Getting Your Business On Google
There is a question that comes up time and time again when speaking to potential clients, as well as when teaching web design students at Kendal College.
"How do I get my business on the front page of Google?"
Now, there's no such thing as a silly question - that's what I always tell students at the web design course at Kendal College - and it's true, we can't all possibly know the answers to everything. But it is surprising how many times we get asked questions around the subject of search engine rankings, how to get to the top of Google and cost, in particular whether search rankings are influenced by cash. If you're a newcomer to the world of SEO then you may well be asking the same question. And the short answer is 'no', but there are some slight exceptions.
There are many tools in the quest to become the No.1 ranking website on Google - or any other search engine's results page - for your chosen field. Here we'll take a look at some of the major influencers in search engine optimisation (SEO) and how you can make the most of them and what (not) to spend money on.
Google Adwords (or Pay-Per-Click - PPC)
Google's vast wealth stems from its ability to monetise the connection between supply and demand through paid advertising in the form of Google Adwords, it's pay-per-click advertising application that allows users to set up ad campaigns triggered by keywords. Unsurprisingly Google make it extremely easy for users to set up an Adwords account, set a budget and start advertising. As dubious as this may sound to some, managed effectively - and often - Adwords can actually prove useful to businesses who otherwise would struggle to have their organic results appear high up enough in the search results pages to get noticed.
Shown in the below image in orange boxes these ads are ranked by two factors: relevancy (quality) and bid (measured by cost-per-click - CPC). The higher the relevancy of an ad to a search phrase, and the higher the bid, the more likely it will be to show up. Notice that these 'sponsored ads' - as they're otherwise known - are accompanied by small yellow 'Ads' labels in order to differentiate them from organic search results. Heaps of studies have shown that these paid ads are not as trusted as their organic siblings, mainly due to the fact they've got to the top of the pile by buying their way, rather than earning it, but that aside they do attract huge, huge amounts of traffic and if an ad isn't clicked on then it doesn't cost anything!
Until relatively recently Google Shopping was a free service whereby users could submit a feed of products (images, URLs, prices, stock quantities, details etc.) for inclusion in the Google Shopping channel displayed at the top of all search results pages. Google Shopping allows searchers to browse and compare products whilst still on the Google results pages, rather than by visiting the product's page directly at the supplier's domain. Results can be ordered by relevance, price (low to high and high to low) and review score.
Google combined their Shopping channel with Adwords recently in order to monetise this great feature (thanks Google!), so that all Shopping feeds now have to have a PPC budget assigned to them.
The blue box in image 2, below, highlights the Shopping results as part of the results page on a traditional search page. These results are decided by the relevancy and quality of the sellers' ads (as dictated via the product feed in Google Merchant Centre - the platform which controls product data feeds).
Shown in the yellow box on image 2, below, Google Image results can offer businesses yet another channel for marketing their goods. Google Images is part of the main search navigation at the top of any Google search screen - alongside Web, Shopping and several others - but also from time to time displays results in the main body of the search results page.
To qualify for display in Google Image results an image's attributes must match a search term - much like in traditional organic search. These attributes comprise meta data, such as the image's filename and Alt text, as well as any related text, such as titles and captions.
Image search doesn't generate a major source of 'ready to buy' traffic to a site, but can give a site the edge over that of its competitors in search rankings as well as throw up the odd useful way in to a site through another means of searching.
A Brief Introduction To Image Search
Using the below image of a dog in boots as an example, here are the important factors for ranking in image search.
- Alt text = The HTML attribute which defines an image's content in its absence i.e. if an image cannot be displayed due to user preferences or bandwidth limitations. Example, 'A grey dog wearing black wellington boots'.
- Filename = The title of the physical file (.jpg, .png etc.). Filenames should be constructive and relevant, rather than automated, for example: 'doginboots.jpg', rather than '123456.img'.
Organic Search Rankings
Probably the most important but least understood method of improving a site's search engine exposure is through the improvement of its organic appeal. Highlighted by the green boxes in the example, above, organic search refers to those listings that are shown due to their credibility and content, rather than through paying to be displayed.
There are many, many factors which influence organic search rankings and we could fill several hundred blog posts with details of them. For now, however, here is a non-definitive list of the major factors that should be considered and implemented. Below you will find factors relating to both on-site (things you can do to your site) and off-site (things that others can do to help your site from another site) SEO.
Organic SEO Ranking Factors
- Meta Title tag = The title shown in the web browser's tab and on search engine results pages (SERPs)
- Meta Description tag = A description of the page's content shown on SERPs (not necessarily a ranking factor but important nonetheless)
- Content = On page copy. Should be relevant, newsworthy, of good quality, engaging, 'shareable'.
