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How to Improve Your Google Rankings (Without Getting Penalized)



how to improve your google rankings without getting penalized

Top Google rankings are a pinnacle of online business success.

According to Backlinko, the first result on Google gets 31.7 percent of all clicks — while results on the second page receive just .78 percent of clicks.

I’ve talked to a lot of business owners and managers – newbies and veterans alike – who have struggled to unlock the secrets of how to improve their Google ranking without getting penalized.

I wish I could tell you there’s a magic button that ranks your site #1 without fail.

The truth is, it takes resourcefulness, dedication, persistence, and creativity. This is especially true because of the constantly changing nature of Google’s algorithm.

While there’s no magic bullet, there are steps you can take to soar to the top of a search engine results page (SERP).

I learned this the hard way; but luckily, you don’t have to.

I’m going back to basics with on-page SEO to help you understand the new SEO rules, learn how to optimize for both humans and search algorithm crawlers, and to master on-page and off-page SEO.

Here are the steps I will cover in this guide:

Step #1: Get to Know the Google Algorithm

Google executives like Gary Illyes and John Mueller confirm Google constantly changes its algorithm, even though most of these changes aren’t publicly announced.

increase google rankings - John Mu tweet confirming daily updates.

Moz estimates there are 500 to 600 Google algorithm changes per year!

While Google used to share major update announcements, the exact inner workings of the algorithm are still unknown. The majority of information is just speculation from industry professionals.

After all, if everyone knew exactly how to rank in the first position without penalties for shortcuts or black hat SEO strategies, Google wouldn’t succeed in ranking only the best results. Anyone could hack their way to the top without putting in the work.

Not only would this make it hard for honest people like you and me to succeed, but it would also seriously compromise Google’s mission statement:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

The best knowledge we have of Google’s algorithm comes in the form of major algorithm updates like:

  • Page Experience Update (June 2021): This update affected Core Web Vitals, organic results, and News alerts.
  • Core Update (December 2020): This update focused on content quality and relevance.
  • Mobile-first update (July 2019): Googlebot now looks at all websites as a smartphone, prioritizing sites that work well on mobile devices.
  • Mobile-friendly update (April 2015): Favoring websites with mobile-friendly versions and setting the stage for future penalties if sites don’t comply.
  • Pigeon (July 2014): Worked to integrate local search results like Google Maps.
  • Hummingbird (August 2013): Aimed to understand the context and intent behind a user’s search instead of just looking at the literal words they typed.
  • Penguin (April 2012): Targeted spammers and sites that buy unnatural links to boost their rankings.

Not to mention Panda, Google EMDs (exact match domain names), and the Private Blog Network (PBN) deindexing updates. Then there’s Phantom, which first appeared in May 2013 and is believed to have been updated four times – but has never actually been confirmed by Google.

How are you supposed to keep track of all these Google updates?

There are some great resources to help. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History is an awesome database that organizes updates chronologically. Check out Google Webmaster Central, too.

Check out the video below to learn more about my strategies for link building, on-page SEO, and user metrics when trying to rank on Google.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the algorithm, let’s get down to those actionable strategies I mentioned earlier.

Step #2: Assess Your Current Google Ranking

To improve your Google ranking, you need to know where you stand. This is true even for new sites. Thankfully, there are several tools to help.

Use Ubersuggest to Check Your Site’s Keyword Rank

If you’ve been targeting specific keywords in page content, use my tool Ubersuggest to assess your rank.

Login, then use the “Traffic Overview” under the competitor report. Type in your domain, and you’ll see a list of SEO keywords your rank for, top pages, and an overview of your SEO keywords ranking.

ubersuggest report - improve google ranking

Scroll down to view the “SEO Keywords” chart, which tells you where you rank for main keywords.

Check Your Site Speed

Next, it’s important to check site speed, as this is still an important Google ranking factor.

If your site is slow, you have little chance of a high search position. It will affect your ability to convert and sell new customers, too.

Walmart experienced a sharp decline in conversions when its page load times increased from one to four seconds.

If this happens, it doesn’t matter what your on-page SEO, meta description, or title tags are. The search algorithm will punish you, even if you’re a giant like Walmart.

improve google ranking - importance of site speed

That’s why it’s important to run your own site speed test to figure out how to improve Google rankings. There are dozens of tools that can help you do this. Some of my favorites are:

Here’s how to test your page content speed with Pingdom.

Go to and type in your URL. Choose the location you’d like to test from and click “Start Test.”

improve google ranking - pindgom test

Quick Sprout registers a performance grade of 81. As long as your site registers over 50, that’s a good start.

If you get a performance grade of less than 50, your page content is really slow and you need to work on improving it.

improve google ranking - performance grade quick sprout

Check the page load time, too.

Quick Sprout is doing pretty well at 1.89 seconds. Aim for under 2 seconds for a really fast site and under one second for mobile devices.

Remember, a load time of more than a few seconds could cause you to lose a significant amount of site traffic.

Check Your Site’s Health

After looking at keyword search engine rank and site speed, assess the overall health of your site before you start to optimize.

Have you experienced a sudden drop in organic traffic after months or years of consistency?

Are you wondering whether Google has deindexed (or banned) your site?

