SEO is slow. It can take years to build your authority and rankings. Search engine optimization is the slowest form of marketing I know of. It really is.
But there’s one big shortcut.
The key is to focus on the right pages and phrases. You likely already have pages that rank, but don’t yet rank high. If you use Analytics to find a page with “striking distance” keyphrases, then you can update that page and improve the rank very quickly.
Here’s the quick summary, then we’ll go into detail.
- Find the phrases for which you almost rank high.
- Confirm the ranking in Google search results.
- Improve the page by making it more focused on the phrase.
- Wait three days. Check the rankings!
This post is our step-by-step guide to improving your Google rankings and search traffic fast. It’s the only SEO short-cut that I know of. I’ve done it hundreds of times for dozens of clients and I’m happy to share it with you.
If you’ve never done this before, there may be huge opportunities to improve your Google rankings waiting for you in your Analytics.
There is no need to research keyphrases, because Analytics will give you the phrase.
There is no need to check the competition, because it’s already ranking in Google.
That’s why this is the shortest path to increase Google rankings with the smallest possible effort. The entire 9-step process will take under ten minutes. Sound good? Let’s go!
1. Take a look at the “Queries” report
First, you need to find all the keyphrases that you’re almost ranking high for already. The data is in Google Search Console, but you can access it from within Google Analytics here: Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries. This report shows:
- All the phrases your website rank for (search queries)
- The number of times you’ve appeared in Google for each phrase (impressions)
- The number of times your site has been visited for each phrase (clicks)
- Your general ranking for each phrase (average position).
Note: If this report is blank, you haven’t connected Google Search Console to Google Analytics yet. This article and video show the process. Or you could do everything in Search Console, but the tools in Analytics are probably more familiar to you. If you’re not familiar with Search Console here’s our beginner’s guide.
If there isn’t much data here (impressions for each query are very low) then set a longer date range. Keep in mind that this report shows no data for the last two days.
2. Set an advanced filter to see the striking distance keyphrases
You’re looking for the best opportunities for higher rankings. That means phrases for which you rank, but not that high. So you need to filter this report.
Because you need to filter for the Average Position column (which isn’t the first column) you have to use an advanced filter. We love advanced filters. They’re an easy way to get to the best insights fast. Click the “advanced” link next to the filter box at the top of the main data table.
You’re going to tell this report to show us all the phrases for which we rank high on page two of Google. So we’ll set the advanced filter to include queries when the average position is greater than 10. Here’s what that filter looks like.
Where’s the best place to hide a dead body? Page two of Google.
No one wants to rank on page two, but the good news is, high on page two is almost page one. You’re right below an important SEO threshold. This is the low-hanging fruit.
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 10s and 11s at the top.
ProTip! Save this report.
Save your filtered, sorted Queries report so it’s easier to get to next time. Just click the Save button above at the top (next to the floppy disk icon), name it and click OK. Now the report will be available anytime in the Customization > Saved Reports section at the top of the left-side menu.
4. Scan through the striking distance keyphrases
You’ll quickly notice some strange phrases. Every site ranks for weird, seemingly-irrelevant phrases. Just scan past them and keep looking. You can add to your advanced filter to remove some of these queries if you’d like.
Ideally, you’ll find some nice, transactional keyphrases. Remember, there are three kinds of keyphrases that indicate three types of intent.
- KNOW (informational queries… aka question marks)
These people are just looking for information. They have an idea or question, but no plan to buy anything. Example: “why does cold water hurt my teeth?”
- DO (transactional queries… aka dollar signs)
These people are researching a product or service. They know they need something and they may be ready to act. Example: “emergency dentist chicago”
- GO (navigational queries)
These people are really just trying to get to a website. The company name is all or part of their query. Example: “Happy Smiles Dentistry”
We’re really looking for the KNOW and DO phrases, which are usually aligned with the blog posts and service pages. Obviously, the transactional queries are the most valuable.
