You get to the top of the search results by providing information that people are looking for. Your content needs to be unique and add value to stand out from the crowd. Your web site needs to comply with Google quality guidelines and have correctly structured and targeted content. Your domain needs to have trust and authority.
There is no doubt, being at the top of the Google search results will drive visitors to your business web site. You need to appear on page one of the results, most searchers don’t bother looking any further. The number one position gets the most clicks, depending on device somewhere between 10% and 40%, this click through rate then tails off rapidly as your progress down the page.
So, to make a real difference to your bottom line your products and services need to be near the top of page one.
The Anatomy of a Google Search Results Page
Let’s first examine the page that you are presented with when you make a search using Google.
At the top of the page you usually get paid Ads. There can be anywhere between one and four of them. Business owners pay every time that someone clicks on these adverts, the amount that they pay per click depends on the competitiveness of the keyword that was used for the search. The Google paid Ad service is called Adwords and paid Ads are often referred to as PPC Ads (pay per click). Advertisers can pay anywhere between 10p and over £20 per click, which soon ads up.
After the paid results usually come the local results, where a local map is shown with place markers showing where local business relating to the search are located. Immediately below the map, Google displays three local businesses. It can be difficult to get into these top three positions known as the “snack pack”, but when you get there it can make a big difference to your business. These “places” listings are free, organic listings and can be very valuable.
Next are the rest of the free “organic” search results. There are virtually always ten of these results on the page. The number of people that click on each organic result, decreases rapidly as you move down the page, from anywhere between 10% to 40% of visitors (depending on whether desktop or mobile device) down to less than 2% at the bottom of the page. So, the closer to the top of the search results on the page you are, the more visitors will click through to your web site. Click through rate is also known as CTR.
Over 60% of Searchers Click on the Organic (Free) Results
Research shows that different people tend to click on paid search results than those that click on the natural organic results. Around 21% of people click on paid Ads, with over 60% of searchers clicking on the organic (free) results.
With the majority of people clicking on the organic results and most people clicking on the number one result, just imagine how valuable this could be to your business.
Targeting Your Potential Customers
It’s all very well appearing in the number one search spot, but this won’t necessarily help your business. Most businesses will be listed well for their business name, but unless you are already a big, well known brand this alone won’t help you much.
Think about who your customers actually are. For each type of person that you think may need or want to buy your services or products, write down a customer profile, also known as a “persona”. Think about age, location, budget, b2c or b2b, needs, wants. Now think about what questions they may be asking that relate to your products. Think about the entire buying cycle, from initial discovery right through to those customers who are ready to make a purchase directly on your site or contact you for more information, or to provide a service.
Map Content to Customers’ Needs – What do They Want to Know?
Now think about what questions each of your personas are asking, what information are they looking for? It needs to be on your web site. If relevant, quality, unique content is not on your web site then it cannot be indexed by Google and served up in the search results in the answer to peoples search queries.
Plagiarism – Do Not Copy
Do not lift copy off other web sites, this will simply not be listed by Google as it can see that it is already in use elsewhere – it is not unique, does not offer any new value – do not do it!
You need to put in some hard graft, write unique content that adds value and makes Google want to list you. If you have products on your site, they will all need unique descriptions and titles too, or you will simply be lost in the crowd of lots of web sites that all say the same thing.
Getting Your Web Site to Perform for You
You now have a web site with lots of content that answers all the questions that your customers are asking. Great. Now it needs to be Google friendly.
Google uses certain signals on each web page to understand what the content of the page is all about. Make use of correct html heading tags h1, one per page, then correctly nested h2, h3 and h4 tags within the content only. Lots of web site designer have a really bad habit of using header tags in design elements of web sites. This just confuses Google as it uses these tags to understand the unique subject matter of each page. If your designer has added a load of h1, h2, h3 and h4 tags all saying the same in every page, what the hell is Google going to make of it? Easy, it just dumps the web site way down the rankings in the “haven’t got a clue what that site is really about pile”. It is a pet hate of mine – web site designers that just don’t understand or care about what works and what doesn’t work in Google.
