Once upon a time we were all slaves to HMRC and collected their VAT without a word of thanks or payment of any kind. Now it would seem that we have been enslaved by a new and equally fickle master, the search engine and the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages.) These new pharaohs of information are petty and cruel if you disobey them (they are after all the pettiest of lifeforms - computers) but if you seek the goal that they seek then you can be sure that they will find you useful, and if they find you useful they will offload work onto you which is, just as it was with HMRC, exactly what we all want.
Today we are going to begin with the daddy of them all (in 2015 at least) Google. In the good old days you could type your most favoured keyword into your front page 15 times and if there wasn't a lot of competition then you would expect to be climbing quickly to the number one spot on the Google SERP. Following this the Google search engine evolved and SEOers began affiliate programmes to build backlinks and following that they began posting daily to social media from Hootsuite etc. Now though the truth is that the real work to climb the SERP ladder lies with the owner of the website. Why? Because nowadays the value of the content on your website is KING. One suspects that is why I am writing this....
If you employ an SEO company that is a little behind the latest Google thinking and they try to manipulate your rankings with methods that Google may disapprove of then they will penalise your rankings and keep a record of your misdemeanour. And watch out because Google disapproves of a great many 'SEO' methods. If you are aiming at the top on Google in a vertical market with a lot of ambitious and intelligent players you need to stop and think. Google want genuine quality links to your content and relevant, useful copy. They also want to have seen this copy assembled over time organically so that they know you didn't just get some SEOers to write it for you on Wednesday morning. They want to see decent internal links with relevant titles and if your competition have established sites with relatively stable rankings. Suddenly showing up with a lot of backlinks will make certain search engines suspicious. Sites can rise right to the top and when they get there they suddenly get knocked back three pages. Not necessarily straight away, but soon and semi-permanently.
The reason for this is simple - once you are near the top of the ranking then Google will become interested in the content and ethics of your site. Now this may simply be a more exhaustive algorithmic analysis or perhaps even a human review (yes an actual person if it is a highly sought after keyword or phrase set.) The bottom line is that once you appear at the top on Google you are either in the money or about to drop several pages and you really will not know which until it happens. This is always a nervous time for us even if we are convinced that the site has the best content in the relevant vertical market. Google is a complicated animal and no one knows what may happen next for sure.
So what does all of this mean when structuring a long-term (the only sensible kind) SEO strategy for your online presence? Well it means that in order to be aiming at the top on Google spot you need to be working on making the site better. You need to get inside the head of who is searching and make the site that they will be excited and pleased to see when it appears on their screen. Google will often send your site to the top part of the SERP and see how people interact with it. They are testing the ENGAGEMENT (how long people stay and if they click anything or watch a video etc.) So you will need to have great content and an aesthetic and modern page with lots of toys to play with. You also need to make sure that you give Google what they want as we said at the beginning of this page - RELEVANCE - this is after all what measures how good a job Google are doing and ,make no mistake, they are the best. Relevance is often measured by how people reference the information such as by linking to it from other pages and social media. Lots of irrelevant links from other pages will not help you anymore as Google will spot you trying to force their hand and that is very, very bad. If we were to continue with the HMRC analogy then it is effectively tax dodging.
The old school low quality link building is no longer a sensible strategy and you will be penalised if you attempt such tactics.
So we are looking at good copy, sensible internal linking, a good set of titles and H1 mark-ups and a small set of keywords carefully chosen for the front page. So what else?
Well the first page ranking on Google is good for self-esteem but the truth is that not many people click second or third on the SERP page when they receive it (unless they work in SEO that is) and so the top slot is a highly contested placement. If you invest enough money into your SERP ranking and get the top slot you must be sure that you are going to keep it and this requires ongoing work with your website and your online presence. You must also make sure that the summary of information shown by Google in the SERP is relevant and clickable for the users as they need to see what they are expecting and what is relevant in the small snippet of information that is displayed by Google. This is basically the sales pitch your website gets to make to the user and so it has to be concise and relevant. The text Google chooses to show here is based upon the title and the H1 and subsequent paragraphs that contain the most relevant information that is closest to the beginning of the copy. The site front page description is often displayed as a summary also.
There are issues even with this way of thinking now though – Google No1 spot holders have been complaining and they have been complaining because their traffic has been falling – some say by as much as 80% !! – and after all of the SEO work that has been done.
Well there are two main reasons for this:
- The Google Maps component of the SERP has started people simply picking which is closest geographically and in a local market this is a problem for the company with the most relevant website. Quite rightly the customer just wants to get a price from the outlet that is the shortest walk and so the Map shows them which it is.
- The paid Google Adwords have raised in importance recently. They now appear above every type of organic result and the small orange Ad sign is fainter than before. This is no surprise as Google needs to rekindle belief in the online marketing PPC (Pay-per-Click) product after share prices took a tumble a while ago.
So the top spot competes with other types of results and gets less traffic – all very disturbing for the SEOer.
Do not fear though as the Google algorithm is always changing and there are ways of getting to the top of the Google Maps page as well as all of the other services Google offer including:
Google + and other Social Updates
Google Maps & Places
Google Shopping & Sponsored / Advertising links
So why is a number one ranking in Google SERP organic listing so valuable? We it is because you do not have to pay for the PPC. Google is essentially sending you the traffic without paying them directly. This is of course tricky to maintain without significant investment anyway but PPC takes a lot of management too and can be expensive without getting results simply from mismanagement.
But there is another reason as well that we will mention in a later post.
