Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the way you improve your rankings on search engines, so that when people search for products or services like the ones you sell, your web page appears close to the top of the search results.
If you want customers to find you online, then setting up a website is just the first step. For many customers, your first and only opportunity to capture their attention will be when they do a Google search as part of their research before purchasing a product or service. The higher your business appears in the search rankings, the better placed you are to have potential customers visit your website.
Lifting your website higher up the list, and particularly to the first page, takes time and ongoing strategic action to ensure you are getting your URL in front of the Google bots and meeting the requirements of their ranking algorithm. There are several things you can do to improve your ranking, let's dive in and have a look.
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How your customers use search engines
First of all, a quick word about searching. If you search for your business through Google by typing in your business name, the chances are (and the hope is) that you will be able to find it. But if people are searching for your business name, they’re probably already looking for your business specifically.
To gain access to new customers, you need to ensure that you can be found not only in your category, but also the location you are in, and under common key search terms.
If you are tying to sell something, you really want people to find your product or service when they search for that product or service more generally. For example, if you own a carpet shop, then you’ll want customers to be able to find your shop, even if they don’t know its name to begin with. If a potential customer in your city or region runs a search for ‘shag pile carpets’, then you’re going to want to appear close to the top of the rankings for that search. ‘Shag pile carpets’ is the search term or ‘keywords’ they used. Other keywords relevant to your business might be ‘Persian rugs’ and ‘carpet laying’. When people are shopping online, they tend to favour these sorts of product or service focused searches, rather than searching for specific businesses. If they already know which business they intend to buy from, they’ll generally just enter the web address for that business directly and skip the search engine altogether.
Breaking through the noise
A quick look at the Google results for your search words might leave you feeling a bit concerned, but it’s less worrying than it might seem at first glance.
For example, a Google search for 'shag pile carpets' returns about 133,000 results. You might reasonably think that means you have 133,000 competitors.
However, it’s a little more complex (and a little less intimidating) than that. For example:
- Many of the 133,000 websites are not competitors at all. For example, listing number 300 was about vacuum cleaners.
- If a website lists lower down than the first couple of pages in Google (lower than position 20), then it probably has little hope of receiving much traffic.
- Many of the back pages of Google search results will have similar entries to the ones higher up and can be ignored. Some websites will appear in the search results for a general term hundreds of times.
While there are a lot of search results returned for any given search, once you get past the first page or two, they tend to spiral into irrelevance. As a result, businesses that try to target particular search terms and focus their search engine optimisation efforts in an effective way can generally see an improvement in their rankings quite quickly. Remember, in most cases you don’t need to be top of the world; you just need to rank highly for searches in your target market and for your local area.
Improving your ranking in search results
To get onto that elusive first page, you need to align with how RankBrain works. RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google sort their search results. RankBrain simply measures how users interact with the search results and ranks them accordingly. For example, let’s say you search for “Tasmanian gin” in Google. You’ll get a number of results.
You choose the one that entices you the most, and when you click on it, amazing, best gin article you’ve ever read. So you read every word, then link it to your Facebook page. RankBrain is going to take note…and likely give that #4 result a rankings boost. On the other hand, let’s say that you do the same search. But this time, you click on the #1 result without even looking.
But the content is awful. So you bounce from the page after a few seconds. RankBrain will also notice this. And if enough people quickly bounce from that result, Google will boot it from the #1 spot.
RankBrain focuses on two key things:
1. How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
2. The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)
Dwell time is pretty important, and the magic number to get you on the first page of Google is 3.10 mins. To get them there, you need good SEO. To keep them there, you need compelling content. The good and slightly counter-intuitive news in a world where attention spans are shrinking, is that Google’s algorithm favours longer content of around 2000 words. This is quality content that is consistently updated and also contains some LSI keywords, so having a regularly posted blog or journal covers this off.
What’s an LSI keyword I hear you ask? In the old days, Google would analyze your page to see how many times you used a specific keyword. In other words, they focused 100% on your page’s content. So the Google spider would visit your page to check if your keyword appeared in your:
- Title tag
- Image ALT text
- Description tag
- H1 ta
To be fair, they still look at that stuff. But today’s Google is MUCH smarter than it used to be. So instead of only measuring content, they now focus on context.
Remember: Google’s #1 job is to show their user the BEST result. And in most cases, the “best” result isn’t a piece of keyword-stuffed content.
Instead, the best pages cover an entire topic in-depth. With in-depth content, a Google searcher gets everything they need in one place (one stop shopping).
So once you’ve written your ace 2000 word post (scroll down for blog writing tips), you need to check the LSI keywords and make sure they appear throughout the text, to give the Google bots the validation they are after that you are providing deep content on your site. And up the rankings you go. To find LSI keywords, just search on the topic you are writing on, it’s Tasmanian Gins, it will look like this:
See those highlighted words? They are the LSI keywords.
Mobile is #1
The big news from Google is that from 2018, your mobile site is going to be measured as your primary site. What that means, is that if you don’t have a responsive mobile site, or still have a landing page and a website and a separate mobile site, your will only be ranked on the quality of your mobile site. So if you want decent SEO, you must have a fully complaint mobile responsive site, end of story. This can’t be underscored strongly enough, now is the time to get your website up to 2018 standards, which will happily also mean that you are providing your customers with the best experience of your brand, product and/or service.
