If You’re Not First, You’re Last: How to Improve Your Google Ranking

When it comes to where you rank in Google search results, if you’re not on the first page, you may as well be last.

In 2022, you’ve got to be #1. With billions of web pages out there, ranking well in Google’s search results can feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. But it’s not good enough just to rank. More than ever, ranking at the top – i.e. page 1 – is vital to earn organic traffic and establish yourself well online. Google page 2 just won’t cut it.

In this article, we’ll get into how Google ranks its results, how bad page 2 really is, what it can mean for you to rank on page 1 and why it matters for every person, business, and brand, and how you can improve your Google ranking.

What does it mean to rank in Google search results?

The foundational goal of any SEO strategy is to improve your visibility – or, where your site ranks – in search results for a particular search query (or keyword). When your website ranks well in search results, there are several ways your business can benefit:

  • Increased brand visibility
  • Increased authority and trustworthiness of yourself, your brand, or your business in your industry
  • Ability to highlight different services, offerings, or industries related to your business
  • More organic traffic – and thus prospective customers – visiting your site

While this is straightforward – the higher you show up in results, the more people will see your site – the volume of the internet is what can make it complicated. There are billions of Google searches every day. Of the nearly two billion websites on the internet, over 90% receive no organic traffic from Google search.

Why is this?

Websites that don’t receive organic traffic from search engines don’t receive that traffic because they don’t rank well. While “ranking well” sounds a little subjective, it generally refers to landing on page 1 of search results.

What determines rank?

Google – it is their search engine, after all. Google has over 200 ranking factors that influence where certain websites and web pages rank in results. While relevance is a major ranking factor, it is only one of many.

Some of the other top priority ranking factors include:

  • Page Experience: how well your site runs for users. This includes page speed, how navigable your website is, presence of pop-ups, etc.
  • Mobile-first: how well your site runs and is formatted for mobile users. As more and more people access the internet from their mobile devices, Google has increased the importance of websites prioritizing mobile user experience.
  • Quality content: the backbone of SEO, quality content refers to the uniqueness, helpfulness, and information in the content on your site. We could go on and on about the importance of quality content – in fact, we already have.
  • Backlinks: how many backlinks your website has. In the early days of SEO, these could be any backlinks but, in 2022, this means a variety of high-quality backlinks to give your site authority.

To learn more about Google’s ranking factors, read here.

What does this mean for my business?

How Google determines what ranks where means that, in order to rank well, you must have an SEO strategy in place in 2022. With so many ranking factors to consider, even the best, most relevant-to-the-search-query businesses out there are not likely to see much performance in results without an SEO strategy. And if you’re not showing up in search results, you’re missing out.

That seems obvious – if you don’t rank well, people won’t click on your website in search results, because they won’t see your website in search results. And, unfortunately for most, ranking well means ranking on page 1.

Is page 2 really that bad?

It may seem I’m coming down hard on Google’s page two, but I’m not alone. Page 2 has been dealing with a bad reputation for years – Digital Synopsis even cited page 2 of search results as “the best place to hide a dead body.” In 2019, the page’s poor reputation was immortalized in meme-form by this post from a Reddit user:

Source: Reddit

It may feel a bit dramatic, but it’s undeniable that a page 1 spot is leaps above anything on page 2. What’s the deal here? Let’s go on a little road trip.

Google Road Trip

Let’s look at the journey of ranking your website in Google search results like a road trip. Developing your SEO strategy is preparing for your road trip – determining where you want to go, what you will need for the trip, and the necessary stops to make along the way.

Once you see your website is landing in results, you’ve begun the road trip. Gas tank is full, everything is packed, and the car is loaded. Sure, your website may be on page 10, but everyone’s got to start somewhere!

Here’s the not-so-fun way that improving your Google ranking is also like a road trip: you will get to the point when you’ve been driving for a long, long time, and you’re close to your destination, but not quite there.

When you are trying to rank in Google search results, getting to page 2 can feel like a huge accomplishment – and it is. With the nearly seemingly endless number of web pages out there, ranking in the top 20 results for a target keyword is great.

However, this is where Google ranking continues to feel exactly like a long road trip: when you’re nearly there, it may feel better than when you’re starting out, but you’re still not at your destination.

Just like you wouldn’t park your car and declare the road trip over 150 miles from your destination, the job isn’t done if you’re not ranking on page 1 of Google search results (or, really, in the top 5 positions – but we’ll get there).

While it can feel discouraging or impossible to hear you need to rank so well, it is vital for every person, company, and brand to accept the truth about page 2 in order to have a valuable online presence.

So, yes, page 2 is really that bad

In 2019, Backlinko posted this study analyzing 5 million Google search results “to better understand organic click through rate.” One of the most notable elements of the study was the extremely visible drop-off in CTR after page 1:

Source: Backlinko

If it looks to you like almost no one is going to page 2, you’re right. It’s estimated that approximately 5 to 8% of users go to page 2, and as little as 0.78% of users – yes, less than 1% of users – click on page 2 results.

This can be a tough pill to swallow. If you rank #11 for the keyword “best shoes for running,” you are ranking above approximately 1,590,000,000 other results for that keyword. That’s incredible! But with so few people visiting page 2, those last few spots separating you from the top lump you in more with those results ranking below you than those ranking above you.

