A Beginner’s Guide to Ranking Higher


Learn how to rank higher on Google through SEO marketing. 

What Is SEO Marketing?

SEO marketing is a digital marketing strategy that leverages search engine optimization (SEO) to make websites more visible in search engines like Google. 

When someone types a query into Google, they’re delivered a search engine results page (SERP). The SERP is usually broken into two sections: paid ads and organic results. 

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is about buying and optimizing paid ads. SEO marketing is about ranking higher in the organic results. 

Ranking higher can lead to more site traffic. Which can lead to more customers.

As you can see with this graph, the click-through rate (CTR) for the first organic result is far higher than the others. 

A chart showing Google organic CTR breakdown by position

Using SEO to rank high on the SERP is a highly effective way to bring more visitors to your site. And hopefully get more transactions as a result. 

Further Reading: SEO Basics: The Ultimate Guide to SEO for Beginners

How SEO works

We already know that SEO means search engine optimization. But what does it mean to optimize for a search engine?
First, consider the goal of search engines. 

Search engines aim to give users the best results for their queries. If someone types the query “how to bake bread” into Google, the search engine will try to deliver a SERP filled with the best instructions for baking bread. 

Google identifies what those best results are in three stages:

  1. Crawling: Google crawlers search the web for new and updated pages 
  2. Indexing: Google analyzes a page’s content (including text, images, and video files) to determine what it’s about. The page may then be added to the Google index. 
  3. Delivering results: When a user types a query into Google, it searches its index for the webpages that best meet the user’s needs
How search engines work illustrated

To optimize your website’s pages for Google, you need to target all three stages of its search process: crawling, indexing, and delivering results. 

For example, you can create the best possible page for the query “how to bake bread.” But Google will never present that page on the SERP if it hasn’t been able to crawl and index the page. 

You can check your site’s crawlability and indexability with Semrush’s Site Audit tool. 

Open the tool and click “Create project.”

“Create project" pop-up window in Site Audit tool

Configure your settings and run an audit on your site.

Once your audit is complete, you’ll get an overview of your site’s health. 

An overview dashboard in Site Audit tool

Under “Thematic Reports,” you’ll see your site’s crawlability score. Click “View details” to get more information. 

"View details" button selected under "Crawlability" widget in Site Audit

Here, you’ll see a breakdown of your site’s crawlability and indexability.

A breakdown of site’s crawlability and indexability in Site Audit

Fixing indexing and crawlability issues usually falls under the realm of technical SEO. Let’s learn what technical SEO is. Along with the other primary schools of SEO. 

Types of SEO 

There are different types of SEO that target different aspects of a website’s ability to rank in search engines. 

While there are dozens of SEO subsets, an effective SEO marketing strategy can be broken down into these four main types:

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing internal factors on your website that affect its ability to rank. 

Namely, your website’s content and user experience. 

The main component of on-page SEO is creating high-quality, useful content. This process involves activities like keyword research and image optimization. 

Other on-page SEO tactics include optimizing your headings, site structure, URLs, and internal links. 

We’ll dive a little deeper into all of that later in this article. 

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is the process of optimizing external factors that affect your website’s ability to rank. 

For example, links from other websites (backlinks). 

Here’s an idea of how on-page and off-page SEO compare:

A comparison of on-page and off-page SEO

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the process of optimizing the mechanics of your website to improve its performance. 

Some examples of technical SEO activities include:

  • Optimizing your site structure
  • Submitting a sitemap
  • Making your site mobile-friendly
  • Improving page speed

And that’s just to name a few. 

Local SEO

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher for location-based searches.

For example, this search for “gyms near me” brings up a location-based SERP.

A location-based SERP for "gyms near me" query

Optimizing your site to rank locally can earn you more relevant traffic to your site. And better visibility with your target location. 

Local SEO activities include optimizing your Google Business Profile and targeting local keywords. 

Why SEO Marketing Matters

SEO marketing is an important business strategy that can deliver huge returns on investment. Especially now, as Google continues to wield major influence over consumers’ buying decisions. 