There are a lot of great tools to help piece together this puzzle. Try the MxToolBox Domain Health Report tool to check for major issues in five different categories: general site problems, blacklist, mail server, web server, and DNS.

improve google ranking - domain health report

Just click the box for each category to see specific errors and warnings. From there, you can work one-by-one to fix them.

improve google ranking - domain health report

If you want to check if you’ve been penalized by one of the major algorithm updates, check out FE International’s Website Penalty Indicator tool.

improve google ranking - website penalty indicator

You’ll see a graph that shows your site’s traffic in relation to rollouts of major updates. This comparison takes you one step closer to knowing if an update directly affected your site.

improve google ranking - traffic example

To check for a Google penalty, login into Google Search Console and look for the “Security & Manual Actions” report. This will tell you if Google has taken a manual action against your site.

improve google rankings - manual actions

Note that this report will only show if a human reviewer has determined your site breaks Google’s quality guidelines — it won’t tell you if a Google Algorithm update penalized your site.

If you do have a manual penalty, fix the issue (this guide on how to recover from a Google penalty can help), then submit a reconsideration request with Google.

Step #3: Track and Measure the Right SEO Metrics

Next, it’s time to track some vital metrics of your site to find out what other factors you need to improve. Here are the most important metrics to assess.

Organic Traffic

It’s important to know how visitors find your site via Google. In the past, organic search drove most website visitors, crushing non-organic channels like paid search and social media.

Today, social media, email, and paid ads often lead the pack in driving organic traffic — but that can vary drastically by industry.

To find out how many visitors reach your site, log in to your Google Analytics account and check out the acquisition channels report. This helpful Google Analytics guide will guide you.

Organic Traffic Conversions

In addition to analyzing search traffic, it’s worth paying attention to the keywords that generate traffic for your site. This is harder to see than it used to be, but is still possible.

You can do this with Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools). It can tell you how many clicks you get for certain keywords in organic search results.

Keyword Ranking for Transactional Keywords

The number one keyword research mistake is not spending enough time focusing on transactional keywords.

That’s because commercial keywords are the ones that drive revenue. To improve your search engine rankings and make money, you need to understand the difference between commercial and informational keywords to improve Google rankings.

If all of your keywords are informational, you will still generate organic traffic, but it may be difficult to convert those visitors to buyers or people who share on social media.

The reason is because of visitors who search for informational keywords like:

  • How to clear acne with home products
  • How to install WordPress
  • Make money online for free
  • Free ebook download
  • Top 10 free article spinners

If they’re not in the buying mood, they want you to speak their language; the search engine language of free. Now, these terms can drive traffic and a solid sales funnel will convert some of those people — but not many.

In contrast, there are people who use transactional keywords that show user intent, like:

  • Best acne products
  • Top 10 web hosting providers
  • Web designers in NY

These folks are probably searching for a solution that they can buy.

If you’re in the e-commerce industry, you’ll hopefully already know that transactional keywords tend to convert well.

Keywords that have the words below as a prefix (before) or suffix (after) to the rest of the keyword phrase tend to do well:

  • Buy
  • Review
  • Purchase
  • Discount
  • Coupon
  • Deal
  • Shipping
  • Order

Earlier, I talked about the keywords that are sending you organic traffic. They should also be used in the meta description as well as on-page SEO (more on this later).

Here’s another example. Can you spot the difference between informational and transactional keywords?

improve google rankings -informational vs transactional keywords

Set Up An SEO Dashboard to Track These Metrics

I recommend that you set up an SEO dashboard so that you can track all of the important metrics at any time.

Here’s how to set one up in Google Analytics.

If you have the cash to drop on SEO tools, go for it. If you are on a small budget, however, Google Analytics should serve you just fine.

In addition to setting up dashboards in Google Analytics, you can get even richer keyword data by connecting Google Search Console to Google Analytics. Here’s a complete guide on how to do that.

Step #4: Ensure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly (and Ready For a Mobile-First Google)

More than half of all website traffic comes from a mobile device. That means if you want to rank well, your site needs to perform well on mobile.

While some algorithm changes remain unclear, Google left nothing to the imagination when it comes to mobile. On January 10, 2017, the Google Webmaster Blog said:

Starting today, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.

Then in 2020, Google moved to “mobile-first indexing” which means Google looks at websites as a mobile device. If your site is hard to navigate, your ranking will be impacted.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to see where you stand. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test offers a quick way to determine if your site is mobile-friendly or on its way to Penaltyville.

Just type in your URL and click “RUN TEST.”

improve google ranking - mobile friendly test

The results will give you a clear “yes or no” answer along with a list of the page loading issues it encountered. This way you can fix and optimize to ensure your mobile site running smoothly.

improve google rankings - mobile friendly test.

You’ll be able to look at page loading issues like redirection errors and pages where robots.txt blocked the Googlebot from crawling the page.

Google’s Search Console also has a Mobile Usability Report that will give you a list of your site’s mobile usability issues.

Tips to Make your Site Mobile-Friendly

If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, add this to the top of your to-do list.

  • You can get a quick fix through services like Mobify or Duda Mobile.
  • If your website is built on a popular CMS platform, like WordPress or Wix, most themes are mobile-friendly. You may need to update your site to the latest version to take advantage of these features.
  • Make sure CTAs and form fields use large, easy to tap buttons.
  • Don’t use popups that are impossible to close. Yes, pop-ups improve conversions, but they can also annoy users.
improve google ranking - be mobile friendly

For additional SEO insight, check out Google’s tips for how to improve website ranking on mobile.

Mobile and Local SEO: An SEO Friendship

There’s a strong connection between mobile and local search. Google caters to hyper-local search, connecting consumers and brands as smoothly and quickly as possible.

That’s why you should make sure your Google My Business profile is up-to-date and comprehensive.

These profiles can be a deciding factor for someone who’s searching in your area, so claim and update your business listing ASAP if you haven’t. This also goes for other local listing sites, like Yelp, Facebook, Better Business Bureau, and more.

See HubSpot’s local business listings and directories list for a comprehensive look.