Why Ranking on Page 1 Matters for Everyone

At this point, I hope I’ve made it clear that page 2 is not where you want to be. But let’s get into why ranking on page 1 is so important, and some of the benefits of ranking at the top:

  • 68% of user experiences online begin with a search engine, and over 95% of users report going online to learn more about businesses.
  • Over 50% of organic traffic to websites comes from Google search.
  • Although Google ads and paid results occupy prominent positions on the Google results page, ranking organically still wins out. Over 90% of users report skipping over paid results in favor of organic results.
  • Another feature of page 1 that’s taking over is snippets – featured snippets, People Also Ask, Twitter and YouTube bars, etc. CTR for the #1 organic link has been reported to have decreased by as much as 39% if just one feature is ranking, which can devalue all search positions, even those on page 1; however, the majority of featured snippets pull from the highest ranking content, which can result in a double feature of your site, and give your site authority.
  • If you rank well for one keyword, you are likely to rank well for others. The average top-ranking page for a particular keyword or search query also ranks in the top 10 search results for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords.
  • Another way to think about organic traffic from search: the traffic you receive is traffic that other sites don’t – and that goes both ways. The better you rank, the better you’ll do in comparison with competitors, and vice versa.

What’s more, a lot of our conversation around page 2 can be applied to those results on page 1 that are below the fold – or, below position #5.

The same 2019 study from Backlinko showed that the CTR for results on page one decreased dramatically as you move down the page, with the top three positions earning over 75% of clicks:

A more recent 2020 study by Ignite Visibility showed an even more dramatic difference between the spots above and below the fold:

Obviously, everyone’s SEO goal is to rank in position #1, and that’s harder for some keywords than others. While securing the #1 spot may not always be an option, as more people go online, and as more of our lives become digital, the importance of a strong digital presence cannot be overstated, and performing well in search results is a vital element of your online presence.

How to Improve Google Rankings

We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again: establishing your SEO strategy and improving your ranking in Google is a process that takes time, commitment, and adaptability. There is no quick fix when it comes to SEO, but there are steps you can take to improve your ranking over time.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of a few basic steps to take to kick off your SEO strategy. If you want to learn more, check out our SEO guide here.

Assess Where You are Now

Understanding where you’re starting from is a vital step in developing your SEO strategy, as it will show you where you perform well, where you can improve, and where you should be focusing your energy.

To assess how you’re performing in search results, register your website with Google Search Console (GSC). GSC has several tools and metrics to help you measure traffic, bounce rates, and ranking for certain keywords to help you take stock of how your website is performing. GSC can also help you determine if your website has any errors or issues that may be impacting your ranking.

Other Google tools, such as the Mobile-Friendly Test and PageSpeed Insights, can help you gauge how well your website is performing regarding these specific Google ranking factors.

Once you know where you’re starting, it will be easier to nail down where you need to go, and what you will need to do to get there.

Establish Your Goals

Once you have gotten a sense of how your site performs, you need to set short- and long-term goals for your SEO strategy. Do you want to increase organic traffic? Rank for more keywords? Lower bounce rates?

Defining your goals will give you a clear metric to measure your success and improvement, and will also help you adjust your strategy along the way to make sure you’re meeting those goals. SEO is iterative, and with multiple Google updates a year, often changes rapidly, so checking in with goals regularly can also ensure that you are staying up-to-date on best practices.

Taking it back to the road trip, your goals are like your navigation system – you know where you want to go, but having goals can help you determine exactly how you’re going to do it.

Prioritize the Top Ranking Factors

Like we said earlier, Google has over 200 ranking factors. But not all ranking factors are created equal. If you’re revamping your SEO strategy – or establishing one for the first time – prioritization is absolutely necessary. There is always something you could be doing to improve your SEO, so you’ll need to address the most important factors first.

Some of the most important factors to consider are page speed, user experience, mobile-friendliness, quality of your content, site structure, relevance to target keywords, and backlinks. Tools like GSC can help you assess these things to see what needs fixing or improvement. To learn more about where to start when improving how your website runs, check out some of our other SEO guides.

Take a Look at Page 1

One of the best ways to improve your ranking in Google search results is to see what is currently outranking you. While results often shift, seeing what ranks for your target keywords can help you identify gaps in your own website or content, as well as help you understand what users may be looking for when they search for a particular keyword.

It’s important to note that, while it is undeniably a valuable resource, the results on page 1 should not completely dictate your own content and SEO strategy. Particularly following the introduction of Google’s new MUM update, making sure your content is unique and specific to you, your business, and your brand is key to SEO success. Take a look at what’s out there, but be sure to approach any content, website design, or approaches to user questions your own way, otherwise you’re likely to be buried under other results.  

Hire a Professional

In some cases, improving your Google ranking is better left to the professionals. An SEO firm like Status Labs can help you formulate and implement an effective SEO strategy to increase your visibility online.

When considering if hiring a professional is the right move for you, consider:

  • Do I have the understanding to develop an SEO strategy?
  • Do I have the time to maintain an online presence?

If carrying out an SEO strategy doesn’t feel possible, or if you don’t know where to start, hiring a professional could be the right choice for you. Status Labs can help you develop and execute an effective SEO strategy on a timeline that will ensure your website’s ranking in results will improve.

Reach out to Status Labs for a free consultation.

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