On each page, also make sure that you have written a unique page title, this has a massive effect on rankings, so make sure you obey the rules when writing page titles.
Each page also needs a unique meta description, this does not impact on ranking directly, but it does impact on click through rate, which is a known ranking factor. The meta description is the description for each web site that appears in the search results. A well written meta description will entice customers to click through to your web page.
Technical Onsite Optimisation
You will now have the basis for a web site that should be able to rank well in the Google search results. There may be other technical considerations, that will be outside the scope of most web site owners. It may be worth having a technical site audit carried out to see if there are any other issues holding you back. Let me know if you would like me to take a closer look at your web site and report on any technical problems that will hinder its performance.
The Google search algorithm is thought to be made up of over 200 hundred ranking factors, some with a very small influence and others with a big influence on where in the search results your web pages will be listed. Apart from unique content, here is an overview of some of the most influential ranking factors:
Technical Onsite SEO
There are a few technical issues that often present themselves on web sites, such as canonical issues where the way the site is built creates more than one page url, that is an exact copy of another page. There may be speed issues. The robots .txt file may not be set up to instruct search engines of any pages should not be crawled. Often a .htaccess file is needed to handle page redirects and instruct search engines how to handle the root domain correctly. These are just a few things that needs to be looked at behind the scenes. This is an area that most web site owners will need help with.
Remember the three local listings that I mentioned above – the “snack pack”? If your business operates in a local area e.g. a restaurant, plumber, hairdresser etc then to be included in these local listings you need to set up a Google Business page. This needs to be verified and optimised correctly. So, say you run an Indian Takeaway business in the centre of Rugby town, someone searches for “Indian Takeaway” and is either in the locality, or adds the word “Rugby” to the search, you would want to appear in that local “snack pack” at the top of the listings.
What Role Does Social Media Play?
Use social media channels to promote your business and get people clicking through to your web site. Which channels you use will depend on your type of business and the audience that you want to reach. Use Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to shout about the content on your web site.
Please note, Facebook likes will not boost your web site rankings directly, however they do magnify your posts and make it more likely that other people will take a look at what you have to offer. Facebook shares are better, putting your content directly in front of people. Always include a link to your web page and make use of relevant hash tags.
Good reviews, especially on Google will help you to be listed in the “snack pack” and will improve click through rates to your web site. Work on this gradually over time, just asking for reviews all in one go is unnatural. Make the process ongoing at a steady rate.
These days there is no excuse for a web site not to be mobile friendly. This is a ranking factor and Google are shortly going to have to separate indexes, one for mobile friendly web sites and one for sites that only display correctly on full size desktop screens. Guess which one will will be served up first in the search results. Make sure that you have a mobile friendly web site.
Now here is a new ranking factor and is set to become more powerful over time. Rankbrain is Googles’ machine learning algorithm. It learns how people interact with your web site. If they find it interesting and stay there navigating through pages, Rankbrain will learn what visitors like about your web site and what they don’t. A popular page that visitors stay on will be kept in the rankings, pages that visitors bounce straight off will be dropped in favour of other web sites. This is a rather simplistic overview of Rankbrain, but you get the picture: Google is using a machine to gather artificial intelligence about web sites in order to decide whether to list them in the search results or not.
Penguin Panda etc
Names given to Google algorithms that weed out poor or spammy web sites. Panda looks at content, if it is thin or duplicate or adds nothing unique or of interest, your web site will be “demoted” down the rankings. Penguin look at links that point at your web site. Penguin first ran in April 2012 and destroyed a lot of online businesses overnight. Web site owners and SEO Consultants had been manipulating the rankings by building very dubious links to sites to make them rank. Penguin hit these sites hard and dropped them like a stone. It has taken four and a half years for Google to make this algorithm less harsh and in October 2016 Penguin finally became real time and just ignores poor quality links. Don’t be fooled, if practices return to spammy link building I would expect Google to take harsh action again.