Step #5: Diagnose and Fix Your Current Google Penalties

Now that you understand your search ranking and have set up tracking for the most important metrics, it’s time to examine your site in detail and fix any current penalties.

This is fundamental; there is no point in promoting or building links to an unhealthy site. Before we dig in, I want to cover a few things that could get you a Google penalty.

Link Building has Changed

Bad links hurt your site. Use them and you can expect a Google penalty sooner rather than later.

That’s why it’s essential to think about how you generate links to your site.

improve google rankings - avoid google penalties quote, matt cutts

The sentiment remains true today.

Here’s how. Start by identifying and eliminating unhealthy links.

Analyze Your Links

First, analyze inbound links to your site. There are several link analysis tools you can use to do this:

Let me walk you through a link analysis using SEOprofiler.

Sign up for a free account and go to Link Profiler → Backlinks. Let’s use

avoid google penalties - backlink profile example

The results show the most important elements to look for when analyzing your backlinks:

  • Unique Active Backlinks: This shows the number of links that directly or indirectly affect your Google ranking. “Unique” means that the links are from different IP addresses. That’s one way to identify a natural link. These links have been indexed by Google in the last 90 days.
  • Nofollow links: Problogger has 10.2% nofollow links, which equals 1,522 backlinks from the total of 14,922. Google introduced the rel= “nofollow” tag in 2005 to stop spammy blog comments from artificially manipulating rankings. After the Google Penguin update was rolled out in 2013, it became essential to diversify your link profile. And as Matt Cutts mentioned, you need a mix of dofollow links (links that pass ranking value to search engines) and nofollow links (links that don’t pass ranking value).
  • Industry: If you read the content of Problogger, you might think that its industry is “blogging” or “internet marketing.” But, when you look at this analysis, it turns out to be “media.” Knowing your industry can help you identify relevant links that will improve your backlink profile in the search algorithm used by the search engine.
  • Link Influence Score: This shows how links from the website influence the search engine rankings of linked pages. The higher the score the better. As a very popular and influential site, Problogger’s score is a whopping 99%! Check your own site and see what your score is.
  • Anchor Text: Click on the link in the left menu to access data for anchor text (anchor text is the text that becomes your link and points to your page) linking into your site. Google’s Penguin update was rolled out to prevent site owners from manipulating search results with exact match anchor text. If you want to stay under the search algorithm penalty radar, diversify your anchor text.
improve google ranking - importance of anchor text

It’s also important to know which links are harmful to your site so that you can remove them. Harmful links include those that:

  • Come from PR-n/a or PR0 websites
  • Are mostly sitewide links
  • Are from referring domain names with little traffic
  • Come from sites on the same IP class address
  • Come from web pages with a lot of external links

There are many free tools to help you identify unhealthy links. Two that I’ve tried include Monitor Backlinks and Linkquidator.

Moz has a detailed tutorial on which links can harm your site and what to do about it.

Remember to export the list of unhealthy links once you find them. That way, you can refer to them later.

Clean Up Your Link Profile to Avoid a Google Penalty

That’s the next step in cleaning up your link profile, and there are two ways to do it.

1. Request a Manual Link Removal: Visit the website where the unhealthy/unnatural links are coming from and contact the site owner. Ask the site owner to either remove your link (the better option) or add a nofollow tag to it.

If you have outsourced link building in the past, you can also contact the person who placed the links for you and ask that person to have the links removed. Here’s an excerpt from a post at Search Engine World to show how this works:

improve google rankings - manual link removal

In this case, don’t ask the site owner to remove your links because they might assume you’re a spammer and ignore you. Instead, follow this tutorial from Search Engine Journal to learn the best way to contact webmasters about link removal.

2. Use Google’s Disavow Links Tool: If you’re unsuccessful in getting unhealthy links removed, your only option is to use Google’s own disavow links tool.

While manual link removal is best, this is a good second choice.

The disavow tool is part of Google Search Console. Once you open Search Console, you’ll see a list of all of your sites.

Go to the site for which you want to disavow links. This is what you’ll see:

improve google rankings - prevent google penalty with disavow link tool

When you check for unnatural links, you have the option to export the links that you find. If you have done this, upload the file and click “done.”

Like you, Google can’t actually remove the links as they don’t have access to the referring sites.

However, doing this authorizes Google to stop passing link juice (value) from those links to your page content.

3. Diversify Anchor Text Distribution: Anchor text can play a key role in improving or utterly destroying your search ranking. As I mentioned earlier, if you want a natural link profile, you have to diversify anchor text.

When distributing your anchor text, think about including these types:

Let’s assume your page content sells blue denim jeans. If your domain name is, how do you distribute your anchor text?

If you want to link three times from a particular site, it’s ideal to use this link profile:

  • Anchor text 1: site – target page: homepage
  • Anchor text 2: denim jeans reviews online – target page: a page where you reviewed the item
  • Anchor text 3: reviews – target page: your store

4. Avoid Over-Optimization: When you overuse anchor texts, it can result in over-optimization and can get you penalized. Geoff Kenyon suggests the percentage below:

improve google rankings - anchor text tip

To avoid anchor text over-optimization, follow these two guidelines:

  1. Avoid Excessive Keyword-Tich Anchor Text: If you want to link to your internal pages on a topic, like “link building strategies,” don’t use that same keyword phrase as your anchor text. Instead, use something like “learn more about link building” or a combination of a generic plus the exact keyword. Variety is key.
  2. Avoid Irrelevant Links: What’s the point of linking to your dog training site using “best golf trainer” as your anchor? It doesn’t make sense to improve Google rankings and could actually result in a Google penalty.

If you need a detailed guide on over-optimization, see How to Avoid Over Optimization For your Site.

