SEO ranking: 14 steps to get in the game

Aug 14, 2017 | Enhance Efficiently

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In an earlier post I provided a guide for How to start a business blog (highly recommended reading). Among other things the guide identified a few first steps needed to start building your blog’s SEO, but hinted that there was more effort required. So this article dives deeper to give you 14 key actions to establish and improve your site’s SEO ranking.

But first, some SEO basics.

What does SEO stand for?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search engine optimization is the art and science of creating online content that search engines can find easily and rank highly, with the goal of getting links to your content from the search engine’s list of relevant results.

What is a search engine?

A search engine (such as Google, Yahoo and Bing) is a program that searches for and identifies items across the Internet that correspond to keywords (search terms) specified by a user to find sites with relevant, matching content.

What is SEO ranking?

SEO ranking is the process that search engines use to determine the relevance of individual pieces of web content. The more relevant a particular piece of content is to a keyword or keyword phrase, the higher its SEO ranking.

Why is SEO ranking important for content marketers?

Most people look for answers on the Internet by using a search engine, meaning that most Web traffic comes from links in search engine results pages (SERPs). Those SERPs can be dozens or hundreds of pages long, with the highest-ranking content listed first. So unless your content has a high SEO ranking, your target audience may never see your material.

SEO ranking: Your initial goal

The overall goal of SEO ranking is simple: get found online. Yet doing so is anything but simple.

Given the vastness of information on the Web, and almost unlimited variations on search terms, it’s no small task to get a high SEO ranking for your content.

So if you’re just starting out in content marketing, I suggest a more modest goal:

Make sure your content’s not hidden from the search engines.

The tips below will help you do that by getting you in the SEO ranking game. And they’ll set the stage for optimizing your blog’s visibility and SEO ranking over time as you learn more about SEO techniques.

SEO basics checklist

There are several foundational things that new content marketers can do to get in the game of SEO ranking. While this checklist might not put you on page one of a Google search right away, it will at least ensure that your content isn’t hidden or difficult for search engines to understand.

SEO ranking: Before you create pages or posts

There are two things you should do before you create your first pages or posts.

1. Register your site

Register your site’s URL with the three main search engines: GoogleYahoo and Bing. Follow the instructions on each search engine’s registration page. This process is free.

2. Install the Yoast SEO plugin (WordPress)

The WordPress plugin Yoast SEO provides page-by-page content optimization and analysis tools for your site. It’s highly rated and very widely used. There’s a free basic version, and a premium version is available as well.

Many of the steps later in this article require the use of Yoast (free version), so this plugin is a prerequisite if you use WordPress for your blog.

To install the Yoast SEO plugin:

  • Log into your WordPress site
  • From the Dashboard, click Plugins on the menu at the left
  • Click the Add New button at the top of the page
  • Search for “Yoast SEO”
  • Click the Install Now button
  • Activate the plugin

SEO ranking: Before you begin to write

Before you start writing, follow these steps for each page and post you plan to create.

3. Always write for your audience

Although crafting your content so that Google can find it is important, it’s even more critical that your content remains readable and usable for your human audience. (Google is also smart enough to recognize this trait.)

Never let the arcane rules of SEO ranking bastardize your writing.

Your prose should remain clear, unforced, well organized, grammatical and approachable for your readers. And your headline and subheads should add clarity and structure that makes your article easy to understand.

4. Write deeply and informatively

Hand in hand with writing for humans, deep and informative articles will be appreciated by your tribe and help your search engine visibility.

Over time, Google will reward consistent quantity and quality of content with higher SEO rankings. Because it may take months or even years for this to happen, the time to start a habit of well-researched, thorough content is now – at the beginning of your content marketing journey.

In addition, your readers will appreciate well-written and insightful articles. Some of those readers will have blogs and large social networks and will link back to your article – if they find your material outstanding.

Those “backlinks” are like gold: they increase referral traffic to your site and influence Google to give you a higher SEO ranking.

So when in doubt, make sure you serve your readers first, with content that will meet their needs for information and enjoyment.

5. Pick a topic, write an outline, brainstorm keywords

Once you’ve chosen a general topic to write about, develop a detailed outline of your main points.

The outline’s purpose at this stage is to determine the central themes and focus of your proposed article. You can rearrange its flow later or even refine its focus, but first try to identify all the important points you’d like to make.

From the outline, make a list of potential keywords and keyword phrases that describe the main focus of your article.