Linkbuilding always has been and still is, in my opinion the second or third most influential ranking factor. People pay for links in order to climb the rankings. Guess what if you can pay for a dodgy link on a site that looks like it has authority but doesn’t actually have a volume of real visitors, you can bet this will be dealt with eventually.
Here is my advice on linkbuilding. Don’t be tempted to game the algorithm, your business will lose out in the long run. Instead work on relationship building; who are your partners or related businesses that may be willing to mention you on their web site? Contact your industry governing bodies etc. It is also fine to list yourself on genuine local business directories, but do not use the generic SEO directories. If it doesn’t look genuine, it isn’t, don’t use it.
Age of Domain Name
As your domain name grows in age it is more likely to be listed higher in the rankings. This is a sign of a genuine site, not just a “churn and burn” site used to make a quick profit. This isn’t exactly helpful to new genuine businesses though.
Competitiveness of Business Niche
It goes without saying, if you are in a very competitive industry or an independent competing with big nationals, it will be more difficult to compete for major keywords, but a strategy concentrating on long tail keywords and content targeted early in the buying cycle could work well.
Other Considerations to Look at Before Investing in Your Rankings
Will It Work For Your Industry?
If you are in a very niche industry, it may be an advantage in that there is little competition, but there may not be the search volume to actually bring any visitors to your web site. A look at relevant key word search volumes will answer this for you. I used Google Keyword Planner to look at keyword volumes for the Photo Booth Hire industry. This is a business that works well online, with good monthly search volume figures. This shows the number of people actively searching each month using a particular keyword.
Return on Investment – ROI
There simply may not be enough profit margin in your products v the cost associated with getting to the top of the rankings, this can apply especially in high volume, low margin competitive niches. You need to take into account your profit margins, conversion rates, search volumes and associated costs to decide whether to throw your energy and marketing budget into improving your rankings. A good strategy may be to choose best selling, or high margin products or services first and concentrate on promoting those as your top priority.
Calls to Action
Do you have clear Calls to Action on your web site? When you have an interested visitor, do you make it clear what you would like them to do: call you, make a purchase, fill in an enquiry form? This is a whole area in its self and it is often referred to as Conversion Rate Optimisation or CRO.
Unique Selling Points – USP
What are your unique selling points? What sets you apart from your competitors? Why would someone buy from you rather than someone else? Make sure that these messages are clearly shown on your web site.
User Experience – UX
Is your web site easy to use? Does a visitor find it easy to navigate and find what they want quickly and easily. If not it will lead to high page bounce rates and bounce rate is a ranking factor (remember Rankbrain!).
Web Site Speed
As above, if your web site and pages load slowly visitors will simply get sick of waiting and go elsewhere. Site speed is a ranking factor and a slow web site will simply annoy people.
Always Track Your Results – Know What is Working
Google Accounts and Tracking
It is always a good idea to know how many people visited your web site, how long they stayed there, how they arrived there, what actions they took, bounce rate etc. This way you can attribute sales and enquiries to their marketing channel e.g. PPC, organic search, social media referral. You can also work out which pages are working and which are not.
Google has free accounts that provide you with all the intelligence that you need about your web site performance. Get yourself a Google Analytics account and make sure the tracking code is correctly installed on your web site. Link the account to Google Search Console (the old Webmaster Tools) for a wealth of invaluable information about search terms and any site errors. Make sure that you set up goals to track conversions and e-commerce tracking if you have an online shop. You will then have all the data at your fingertips to allow you to fine tune your online strategies.
You may be able to implement some or all of the above yourself to boost your rankings and grow your business. However, if you need help, or simply don’t have the time, do not hesitate to ask me. I have a proven track record of helping businesses to grow online. I can work out very easily and quickly, with no obligation on your part, if your investment in my services will provide a good rate of return to your business.
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