Website SEO: A beginner’s guide to ranking on Google

Website SEO: A beginner’s guide to ranking on Google

The first page of Google is the destination, and website SEO is how you’ll get there. Here are five factors you can target to improve your search ranking.

Website SEO: A beginner’s guide to ranking on Google

The first page of Google is the destination, and website SEO is how you’ll get there. Here are five factors you can target to improve your search ranking.

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Written by
Omid Ghiam
Omid Ghiam
Omid Ghiam
Omid Ghiam

Google searches can return billions of results — but most people only view the top 10. Learn how to get your website to rank well in search results.

Google’s algorithm is complex. To give your website a good chance of ranking well, you need to be familiar with what that algorithm is looking for.

Most people turn to Google when searching for a product, service, or information. If you can position your business or content as the solution, your traffic — and sales — will likely increase. But you’ll only enjoy that visibility and revenue if you understand how to leverage website SEO practices.

What is website SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a collection of techniques that help make your site more attractive to a search engine, the goal being to appear at the top of their search engine results pages (SERPs). You can use SEO with any search engine (YouTube, Bing, Etsy), but we’ll concentrate on Google since its market share makes up 92% of the world’s search queries

Your page’s position on a SERP matters, as it helps drive traffic to your website. On average, 28.5% of searchers click on the first result after sponsored content or paid ads. The second result gets 15.7%, and the percentages diminish fast: the 10th result (which is still on the first page) gets only 2.5%. 

And forget about the second page — people only click “Next” and on second-page links 0.63% of the time.

Google is currently rolling out its new continuous scroll feature, meaning searchers will see the second-page results load automatically. While this may affect clicks in the future, remember that most searchers still don’t make it that far down the page.

Site traffic from SERPs is called organic traffic as people find your page on their own without following an ad or coming from another platform. When visitors continually click through to your site (and don’t immediately bounce), Google takes that as a signal that your content is delivering what visitors are searching for.

How Google search works

In the past, search engines used terms (keywords) to determine whether a site was relevant to what people typed into Google, also called a search query. The more times a specific keyword appeared on a site, the more relevant the site seemed and the higher it ranked. 

A travel website that wanted to rank for the keyword “best tour guides Italy,” for example, would include this keyword in website content like landing pages and blog posts, hoping search engines would consider their content relevant to searchers. 

But this approach led low-quality sites to keyword stuffing — repeating keywords as often as possible in their content. This meant content wasn’t actually helpful and didn’t satisfy search intent. It existed solely to manipulate Google’s rankings.

To put an end to this, Google introduced an algorithm designed to ensure the pages it returned were relevant and high-quality. To measure the importance of a webpage, Google now uses an algorithm called PageRank (PR) that considers the number of reliable pages the content links to and how many reliable pages link back to the content.

And now, if someone visits your page and returns to the SERP to open another result — also called bouncing — the algorithm assumes searchers didn’t find what they were looking for. Helpful content that ends a searcher’s journey by presenting the necessary information is what ranks. 

Google explores and organizes the web in three stages:

  1. Crawling: To find new content, bots (also called crawlers) move across the web, finding new and recently updated pages and downloading their content. 
  2. Indexing: Google then examines the content (including text, images, and videos) and analyzes it to understand its meaning and determine where it should sit in SERPs for which keywords. 
  3. Presenting results: Google returns the most helpful pages in results for any search query. These results vary for searchers, depending on factors such as their location or previous searches. 

Good SEO practices work together to cover every stage of this process and deliver the best matches. Some strategies make your page easier for crawlers to detect, some help Google index your site, and some aim to bump your page to the top of the results.

Types of SEO

There are two main types of SEO: technical and on-page.

Technical SEO helps Google crawl and index your page. Good technical SEO signals your site is navigable. This includes making sure your site is:

  • Secure
  • Quick-to-load
  • Mobile-friendly
  • Backed by cleanly written code
  • Not infested with pop-ups

If you’re using a website builder, you may not need to worry too much about technical SEO as many platforms take care of some aspects for you.Webflow, for example, produces clean HTML and CSS code, has built-in responsive design support to create mobile-friendly websites, and offers options like webP images to speed up site loading times. 

On-page SEO is how you show Google’s algorithm what your site is about. This helps Google index and rank your page. On-page SEO best practices include:

  • Publishing high-quality content that matches the searcher's intent
  • Using related secondary keywords, or subtopics, relevant to search terms
  • Making sure your headings, HTML tags (title and header), and images are as descriptive as possible 

Including the keyword you’re hoping to rank for in your page title and meta description, for example, lets Google crawlers know the page is dedicated to this keyword.

SEO and Webflow: the essential guide

Get 13 need-to know tips on website SEO — whether or not you use Webflow.

Get SEO smart
SEO and Webflow: the essential guide

Get 13 need-to know tips on website SEO — whether or not you use Webflow.

Get SEO smart
Get SEO smart

What factors affect your Google rankings?

Google’s algorithm is a closely guarded trade secret, so nobody outside Google knows exactly how it works. We do know that it uses artificial intelligence to understand a query and then draws on over 200 ranking factors to decide which content to show first.

Here are five of the most influential factors we know affect your ranking:

1. Quality and relevance of content

Google aims to return the content you need in the first page of results, meaning the SERP should show the most high-quality, relevant sites. 

The algorithm constantly tests the quality and relevance of the sites in its SERP, collecting data on click-through rate (CTR), which is an indicator of the site’s relevance, and time on site (TOS or “dwell time”), as users stay longer on pages with more useful content. If there’s a pattern of users clicking on the site, clicking away, and visiting other sites (known as “pogo-sticking”), it suggests the site isn’t a good match for the search term. 