Video Slays SEO
Another big incentive for Google to boost rankings is video. It’s not just social that is pushing users towards video, it is Google as well, which means having embedded video on your website is another factor that will nudge you up to page one. The stats around YouTube as a search engine to rival Google have been around for a while, but its time to actually take notice of what that means. YouTube has had a 60% jump in users in the last year, and many people go straight to YouTube for information bypassing Google entirely.
Video is the single most critical thing you need to get across in your business if you want to keep acing the rankings, and having a YouTube channel linked to your webpage with relevant content is a surefire strategy. You don’t have to have a tonne of videos, just ones that are worth viewing and sharing. Should I mention here that Google owns YouTube? Of course they do, and that means that they have a very vested interest in getting this cross usage happening. But hey, if people want to see more video, give it to them, and make sure you embed the YouTube link into your website for the full effect.
The voice rank is growing
Just around the corner in significance for SEO are voice searches. They aren’t top of the pile…yet, but they are increasingly important for Google, and if you think about the ‘Hey Google’ home device phenomenon, you can understand why. When people ‘hey Google’ Google is searching web pages for relevant content. You want your page, or a page linked to you page, to be the source for that content, which means you need to optimize for voice in the near future.
What we know right now about the Google voice algorithm is that is is taken predominantly from sites that ALREADY appear on the first page AND ones that are featured as a snippet. Which is why you can be alert not alarmed as you need to get to page one to be in the running.
Another key tip for optimising your content for voice is to contain some question and answer style content, which is automatically easy for Google to convert to voice response when someone asks a question. Current stats for voice indicate that 40% of adults perform at least one voice search every day. If you correlate that with the saturation of mobile devices, which are much easier to use voice on than type in a search question, you can fill in the rest of the dots yourself.
Link love is still strong
One of the main votes of confidence that your website can receive is links from other websites and social media. A link from Facebook tells Google that someone out there is talking about your website and thinks that it’s good enough to recommend to their friends. To really have a chance at breaking through on the major search engines, it’s not enough just to tune your wording and make a few tweaks to your website, you also need to have plenty of links coming back to your site from other places.
The best way to build links back to your site is to leverage social media. This works well for two reasons. Firstly, Google ranks links from social media more highly than it does links from other websites. Secondly, getting links on to social media sites is relatively easy and there’s a chance that your community will spread your links far and wide for you. Linkedin is particularly effective for this and having a fully completed LinkedIn profile linked to your business is a big plus. Learn more about LinkedIn for business here.
Another simple and often overlooked action that can work wonders for your SEO is to fully complete your Google My Business registration including the activation step. This instantly verifies your business at the source of the search, and provides potential customers with contacts, a map, and all the details they need to find you. Of course Google will reward your diligence with a higher ranking. To register on Google My Business click here.
Once the registration and social media steps are done, maintain an active blog or news page, making sure you periodically share links to your new posts to your social networks. Another great way to create links is to collaborate with your peers. Write guest content, say yes to Podcast interviews, Q and A's, whatever it takes to get your influence and authority on another website that can be linked to yours. The bonus here is that you will be helping others with their content and positioning yourself as an expert to boot.
Use descriptive alt-text for your images
Google doesn’t just pay attention to the text on your web pages; it will look at your images as well. In particular, each image has the potential to have alternative text or “alt-text” attached to it, which is generally used to provide a short description of the image that Google can use to determine what the image is all about. It’s really easy to overlook adding captions or alt-text to images, but if you skip that step, Google won’t know what the image contains and you’re missing out on an opportunity to build your search rankings a little further. If possible, you should always try to add descriptive alt-text, or a caption to your images.
Ensure your website loads quickly
Google penalises websites that load too slowly to provide a good user experience. With this in mind, improving your page loading speed is another thing you can do to improve your search engine ranking. For most websites, slow loading is caused by images that are unnecessarily large. Make sure your images are not larger than the container within which they'll be displayed on the page. If you’re concerned that your page may be loading slowly, you can use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool to see where your website may be underperforming and get some tips on how best to fix any problems. Having a fully responsive mobile website is the best remedy to this situation, as mentioned above.
Content and links still king and queen.
SEO is still dominated by two things; content that is quality and links to and from your website by other high ranking sites. That is the sweet combo that will continue to deliver love from the overlords at Google. Get that right, and you are a long way to making sure you can be found. Keywords, video, mobile, all of these are significantly important and are what builds the rock solid scaffold under your awesome content. Yes, blog comments do help, having interactive area like podcasts and videos where people can comment, share your link and interact absolutely confirms what Google needs to know about your authenticity. Take these steps, and keep your eyes on the analytics to see what is working, then do more of that.
Pulling it all together
Search engine optimisation can be an intimidating topic and a quick Google search will throw up thousands upon thousands of guides, suggestions and tips to follow. It can all be a bit terrifying. But the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to do everything perfectly to have a positive impact on your search engine rankings. If you follow even some of the tips here, you’ll likely see your rankings improve. Setting up a blog, sharing some links to your blog posts on social media and encouraging your friends and family to spread the word about your business could be enough to see you start climbing the rankings. The main thing is to try and be consistent and improve consistently over time. In the long term, you’ll see an improvement in your search engine ranking and in the number of visitors arriving on your website.