As a business owner or marketer, to drive traffic to your website, you need to rank on the first page of Google and other search engine results. But how do you outrank your competitors and where do you even begin? Understanding how search engine optimization works is essential.

As a  search engine optimization company, we have helped numerous clients quickly accelerate their SEO rankings through our leading SEO services. The key to outranking your competitors is to properly optimize your website, produce quality, keyword-focused content, and execute a strong link-building campaign. To guide you through each step, here is our proven SEO blueprint for higher rankings.

What is SEO?

Before jumping into things, here’s a quick definition of SEO: “Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a Website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.”

Quite often we hear people refer to search engine optimization (SEO) as a black box, whereby they’re not aware of how it works or what it takes to get results and rank well. In this complete guide, we’re going to explain how SEO works and what it takes to win the SEO ranking war!

Let’s start with the basics, by explaining the definition of SEO and what search engines value. By understanding what’s important to search engines, you’ll gain a better understanding of what you need to do to satisfy their needs and rank well. We’ll then jump into the core of SEO, which includes keyword and competitor research, on-page (Website) optimization, and link building for real results.

Here is an example of how Google displays organic results for the search term “Internet Marketing Company Toronto.”

how Google displays organic results for the search term Internet Marketing Company Toronto

As you can see, the first four listings are paid advertisements on the top. After the ads, you see the local SEO listing, which have been achieved through local optimization. Lastly, you see the organic listings, which have been achieved through organic SEO optimization, which is performed on a monthly basis.

While we’re going to get into the steps that you want to take to achieve a page one ranking for your business. Before we can get into the steps to take to win the ranking war, it’s vital to understand what Google values. Let’s take a look:

What Google and Other Search Engines Value

To rank well in search engines, it’s really a matter of satisfying the needs of search engines. So, what do they value? Search engines are constantly upgrading their algorithms to provide a better user experience and targeted results for each search query. The happier the user is with a given search engine, the more often they will use it. The more often they use it, the better the chances are for that search engine to generate additional revenue.

To provide a good experience for people searching, search engines need to ensure that users are able to find high quality information from the most knowledgeable or authoritative websites.

Search engines achieve this goal by ranking web pages according to the quality of content, authority within the market, and relevance of content.

To satisfy the needs of search engines, your website should start with proper on-page (Website) optimization by using the right keyword phrases, such as “Internet Marketing Company”, in the right places. Then, it’s a matter of properly linking your Web pages internally, and developing fresh content on a regular basis.

Below you will find a quick overview of the elements that have to be performed properly for optimal on-page optimization:

  • Keyword selection
  • Keyword placement
  • Web page titles
  • Web page descriptions
  • Relevant content
  • Internal linking

Once you have established a solid foundation through on-page optimization, it’s a matter of showing the search engines your authority within your industry. You can achieve this through the development of fresh content and well as high-quality external link-building. The two key words here are content and quality. That’s the secret to winning the ranking war.

As discussed earlier, on-page optimization starts with keyword selection, but how do you select the right keywords and know that you have the potential to rank well? It all starts with keyword and competitor research.

On-page Criteria

Before your Website can be optimized, it’s important to identify the keyword phrases you should be targeting. Ideally, you want to find high-volume search terms that are relevant to your business or industry. Not only will traffic to your Website improve, but you will also enjoy a great conversion to sale. For example, if Blueprint is optimizing for SEO, it might make more sense to optimize for “SEO Company” or “SEO Services”  since that term is more relevant to what we do. If we optimized for “SEO”, it’s possible we would get people who are interested in learning more about SEO as a topic, but not necessarily those who are looking for an actual SEO company.

Finally, it’s important to perform competitor analysis based on your list of search terms to determine which keyword phrases you can actually rank well for and win. This is a step that many companies unfortunately miss, but it’s so important to balance high search volume, relevance, and competitiveness before deploying your SEO strategy.

How to Perform Keyword Research

Step 1: Brainstorming

Get your team together and list the terms, phrases, services and products that you associate with your business.

Step 2: Competitive Research

Check out the link text that your competitors are using. Chances are that they are using keyword phrases to link from page to page. Here’s a quick example of a company that is optimizing their site for various anti-aging keywords. As you can see in this example, right on their home page, they have links to the main keywords that they are optimizing for.

links to the main keywords

Another great tactic to determine the keyword phrases that your competitors are using is by typing in “site:” before your competitors URL as you can see in the example below using the same anti-aging example. The results that are displayed are very telling if they have properly optimized their site. By looking at their page titles, you will clearly be able to see which keywords they are optimizing for.

optimizing for the keywords and geo targeting Toronto

Looking at this example above, the last two titles in this list tell you clearly that they are optimizing for the keywords “Botox Treatments” and “Skin Fillers” and that they are geo targeting Toronto.