Step #6: Improve Google Rankings with Keyword Research

Once you are rid of unnatural links, it’s time to improve on-page SEO the right way.

One essential element of an effective inbound marketing strategy is keyword research. You won’t get far without understanding how it works.

Learn How Your Audience Finds Your Site

To be effective, you need to pinpoint the keywords that your target audience is using to find your site. Here’s how that works.

Step #1: Visit Ubersuggest, Enter your Keyword and click Search.

improve google ranking - prevent penalties with Ubersuggest

Step #2: Click on Keyword Ideas

improve google ranking - prevent penalties with Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas

Step #3: Review Keywords and Search Volume for the Month

improve google ranking with keyword research from Ubersuggest

Here’s how that helps you.

When you research keywords, you’re getting firsthand information about your target audience, the information that they want to know, and how they want it.

For example, when someone searches for “html5 tutorials for beginners,” you know the searcher is a newbie who is searching for solutions and wants content that helps with this topic.

That can guide you to write headlines and content that ranks well in the Google search results.

It’s helpful to figure out the buyer personas and customer lifecycle of your target audience, so you understand what motivates them. Then, provide relevant page content that will help you increase your Google ranking.

Alexa can help you work out audience demographics, as in the example below for Upworthy.

improve google ranking with demographics, upworthy example

Remember when I mentioned transactional and informational keywords?

When you do keyword research, you can easily see whether users are simply looking for information or ready to buy.

That’s called user intent, and here’s how it looks for the keyword research example used earlier.

improve google rankings - keyword idea example

In this example, free web design is an example of an informational keyword. Free web design courses is an example of a transactional keyword.

You need both informational and transactional keywords in your page content to improve the Google rankings of your website.

It’s your job to educate, inform, inspire, and build interest before recommending a product.

Informational keywords can be used to build email lists and nurture prospects before offering a product for sale.

Also, don’t ignore long-tail keywords and questions.

The rise of voice search and BERT means long-tail keywords are more important than ever before.

This guide to intergrating long tail keyterms is a good place to start.

Spy On Your Competitors’ Keywords

If your competitors are ranking ahead of you in Google search results, it’s time to spy on them.

If the search algorithm likes them, you can learn and copy their strategies.

I like to use Google Keyword Planner for this because it gives me an accurate estimate of competitors’ keyword targets.

Let’s assume you’re in the “survival knife” sub-niche. One of the authority blogs you might spy on is

On the Ubersuggest homepage, instead of inputting a seed keyword, simply type your competitor’s URL into the landing page box and click search.

Then scroll down the page until you see “SEO Keywords.” You will see the keywords that your competitor is targeting.

improve google rankings - with competitor research

In addition to the keywords, other data includes:

  • Volume: The number of searches the keyword has during a month.
  • Position: The position the URL is ranked for in Google search.
  • Estimated visits: The estimated traffic the webpage gets for the keyword.

For example, your competitor ranks number 1 for the term “survival life.” With the top spot, they receive roughly 395 visitors per month for the term. So, if you’re successful in overtaking them, you know what type of traffic to expect.

This works for any niche and can help you uncover hidden keywords that will help improve your ranking.

Boost Lower Ranking Keywords

If you find your web page on page two, how can you boost its ranking to the first page of Google?

You can use the skyscraper method, popularized by Brian Dean from Backlinko.

Find a post or article that’s ranking already, improve it, and promote it everywhere. This led to a 457% organic traffic increase for him.

If you want to do this for your topic (for example, “outsourcing guide for small business”), follow this simple guide:

  • Extensively research the topic, including research studies.
  • Identify the keywords to target using the strategies I shared with you in this post.
  • Write a more in-depth post (that’s longer, more accurate, and actionable).
  • Link out to authority blogs that are doing outsourcing well.

Make sure you write a powerful and clickable headline.

For example, if your first headline is:

Outsourcing Guide For Small Businesses

You can improve it like this:

The Complete Guide to Outsourcing for Small Businesses

An In-Depth Guide on How to Outsource for Small Businesses

X Ways Outsourcing Can Revolutionize Your Small Business

Contact the blog owners that you mentioned in your post and ask them to check it out. Hopefully, you’ll get a handful of authority sites to link back to you.

Use Keyword Analysis to Improve Content

Let’s get one thing straight.

There is no optimal ratio for placing keywords in an article.

However, knowing the right keywords to target is of the utmost importance. That’s the basis of keyword analysis.

Wordstream defines keyword analysis as:

The starting point and cornerstone of search marketing campaigns. By understanding what queries qualified visitors to your website type into search engines, search marketers can better customize their landing pages to increase conversion rates.

Unless you know the queries that qualified visitors type into Google, you’ll find it difficult to improve your ranking and conversion rates.

By now, you know how to do keyword research. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is knowing which keywords are bringing in organic traffic.

Ever since Google’s “Not Provided” update, this info has been hard to come by. This guide to unlocking Not Provided Keywords will help you recover some of the data. However, these days, it’s impossible to get a full view of what terms drive organic traffic.

You do want to pay attention to popular keywords, terms your competitors rank for, and Google’s “People also ask” questions.

Use this information to write on-page SEO content that matches user intent (remember that?). This will improve the Google ranking of your web pages.

How should you place your target keywords in the content?

Let’s assume you want to write an in-depth review on “best senior irons for seniors.” Here are some titles that you could use:

  • Top 10 Best Senior Irons For Seniors
  • Buyers’ Guide For The Best Senior Irons For Seniors
  • Best Senior Irons For Seniors – The Ultimate Guide

To start your introduction, you could begin like this:

There are several senior irons in the marketplace. But knowing the right one for you is the most difficult decision. If you read this guide from start to finish, you’ll know the best senior irons for seniors that are affordable and reliable.

