Lots of free traffic from Google is something that every internet-based business aims for. But whether you’ll attract lots of organic search traffic or none at all depends on the ranking status of your website. The biggest challenge, in this regard, is that SEO keeps changing. And you need to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest Google algorithmic changes and updates. Ranking a website at the top of Google search results wasn’t a tough job 5-10 years ago. Today, SEO has changed and expanded a lot.

If you’ve read 100s of articles and blog posts on how to rank on Google and things are still not working in your favor, this guide is for you. Most importantly, this Google ranking guide helps the newbies who are looking to gain a deep understanding of how Google’s search algorithm functions, which SEO tactics are valid even today and those that have become outdated because of Google Webmaster quality guidelines violation.

Whether you’re the owner of a web-based business or working as an SEO professional, you should read every bit of this guide between the lines and follow all the advice given to rank your website at the top of Google search results.

Google Algorithm Changes & Updates
Google’s search algorithm is a logic-based procedure which helps users find the most relevant web pages for a specific set of keywords. The web’s most dominant search engine focuses on getting users the exact answer or the most reliable piece of information they’re searching for, as fast as possible. To be able to continuously succeed in its mission, Google keeps on updating its search algorithm. These changes could either be small or drastic. As a result of these changes, high quality websites get a boost in their search rankings while poor-quality websites get penalized with lower search rankings.

There have been plenty of updates since Google came into being. However, there are some that truly require attention because of their significant impact on a website’s overall SEO. Major Google algorithm updates are as follows:

The Panda Update: First rolled out in February2011, the Panda update aims to lower or boost the rankings of a website on the basis of content quality. Websites with duplicate content (even if the number of duplicate content pages are a few) lose their rankings and face search penalties due to this particular algorithm update.

The Penguin Update: This update was first launched in April, 2012. If a website participates in link schemes to boost search rankings, Google’s Penguin will find it and punish it by decreasing its search engine rankings. For years, SEO professionals have manipulated search results by using black-hat link building techniques because the more links pointed to a website, the higher it used to rank. Google’s Penguin has put an end to such schemes which include purchasing links or acquiring them via link networks.

The Hummingbird Update: Google started to roll out this update in August, 2013. The update aims at judging the intent of a person as they conduct a search. It shifts focus from ‘what people are looking for’ to ‘why people are looking for something’. After this update was announced, long-tail keywords (or conversational queries) gained more prominence.

The Pigeon Update: First announced in July, 2014, the main goal of this algorithmic update is to provide preference to local search results. Apart from boosting the rankings of local listing, this update also impacts Google Maps results.

Google updates its search algorithm more than 500 times every year. While you don’t need to worry about the minor changes much, you should certainly keep track of the major ones so you can understand the changes and their impacts.

Google Search Ranking Factors
For taking a strategic approach to planning the SEO of your website, you should be aware of all those ranking factors that have a direct impact on Google’s search algorithm. There are many ranking factors that will increase in value while there are others that will have reduced impact in the near future. Also, there are those ranking factors that will continue to have equal value as they did in the past.

Ranking factors that will have increased impact include –

> Mobile friendliness
> A website’s or web page’s perceived value
> Quantity/quality of instant answers provided in SERPs
> Click-through rate and time spent on website
> Readability/usability/design
> Influence of structured data in SERPs
> Association with mobile apps and popularity of apps
> Clickstream data from outside of SERPs
> Download time of website
> On-page topic modeling

The value of Google ranking factors like topical relevance of links, social signalling, URL structure and internal linking structure will remain the same. For detailed information on this topic, read this article – How Search Ranking Factors Might Change in 2015 (and Beyond). By keeping a close watch on what’s changing and how it impacts Google’s search algorithm, you’ll be able to work out a SEO strategy that yields a better ROI.

Tips to Rank on Google
Everyone wants to rank at the top of Google search results. If you plan to achieve better Google search engine rankings, you should come up with a well-structred SEO plan. Of course, it requires multiple years of industry experience and knowledge. To help you through the process, we’ve come up with some of the most useful tips and guidelines considering the latest Google algorithm changes and the ranking factors that matter today.

Know Your Current Position
What’s the current position of your website in Google search results? Whether your website has been in existence for many years or it’s brand new, it’s crucial to find out where you stand at present. To successfully conduct an SEO audit, you may need to use multiple tools. Many of these tools are available for free.

Things you need to evaluate include –

> The speed of your website
> Top ranking keywords
> Number (and quality) of backlinks
> Amount of organic traffic

The assessment needs to be as accurate as possible. Google Analytics, Pingdom, Open Site Explorer and Serps are acouple of good tools you can use.

Create a List of Keywords You Want to Rank for
Now that you know where your website stands in terms of SEO, you can begin with the keyword research part – the most vital one. Take a relook at those keywords that you’re already ranking for, identify other important keywords and create a list of all those keywords that you think matter the most for your business.

One big mistake that many SEOs make in this regard is that they try to rank for a single keyword at a time. This should be avoided. Instead of trying to rank for a single keyword at a time, you should try to rank for 100s of long-tail keywords with the same piece of content. Focusing more on long-tail keywords is also beneficial from the point of view that it will generate more conversions. Provided you do it right, the results will amaze you.

Research the Competition
The next important step is to weigh in the level of competition you’ll face while trying to rank for your chosen keywords. For each set of selected keywords, you need to find out how much effort will be required to beat the competition and rank higher on Google.

After running a search query, you can evaluate the situation based on –

> Keyword in the title tag
> Keyword in the URL
> Keyword in the content
> Page/domain authority
> inbound anchor text

The research can prove to be an eye-opener! During the process, you may also identify missed opportunities that you can exploit quickly.

Create High Quality Content
Right from the time Google rolled out the Panda algorithm, value-added content is only gaining more and more prominence as a major Google ranking signal. Any piece of content that you create and publish on your website should not be a ‘mere collection of words’. In fact, it should provide ‘real value’ to the reader by answering a question, teaching a new skill, solving a common problem etc. Also, you should create content in different forms – infographics, videos, podcasts, how-to guides, interviews, PowerPoint presentations etc.

Key traits of high quality or value-added content include –

> Conversational
> Emotional
> Encouraging
> Unique
> Easy to understand
> Well-timed

It’s a good idea to create a mix of both short-form (less than 1000 words) and long-form content (more than 1000 words and upto 5000 words). Remember that value-added content is the backbone of an SEO strategy. If you plan to rank high on Google, you should pay serious attention to strategic content creation.

Don’t Forget On-Page Optimization
It’s on-page optimization where most of the SEO professionals make mistakes. To get the most out of your keywords and the content that you feature, you should become aware of the advanced on-page optimization techniques.

These tactics include –

> Internal linking
> Diversification of anchor text
> Use of keywords in title tags
> Use of keywords in URLs
> Structured data

In any case, you should avoid over-optimization at all costs. Excessive on-page optimization in the hope of boosting your website’s Google rankings overnight could easily get you in trouble. So, keep it all natural!

Work Out a Link Building Plan
Finally, you need to improve your website’s backlink profile to rank high on Google. In fact, you should keep on increasing the number of links pointing back to your website. Here’s the secret – if you spend most of your time on creating superior quality, value-added content, you won’t have a tough time building links.

On the basis of the quality of the content on your website, you can not only acquire high quality links but also acquire them in less time. On the other hand, you should dedicate some time to establishing relationships with fellow bloggers, industry experts and influencers in your industry because a lot of link building is actually about building relationships. There are multiple white-hat tactics that you need to master over time so that you can build more and more links for your website to improve its search rankings.