Web searches are the leading source of traffic to websites worldwide. The great thing about getting the majority of your traffic from Google and other search engines is the fact that it’s free.
Businesses that rank on the first page of Google have both a huge and an unfair advantage over those that don’t because they are able to spend less on marketing and advertising whilst still getting many qualified customers and clients.
Just imagine if you could get the equivalent of $5,000/month in free advertising from Facebook or Instagram. Well, you can with Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Just to show you how important and valuable it is to rank well in Google, SEMRush estimates that myjoyonline.com receives the equivalent of $94,600/month in free website traffic from Google, and that’s just from Ghana alone.
And if you think that’s high, Ghanaweb.com’s estimate is much higher than that at $574,700/month.
So what would happen to your business if you could just get a fraction of that amount of free advertising for your business?
What would happen if whenever a potential customer or client of yours searched for your product or service, they found your website and your business right there on the very first page of Google, perhaps even in the top spot?
Traffic to your website would increase and your revenues and profit would skyrocket!
There’s just one tiny problem. Out of the billions and billions of results, Google can only show a few at a time. Basically, they show 10 results at a time for every search, and if you aren’t in those top 10 searches, no free traffic for you.
Your aim with your website, aside getting a lovely one that represents your business and functions as it should, is to get onto the first page of Google, and even into the first 3 results where possible.
This is because the top 3 Google search results get 75.1% of all the clicks in a search.
Being found on page 2 or worse is almost like not having a website at all. And that’s why in our article on the cost of website design in Ghana, we mention that you should probably consider factoring SEO costs into your project.
But Google doesn’t necessarily make this easy. Or let me say your competitors aren’t going to make it easy.
You want $5,000/month in free advertising? Great! Your competitors also want that same free advertising for themselves.
Even as you read this, a competitor of yours is also busily studying on how they too can rise up the Google search result pages in order to overtake you or claim the top spots for themselves.
And that is what is referred to as SEO or Search Engine Optimization.
Why am I not on the first page of Google?
Ranking in Google involves hundreds and hundreds of different factors. There’s a very popular breakdown of over 200 factors that affect your ability to rank well in Google.
We’ve broken those down for you into 7 key areas:
- Wrong keywords
- New website
- Technical SEO problems
- On-page SEO issues
- Off-page SEO issues
- Content problems
- User intent
Searching with the wrong keywords
The first thing to check on has to do with the keywords or phrases you are searching for in Google.
If you’re a fashion designer for women and you search for “Clothing” in Google and can’t find yourself, that might not be the end of the world.
Searching for “Women’s Fashion” might be the particular phrase that shows you right on Google’s first page for that query.
This would mean that Google has gone over your website and based on all the information it’s gathered, your site represents “Women’s Fashion” more than it represents “Clothing”.
One might say,
“But women’s fashion is a subset of clothing”
and you would be right.
However Google doesn’t want to get into trouble with its customers. People searching for clothing could very well be searching for kids clothing, men’s clothing, pet clothing, winter clothing and so many other clothing categories.
So returning a site that is more specific to women’s fashion might not be the right answer a customer is looking for.
If you believe you should rank in Google for a particular keyword that you aren’t already ranking for, you can make adjustments to various elements on your website.
That’s a whole long process which we’ll be touching on below.
To find the keywords and phrases you already rank in Google for, one way is to check the Performance Reports in GSC (Google Search Console).
This can be quite a revealing exercise, especially if you have not paid any attention to your website’s SEO efforts. You might find out that you rank for seemingly unrelated terms to what your business offers.
You might also find out that you don’t rank in a favourable position for any queries or keywords at all.
If you haven’t already connected your site there, make sure to do so. All you need is a Google account and you can sign up here.
Another way is to have a report generated for you by an SEO agency that you work with to optimize your website.
Website too new/young
Right off the bat, the first thing to consider when not finding your website ranking high in Google is the fact that it actually takes some time for search engines to get enough information on you to rank you favourably in their results when you’re new.
This is because when Google puts your website on the first page, they are telling their customers and searchers to trust you and buy from you. But because Google doesn’t know a thing about you, they’d rather not take that risk.
So within the first few months of the existence of your website, you might experience a bit of a ‘sandbox’ effect, where no matter the great content or optimizations you put in place, you just won’t rank in Google for high-volume keywords.