Or, you could start your introduction by asking a question:

Do you want to find the best senior irons for seniors? This page will not just tell you about the irons but will show how to use them to improve your golf game and provide practical tips on getting a huge discount for your purchase.

Do you see how I placed the target keyword in the first paragraph, without making it seem like spam?

As I’ve said before, target a specific keyword in a natural manner – don’t just try to make it look natural.

Step #7: Increase Google Ranking With On-Page SEO

Now that you know which keywords you want to target – and should be targeting – to maximize your performance, you’re equipped to make meaningful on-page SEO changes.

Backlinko has an excellent guide that breaks down on-page SEO factors that will earn you big points with Google and your visitors.

Let’s break down a few key considerations.

Optimize Title Tags

Title tags are still a big part of determining how your site will perform.

Make sure every title tag is descriptive, unique, and catered to your targeted keywords.

Avoid using the same keywords and title tags over and over. This way, you’ll diversify your opportunities while avoiding cannibalizing your own efforts.

Say that you’re an ecommerce company. A good formula for your product pages could be:

[Product’s Name] – [Product’s Category] | [Brand Name]

Like this:

Curly Hair Leave-in Conditioner – Hair Care | Diana’s DIY

Here are a few more title tag optimization tips:

  • Use pipes ( | ) and dashes ( – ) between terms to maximize your real estate.
  • Avoid ALL CAPS titles. They’re just obnoxious.
  • Never keep default title tags like “Product Page” or “Home.” They trigger Google into thinking you have duplicate content, and they’re also not very convincing to users who are looking for specific information.
  • Put the most important and unique keywords first.
  • Don’t overstuff your keywords. Google increasingly values relevant, contextual, and natural strings over mechanical or forced keyword phrases.
  • Put your potential visitors before Google – title tags can make-or-break traffic and conversions.

Keep in mind Google shows roughly 60 characters on a SERP, but don’t cut off if a longer title suits the page content. The search snippet title Google displays can be dynamic based on the search query.

So ultimately, you might be doing yourself a favor by getting more descriptive.

Plus, desktop snippet titles are limited by pixel width, while mobile display titles are typically longer.

Here’s an example from Hobo Web:

improve google rankings - using title tags

In the image above, Google displays as many characters as possible from the beginning. But in the image below, Google truncates the middle of the title to show the term “Hobo” at the end to show relevance to the user’s query.

improve google rankings - title tag example

While meta descriptions have negligible (if any) impact on your rankings, they still serve the important purpose of helping to determine your search snippet and adding an extra factor of uniqueness. This in turn can influence your click-through rate (CTR) from SERPs.

Check out this Kissmetrics article on making the most of meta descriptions for your CTRs.

Use Schema Markup (aka Structured Data Markup)

Schema markup can be thought of as extra “labels” on information that tells Google what your content means. For example, let’s say my name appears on an article, so Google displays my name in a SERP entry.

But if I use the right schema around my name in the article’s HTML, I can indicate to Google that I’m the author of the article, not just another term in a sea of indistinguishable words.

improve google ratings - schema markup example

Not only does schema markup help Google understand your website, it also makes a massive difference in attracting traffic to your website.

Schema helps give users more relevant information in a visually organized and aesthetic way.

You can use schema tags to identify various types of SERP information, including:

  • Articles
  • Book reviews
  • Events
  • Local businesses
  • Movies
  • Products
  • Restaurants
  • Recipes
  • Software applications
  • TV episodes
  • TV episodes with ratings

Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is a great tool for implementing schema markup on your site to help you get featured snippets.

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are featured more on mobile SERPs, which we discussed are more common in the U.S. than desktop searches.

The best part about them is that they push you to the number one result (also known as the coveted “position zero”) even if you’re not winning in the rankings otherwise.

It’s an easy way to push your result to the top of the page.

Here’s the best way to target them.

Think of a question in your industry that people are regularly typing into Google. Try something basic like, “What is digital marketing?” or “How to rank on Google?”

how to rank in google - top SERP

This article offers a step-by-step schema markup tutorial to get you started.

Create a Sitemap to Improve Google Rankings

A sitemap tells search engines about the organization of your site’s content.

That way, when Googlebot reads the file, it can more intelligently crawl your content. This helps make it more readily available for ranking on SERPs.

Sitemaps also provide valuable metadata about pages on your site like when they were last updated, how often you make changes, and how the page relates to other pages on your site.

You can use, a simple sitemap generator. If you use WordPress, there are several site map generator plugins as well.

Once you have your sitemap, check out my article on XML Sitemap to download your sitemap file, put it into the domain root folder of your website, and add the sitemap URL to your Google Webmaster account.

Now that we’ve covered some key on-page SEO factors, it’s time to discuss how to differentiate your brand from good to great with unique, strategic, and purposeful content.

Step #8: Use Keywords to Create Better Content

Although I’ve touched a bit on keyword research and placement already, in this section, we’ll look more at going leveraging those keywords that you’ve researched.

Sadly, a lot of people misunderstand the purpose keyword research and placement.

Even before Google rolled out their first Google Panda update, the best search marketers knew that quality, valuable, and useful content should target a particular group of people.

Optimize for informational keywords and improve your search ranking by writing resourceful and detailed content while supplementing it with descriptive meta description and title tags.

This process attracts raving fans, gets your content shared on social media platforms, and garners relevant and high-authority links naturally.

If you want to write resourceful and detailed content, follow the guide below:

Use Data-Driven Articles

According to ConversionXL, data-driven approach can increase your traffic.

