How to Improve Your Website's Google Ranking

Try these simple tips to improve your site's SEO

Google Chief Economist Hal Varian Speaks To The Media
Adam Berry / Getty Images

Google's search engine uses a variety of methods to determine which pages are displayed first in search results. The exact formula is a secret, but you can do a few things to improve your rank in Google search results. The term for this process is search engine optimization or SEO.

You can take steps to improve your website's ranking in searches. There are no guarantees and no successful quick schemes.

The real secret is to develop a website that you would want to visit and that is written the way humans want to read it.

If you're gaming the system with SEO tricks, sooner or later Google figures it out and changes its formula. You end up plummeting in the search results and wonder why. 

Here are a few tips may encourage search engines to look favorably on your website.

Give Your Page a Subject

A keyword phrase consists of the words you think someone is most likely to put into a search engine to find your content. It is the subject of your page according to Google. You could put a lot of energy into keyword phrases alone to improve your site ranking. Your keyword phrase should appear somewhere in the content, preferably in the first paragraph or so. "This is an article about X, Y, or Z." Don't overdo it and don't make it look unnatural.

Speak like a human and use the words that humans are most likely to use when searching for a page about your topic. Telling people what they're about to read is helpful. Making a word salad to cram in keyword phrases is not. 

If you were searching for your website, what keyword phrase would you type in the Google search field to find each of your web pages? Try searching Google for that phrase. Did you get a lot of results? Was the content what you expected to find? A different perspective may be helpful. You can check Google Trends to see if a phrase is starting to gain popularity. 

Ask several of your friends to read your website and suggest keyword phrases they think describe it best.

Try to stick to one key subject per pageThat doesn't mean you should write stilted text or use odd phrases to keep your subject narrow. Your subject can be broad. Just don't put a bunch of random and unrelated content together. Clear writing is both easier to search and easier to read. Don't be afraid to be long and detailed with your subject, as long as you start with the big ideas first and get into the weeds further down the page.

Don't Overdo Keyword Density

One of the things Google looks for when it catalogs pages is the density of the keyword usage — how often the keyword occurs. Use natural phrasing. Don't try to trick the search engine by repeating the same words over and over or making text "invisible." It doesn't work. Some of that type of behavior can get your website banned.

Write a strong opening paragraph that says what your page is about. This is good practice, and it may help search engines find your page.

Name Your Pages

Give your pages descriptive names. Google often displays search results as a link using the web page's title, so write it like you want it to be read. A link called "untitled" isn't enticing, and nobody is going to click on it. When appropriate, use the page's keyword phrase in the title. If your article is about penguins, your title should have penguins in it.

Pay Attention to Links

One of the factors Google looks at is the presence of hyperlinks. Google examines links to and from your website.

Google looks at the words you use in links to determine the content of your page. Use links within web pages as a way to emphasize keywords. Rather than saying, "click here to learn more about SEO," go with "Read more about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)."

Links from other websites to your website are used to determine PageRank.

You can improve the PageRank by exchanging text links with other relevant websites. Linking to your own website is fine. Be a good citizen and link to places other than your website, but only when they are relevant. Banner exchanges are not effective, and pages that want to charge you for this linking service are often known spammers that can hurt your rank.

There's some debate about just how many links you should have per page. This is one of those rules that's likely to bite you if you abuse it, so the key is to be helpful and natural with the rate and quantity of links you offer. Scripts that link your content to other pages or ads within your site may end up damaging your site in the long run. 

Don't Forget Social Networking

Social networking sites can be a good way to promote a site, but it is unclear how much they affect your search rank directly. That said, you may find that a great deal of your traffic comes from social networks, so be sure to make your content social friendly. Add images and give your content engaging titles. 

Make Your Graphics Search Friendly

Give your images attributes. Attributes provide another opportunity to place relevant keywords where Google can see them. Just don't stuff keywords that don't belong. 

Make Your Website Mobile Friendly​

You want to make your content mobile friendly for the sake of good user experience, but you also want to do it for the sake of search. There's no guessing on this one. Google has indicated that mobile-friendliness is a Google ranking signal. ​Follow tips from Google on making your site mobile friendly.

Good Design Is Popular Design

In the end, strong, well-organized pages are pages that Google tends to rank higher. They're also pages that tend to become more popular, which means Google will rank them even higher. Keep good design in mind as you go, and much of the SEO will design itself.