To help you develop this list, try these techniques:

  • Use Google Adwords Keyword Planner (free). You’ll need a free Google Adwords account first, although you don’t need to buy any ads.
  • Start typing into Google, and note the type-ahead suggestions
  • Look at the bottom of a Google search for related phrases
  • Use Wikipedia to identify sub-topics and terms in the index of broad topics
  • Look at forums and Q&A sites in your topical area
  • Try ubersuggest and Keyword Tool

6. Look for long-tail keywords

longtail keyword graph

If you were to plot a graph of search frequency for related keywords, most of the volume would be for the core (or head) term consisting of one or two main words. Examples of broad, popular, high-volume keywords are “content marketing,” “shoes” and “basketball.”

But change the request to several words and the search gets more specific – and lower in frequency. Think “content marketing for insurance companies,” “mountain-biking shoes on sale” and “basketball slam dunk techniques.”

These more specific search terms are in the “long tail” of the graph. They get far fewer monthly searches, but there’s also less competition from other content marketers and advertisers for these terms – giving you a better chance to be found.

Long-tail keywords help you become a big fish in a small pond – which means your content might appear higher in the overall search results. (And that’s a good thing.)

7. Select a focus keyword

There’s a bit of science and a lot of art to this step. The idea is to select the keyword phrase from your list of candidates that:

  • Clearly defines your article’s topic
  • Has at least some searches every month
  • Has relatively low competition from other content publishers
  • Is in the long tail

The free Keyword Planning Tool from Google can help you identify the search volume and level of competition for your keyword candidates.

In addition, there are many premium (chargeable) keyword analysis tools including SEMrush, Market Samurai, Keyword Explorer, Ahrefs and LongTailPro. (Note: I’m an affiliate of Market Samurai and will earn a commission – at no additional cost to you – if you purchase it after following this link.)

SEO ranking: Start to write

Once you’ve selected your focus keyword, you’re finally ready to start writing your article and marking it up for search engine optimization. Follow these steps.

8. Rewrite your outline if necessary

If your chosen keyword dictates, refocus your article to the specific search you’ve selected and adjust your article outline as needed.

9. Write a compelling article title

Take the time to write several potential variations of your article title to hone in on one that’s intriguing and that uses your keyword phrase. Ideally, insert your keyword phrase at the beginning of the title. Use your creativity!

10. Write your article using your keyword

When you start to write, keep your keyword phrase in mind and use it occasionally in subheads and body text.

But don’t force this! Keep your writing natural and human as suggested earlier. A few inclusions are better than “keyword stuffing.”

Another key SEO ranking task at this point is to insert links to other content on your site (internal links) and to third-party content (external links).

I like to write offline using Microsoft Word rather than working directly in WordPress to start. That let’s me focus on the content rather than the mechanics of the post.

11. Set the focus keyword in Yoast

Once you’ve entered (or copied) your text into your post or page in WordPress, enter the keyword you’ve chosen in the Yoast section of your editor. (You might need to click the small triangle to open up the Yoast section.)

In the example below, the Focus Keyword is “marketing tactics.”

SEO ranking keyword

12. Edit the Snippet in Yoast

In the Yoast Snippet Preview section, click the Edit Snippet button. Then edit the SEO title, Slug and Meta description.

seo ranking tags

The SEO title should ideally start with your focus keywords and be of sufficient length to turn the bar below the title green in the editor.

The Slug is a user-friendly name of your post that will become part of its URL. Use the focus keywords here as well but keep the whole slug short.

Write a Meta description that summarizes the benefits of reading the post. Use the Focus Keyword somewhere in the description.

13. Check Yoast’s SEO Analysis

Close the snippet editor and check Yoast’s SEO Analysis section. Try to correct any items with a red or orange dot.

eo ranking analysis

14. Set a Featured Image

Be sure to assign a relevant Featured Image for the page and set its Alt Tag to your chosen focus keyword in the Media Library. You should also set the Alt Tags for other images you use in your page or post. These can be the same as your Focus Keyword, or other related search terms.

Get in the game

Search engine optimization is an ongoing process that requires continual learning and continual refinement.

This list of steps to establish and improve your SEO ranking will get you in the game. If they don’t get you the visibility you need, you might want to learn more about SEO, bring in a consultant or hire a specialist to help you.

But at minimum, make sure you get in the game with this basic checklist for SEO ranking!


Many thanks to Mike O’Halloran of Michael & Gabriel for reviewing and contributing to this article.

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