What Is Organic Search? (+How to Improve Your Rankings)

October 30, 2019

In a perfect world, every piece of content would rank.

Unfortunately, that's not a world in which we live. If you want your content to rank well, there are specific actions to take to ensure it has the best chance to climb up the search engine results page.

In this article, we’re going to explore what organic search is, why it’s important for your business, and how to improve your search rankings to drive more traffic. To help illustrate all of this, we’re going to refer to a live page and dive into actionable tactics aimed at improving visibility within Google.

What is organic search?

There’s a lot to explore when it comes to organic search, but first, what is it exactly?

To capture this traffic, your website pages need to be optimized around search topics so that they show up when people are looking for them.

Google Results for Collaborative Marketing

If you want to see how much organic search traffic you’re currently getting, head over to your Google Analytics Dashboard and click on Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. Then, check out the data. If you expand the date range you should get a good idea of how you’re performing over time.

Google Analytics Channels

TIP: In addition to Google Analytics, there are many other digital analytics software solutions you can use. Check out our list of some of the other options out there!

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Why organic search matters

Compared to other marketing channels, organic search is king. Not only is it owned (meaning you control every aspect), but it’s also free (meaning traffic doesn’t stop just because you stop paying).

From a business perspective, growing your organic footprint has a few significant advantages when it comes to how your company performs:

  • Speak to specific user groups in detail: Creating organic content allows you to not only target different user types (like people interested in different products or features) but also people at different stages in your sales funnel.
  • Improve your PPC: Organic traffic is the perfect complement to paid ads because you can easily retarget users based on website behavior. For example, you can show a relevant ad to people who viewed a specific page on your site.
  • Save money overall: Creating content for organic search will almost always require an upfront investment, but unlike ads, this investment is a one time expense that can keep driving traffic for months.

Organic search vs. paid search

Remember how we said organic search was pretty much free? Paid is the opposite - your traffic will stop as soon as you stop paying for ads.

In the context of Google search results, the difference looks like this:

Best Free VPN Search Results

The first three results are paid (as denoted by the ‘Ad’ tag) meaning they will disappear once these companies stop paying. The fourth result is organic and should drive traffic for the foreseeable future.

Organic search vs. direct traffic

Direct traffic is often confused with organic but is quite different in definition. Direct traffic usually occurs when a user types a URL into their search browser without searching for anything. This is still incredibly valuable traffic as it demonstrates brand recognition, but it should not be confused with organic search (and is therefore broken out in the aforementioned Google Analytics report).

You can consider direct traffic as a benefit of search traffic - the more times a user sees you in the search results, the more likely they are to head to your site directly in the future.

Why pages rank

Now is a good time to explore why some pages rank while others don’t. It’s in Google’s best interest to show the best search results for a given topic. This not only keeps searchers happy but also keeps them coming back to use the search engine.

To determine which page is the best, search engines use bots to scan or crawl the page to identify elements like keyword usage, image optimization, links, and more.

These factors then determine how well-suited a page is to rank for a given term and is displayed (or not displayed) accordingly. There is no proven formula when it comes to getting your page to rank, but there are some best practices we’ll dive into in the next section.

How to improve your organic search traffic

By now we’re assuming you’re fully up to speed with what organic search is and how it can help your business - time to look at some ways to move the needle on your traffic.

As promised, we’re going to use a live post from the Ampjar blog on collaborative marketing as an example.

Ampjar Guide to Collaborative Marketing for Brands

In terms of organic traffic, this page isn’t doing so hot - it was published back in July and is still sitting on the top of page three for its focus term “collaborative marketing”.

Collaborative Marketing in Ahrefs

This is a valuable term for us for a few reasons, the biggest being that the Ampjar platform facilitates collaborative marketing so the more relevant traffic we can drive to our site the better.

The good news here is that position 21 isn’t a bad place to be if you haven’t done much to boost rankings beyond on-page optimization. On top of that, the focus term here is pretty low competition so even the slightest adjustments should make a positive impact.

With the exception of keyword research (which is a requisite when it comes to organic search), the following tactics are organized from least effort to most effort - let’s get started!

Keyword research

Knowing what to write about is crucial when it comes to driving organic traffic. If you neglect the research phase you run the risk of wasting resources and not getting anything in return.A good topic exists where volume meets relevance - you want people to be searching for it but it also needs to be relevant to your business.

Ubersuggest is a great free keyword research tool that will let you explore topics as much as you want, simply inputting a term lets you see estimated search volume, difficulty, related topic ideas, and other websites who are ranking for that term.

Ubersuggest Small Business Marketing

You can easily dig down by inputting each competing page into the keyword report tool and seeing what terms their page is ranking for. Do this enough and you should have a solid list of terms to cover in your post.

Ubersuggest Keyword Research

Review on-page optimization

Once you have content or website page, the easiest place to start is by examining what you have on the page already and finding places to better optimize for your search term(s). To make this easier, use a Chrome SEO extension called SEO Quake that breaks out the page’s on-page elements into an easy to scan format. 