A 2023 Semrush study found that 46% of business owners and marketers consider SEO a leading success factor in their content marketing strategy.

Semrush study results for "What factors lead to success in content marketing?" question

Here are the big reasons why SEO marketing is important to your business. 

Increased Site Traffic

People use Google. In fact, more people use Google than any other website in the world. 

The search engine got over 142 billion visits in August 2023 alone. 

Traffic data for "google.com"

Having visibility on Google is a great way to bring some of those billions of searchers to your website. 

Let’s use Semrush’s Domain Overview to see an example of how much traffic SEO can earn. 

After searching for “semrush.com,” we get this report showing key site metrics. Including organic search traffic. 

Domain Overview report for "semrush.com"

You’ll notice that organic traffic is 8.3 million.

That’s far more than the 659k paid traffic.

Paid search traffic metric shows 659k users for "semrush.com" in Domain Overview tool

Plus, the organic traffic is free (although there is an upfront cost to SEO activities). 

Which brings us to our next point. 

Scalable & Cost-Effective

SEO marketing is a cost-effective strategy with the potential for exponential returns. 

Unlike paid advertising, SEO doesn’t require you to pay for your presence on Google. Or pay more money the more people click on your site in the SERP. 

While SEO costs may include time, labor, and tools, the investment has the potential to earn huge returns. And continue to earn returns when you stop investing. 

If you stop a paid Google ad campaign, you can’t gain new traffic or conversions from those ads. Because the ads will no longer run on Google properties. 

With SEO, you can stop putting time and money into a blog post. And still get continuous traffic to that post. 

More Conversions 

Ranking high in the organic search results can lead to more clicks and more conversions. 

A Backlinko study found that only 19% of searchers click on a Google ad when searching something in Google. 

Backlinko's graph showing that 19% of searchers click on a Google ad when searching something

This means the majority of clicks are going to organic search results. Optimizing your site to appear in the organic results can earn more clicks.

Which can earn more conversions.

According to Google statistics, 59% of shoppers research a product on the platform before making a purchase. 

Think with Google's data shows that 59% of shoppers research a product on the platform before purchasing

Image Source: Think with Google

Businesses have a big opportunity to advertise their products through Google. 

You can do this through paid ads. But we already know the majority of users skip the ads and click on the organic results. 

Using SEO to rank higher on the SERPs for relevant keywords is often a more effective way to reel in paying customers. 

Best Ways to Optimize for SEO

SEO marketing is an imperfect science. Search engines, users, and websites are constantly changing. Meaning the SEO industry is constantly changing, too. 

While there’s always something new or different you could be doing, there are some tried-and-true SEO best practices that are almost always worth the effort. 

Let’s revisit the four main types of SEO: on-page, off-page, technical, and local. 

And learn some key SEO marketing techniques for each type. 

Further reading: 12 SEO Tips to Boost Your Organic Rankings & Traffic

On-Page SEO

The key to on-page SEO is creating the best possible user experience. 

To do this, produce high-quality content that meets your target audience’s needs.

One of the first steps to creating optimized content is performing keyword research. 

Keywords are the words or phrases that users search in Google. Our example from earlier—”how to bake bread”—is a keyword. 

Google's SERP for ”how to bake bread” query

Writing content based on certain keywords and the intent behind them helps you rank for those keywords. 

If a user types in “how to bake bread” and your content is optimized for that query, your page may show up on the resulting SERP. 

If you’re struggling to find keywords, use Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool to identify new keyword opportunities. 

Open the tool and enter your domain. Then add up to four of your competitors’ domains. And click “Compare.”

"nike.com" and "underarmour.com" entered into Keyword Gap tool search

Here, you’ll see an overview of how you and your competitors’ keywords overlap. 

"Keyword Overlap" section shows how your keywords overlap with competitors'

Scroll down to see lists of shared, missing, untapped, and other keywords. 

For example, click “Missing” to see what keywords your competitors have content about that you don’t. 