A high-volume keyword is a search term, query or phrase that is searched for a lot. For example, “bags” or “shoes” or “restaurants”, etc. These are usually a single word or a short phrase.
That’s in contrast with low-volume keywords and/or long-tail keywords which are usually phrases made up of multiple words that aren’t searched for a lot. Those are easier to rank for, even if your website is new.
Besides the sandbox effect mentioned, the sheer amount of competition alone will prevent your website from ranking high in search engines if it’s young.
Your website might have the perfect answer to a question someone is asking, but many other websites might have that same answer and they’ve been around for 2 or more years, so Google trusts them more.
According to a study of 2 million keywords done by Ahrefs, the average time it took to rank on the first page of Google was over 2 years, with sites in the top spot being 3 years old on average.
One exception though is if your site ‘goes viral’. If there are just a huge ton of people searching for your website constantly, you can break free of Google’s sandbox much quicker.
If they see that a lot of people are looking for you, you just might be a trustworthy brand to recommend.
But outside of that, you’re going to have to keep working behind the scenes without getting discouraged as you wait for Google to start trusting you more.
Technical SEO problems
A Technical SEO problem basically refers to an actual issue with your website and how Google is able to access it.
Obviously, if Google isn’t able to access your website properly, they’re not going to rank you properly either.
For example, some people decide to upgrade their websites from HTTP to HTTPS by adding an SSL. This is more secure and it’s the direction the whole world has gone in.
But without putting the needed 301 redirects in place to make sure old content and pages are directed to new content and pages, Google may end up seeing duplicate content or missing pages.
Also, without a 301 (permanent) redirect, any backlinks pointing to the HTTP version are no longer going to benefit your site since it’s now on HTTPS. And that’s going to hurt your rankings.
Your sitemap.xml file might also be a source of problems for you. It might list pages of your site that are no longer relevant, or might omit pages that are absolutely critical that Google find and index.
Or consider this scenario. Google has moved to a mobile-first index. Meaning that they now rank search engine results based on the mobile version of your website, not the desktop version.
If Google deems your website not mobile friendly, it means they are having a hard time understanding the mobile version of your website
That leads to a drop in your rankings because they can’t send their users to a page that’s difficult and even frustrating for them to use.
Instead of being found in the top 10 results, they’ll hide you somewhere on the 5th or 6th page where no one will discover you.
To check on the mobile-friendliness of your website, Google has a free testing tool you can use.
There are hundreds of other technical SEO issues that you should find and rectify as quickly as possible.
It could be malware or spammy links on your website, a series of unnecessary redirects (which Google detests), misconfiguration of AMP, a penalty for one reason or another, these can all ensure you never pop up on the first page of Google search results.
On-page SEO issues
If you’ve got all your technical SEO issues sorted out, the next to consider are On-page SEO issues.
Your website might be lovely, Google might be able to crawl and access it just fine but if you keep telling Google you sell milk instead of coconut oil, don’t be surprised when you don’t rank for coconut oil.
Let me give you a typical example. Google uses hundreds and hundreds of factors in ranking a website and its content.
But to do so, it has to understand the content it’s coming across. One of the tools it uses to do this is the Title tag.
The Title tag is the first place Google looks to in order to understand what your page is about and that’s actually what the Title tag is for.
But despite this being a pretty important factor to help you rank, many websites make lots of mistakes with it.
You might have multiple pages on your website with the exact same title tag like 35% of websites do. That’s like giving 3 of your children the same name. 😀
So when you call, “John!” are you looking for John number 1, John number 2 or John number 3?
Or Heading tags. These are another source Google uses to understand what your page is about. A heading tag is usually used to highlight an important topic or section for a website page.
There are actually 6 hierarchical levels of heading tags; H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 and H6, ordered from most to least important. A useful rule is to only have one H1 tag per page.
Sadly though, a lot of theme and website designers forget or actually don’t know about the SEO ramifications and simply use heading tags as styling elements.
They want big text, they select H1. They want smaller text, they select H4 and so on.
Whilst your site might come out looking beautiful, Google sees you highlighting milk everywhere instead of coconut oil. That leads Google to say, “Hmmmmmm!! I think these guys sell milk!”
To make sure your visitors understand what you’re writing about and to ensure you don’t jeopardise your chances of ranking well, it’s important to get such title and heading tags right.