SEO Quake Page SEO Audit

What we're looking for here are opportunities to better optimize this page for the keyword and there seems to be one big opportunity related to images - 23 of them are all missing ALT tags.

SEO Quake Alt Tag Alert

ALT tags allow search engines to better understand what a picture is about (though Google is getting better at this every day), so we’d want to go in add in some tags while making sure to include our keyword when relevant.

In addition, I also want to make sure this page is using the search term in the main headers like the title, H1, H2s, and so on. Assuming these all check out, you can also use SEO Quake on competing pages to compare things like word count and keyword density to see if you’re coming up short anywhere.

SEO Quake Keyword Density

Internal linking

Internal linking is the act of pointing links from your site to the page you’re trying to rank. Doing so not only helps search engines better crawl and understand your site but can increase authority and relevance to the receiving pages.

As part of our publishing process, we always make sure to point a few internal links at new blog posts but there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to anchor text. To start, I'm going to plug our page into SEO tool Ahrefs and view the Internal Backlinks report:

Internal Backlinks in Ahrefs

The report shows that I have five internal links pointed at this post and four of them use “collaborative marketing” in the anchor text. This looks good to me and if I were to add anything here then I’d add (or change) a link with an exact match anchor of our focus keyword.

Refresh your content

Our next option is to make sure our content is written in a way that not only targets as many relevant keywords as possible but is also structured in a helpful format.

To do this, we’re going to need both Ahrefs and Google Search Console with the latter being our first stop.

Search Console is going to show us exactly what terms we’re currently ranking for, including clicks, impressions, CTR, and ranking.

Google Search Console Performance Results

If we couple this with a report from Ahrefs showing what our competitors are ranking for, we’re going to have a nice list of terms we want to make sure are included in our post to cover the topic as thoroughly as possible.

One thing that stands out here is the term “collaborative marketing strategy”. We didn’t cover this in our guide so it might be worth going back in and adding a section that focuses just on that term.

Understanding what Google wants

There is lots of good information out there related to search intent. However, while it should play a part in your planning, it’s only 50% effective if you neglect the clues Google gives you in terms of what it wants to see.

Featured Snippet for Collaborative Marketing

For example, if we look at the search results for our keyword, we’ll see a featured snippet at the top - this is a special type of search result and is often easier to rank for than the true position 1. In our case, we’d want to investigate this and pay attention to how Canto structured their content to be featured here.

Additionally, this search query also returns map listings about halfway down the page:

Collaborative Marketing Map Results

If we were a local business that offered collaborative marketing solutions, we’d want to make sure our local SEO was fully optimized so we didn’t miss out on any clicks.

While the existence of different types of search queries can reduce the visibility of actual pages, it can also provide an opportunity for businesses not already on page one to better optimize around a search term.

Another example of this are images - while “collaborative marketing” isn’t the best topic for an image search, there is a lot of traffic to be won for images that show up in the image section of Google:

Google Search for New York City

External linking

External link building is a process where you contact other websites to get them to link back to your page. While Google hasn’t confirmed that link quantity is a ranking factor, studies like this continue to confirm the importance of backlinks when it comes to organic search.

There are dozens of link building tactics out there and instead of trying to summarize them all we’re going to focus on one that could be a good fit for our post: resource page link building.

In this strategy, we want to find pages that list relevant marketing resources and see if they will include our guide as well. We can approach this in two ways:

Ahrefs Results for Marketing Resources

The first involves the Content Explorer tool in Ahrefs where can search for a topic and see other sites who have written about it. In this case, we’re looking for pages where “marketing resources” is in the title. From there we’d want to export the list and vet each candidate before reaching out to them.

The next method is a bit more time-intensive but doesn’t require a paid tool - you’ll use a search operator like “allintitle:marketing resources” which looks for page titles that include “marketing resources” or “allinurl:marketing resources” which does the same but with URLs.

Example of Search Operator

Once you have a nice list of candidates, you can find their emails using a tool like Hunter and craft a message asking them to include you on their page.

Getting started with organic search for your business

It’s entirely possible to get lost in the weeds trying to incorporate organic search tactics into your company. If you’re a small business with limited resources, you can make significant progress by only focusing on keyword research and on-page best practices.

Once you get a bit of traction and a few dozen posts under your belt, then you can start going back and reviewing your posts for link, keyword, and query opportunities.

Finally, do not expect overnight success. SEO and organic search is a marathon and building a foundational and systematic process should be your primary goal - done correctly you can expect to see consistent, relevant traffic for years to come.

Learn more about how you can get your content to rank with this guide surrounding PPC vs CPC! Then, find out everything there is to know about paid search. And lastly, don't miss out on G2's 1 Million Series, in which team leaders discuss how the site went from 0 to 1.5 million monthly readers in a year's time – and how you can do it, too. 

Increase your traffic and build ROI with the full Road to 1 Million case  study.   Get the full story →

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