"Missing" keywords table in Keyword Gap tool

Use these lists to find new keywords to target that are relevant to your niche. 

Once you know what keywords to target, create high-quality content around those keywords. 

What makes a piece of content high-quality varies based on your site and your target audience’s needs. But in general, high-quality content is content that:

  • Satisfies the user’s search query
  • Is original
  • Is well-organized and readable
  • Demonstrates E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) 

Creating content with these attributes is good for the user experience. And for Google. 

Because another component to on-page SEO is optimizing your site so Google can easily understand its content. 

Some on-page SEO tasks that help make your site more Google-friendly include:

  • Internally linking between related pages on your site
  • Optimizing your title tag and meta description 
  • Structuring pages using headings 
  • Not stuffing keywords or using them unnaturally 

Off-Page SEO

To assess your site’s authority, Google uses factors outside of your website. Like backlinks.

Backlinks are links from other websites leading to your website. 

Links from high-authority sites that are relevant to your industry make your own site appear more authoritative to Google. 

Some links come naturally when publishers discover your content. While others are earned through link building. 

Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to you. 

For example, you can run an email campaign to promote a certain piece of content (like an infographic, a survey, or a how-to guide).

To find prospective sites for backlinks, go to Semrush’s Link Building Tool. 

Once you’ve created a project, you’ll see an overview of your site’s link-building potential. 

Link Building Tool's overview dashboard

Click on the “Prospects” tab to see domains you can target in your link-building campaign. 

"Prospects" tab in Link Building Tool

Move prospects you’re interested in to “To In Progress.”

"To In Progress" blue button selected next to "elpalaciodehierro.com" under "Prospects" tab

When you’re ready to start getting links, go to the “In Progress” tab to find the prospects you saved.

From here, click “Contact” to compose, send, and track your link-building emails. 

"Contact" blue button selected next to "pullandbear.com" under "In Progress" tab

Along with building backlinks, off-page SEO includes promoting your website through social media and engaging with communities relevant to your niche. 

Technical SEO

The goal of technical SEO is to optimize the inner workings of your site so Google can better crawl, index, and serve it in the search results. 

Technical SEO tasks include:

This is just a handful of technical SEO activities. And a lot of technical SEO is actually fixing errors that are preventing your site from ranking as highly as it should. 

To find technical errors on your site, open the Site Audit tool and create a new project. 

"Create project" pop-up window in Site Audit tool

Once your audit is ready, you’ll get a comprehensive report of your site’s health and where there’s room for improvement. 

An overview dashboard in Site Audit tool

Click on the “Issues” tab for a rundown on the technical issues affecting your website. And suggestions on how to fix them.

"Issues" report in Site Audit tool

Once you know what problems are under the hood, you can fix them. And stop small problems from causing big damage to your Google rankings.

Local SEO

Local SEO uses on-page, off-page, and technical SEO strategies to rank for your target location. 

Local on-page SEO might include:

  • Targeting keywords your location’s audience are searching for
  • Creating locally relevant content 
  • Optimizing your content for local language and culture preferences

Location-tied off-page SEO might include:

  • Creating a Google Business Profile listing
  • Building backlinks from local businesses
  • Getting customer reviews on your Google Business Profile and third-party sites like Yelp

Location-focused technical SEO might include:

Local SEO is especially important if your business has a brick-and-mortar location and needs to be discoverable by physical customers. Make sure business information (like your store’s address and phone number) is prominently displayed on your site. 

Create an SEO Marketing Strategy

We’ve just skimmed the surface of what SEO marketing is, what it can do for business, and how you can leverage it to become more visible in Google. 

Seems like a lot, right?

But really, SEO is a one-step-at-a-time process. 

And luckily, there are tons of SEO tools, guides, and templates to help you.

Start with this SEO strategy template and how-to guide to create an SEO marketing plan. That’s step one in your journey to improving rankings, attracting traffic, and getting conversions.
Ready to dive in? Try Semrush for free today.



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