You can do so by investing the time to learn SEO tactics and techniques, or hire a website design company that provides exceptional SEO services as well.
Here’s an article on how to write SEO headlines if you need help with that.
There are a whole lot more on-page SEO issues you have to look at if you want to be in Google’s good books, from missing alt attributes and broken links to missing meta descriptions and duplicate content.
A technical SEO audit can help you find all the issues affecting your website. The fewer issues with your website, the more likely your clients and new customers are to find you when they search for you in Google.
Off-page SEO issues
Everything we’ve mentioned so far regarding SEO issues has been largely within your ability to alter. But with regards to Off-page SEO, it’s a bit more outside of your control.
When you tell people, “I’m awesome!”, it doesn’t really have too much of an impact.
But when the president of a country somewhere says, “This gal is awesome!”, that carries a lot of weight.
And the same applies with Google. When you state on your website: “We are the best smartphone repairers in the world,” everyone has to take that with a grain of salt.
But the moment Apple, Samsung, Huawei and LG also start saying, “These guys are the best smartphone repairers in the world,” Google and everyone else takes notice.
One of the most important factors required if you want to rank high on Google’s first page are backlinks. A backlink is whenever another website somewhere on the Internet links to your website.
Generally speaking, the more backlinks your website has, the easier it is to be found on the first page of Google. The fewer backlinks you have, the harder it is.
Here’s an example. Wikipedia is one of the most authoritative websites in the world. They have over 212 million backlinks!
This perpetuates a very good virtuous cycle where because Wikipedia ranks on the high in Google, they get more people linking to them.
And because more people link to them, they rank even higher in Google.
Wikipedia has over 34 million pages that rank on the first page of Google! And that’s the number just for the United States alone.
Now this doesn’t mean you should just go out and get backlinks from everywhere you can. Not all links are created equal.
A link from one of your websites to one of your other websites will carry a bit of weight. But a backlink from a very prominent and highly trafficked website carries so much more weight.
The same way if smartphone manufacturers are linking to your smartphone repair website, that is mightily relevant. Unlike getting your granny who has a cake bakery to link to your smartphone repair site.
An interesting thing to note though is just as good links can raise your ranking in Google, bad links can quickly lower your ranking too.
A bad link being a link from a shady, spammy, malicious or questionable website out there.
Here’s the backlink profile of a website where almost half of all the backlinks to it were toxic. There is absolutely no way you can reach the first page of Google with such a poor backlink profile.
You are more likely to get a penalty from Google rather than a rankings boost.
Sadly, there is no ‘announcement’ or ‘notification’ when a shady site links back to your website.
You could have been happily at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), maybe even enjoying a few snippet features, only to start dropping and disappearing right off the first page.
That’s why it’s important for you to monitor the people who are linking to your website and why they’re linking to you.
If you do find links to your website that are bad for you, you need to disavow them and tell Google you have nothing to do with those links or those sites.
You can do so in Google Search Console. Just make sure you’re monitoring your backlink profile so you disavow toxic links before Google punishes you for them.
Another off-page SEO factor has to do with social shares and signals. Again, Google wants to make their users happy by providing them with the best answers and content possible.
If an article on “smartphone repair” is being shared all over on social networks, Google may increase the ranking of that article because of how much attention and interaction it’s getting.
That’s why it’s very useful to have social media pages and share your content on them regularly.
You can learn more here about various off-page SEO techniques.
I’m sure you’ve already heard the statement, “Content is king!”
Content is certainly the foundation of everything we’re talking about here because if there was no content, what would people have to search for?
But because there’s an abundance of content, we need search engines to find us the best content they can on a topic in order to satisfy us.
And when I talk about an abundance of content, I mean an overwhelming abundance of content!
If you search for “How to bake a cake” in Google, you’ll come up with over 350 MILLION results!!!
Or try searching for “How to rank on the first page of Google” and you’ll discover a mind-boggling 731 million results!
(Just on the side, it’s a bit interesting that a lot more people want to rank well in Google than they want to bake a cake.)
Considering that the vast majority of people never even go to the second page of Google, that means most of those 731 million results will never, ever, ever be seen.
Whilst that’s a tad discouraging, don’t let it get you down. Remember the rewards if you are on that first page and it could all be worth it.
