Often when I teach a SEO class or workshop I go into detail on how to implement the strategies I’m talking about. I’ll open up Google Search Console, Google Analytics and other SEO tools that help make it easy to optimize a website. One of the main tools I use is Google search.
Like no other tool that slices and dices data, Google search is a vast resource of data that can be used to help shortcut the learning curve to top website rankings. Because it doesn’t follow a similar user interface as a lot of other tools, it often gets overlooked.
Here’s a typical SEO dashboard.
And here’s what Google search looks like.
Not exactly an SEO dashboard is it?
It is. And once you know how to use it, it will become your best friend.
A warning should be given for the content that follows. This is not beginner SEO stuff, and it can become technical. However, it’s easy enough to learn if you commit to poking around and play with the search commands.
Typically, what you type into Google and command it do it called an ‘operator’.
The best search operator that I know is a pretty basic one, but a lot of people get wide eyed at SEO workshops, keynotes or in consulting sessions when I use it. This search operator tells you exactly which page on your website you should be targeting for which keywords. Use this hack when you have an existing website and you don’t know which page to target for a keyword.
This is a fast way to gain higher Google rankings.
Step 1: Find a group of “low hanging fruit” keywords in Google Search Console.
Do this by looking for low impressions on very relevant phrases to your product or service. Go to Search Console and look under Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
Step 2: site:yourwebsite.com “keyword”
What you’ll see at the top is the page that Google thinks is most relevant on your site for the keyword you put in parenthesis in the search operator. You can see clearly that there are other pages on my website that talk about “SEO”. In fact, there’s an entire category dedicated to SEO on my site, but Google knows a long form blog post is a more relevant page.
When you’re choosing pages to match with keywords to target and write content for, use this search operator.
You should also use this hack to check if what page you think you should target, is the same one Google thinks you should target. Often times, website owners think they know which keywords should go on which pages, but when they look using this hack, Google says otherwise.
Out of all of the search commands and operators you can do in Google, which are the best?
Duplicate Content Finder
Site:anywebsite.com “exact content you want to find”
When you do this, Google searches inside of the website for that exact phrase. If you suspect that a website is using your content, go and find out with this search term. The advanced version of this is to just search the content you want to check in quotes in Google search. With no “site:” added to it, this will tell you where on the web that exact phrase in quotes exists. Now you’ve got a listing of every website that’s duplicated a piece of content.
For websites that have manufacturer product descriptions or anyone who wants to know where duplicate content is, this is of big use.
See How Google Is Indexing A Website
What you’ll get is an exact replica of how Google indexes a website, what order it’s crawling pages in and how many are in Google’s index.
Doing this can be very useful on large websites to identify if sections are not indexing or if there are any large scale technical errors on the site. It can also tell you if your robots.txt file has changed Google’s index.
What Websites Google Thinks Are Related To Yours
Often times website owners think their real life business competition are the same companies they are competing with in Google search for the top rankings. This isn’t always true. A website’s competition in Google is all about who has similar content and keywords on the page. To find out what sites are related to a website in Google’s eyes, use this search operator.
What you’ll get is a list of related websites according to what Google sees as similar content, industry and page relevance. These are the people you’ll probably be competing with for top rankings in Google. Now that you’ve got this info, you can reverse engineer their content, backlink portfolios and website rankings.
General Google Information About A Website
If you want to find out what Google has cached on a website, maybe for link building or branding purposes, you can do it with one search operator.
What you’ll get is the cache, pages that are similar to, access to all of the pages in Google’s index, and all of the pages that contain the domain in them. This can be very beneficial for link building. If you can look at all of the pages that contain another domain name in them, then that can be the start of a good list to purge, reach out and possibly build links from.
This isn’t the only place you can develop a list of possible sources for backlinks.
You can also get a list of your competitor’s backlinks from
- Majestic SEO
- And many more.
Having this list is a good start for building some backlinks to your website. You can use this list if you are just starting out with a new website, or trying to beat your competition in search by getting more high quality backlinks than they have. There are three steps to doing this.
Step 1: Purging the backlink list.
Put the list of backlinks on a spreadsheet and visit each domain to see if it’s something you want a link from. Websites that look spammy or don’t relate to your business, delete. There should be a lot of links to delete.
Step 2: Sort all of the links left over by domain or page authority.
This is a metric used to tell what the most valuable links are, so shoot for the top ones first. They might be difficult to get, but if you keep trying you’re bound to get some. Links are very valuable, so having someone do this as a part of your SEO is important.
Step 3: Knowing how and when to reach out for a link.
Websites don’t just give links away. If it’s a journalist, you may need to pitch a story or guest blog piece. If the site is a review site, you may need to submit a free product. If the site is an industry influencer, you may need to pay them.
Get your branding and marketing team involved and cooperate with out PR people to create specialized content for that specific site, media outlet or blogger. Make sure you come up with a good offer for what they’ll get out of working with you.