- Formatting = Standardised hierarchical structure using header tags (<h1>, <h2> etc.), body text, paragraphs, lists (<li>), emphasis, bold and italic text (<em>, <b>, <i> etc.)
- Images = As above, should be tagged with the Alt attribute and have logical file names.
- Videos = Any form of engaging content such as videos can be used to bring interest and variety to a page, keeping visitors engaged for longer.
- Structure = A well structured website will ensure easy navigation for users as well as for search bots wanting to crawl your site. Like a house - if you get the foundations right then it's easier to develop in the long-term.
- Internal linking = links between pages within your website's domain. These improve user experience, add anchor text and help bots to crawl across to new pages they might not otherwise have had access to via the main navigation.
- External linking = Also known as backlinks. A well formed link back to your site can be worth hours or days of on-site SEO. Wherever possible you should seek links from relevant, trusted, authority websites, preferably with a HTML attribute in order to pass on link equity (also known as trust rank).
Google Webmaster Tools
One of the key routes to having Google view, crawl and index your site is to sign up to Google Webmaster Tools. GWT is a portal into Google which allows users to submit information about their site such as domain and subdomain names, the frequency of site updates, and - perhaps most importantly - the location of all of the site's pages in an .xml Sitemap. It is the humble Sitemap which helps Google bots to discover and crawl pages across a site; giving them a far greater chance of being indexed and displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs).
GWT also provides feedback on site health, highlighting crawl errors - such as 404s - and server issues, and can also be used to gain information on search traffic, keywords and search terms. If you have a Google Analytics account then the two can be linked to provide even more detailed data!
It's worth noting that Microsoft's search engine, Bing, also provides a Webmaster portal.
Google My Business
Like the Artist Formerly Known As Prince Google My Business has been through quite a few name changes. Google Places, Google Places for Business, Google My Business - where next? Equally baffling is the way that the platform has been chopped and changed over the last 18 months, particularly in its splicing together with that old curate's egg, Google Plus. More on that later.
Google My Business (wait, just checking, no, yes - it's still called that) is a FREE, relatively easy and quick way of getting your business on the (Google) map. Set up is done by searching for and then claiming your business online, with options to take ownership of an un-claimed listing or request ownership of an existing one. In order to claim the listing you'll need to verify the business address via a Google postcard to your door which includes a PIN for you to enter online - neat, huh?
Once verified as the owner of your businesses physical digital presence you'll be able to customise the listing by adding things such as photographs, information, links, opening times, business sector and more. It's certainly worth verifying your domain through the settings dashboard in order to link your account with your website.
The major benefits of Google My Business are that it is a free way of promoting your business to locally targeted searchers. If a searcher is looking for your business type in the locality of your business then you are far more likely to appear on page 1 of Google if you have a My Business listing. Reviews are also a huge indicator of trust in the world of search engines and My Business allows independently moderated reviews to be posted about your business. Add to this that Google will potentially give you a lovely, glossy image with details and a link alongside the organic listings makes this a no-brainer!
Google Plus (g+)
Google's answer to social media isn't purely a platform for sharing photos of your lunch on. g+ is now a place for your public Google profile and a means of imparting and sharing rich content and information with the wider world. MOZ even reported recently that +1s (the g+ equivalent of a Facebook 'Like') and shares create 'follow' links and can therefore improve organic SEO. If true then this is certainly worth investing some time in.
Despite its usefulness and importance, it doesn't seem to have taken off with users quite in the same way as Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps due to its baffling - if clever - navigation and 'circles' feature.
g+ now offer a profile to new users signing up to their My Business service, which is confusing given that they may have already had one. At the time of writing there is no way of linking an existing g+ account with a new My Business profile, though there are hacks/fixes for linking and transferring data between accounts.
Google Apps (and a few others)
While not directly related to SEO themselves, Google Apps such as Sheets, Drive, Gmail and Calendar etc. provide a great way to manage your SEO workflow. In the quest to 'work smart' and make things work for you - rather than you for them - online storage and collaborative documents are a must.
Add to this the fantastic Evernote for storing, well, anything, and the life-saving, time-saving, sanity-maintaining 1Password for remembering all of your myriad passwords for social media, apps, accounts etc.
What Next For Your Website?
It's worth noting that while this post focuses primarily on Google as a (the?) search engine, other services are available and it's worth keeping abreast of changes to these services and SEO as a whole. It moves pretty quickly!