Having said that, it should be clear that there’s no easy way to rank in the top 10 Google results if you aren’t producing the absolute best content you possibly can. Content isn’t everything, but it’s really important.
People have created amazing content, but because they didn’t take care of their technical, off-page or on-page SEO, they end up a part of the results that’ll never be seen.
But don’t let that be you! You need to create content better than your competitors if you want to rank better than them.
What constitutes better content? Here are a few things to consider in that quest:
- Is your content original? Or did you just lift it from someone else’s site?
- Is your content engaging? Do people want to read more after they see your headline? Do they want to share your content with their friends?
- Does your content actually answer their questions? People ask questions because they want answers. Do you have the answers they want?
- Is your content reliable, accurate and true? Do you just make things up or do you do your research, citing sources and ensuring your information is correct?
- Is your content just text, text, text? Or are there images and videos to switch things up and keep things interesting?
- Is your content old and outdated? Or have you kept it up-to-date with the latest information and changes?
- Is your content more in depth than others? If your competitors just scratch the surface of the topic, are you diving in deeply or also just scratching the surface an inch deeper?
Search engines just want the very best content they can find. If you can give them that (ensuring there aren’t other issues), you’ll generally rank in Google quite well for your various keyword phrases.
User intent and user experience
A final point we’d like to mention on how to rank on the first page of Google for your chosen keywords and phrases is to consider the user intent and user experience.
That simply refers to whether visitors to your website are satisfied with what they found and the process of finding it.
Google has stated that besides backlinks and content, their third most important signal is something called RankBrain.
This is a machine learning or artificial intelligence program, that uses many signals to identify whether a user is satisfied and happy with the results they found in a search or not.
If RankBrain identifies that your website satisfies a particular search intent, you’ll steadily rise in Google search results.
Conversely, if your site doesn’t satisfy the user and they have to go looking elsewhere, you are going to drop, and drop very quickly.
Consider the example of Click-Through-Rates (CTR). Your CTR is the percentage of people who click your link versus the number of people who were shown your link.
Many things can influence your CTR including your page’s title, your meta description and even your domain name and/or website URL.
If Google keeps showing your website as a result on its first page for a particular query, but very few people click on it, Google’s RankBrain is going to say,
“People don’t seem to like this result very much. Let’s give them a different one.”
And just like that, your ranking will be demoted because users did not like clicking on your link, for whatever reasons they might have had.
Another example is Dwell Time. If someone clicks on your link from a Google search results page and finds your content to be lovely and engaging, they are likely to spend a lot more time on your site.
On the other hand, if someone lands on your page and can’t find the information they want, they aren’t going to stay there for long and will probably bounce off quickly.
The RankBrain algorithm is measuring all that and using it to either raise your website to the first page of Google or drop it into oblivion. Why?
Because Google wants its users to find the answers they need and be satisfied with those answers and the experience of finding them.
So let’s talk about the intent of a search.
If I want to find out the weather in Accra, no matter how engaging, interactive, colourful and informative your website is on Accra, if it doesn’t tell me what the weather is like, the intent of my search can’t be satisfied.
Google knows this and so to satisfy their users, they show millions of answers to questions without you even having to click. These are their rich snippets, featured snippets, knowledge panel features and more.
The 4 main types of intent when searching are:
Some people just want to learn or know something when they search. Others want to research a product or service they plan on purchasing.
Some want to find a website they’re looking for whilst others are set and ready to hand over their money for a product or service.
Here’s another example. Assuming you go to Google and search for: First page of Google, you’ll see a bunch of different suggestions and intents that Google has gathered from thousands of other searchers.
Some are looking for information, others are looking for a service Some are looking for images and memes whilst others are scratching their head over a difficult problem.
If someone lands on a website looking for “first page of Google statistics” but only finds images, their intent will not be satisfied and that site will be demoted for subsequent searches of similar intent.
So you’ve got to take both the user intent and user experience into consideration and find out if you are actually giving searchers the information they’re looking for.
If you are, Google will reward you for that.
Whilst it definitely isn’t easy to rank on the first page of Google, it’s certainly worth it. No other marketing channel will give you such a credibility boost nor provide you high quality leads at virtually no cost.
Best still, investing in your website’s SEO will continue to pay you for years to come.