Back up facts with accurate data so that people will see your content as authoritative and share it on social media, expanding your organic reach. This post on how to create and promote an infographic is an example of data-driven content.

Other examples of data-driven content include:

The Science of Productivity
5 Things You’re Measuring Incorrectly with Digital Analytics and What To Do About It
7 Proven Strategies To Increase Your Blog’s Traffic By 206%

The resources below will help you to backup your content with accurate data:

Aim to include newer stats — less than three years old is ideal.

You can even micro-target content. For example, if a blogger experiments with niche marketing, take it a step further and try niche marketing with an aged domain name, then write it up.

Use Storytelling

Stories can captivate your audience, evoke emotions, and improve your conversion rate.

Here’s how to tell a story that captivates your audience:

Begin with something unique: Start your story with a unique message that resonates with your audience. Ideally, this should connect with your audience’s questions or pain points.

Infuse Your Own Experiences: It’s called a story for a good reason. Use your own experiences (whether good or bad) as part of the message. No fakery allowed!

Jon Morrow used this on-page SEO content technique to grow his blog to 1,740 loyal subscribers in just seven days. Here’s the post that helped him connect with his audience: How To Quit Your Job, Move To Paradise, and Get Paid To Change The World.

Add a Call-to-Action (CTA): Every story must have an ending. Once you capture your readers’ attention, they expect you to share the solution. After all, your story is supposed to solve a problem, not nurture it.

Use a call-to-action link or button to lead people to your funnel and convert them. MatchOffice increased its conversion rate by 14.79% by changing its CTA copy.

improve google rankings - cta examle

Unbounce provides some more examples of actionable CTA buttons to replace your generic ones:

improve google ranking - CTA button examles

Write Shareable Headlines

Google has made a lot of changes to search rankings, but one element remains crucial: the headline.

If you write a shareable headline for your post, nothing can stop it from getting clicked, read, and shared by true fans.

Peep Laja of ConversionXL increased his conversion rate by changing the word “today” to “now” in a headline. It also helped him increase sales by 332%.

Headlines truly win the clicks.

Even if your web page is ranked at #1 in Google for page content, that doesn’t mean you’ll get the most clicks.

On-page SEO gets you in the running but the title can convert impressions to clicks.

Let’s search for the term how to outsource. Note that the most clickable headline is in position #2.

improve google rankings - catchy headlines example

The perfect example of a website that uses shareable headlines to boost conversion rate is Upworthy.

I’ve used Buzzsumo to analyze Upworthy’s headlines. Check out the amazing number of shares the first article has racked up.

improve google rankings -headline analysis

If I wanted to craft a better headline for my own content, here’s what I’d do:

Add numbers: Upworthy’s post was shared over 1.6 million times on Facebook because it has a definite number. If the headline was “Americans are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact,” I’m sure the total number of social media shares would be lower.

Here are some more examples. When I wrote this post, these headlines were ranked in the Google top 10 for their respective keywords. But, a simple tweak would result in a higher click-through rate.

Original headline:

SEO Basics For Optimizing Your Site

Let’s add some numbers:

  • 6 SEO Basic Tips For Optimizing Your Site
  • 12 SEO Basics You Need To Optimize Your Site

Original headline:

  • Freelance Writing Tips For Stay-at-Home Moms
  • Freelance Writing Jobs To Make Money

Let’s add some numbers

  • 5 Freelance Writing Tips To Help Stay at Home Moms Make Money
  • 10 Freelance Writing Jobs You Can Make Money From

Invoke Curiosity: Curiosity will cause people to click your headline, but do it with caution and make sure that you deliver on the promise of your headline with quality content.

For example, if your title is:

Top 7 Body Building Secrets You Didn’t Know

Then make sure that you reveal the ‘7’ secrets, and ideally, what you reveal needs to be new or unique.

Create a Multimedia Experience

While regular blogging is important, don’t settle there.

Hone in on your keywords to learn the questions that brought your visitors to your site. Then use diverse types of content to answer those questions, like:

  • Videos
  • Guides
  • Ebooks
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Demos
  • Checklists
  • Email series
  • Animated GIFs
  • Comics
  • Podcasts

For a comprehensive list, see HubSpot’s 20 types of lead generation content, as well as 14 types of experimental content that you should try out.

improve google rankings - multimedia content graphic

Abolish Duplicate Content

Use tools like Copyscape, SiteLiner, and Screaming Frog to make sure you’re not repeating yourself.

While the occasional duplicate content won’t destroy your rankings, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by showing Google each piece of content is original, relevant, and useful.

Once you have great on-page SEO content that includes informational and transactional keywords and tells a story that appeals to your audience, it’s time to build links the right way to improve Google rankings.

Step #9: Build Links the Right Way

Earlier, I showed you how to analyze links to your site using SEOprofiler.

Here’s another analysis I did for Business Insiders site.

improve google search rankings - links to Business Insider

Note that it shows a range of different types of anchor text for inbound links.

That’s exactly what you need to build links the right way and improve Google rankings.

Here are some of the ways to do that and the types of links that you need.

Anchor text linking (in-text links): Anchor text links are simple links that appear within the content. See an example below…

improve google rankings with anchor text links

I’ve found placing anchor text links “above-the-fold,” can increase conversion rates.

The anchor text linking strategy is mostly used when you’re looking to rank for a particular keyword.

You can use your target keyword as anchor text, but to be on the safe side and avoid penalties with the search algorithm, mix it up with generic keywords.

For example, if your primary keyword is digital camera reviews, when building your links from another site, link naturally like this: find the best digital camera reviews, top digital camera brands, etc.

A good mix is smart on-page SEO.

