A Comprehensive Guide To Improving Your Google Rankings Without Risking Penalties by Gina Kawalek.
There is a seemingly endless supply of information available to anyone looking to improve the ranking of their website with the help of any number of highly effective SEO strategies. Despite the widespread availability of all manner of guides and informational articles, it is unfortunately common that many of the most frequently advocated strategies run afoul of Google’s policies for one reason or another.
If you are among those who have experienced a significant page rank setback because of ideas that are in contravention of Google’s policies, you will surely benefit from the information included in this comprehensive guide. After all, the strategies we will outline in the sections that follow are specifically intended to improve your site’s ranking without running the risk that the site will be flagged and subsequently penalized by Google.
01. Understanding How Google’s Algorithm Influences Your Page Rank
As a marketer, you’ve probably heard a lot of discussion in recent years about the different updates made to Google’s algorithm, including Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, Panda, Google EMDs, PBN Deindexing, Phantom, and Mobile-Friendly Updates, all of which (except Phantom) have been formally announced by Google. While these major updates seem to be announced annually, it’s important to understand that the algorithm itself changes on an almost daily basis; in fact, some experts estimate that the algorithm undergoes as many as 600 changes per year.
So, why exactly do you need to know all of this?
The reason Google constantly alters its algorithm is directly related to its core mission, which is, to use Google’s own words, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Understanding Google’s core objective helps illustrate why strategies that attempt to “game the system” result in penalties that ultimate harm your site’s page ranking. This is why your SEO efforts must incorporate strategies that align with Google’s focus on generating search results in a way that is universally accessible and useful.
02. Relying on Metrics: Consider Keywords, Loading Speed, and Overall Performance of Your Site
When developing a Google-friendly SEO strategy, you must first evaluate the current health of your site with the goal of identifying any positive and negative elements, particularly the elements that might have been flagged by Google. In order to evaluate how well your site performs, you’ll need to know how it performs compared to other sites when users search for a specific keyword or phrase. You’ll also want to analyze metrics associated with average monthly searches as well as each keyword’s average cost-per-click. The tools available through SERPs.com will help you analyze these key metrics and determine your site’s keyword strengths and weaknesses.
User experience has long been important to Google’s algorithm, which is why you should look closely at metrics that analyze the speed of your website speed along with other elements that reflect the site’s overall performance. Your page load times should be fast: Any page that takes longer than a second or two to load will not only cause your users to lose interest, but will also harm your standing with Google’s algorithm.
03. Creating a Mobile-Friendly Site
As we noted earlier, Google tends to announce only the most significant changes to its algorithm. In early 2017, Google announced that mobile-friendly sites would rank higher in search results, underscoring the increasing popularity of mobile device searches (since 2015, more searches have been conducted on mobile devices than on desktop, and the gap has only continued to widen with each passing year).
In making the announcement, Google also made it clear that sites lacking in mobile device accessibility would be penalized in the search results. A mobile-friendly site is therefore a necessity when it comes to improving your search rankings and avoiding penalties.
If you are unsure if your site qualifies as “mobile-friendly,” Google has made a tool available to provide you with an answer in the clearest possible terms. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test — which can be found here — will give a “yes” or “no” answer in response to the following question: “Is your web page mobile-friendly?”
In addition to a “yes” or “no” response, the tool will also provide you with a review of the specific issues that make your site less mobile-friendly than it should be. Obviously, addressing each of these specific issues will go a long way toward improving your site’s search ranking.
04. Already Being Penalized? How to Find and Fix Google’s Penalties
Google has gone to great lengths to ensure any attempts to “game the system” are penalized, which means that many of the strategies you previously used to improve your ranking might now be preventing you from improving your position. Link-building strategies, perhaps more than any other SEO strategy, have changed dramatically over the past few years due to the changes made to Google’s algorithm.
As a result, you’ll have to evaluate your site’s inbound links, which can be done by using any one of the following tools: Ahrefs, Open Site Explorer, Majestic, or SEOprofiler, along with several others. In doing so, you’ll want to review your site’s anchor text links, industry links, nofollow links, unique active backlinks, and link influence score. This will help you identify the links that have a positive impact on SEO, while the tools available through Linkquidator 2.0 (http://linkquidator.com) or Monitor Backlinks (https://monitorbacklinks.com) will help you identify and ultimately remove the links negatively affecting your site’s SEO.
Generally speaking, it is preferable that you to manually remove any links you’ve identified as having a negative impact, but this might not always be possible. Fortunately, Google offers a tool — which can be found through the Google Search Console — that allows you to disavow any difficult-to-remove links. As you manually remove or disavow these harmful links, it’s helpful to keep in mind why you should focus on the kind of organic SEO strategies closely aligned with Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
05. Researching Keywords and Refining On-Page SEO
Keywords continue to be a critical component of on-page SEO, which is why it is so important to conduct effective keyword research that reveals how members of your target audience find your site. Keyword research is most effective when conducted through the Google Keyword Planner, which provides access to a number of critical metrics designed to ensure the content you create is optimized in a way that leads to an improved ranking position. This is a key first step for refining your on-page SEO in a way that does not require you to risk any of the damaging penalties levied by Google in response to an attempt to “game the system” in one way or another.
Learn how to use the popular SEO tool SEMRush to perform valuable keyword research.
About the author: Gina Kawalek is currently a Senior Marketing Manager at QASymphony, a leading provider of QA testing software for agile developers. Prior to QASymphony, she spent 5 years in B2B marketing at ExactTarget, Salesforce and Insightpool.