This link building process should be a constant part of your marketing that should always be worked on. Set a goal of links that you want to get per month and work to reach it.
Find Site Errors Quickly & Easily
Site errors are a major cause for SEO failure and can be difficult to check for if the site owner has a lot of other things to worry about. All of the tools I mentioned earlier have sections for website errors and they can scan websites on command.
Another very simple way to find errors is to look for them in Google search.
Site:anywebsite.com 404 errors
This will bring up a search results page listing all of the 404 errors inside of the website. If you’re not a tech savvy person and you want an easy way to check your website for these errors, this is a great way to do it.
The other interesting thing you can do with this search operator is to search other large media or blog websites for broken links, and then approach them about adding a link to a page on your site that covers the information they are missing.
This is called broken link building. It’s a popular practice among websites who have large amounts of content on them. Because they have a lot of content on them, they are able to fill in the gaps, so to speak, where other websites have a broken link resource on their site.
The key to this is to make sure your web page is a complete resource for what you are suggesting to link to. If the broken link is about “dog training” for example, but you don’t have an extensive page about dog training, they will say no.
Find Good Guest Blogging Resources
If you’re on a mission to find good guest blogging resources and want to know what sites talk about your topic, use this hack. Because websites often name the URL the title of the blog, you can search for your keywords there and find out.
When you do this, you’ll get a list of a bunch of sites that have that keyword in the URL. This hack might take a little bit of narrowing down searches to get what you are looking for. Broad terms like “marketing” or something general may result in unhelpful websites.
In this one I’ve search inurl:seo tools
Searching Specific Terms But Not Others
Sometimes your search terms are so related that it bleeds over into finding terms that you’re not interested in. In these cases use the “or” qualifier.
This will give you search results with one or the other phrase, but not both.
Find The Exact File You’re Looking For With This Google Hack
If you run a website or create anything online, you’ll almost always come across a situation where you need a photo. And in some scenarios it’s ok to use a photos that someone else has used, as long as you give them proper credit for it on your site. Giving proper photos credit is very important, so make sure you’re doing that.
If you need to find that photo that you lost on another website, or want to explore a website’s photos because you like them or need them, use this Google search hack to find any photos by it’s filetype.
The great thing about this is that it doesn’t only related to image files. You can search for any type of file you want on any website you want.
Find Very Specific Targeted Results For Pages
If you want to find out what pages have a post of any kind with a specific title in it, you can use this hack.
Allintitle:how to potty train a dog
And if you’ve got a great guide for training a dog, this might be a really great list to reach out to and get published. This is typically used for advanced link building purposes for those who have already built a great piece of content, white paper, playbook, guide or something else. The tricky part of link building is creating content that people want to engage with. Once you’ve done that, this post with many of the search commands I talk about will be useful.
Find Any Text In Any Part Of A Website
There can also be times when you want to search to find out if any webpage out there is talking about a specific topic or phrase. Doing this could make entering a market easier or might help a brand find their voice more clearly. Use this secret search command when you want to see if anyone is writing about a topic.
Intext: search term
Search terms are one of the best ways you can quickly see all sorts of valuable things on Google, from making lists to monitoring your brand. Because most people just use the tool to search for something they need, they’ve missed a lot of technical abilities behind what Google has in it’s database.
There are a ton more search operators, in fact Ann Smarty has a complete list of SEO driven search commands that I’ve used for years in outreach for link building. My favorites still are the ones that show you a tiny window into Google’s brain.
When you search inside of a site for a keyword, it pulls up the top ranked page for that term. Use this as a source for deciding what pages to focus on and optimize.
Combining These With Your Overall Marketing Strategy
The SEO folks out there should know how to operate and search Google for anything they need at all times. If you’ve got an inexperienced team, make sure they get a copy of this blog to learn the basics. These tools can be used mostly in three major parts of a brand.
1. Brand conception
If the site is just being put up, finding out what other websites are talking about your topics is critical to creating a brand voice. Use these search commands to find out what your competition is online and how you can create a different brand voice.
- Website development & content writing
If you’re putting a website up, understanding what top ranking pages are doing online is critical. Using the similar search command, you can reverse engineer your pages to have more words, better keyword density, and better content than theres. All of this will help you rank higher in Google.
- Outranking competition in SEO
Massive link building efforts by large brands all start with the intitle and inurl search commands. Understanding who else is linking back to a competitor website helps stay ahead of the competition and develop a better backlink portfolio.
If you can research the right areas of the web for partners, competitors and potential opportunities in search, you can develop a strong content strategy. SEO takes a lot of smart content development strategically distributed in the right places on the web. Like I teach in the workshops and at conferences, it’s a momentum driven project.
It takes quite a bit of work to get going, but once you’ve got momentum it’s difficult to stop. First page rankings often stick around for a long time. That’s why so many website owners are trying to figure out how to get to the top of Google search. Once you’re ranked at the top, you get free traffic that turns into leads for a business.