Internal Links: External links (that is links from other sites to yours) are important, but internal links are also important. Make sure to link to important internal pages using optimized anchor text when it makes sense.

Editorial Links: Creating useful content and sharing it through social media naturally results in valuable inbound links.

A good example is a post on 200 ranking factors that Brian Dean wrote. It’s been cited multiple times.

improve google rankings with editorial links example

For Google, what other people say about you is much more important and relevant than what you say about yourself to improve Google rankings.

Over the years, I have created thousands of rich, data-driven, and useful blog content.

If you search for anything related to content marketing, Quick Sprout and pop up, which means that I get a lot of editorial links.

Copyblogger links out to useful and relevant resource posts that contribute to the engagement that they already have with their audience.

improve google rakings - example of links

I strongly believe that the site owners didn’t do anything to get those editorial links.

They simply earned the links because of the usefulness of their content. Focus on exceptional content if you want to earn links that will improve the rank of your web pages.

Scale link building: Link diversity is the ultimate way to generate Google-friendly links and improve Google rankings while staying off the penalty radar.

This tutorial from SEMrush will show you how to ethically build links to improve Google ranking.

Old techniques, like directory submission, forum marketing, wiki sites, and even guest blogging and press releases don’t work and they also put you at risk for a Google penalty.

To get a diverse inbound link profile, write page content that will gain links from local, regional, and international sites relevant to your own.

Then, you’ll build a natural link profile with natural, targeted on-page SEO that will withstand anything Google throws at it.

Step 10: Get Active on Social Media

What does social media have to do with search rankings?

That’s a great question.

Search engines like Google try to take into account as much information as possible about your website.

They use it to determine the quality of your website and thus where they should place you when someone searches regarding a topic within your niche.

One of the factors that search engines consider is social media. In particular, they consider the following questions:

  • How active are your social media accounts?
  • How up-to-date are your social media accounts?
  • How many shares does your website content get on social media?

On top of all that, keep in mind that social media also offers 4.8 billion social media users worldwide. That’s a lot of traffic potential.

It’s not just worth it for the sake of reaching a larger audience on the social media platform itself; social media can drive traffic to your site, which improves your search ranking.

How do you share content on social media that users are likely to share?

Here’s one great tactic: when you share stuff on social media, you want to increase your audience size and encourage people to engage with your content.

To do that, you can tag some of your friends who you think might be interested in the content.

This doesn’t just show the post to people you tagged. It also ensures that Facebook will show your post to all of the friends of those you’ve tagged.

You can easily increase your audience size by several thousand with a few relevant tags.

However you do it, use social media to build your SEO. The search engines are watching. Start performing.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Improve Google Rankings Without Penalties

What is the top way to improve your Google ranking?

The most effective way to improve your ranking is to do keyword research and write content that is highly relevant for user intent associated with those keywords.

How long does it take for Google to rank your content?

It can take up to six months to have your content appear in the search results.

Is it possible to rank in the top results on Google for Free?

What are some strategies to rank on Google that are penalized?

You can be penalized for things like duplicate content, over-optimization, and bad linking practices.

How to Improve Google Rankings Without Penalties Conclusion

The key to higher Google rankings without getting slapped with a penalty boils down to providing useful content, presented in a helpful way.

A few basic include:

  • Take the time truly understand your target audience and their desires.
  • Do the research needed to identify the long-tail keywords they’re using to get to your site.
  • Once you have this info, you can create killer content to meet their needs, solve their problems, and keep them coming back for more.
  • Keep churning out great content and promoting it with all you’ve got.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and you’ll dominate search engines while avoiding Google penalties from algorithm updates.

How did your site do in the most recent Google update? Did you see any change in rankings, traffic, and conversions?

See How My Agency Can Drive Massive Amounts of Traffic to Your Website

  • SEO – unlock massive amounts of SEO traffic. See real results.
  • Content Marketing – our team creates epic content that will get shared, get links, and attract traffic.
  • Paid Media – effective paid strategies with clear ROI.

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Google Brings Bard Students Math and Coding Education in the Summer



Google Brings Bard Students Math and Coding Education in the Summer

Google is stepping up its AI efforts this summer by sending Bard, its high-profile chatbot, to summer school. The aim? To boost the bot’s math and coding smarts. These developments are excellent news— when Bard first debuted, it was admittedly not a finished product. But Google is steadily plugging away at it, and have now implemented implicit code execution for logical prompts, and handy Google Sheets’ integration to take it to the next level.

Thanks to implicit code execution, Bard can respond to inquiries requiring calculation or computation with Python code snippets running in the background. What’s even more amazing is that coders can take this generated code and modify it for their projects. Though Google is still apprehensive about guaranteeing the accuracy of Bard’s answers, this feature is said to improve the accuracy of math and word problems by an impressive 30%.

In addition to this, Bard can now export directly to Sheets when asked about tables. So, you don’t need to worry about copying and pasting, which comes with the risk of losing formatting or data.

From the company’s I/O keynote address, it is clear that they are focused on making the most of what Bard can offer. As they continue to speak highly of the chatbot, we’re sure to expect more features and capabilities when the summer comes around.

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Google Bard vs. ChatGPT: which is the better AI chatbot?



Google Bard vs. ChatGPT: which is the better AI chatbot?

Google Bard and ChatGPT are two of the most prominent artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots available in 2023. But which is better? Both offer natural language responses to natural language inputs, using machine learning and millions of data points to craft useful, informative responses. Most of the time. These AI tools aren’t perfect yet, but they point to an exciting future of AI assistant search and learning tools that will make information all the more readily available.

As similar as these chatbots are, they also have some distinct differences. Here’s how ChatGPT and Google Bard measure up against one another.