To create high-quality content, aim to publish longer pieces that explore your topic in depth, as they’re more likely to contain information that answers the searcher’s question. The average length of a top-ranking page is 1,447 words. Your strategy should also include adding new and updating old content regularly, as fresher content ranks higher for most topics.

Perform keyword research to determine which search terms best suit your site based on competitor content and the average search volume for related terms. Here are a few SEO tools to help with your analysis:

To create relevant content, consider what information a searcher might be looking for and make sure your page provides that information. Research the topic and find other terms and topics to supplement your content. That way, you can answer more questions in one place and keep viewers from bouncing to another page to find more information. 

Use long-tail keywords to cover those relevant terms. Long-tail keywords are less competitive because they get more specific, often targeting a certain location. For example, “green cowboy hats austin” would get less searches per month than “cowboy hats” but if you’re a clothing store in Austin, Texas, targeting the long-tail keyword could get your content in front of local, motivated buyers. 

Decide on what kind of content you’re making — and for whom — so Google shows your content to the right audience. For example, if a searcher enters a generic term like “running shoes,” Google might assume they want to buy running shoes and provide ecommerce website results. But if the searcher enters “best running shoes for a marathon,” they’ll get pages of ranked lists with reviews. 

2. Domain and page authority

Domain authority refers to how well-received your website is overall, and page authority concerns individual web pages. The more people sharing your website and content, finding it relevant to its subject matter and industry, the higher your domain and page authority. 

While Google doesn’t use domain authority as a ranking factor, it’s a good indicator for how well your site performs related to competitors. Sites with high domain authority likely have consistently trustworthy and useful content — which Google prioritizes.

The main indicator of domain authority is the number of backlinks to your site

Backlinks, or inbound links, are links to your pages from external sites. Having some backlinks is good, but having backlinks from pages with high domain authority is better. Google already considers these sites trustworthy, or high-quality and useful content, so the search engine rewards content these sites link to. Organic backlinks — people linking to your site without you asking — are the best method. Paying for backlinks hurts your site’s quality and ranking once Google discovers you’re attempting to manipulate rankings through paid link placement. 

Internal linking (like blog posts linking to other blog posts or landing pages on the same website) also affects your page authority. Increase the authority of certain pages by creating a comprehensive internal linking strategy. You could also include images and encourage social media shares, likes, and comments. Your willingness to create a content web shows Google how your content connects, which helps bots index your site. 

Relevant domain names, solid external links to reputable sites, and strong technical SEO also build domain authority. Factors such as broken links and suspicious Whois (an internet directory telling you who owns a domain) information negatively affect domain authority.

3. On-page SEO

On-page SEO is often the easiest way to improve search rankings quickly. Best practices include:

  • Using the main keyword in your H1 title tag, page URL, meta description (also known as the meta tag), and the first 100 words of your text
  • Including images and incorporating relevant keywords naturally into the image filenames, captions, and alt text
  • Adding enough copy to a page that Google understands what it’s about 
  • Having headings that reflect the hierarchy of content, with H1s being most important, then H2, H3, etc.
  • Addressing subtopics related to the page’s main topic 
  • Using latent semantic indexing (LSI) tools

LSI tools such as LSIGraph and Clearscope help you identify and include synonyms and related keywords to the one’s you’re trying to rank for. Because words can have more than one meaning (e.g., “orange” can mean the fruit or the color), the Google algorithm doesn’t only look at keywords — it also scans the surrounding text to work out the context. These tools ensure you’ve used the right language to give Google crawlers your content’s context. 

4. Page experience

Page experience refers to your site’s usability and user experience. Improve both of these using technical SEO: optimizing website loading speed, improving mobile functionality, adding interactive features, and minimizing pop-ups. 

Measure your loading speed using the Pingdom Website Speed Test or Google Search Console’s PageSpeed tool. Aim for a loading speed of under two seconds if possible, three being the max

If the site takes more than three seconds to load, try reorganizing your images. Large image files can cause your site to load slowly, so only use images under 300 KB, reduce the number on a page, or set images to lazy load by default. They should be in JPG format (unless they have transparent backgrounds — then they should be in PNG format so you can layer them on different backgrounds). 

If you’ve optimized your images and the page speed is still below par, you may need to change to a different hosting service

Pay close attention to your mobile site when considering page experience, too, as that’s the version Google uses for indexing and ranking. Google’s pushing toward mobile-first indexing to ensure high-quality results. Always check whether your site’s optimized for mobile devices using Google’s mobile-friendly test.

5. Traffic

Google keeps track of the fluctuations in traffic to your site, and a spike in page visits could improve your rank. Take advantage of this by launching a marketing campaign encouraging people to click through to your site from socials or ads, creating a spike in visits that will boost your search engine ranking. 

Encourage customers to share content and create strategies that span social media platforms to boost traffic. The goal is to ensure enough high-quality traffic to maintain authority without users bouncing. 

If the other parts of your SEO strategy are in place and people like your site enough to return or link to it, that boost might become permanent. Plus, sharing web content on other platforms helps Google index them faster. 

Make the front page with Webflow

Website SEO helps you drive organic search results to your homepage to increase visibility. Once your site’s optimized, keep track of key metrics using SEO tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to adjust content and pivot optimization strategies when necessary. 

Webflow’s no-code web development platform takes care of technical SEO so you can focus on creating helpful and relevant content for your audience while following our SEO best practices.

Last Updated
March 4, 2023