How to get on the first page of Google? Short answer: with hard work! If you want to know the long answer, keep reading In case you don’t understand any of this, you should check out the beginner’s guide to SEO from SEOMoz.
A case study on getting to the first page of Google
My website (Gift Certificate Factory) got on the first page of Google after 3 months of existence, for the keywords “gift certificate template”. Although they’re not the most competitive keywords in the world, there is a decent number of searches and a couple of other competitors that optimize their content for these keywords (as you can see on Google search screenshot below). I hope this article is helpful if you are launching a new website and trying to get on the first page of Google.
SEO positioning: what keywords to target?
I wanted to optimize my website for the keywords “gift certificate template” and some associated long tail keywords: printable gift certificates, free gift certificate templates, blank gift certificate, massage gift certificate template, spa gift certificate template… That means my end goal is to rank high in Google search results for these queries, and as a result to attract traffic to my website.
SEO basics: onpage and offpage factors
To get ranked high on google, you need to work on your onpage SEO and offpage SEO.
- Onpage SEO: all the factors that you control on your website and how to make it attractive to google: have quality content, descriptive URLs, keywords in titles and in your content…
- Offpage SEO: it boils down to how many websites link to yours. The more incoming links it has, the more your website is seen as an authority by Google, and so the higher it’s going to rank.
My Onpage SEO work
It consisted mainly on creating several gift certificates and targeting long tail keywords (such as massage gift certificate template, spa gift certificate template, birthday gift certificate template…) and writing content on a blog in a subdirectory of the main site (www.giftcertificatefactory.com/blog). The website targeted the main key phrase “gift certificate templates” before I realized “gift certificate template” was searched much more and thus I optimized for this key phrase as well.
Let’s describe a few onpage SEO strategies I focused on:
Relevant Title and Meta Description tags
Titles are all unique and feature keyword rich sentences:
- main page:
- title: “Gift Certificate Templates | Gift Certificate Factory”
- description: “Make your own gift certificate from free gift certificate templates. Start from a blank gift certificate design, add your own information, and print!”
In that case I target:
- gift certificate template/gift certificate templates
- free gift certificate templates
- blank gift certificate
- gift certificate design
- template page:
- title: “Free Massage Gift Certificate Template”
- description: “Free Massage gift certificate template. Make a custom gift certificate to give to a friend or a customer.”
We target in that case the main key phrase “massage gift certificate template”.
- main page:
SEO friendly URLs
URLs were also optimized to be as explicit as possible: for example the template gallery is found at www.giftcertificatefactory.com/gift-certificate-templates. Note the use of the full keywords here. It tells google that yes, this page is definitely about “gift certificate templates” and so it helps in the rankings.
Minor SEO onpage tweaks & fixes
- ALT tag: images didn’t have an ALT tag, which is a problem if your website has images that are part of the content, as it’s the case for Gift Certificate Factory. So I added descriptive ALT tags, for example “massage gift certificate template” for a template about massages.
- Google webmaster tools: I subscribed to google webmaster tools and fixed all the errors the google crawler found on my website (and there were quite a few!)
The blog counts now 30 unique articles targeting topics such as gift certificate wording, sample gift certificates, how to make your own printable gift certificate, how to choose gift certificate paper, how to sell more gift certificates… I’m not an expert in gift certificates but I do some keyword research to find what people are looking for online, then do some research on the topic and write about it. Simple, but quite time-consuming! And I haven’t found a good article writer that I could outsource the content writing for a reasonable price yet.
As a result of this strategy, the blog attracts a lot of long tail searches, that are not “gift certificate templates” but from surrounding areas of interest: how to write on a gift certificate, how to print it, how to market it, how to sell it etc. Hopefully these visitors are then enticed to click on the main website to check out the certificates.
And as you can see on the screenshots below, it really works! For example I wrote an article about gift certificate wording that got to the top of google results for the same keywords. And this, in turn, sends a good amount of traffic towards my website. Actually, “gift certificate wording” searches are the second biggest source of search engine traffic for my website as you can see on the Google Analytics screenshot! Not too bad for a single blog post!
My offpage SEO work
As I explained in my last article, I did a fair amount of article writing on many article directories in order to get relevant backlinks. I’m not totally sure of the effectiveness of this tactic as it seems that the last google update of their algorithm has weakened these article directories. The basic idea is that you write an article on these websites to get some visibility in your niche, and to get backlinks from authoritative websites. As we already saw, more backlinks mean higher authority for your website in the eyes of Google. So what I did was to rewrite articles I wrote on my blog and submit them to various directories. I’ve got a decent amount of backlinks that way, I’m just not sure of the impact of each of these backlinks. SEO involves some amount of guesswork too, as it basically involves trying to find out what Google likes or not!
I also took a chance to email some of the bloggers writing about small business marketing to offer them a free article, and a few of them have published an article. I’ve got several quality backlinks that way, and I’m sure it has helped me to climb the ranks of Google quite fast in the beginning.
Blog and forum commenting
To add to the offpage SEO mix, I’ve also increased my participation to forums and blogs. There too you can gain some extra visibility and backlinks by posting a comment or by answering questions on forums. Other than getting a backlink, this has another advantage: people get to know you, and are likely to click and visit your website if you leave helpful and relevant comments. However it’s a very long term tactic, so it only works if you contribute regularly to the community and you should not expect to see an immediate boost in your website’s traffic.
Link building results
After 2 months of working on link building, I can say results are mixed: I’ve got a bit more than 200 back links, all in all. It’s hard work to get these back links! The way I went for it might be too “brute force” as I ended up spending lots of time writing content to get one backlink at a time. If I had to start from scratch again, I think I would try to focus more on quality, and less on quantity. So that’s what I’m thinking of doing now: writing less generic content about what people are looking for online, and writing or producing more quality content that people are willing to share and talk about. The problem is, it’s quite a hard proposition when it comes to create content about gift certificate templates
Where to take it from here
I feel I’m hitting a wall for now. As you can see on the chart, my website has stabilized around ranking 8-9 of Google. Hitting the number 1 spot will need even some more attention. For now, my focus will be to add more gift certificates to the website, and improve the user experience. It should improve user satisfaction and as a result, Google should like my site better