If you performed this research for your top five to 10 competitors, you’d get a clear understanding of what your competitors are optimizing for, as well as the most competitive keywords.

For more keyword research, check out your competitors site map. If your competitors are using SEO tactics, they will be linking from their site map to internal pages on their Website, using keywords at the bottom of every page on the Website.

Lastly, visit Link Explorer for more in-depth analysis at https://moz.com/link-explorer. Start by copying and pasting the highest-ranking Website’s URL in the search bar.

more in-depth analysis

When you click “search” it will show you some very helpful details as you can see.

very helpful details

The domain authority shows the reputation that the Website has. The higher the number out of 100, the greater the authority. The page authority shows you the same thing but it is for the actual page itself.

The number of root domains is important because it shows you if your competitor has an in-depth SEO campaign in place. The higher the number of root domains, the better the SEO campaign, since Google wants to see a high number of root domains, which shows authority.

The number of links is somewhat important as well because it show you the sheer volume of links that your competitors have accumulated. While these numbers are all important, the more important variable is the quality of the sites that are linking to your competitors.

Take the time to review the top pages that are linking to your Website and determine if they are high quality links or not. You want to gain an understanding of how many high quality links that you need to outperform your competitors from a link building perspective.

Next, click on the Anchor Text tab to see the anchor text that is being used for all of your competitors’ links.

anchor text that is being used

This tab shows you the anchor text term that they are using and how many times it is used, which shows you how aggressive they are from an SEO perspective. As you can see in this example, they are going hard after the keywords “Toronto best plastic surgeons.”

Social media continues to impact search results, so take the time to review how many social shares they have; shares, likes, tweets, +1s, show you how many other people are interacting with them, which is a good indication of the quality of their content. Once you have completed this review, rinse and repeat this process for all of your keywords and the top five competitors for each keyword.

Step 3: Keyword Research

After reviewing your top competitors, you should have a better understanding of the keywords that you’d like to rank well for. To begin your keyword research, start with your main (overarching) keyword that represents your product/service.

For example, for us at Blueprint, it is “Internet Marketing Company.”

Once you have outlined your primary keyword, outline what your business offers in terms of specific services or product lines. Using Blueprint as an example, our key services are SEO, PPC, creative services, Website development, and email marketing. Next, categorize your keywords into groups (themes). For example, for SEO Services, the group of keywords that would fall into this group include SEO Packages, SEO Analysis, SEO Strategy, etc.

This process should give you a good understanding of the projected overall structure of your Website. To validate this structure and these keywords, use Google’s Keyword Planner tool. You want to sign in using a Gmail account, so that you have complete access to the full functionality of the tool.

Some of the selections that you want to make when using the tool include the following:

  • Select your country or region that you would like to target
  • Select exact as the match type to ensure that closely matching keywords are provided

Then, enter in your first keyword to search for starting with your main keyword first. For example, for Blueprint, we would start with “Internet Marketing Company” since it is our primary keyword as you can see in this example.

first keyword to search for

Once we click “Get Started” it will show us the related keywords, so we can see what Google believes is relevant and related to this search term as you can see here.

the related keywords

What you want to do is to look for terms that you don’t have on your list. Next, determine which keywords are your biggest in terms of search volume and relevance, so you can start refining the architecture of your Website. Google shows you the level of competition for the various keywords. You’ll want to take this into consideration when selecting the keywords for your Website.

Google also provides the Top of page bid (cost per click) for the various keywords. The bottom line is the higher the price the more people are willing to pay for the keywords, which is a good representation of the quality of the keyword. If there are keywords that you are not sure about, enter the keyword into Google and review the relevancy of the search results to ensure that your assumptions are correct. When performing this analysis, you want to visualize the type of sites that you will have to compete against.

Step 4: Use Your Best Keywords in Your Navigation

Once you have a strong understanding of the keywords that you want to go after, use the top keywords in your navigation from most important to least important. As you can see with the Blueprint Website, all of our top keywords are right in our navigation. Now that you have refined your keyword list, you are ready to build your Website. Choose the top keywords from each group that will drive traffic and conversions on your Website.