Of course Google receive huge sums for their advertising placement on the SERP and this is because the Adwords PPC option is the only sure way of getting top on Google – by paying more than anybody else. Google will suddenly add you to the top ranking if you pay them more than anyone else as long as your ad is relevant and abides by their terms and conditions. The top on Google spot will be highly contested though because it receives the majority of all clicks and so it is a little like buying expensive trainers. The second most expensive are only half the price! Typically in these situations a bidding war can start and that is good news for Google and bad news for the bidder. The outcome is that the top spot winds up belonging to the company that calculates how many deals they receive, how much profit they make from those deals, and how much it costs to maintain the top PPC slot. As a result no one makes that much profit from PPC in a competitive market except for Google.
So on to another important question:
What searches do you want to be top on Google for?
What keywords or phrases do you want to be contacted regarding?
Different people or companies want to be found for different terms, and different links and strategies achieve different results.
Under what circumstances do you wish to rank at the top on Google for?
Your own company trademark or brand? – You should be looking to control pretty much every mention of your brand on the web as it is your brand. Social networking is key in this regard as well as making partnerships with sites based on rating products such as you and your competition. This goal is fairly simple to achieve as Google will be keen to tell the truth – which you are the source of your own brand and/or company name.
Your service offering in your locality? – Well this is not so hard either depending on the competition. You will need to mention your offering and locality in the page title and close to the beginning of your paragraph copy on the home page and possibly a few backlinks from some local websites but this too can be achieved without bankruptcy or heartache.
Your service nationally? – This is obviously where things begin to get tricky. Once you remove locality from the equation you are quite simply looking to beat everyone within the UK on a selected popular search term. Our advice would be to either have the best product or advertise with comparison sites that allow you to have deep quality links back to your site with decent keywords. You will also need great content and a good blog with relevant and sensible posts. Last of all you will need someone to do regular and clever social networking to make sure that people are talking about your product as one of the market leaders. A competition or two on Facebook will do wonders if it is an end user product. A lot of good market advice on LinkedIn linked to articles on your website if not.
Your service worldwide? – Now this is where you will really need to work hard, especially in a competitive market. Your website will need to be engaging on a high level. A useful or fun function page that people will browse to and share on social networking or a business tool that brings traffic in because it saves or helps people make money. Have a look at what the winners in your sector are doing and see what is working. Let us do a quick check of one of the most fiercely competitive markets on the web: Insurance.
Now when we search for insurance on Google the top ranking sites are all pretty much of the same persuasion – they are price comparison sites. These companies make vast quantities of money because they have evolved as a website. In other words they are a product of search engines rather than a business that would exist without them. The reason they rank highest is that they are a shareable, easily used public tool that people will link to and boast about how much money they saved. No matter what the actual insurance companies do they will struggle to outrank the comparison sites because comparison sites make sure insurance companies compete on price. They also do something else, something that is only really possible because of the search engine. They are a portal to every insurance company on the market. They are like an agent who does not have to be paid by the web user because the insurance companies are forced to pay them in order to feature on the site as they have a monopoly on the web audience. Once the web user knows the cheapest price he can contact the relevant company and explain that he found the price on a comparison site and if the insurance company wants the business they must adhere to that price. This is a great example of a free tool that saves money and one that is so effective that when it comes to comparison sites, it is actually their product.
Anchor text links (anchor text, link text, link label or link title is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. The words contained in the anchor text are labels that are read by search engines to determine relevance and so can influence the ranking that the target page will receive.) are always important whether internal or external to your site. If you have good text on an anchor link from a popular and relevant website and it points to relevant content on your website then this is always going to help you climb the rankings.
The non-unique products you sell worldwide? – How do you go about getting above companies that sell pretty much everything and happen to sell what you sell? Well lower prices will always win through obviously because people will link to you to pass on their good fortune. But how do you keep lower prices than the biggest players? No you will need unique and quality content from a source that really knows the products. Useful information for buyers such as other applications for products or how to make them last or more efficient will always help. You will need links that pass PageRank (PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to estimate how relevant or popular a website is. More important websites are more likely to receive links from other websites, anchor text and trust i.e. ranking ability.) Trusted sites must be persuaded to link to your product page in order to help rank all of those products. The more pages on your site, the more PageRank you will need. To get PR you need incoming links and incoming links grow from useful, money-saving and exciting content.
If you have been in your market for a long period of time and have many historical backlinks from when various products were not as readily available then you will still see good rankings but Google are on the lookout for old links that are no longer relevant so you need to keep inspiring people to link to you now with the quality of your website. This is important as just a handful of links from one site can redirect ranking and trust to a newer site, or one link from one PR5 (PageRank 5 – Flippa.com for instance is a PR5 website) page can transfer enough PageRank to perk up an entire website without any other links of any kind. First you have to find a PR5 site and then you have to get them to add the quality links though.
Deciding where you want to rank wand what for how you are going to achieve this are core to any link building strategy when trying to improve rankings..
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Search engine optimisation is based upon editing pages to be as relevant as possible so that search engines determine those pages to be the most relevant. This will increase the PageRank and allow the site to be returned as relevant on the SERP for many different key-phrases in organic search engine results. Remember that getting to be top on Google is largely down to the reputation your website has and how relevant pages are to keyword queries sent to the search engines. Search engine optimisation companies can help you optimise your site pages for various keywords and key-phrases so that you will rank well on those search terms but your website reputation must be equal to the challenge.
Big brands for instance have good reputations and this is why brands rank top on Google. Reputation is partly based upon the number of quality web pages that link to your site as this is taken as showing respect within your vertical market. Very often relevant pages with the greatest number of quality links rank at the top of the Google organic listings SERP.
So the goal is to appear in as many Google services as possible which should give your business a greater opportunity to rank in as many relevant searches as possible. As an SEO provider a good ranking for how to be top on Google, Yahoo or Bing will bring us in more relevant prospects that we are likely to be able to convert to sales.
If you can rank at the top on Google for one or more of the Google services then you will receive traffic unless you are in such a niche market for keywords that no one ever searches for it!