Which is better, Google Bard or ChatGPT?

This is a tricky question to answer, as at the time of writing, you can only use Google Bard if you’re part of a select group of early beta testers. As for its competition, you can use ChatGPT right now, completely for free. You may have to contend with a waitlist, but if you want to skip that, there’s a paid-for Plus version offering those interested in a more complete tool the option of paying for the privilege.

Still, when Google Bard becomes more widely available, it should offer credible competition for ChatGPT. Both use natural language models — Google Bard uses Google’s internal LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications), whereas ChatGPT uses an older GPT-3 language model. Google Bard bases its responses to questions on more recent data, with ChatGPT mainly trained on data that was available prior to 2021. This is similar to how Microsoft’s Bing Chat works.

We’ll have to reserve judgment on which is the more capable AI chatbot until we get time to play with Google Bard ourselves, but it looks set to be a close contest when it is more readily available.

Are Google Bard and ChatGPT available yet?

As mentioned, ChatGPT is available in free and paid-for tiers. You might have to sit in a queue for the free version for a while, but anyone can play around with its capabilities.

Google Bard is currently only available to limited beta testers and is not available to the wider public.

Banner of Google Bard intro from February 6.

What’s the difference between Google Bard and ChatGPT?

ChatGPT and Google Bard are very similar natural language AI chatbots, but they have some differences, and are designed to be used in slightly different ways — at least for now. ChatGPT has been used for answering direct questions with direct answers, mostly correctly, but it’s caused a lot of consternation among white collar workers, like writers, SEO advisors, and copy editors, since it has also demonstrated an impressive ability to write creatively — even if it has faced a few problems with accuracy and plagiarism.

Still, Microsoft has integrated ChatGPT into its Bing search engine to give users the ability to ask direct questions of the search engine, rather than searching for terms of keywords to find the best results. It has also built it into its Teams communications tool, and it’s coming to the Edge browser in a limited form. The Opera browser has also pledged to integrate ChatGPT in the future.

ChatGPT Google Bard
Accessible through ChatGPT site. Only text responses are returned via queries. Integrated with Google Search. You only need to change a Google setting to get your regular search results when using Google Bard AI, and vice versa.
ChatGPT produces answers from its trained database from 2021 and before. Google Apprentice Bard AI will be able to answer real-time questions.
Based on GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). Based on LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications).
Service has a free and paid plan option (called ChatGPT Plus). Service is free.
Has built-in plagiarism tool called GPT-2 Output Detector. No built-in plagiarism detection tool.
Available now Still in beta test phase

Google Bard was mainly designed around augmenting Google’s own search tool, however it is also destined to become an automated support tool for businesses without the funds to pay for human support teams. It will be offered to customers through a trained AI responder. It is likely to be integrated into the Chrome browser and its Chromium derivatives before long. Google is also expected to open up Google Bard to third-party developers in the future.

Under the hood, Google Bard uses Google’s LaMDA language model, while ChatGPT uses its own GPT3 model. ChatGPT is based on slightly older data, restricted in its current GPT3 model to data collected prior to 2022, while Google Bard is built on data provided on recent years too. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it more accurate, as Google Bard has faced problems with incorrect answers to questions, even in its initial unveiling.

ChatGPT also has a built-in plagiarism checker, while Google Bard does not, but Google Bard doesn’t have the creative applications of ChatGPT just yet.

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say



Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

Google has agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement to 40 states to resolve accusations that it tracked people’s locations in violation of state laws, including snooping on consumers’ whereabouts even after they told the tech behemoth to bug off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it is time for Big Tech to recognize state laws that limit data collection efforts.

“I have been ringing the alarm bell on big tech for years, and this is why,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Citizens must be able to make informed decisions about what information they release to big tech.”

The attorneys general said the investigation resulted in the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty is a “historic win for consumers.”

“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking,” Mr. Tong said. “Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law.”

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet, which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.

The settlement is part of a series of legal challenges to Big Tech in the U.S. and around the world, which include consumer protection and antitrust lawsuits.

Though Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago, the company’s critics remained skeptical. State attorneys general who also have tussled with Google have questioned whether the tech company will follow through on its commitments.

The states aren’t dialing back their scrutiny of Google’s empire.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was filing a lawsuit over reports that Google unlawfully collected millions of Texans’ biometric data such as “voiceprints and records of face geometry.”

The states began investigating Google’s location tracking after The Associated Press reported in 2018 that Android devices and iPhones were storing location data despite the activation of privacy settings intended to prevent the company from following along.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went after the company in May 2020. The state’s lawsuit charged that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month. By then, attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had pounced with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable.

Along with the hefty penalty, the state attorneys general said, Google must not hide key information about location tracking, must give users detailed information about the types of location tracking information Google collects, and must show additional information to people when users turn location-related account settings to “off.”

States will receive differing sums from the settlement. Mr. Landry’s office said Louisiana would receive more than $12.7 million, and Mr. Tong’s office said Connecticut would collect more than $6.5 million.

The financial penalty will not cripple Google’s business. The company raked in $69 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022, according to reports, yielding about $13.9 billion in profit.

Google downplayed its location-tracking tools Monday and said it changed the products at issue long ago.

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended their company’s Search and Maps products’ usage of location information.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the two men wrote on Google’s blog. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

The blog post touted transparency tools and auto-delete controls that Google has developed in recent years and said the private browsing Incognito mode prevents Google Maps from saving an account’s search history.

Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees said Google would make changes to its products as part of the settlement. The changes include simplifying the process for deleting location data, updating the method to set up an account and revamping information hubs.

“We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow,” Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees wrote. “We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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