John Hall Relevance
“It’s a vital part of growth marketing for us to understand the know, do, and go phrases. Combining areas like PR, Thought Leadership, and SEO are an effective way of winning in organic growth and industry trust. Planning out your transactional queries will benefit conversions to increase revenue, but to keep trust in getting journalists and industry leaders to refer to your site you want to make sure you are naturally owning the know phrases as well. Companies who are strategic on this balance typically come out winners.“
Tip! Although the GO phrases aren’t relevant here, they can be a valuable source of quick insights. If you haven’t Googled your company name for a while, check out our guide for branded query SEO.
Find a few good phrases? Great. Let’s move on.
5. Confirm your rankings
Start searching for the phrases in Google to confirm your rankings. You’ll immediately notice that the “average position” really isn’t the same as rankings. Sometimes, you’ll see rankings 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 rank differently today than the average across the date range in the report
- Your site may have more than one page that ranks for the phrase
- Your site may rank in a SERP feature (the local 3-pack, image search results, etc.)
- Your rankings may be pushed down by SERP features
- 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 a “private” or “incognito” window, using a browser you don’t usually use, using a proxy server to connect to Google or using Google’s Ads Preview tool.
Note: Really, there is no such thing as an entirely neutral search. All searches are affected by implicit search signals. So don’t worry too much about trying to be anonymous. You’re not looking for super accurate data. You’re looking for clues.
Find a page that ranks for a phrase, but not too high? Great. Let’s keep going!
6. Check the other phrases that this page ranks for
This is important. Before you start editing the page to optimize for this almost-high-ranking keyphrase, you first need to see all the phrases the page ranks for, so you don’t accidentally de-optimize it for an even better keyphrase.
Here you’ll use another Search Console report to answer the ’what do I rank for?’ question.
To see every phrase that any page ranks for, go to the Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages report. If you don’t see the page you’re looking for at the top of the list, put the URL into the filter. There’s no need for an advanced filter this time because you’re filtering for the first column.
Here’s what the report looks like:
Once you find it, click on the URL to “drill down” into the next level report, which in this case is the Queries report for just that URL. Here you go. You are looking at a list of every phrase that your page ranks for. Sort by clicks.
Now you know the top-performing keyphrases for this page. If the phrase you discovered in Step 4 isn’t the one winning the most clicks, proceed cautiously. You may still be able to improve the page’s relevance for the phrase, but be careful you don’t reduce the relevance for the other phrases.
Warning! If the top-performing phrase for this page is already in the page title and H1 header, don’t remove it from those places. Just skip to Step 8.
7. Check the keyphrase usage on the page
Now we want to check if the page was really optimized for the striking distance phrase. Does the phrase appear on the page in the most important places? Was the phrase in the title, header and body text?
It’s possible that the phrase hardly appeared on the page at all. It’s possible the ranking was completely by accident. If so, you now have an opportunity to indicate the relevance and improve the rankings with very little effort.
You can check using the Control + F test.
This is just the “find” feature in the browser. It shows the keyphrase usage on the page. To check if the keyphrase is in the title, look at the text in the browser tab.
- Does the phrase appear on the page?
- Where does it appear? In the title, header and body text?
- Do the words appear together as a “bonded phrase”, or is it broken up?
- 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. You have found a page that wasn’t well optimized.
Search engine optimization is all about indicating relevance. We indicate the relevance using on-page search engine optimization best practices, which we’ll summarize here.
The keyphrase is used 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.
The keyphrase is used once in the header:
- This is the <h1> tag, which is the headline at the top of the page.
The keyphrase is used several times in the body text:
- There is no magic number for keyword frequency, but there is a correlation between length and rankings. Remember, Google is a research tool built by library scientists. Google loves deep content. If your page is 1500 words, it’s likely that three or four instances of the phrase feels natural.
8. Make it a better page with “semantic SEO”
Now that you covered the basics, it’s time for some next level search engine optimization.
