Semantic Keyword Research
Search engines are really more about topics, meaning, and intent, rather than words and phrases. As Google gets smarter, they pay more attention to “semantics” rather than a string of letters.
So smart search optimizers are paying attention to the broader meaning of their pages and indicating relevance by using other, semantic keyword phrases in their content.
To find which words and phrases are semantically linked to the phrase you’re targeting, look for clues at the bottom of a search results page.
8. Improve the quality!
Relevance is all within the context of quality. So here is the ultimate SEO trick… If you want to increase your Google rankings, your goal is to make the best page on the internet for that topic. Don’t try to trick a robot. Do try to help people find the information they’re looking for. Look for ways to make the page great. Add detail. Add examples. Add links to other great pages. Add graphics. Add a video. Don’t just add keywords. It’s all about the reader. Make it a better page in any way you can.
9. Wait a few days and check your rankings
How’d we do? Ranking a bit higher? If you don’t see a change within a week, you probably aren’t going to see a change at all. In my experience, a few small changes can have a big impact on rankings, especially if the page wasn’t well optimized to begin with. The total time to find a phrase and update the page usually takes less than 10 minutes. And the results are often visible within a few days. Here’s an example of an email I received a week after going through these steps with a client…
It’s the fastest way to improve your rankings and it works really well. The only downside is that there are only so many opportunities in this report. Eventually, you’ll have eaten all of the low hanging fruit.
That’s why it’s called SEO…
It’s called search engine optimization because it involves iterative improvements over time. It’s not something you do once. Repeat this tactic every few months!