Develop Engaging Content
Once you have built your keyword list, you can start developing engaging content. Content can be in the form of text, images, media, podcasts, video and more. Your main goal is to develop consistent, quality content that can be indexed by search engines.

Focus on Potential Buyers
Develop content that focuses on their emotional drivers, such as their desires and fears.

Use One Keyword Phrase Per Page
Search engines index the individual pages on your Website, so use your keyword list to build the pages on your Website.

Have a Call to Action
Most Website owners miss this step completely. Make sure visitors can sign up for a free offer, such as an eBook.

Write Great Content
It’s not just a matter of writing content with the right keyword phrases. You want to write content that people engage with, so that they are compelled to opt-in for your offer and share your content with others. Today, it’s no longer about stuffing your pages with keywords for SEO. It’s about developing great content. Google can tell if the content on your site is high quality and we continue to see that sites that develop great content, add pages to their Website, and blog on a regular basis, rank well.

Where to Add Your Keywords
While the quality of your content is vital to the success of your SEO campaign, you still want to ensure that your Website is properly optimized from an SEO perspective. For this reason, we recommend developing each page of your site with one keyword in mind, while ensuring that this keyword is inserted into the following areas:

  • URL 
    The following example shows the keyword term “social media marketing” added to the extension of the URL: http://www. blueprintim.com/social- media-marketing/
  • Page Title 
    Add the keyword term in its entirety in your page title.
  • Meta Description 
    Add the keyword term in its entirety to your page description.
  • Content 
    Add the keyword term once in the first and last paragraph, once in bold or strong, once as link text to another page, and a couple of times in the body.
  • H1 and H2 
    Add your keyword phrase to the front of your main H1 heading and use a variation of the term in the lower level H2 heading.
  • Alt Tag 
    Add your keyword term to the image title and description.

Getting Started with Link Building

This is truly where the heavy lifting comes in. Here is where the search engine war is won or lost. Simply setting up your pages correctly does nothing more than provide the necessary foundation to start generating traffic through aggressive link building.

The bottom line is that if you want to beat your competitors, you have to be more active than them from a link building perspective, while focusing on quality. What does this mean? There are two types of link building strategies to consider: internal and external link building. You want to start slowly and increase your link building over time. Let’s take a look at the two different types.

Internal Link Building

How you link between web pages on your own Website sends a signal to the search engines of how important an individual page is and what the page is all about. Here are some key steps to take:

  • Add a sitemap with a link to every page on your Website.
  • Add a blog to your Website; blogs are a great way to add fresh content to your site and social networks.
  • Link between the pages on your Website.
  • Add new pages to your Website every month.

The production of fresh content by adding new pages to your site and to your blog is so important that we have seen clients achieve a page one ranking in Google with very few external links.

External Link Building

While external link building has shifted from quantity to quality, external link building still plays an important role in SEO

Creating Back Links

Sites that link to your Website help establish your authority within your industry, showing search engines that your company is important. But, how do you get other Websites to link to you? Here are a few basic link-building techniques you can get started with:

Social Media  
Share helpful information on social media. A simple tool like Hootsuite enables you to share your blog posts through multiple social networks in seconds.

Provide Access to Tools and High-Quality Content
People will link to you if you add detailed, in-depth information and tools that make their life easier.

Brainstorm   
List your relationships with suppliers, customers, charities, related companies, and any company relative to your business or in an of these individuals and companies will give you a link.

Forums  
Forums allow you to add a signature link to your Website.

Blog Comment   
Search Google’s blog search for your keyword term, and Google will rank the best blogs for that specific keyword term. Post legitimate comments and try to get the attention of the blogger. Many blogs allow you to add a signature link to your Website.

Competitive Research   
Use tools like Open Site Explorer to discover the important links your competitors have and try to get similar links from those sites.

Submit Your Website to Major Directories These include directories such as dmoz-odp.org, bestoftheweb.com, yahoo.com, exactseek.com, and business.com.

Getting Started

By now, you should have a basic understanding of how to use SEO to accelerate your ranking within search engines. Although we have used Google as our example, each search engine has its advantages. It’s worth taking the time to review each search engine and its available tools to understand how it can be used to impact your business.

If you’d like to find out more about how Blueprint can implement a sound SEO strategy for your website that will maximize traffic and results, contact us today at [email protected].