If you hope to rank on page one of Google, your goal is to literally make one of the 10 best pages on the internet for the topic. Don’t just add keywords. Add value. This is really all about the reader and making it a better page in any way you can.
Here is a list of things you can add to a page to improve its quality:
- Formatting (subheads, bullets)
- Contributor quotes
- Research data and stats
- Images (especially charts and diagrams)
- Embedded video
- Internal links
- Depth, detail and answers on the closely related topics
That last one is the most important. If you add detail that is closely related to the main topic, this shows the search engine that the page is indeed one of the best pages for the primary keyphrase.
Search engines don’t really match letters, words and phrases. They match the searcher’s intent with pages that cover that topic. This is called Semantic SEO.
Target the topic, not just the keyphrase.
If it’s not obvious what detail to add and what subtopics to cover, there are tools and techniques to guide you. We’ll do this two ways: first by hand, then with a tool.
Semantic SEO by hand
To find the words and phrases that are semantically linked to your topic, start with the other phrases from the report in Step 6. Then look for clues right in the search results pages:
- Google suggest / autocomplete
Just start typing in your target keyphrase and see what Google suggests. Enter the phrase into KeywordTool.io to many more phrases suggested by Google, YouTube, etc.
- People also ask box
These are the questions and answers Google believes to be related to your topic. It is a goldmine for the SEO content marketer. Enter the phrase into AnswerThePublic.com to see many more questions.
- Related searches at the bottom of a search results page
Look for related phrases at the bottom of the page. Any phrases you missed? Click a few. Keep digging.
- Bolded text in the listings of other high ranking pages
Less obvious but just what you’re looking for. If Google bolded the text, it’s strong evidence that the phrases are semantically related, deep within Google’s top-secret ontological library.
Garther up these related phrases, questions, answers and subtopics. Then use these ideas to build up the content.
- DON’T just squeeze in the phrases here and there.
- DON’T cram in a sentence packed with these phrases at the end of the post. Tastes like copypasta.
- DO add relevant sections and paragraphs that go into detail. Build up the structures of the post, turning short paragraphs into new sections, complete with bullet lists and subheads.
Semantic SEO with a tool
After you’ve exhausted all of the ideas generated through manual research, try a tool. Each of these is a paid tool. You’ll need a subscription (maybe $100/month) or a free trial. But they use competitive analysis to quickly uncover new ideas for improving your article.
- Buzzsumo Content Analyzer (top shared articles on any topic)
- SEMrush On Page SEO Checker (semantic ideas report)
- SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant (writing tips as you write)
- MarketMuse Optimize
Let’s take a closer look at that last tool.
MarketMuse makes semantic SEO changes prescriptive and almost fun. Just enter the target keyphrase and the URL. MarketMuse will then show you a list of semantically related keywords, how many times you used each and the average number of times the other high-ranking rivals used each phrase.
It looks like this:
Now as you add paragraphs, it will keep updating your keyphrase usage and frequency. It also shows word count and “content score,” which is their metric for keyphrase relevance. Once you reach their target content score, move the revised content into your content management system.
Got the page all polished up? Made it more detailed, comprehensive and helpful?
Hit the publish button.
9. Wait a few days …then check your rankings
How’d you do? Ranking a bit higher? Often the changes happen within three days. If you don’t see a change within a week, you probably aren’t going to see a change at all.
If the page wasn’t well optimized to begin with, a few small changes can have a big impact on rankings.
The total time to find a phrase and update the page with simple edits takes under 10 minutes. For a page that is already optimized or a phrase that is more competitive, a minor rewrite can take hours.
Either way, the results are often dramatic and 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. Eventually, you’ll have eaten all of the low hanging fruit and you’ll have to move on to new content and new keywords.
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. It’s a job that’s never really finished. The opportunities are literally endless.
Find opportunities in the data …update the content …track the rankings/traffic improvement …repeat!