We’ve been having this discussion more and more recently with clients and friends as they tune-in to terms like “SEO” and “search ranking.”
‘Content Marketing’ is also a term that comes up, though I think a lot of different people mean a lot of different things when they say it.
We’ve also listened to others who have heard SEO is dead, as though there are other non-objective forces that determine a website’s ranking for certain keywords on Google.
Today, I’d like to touch on a few ways to improve search ranking. They’re simple, effective, and most importantly they’re sustainable.
In other words, it’s hard to imagine search engines completely abandoning these principles anytime soon – because they’re practical.
What is the Purpose of a Search Engine
Before getting too far down the road, let’s talk about a search engine’s basic premise:
A search engine’s fundamental purpose is to connect its users with the most relevant web resources that it has indexed.
For you as the website owner, there are a couple of quick takeaways…
1. Your website needs to be indexed – in short, you have to submit an xml sitemap through Google Search Console and make sure your site is set to be indexed. This function varies on different CMS’s.
2. Your website should contain relevant information (content, video, etc) for your audience. It helps to know who those people are, what they might be interested in, and what they’re searching for when you’re building your website content.
Right out of the gate there are a couple really clear keys – if you haven’t yet taken care of these two points above, start with that – input relevant info on your website, then make sure to submit it to search console.
I might also say, I am seeing web development companies who are still selling “responsive websites” – this is an automatic today. If you were sold a website that doesn’t render on your smart phone, demand that it does or get your money back.
Assuming all of the above components are in place, we can begin discussing things that will gradually move you up search rankings.
Understanding Unbranded v. Branded Search
Before diving in, it’s important to understand, we’re mostly focusing on ‘unbranded search,’ meaning we’re trying to rank for search terms that are beyond the use of a company’s name.
For example, we just completed a website for Walla Walla Fit Connect– Ashley wanted a website that could help her small-business grow.
So, people who know her and her brand, “Walla Walla Fit Connect,” could type that into a search engine and her website will begin in short order, to rank for those basic terms related to her company name, with a few variants.
But, if someone is looking to grow their online presence, doesn’t it make sense to drive traffic that ISN’T related to their brand?
So for Ashley and Fit Connect, it makes sense to rank for terms that are more broadly related to fitness, but localized to the area her business serves.
Think “fitness walla walla” or perhaps “fitness classes walla walla.”
And because she focuses on mothers with small children, there might be some terms that are searched for related to things like, “fitness classes for moms.”
These are examples of unbranded search.
There is a misconception that Google just automatically and magically elevates your website to the top.
In some cases, website owners view the task of climbing the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ladder as an impossible one, or one that takes tons of time and money.
Sometimes this is the case, other times it is not – it all depends on how competitive the search term is which requires some tools to analyze.
In most cases, if you are marketing in small towns like Walla Walla, you might find the lack of competition allows you to climb rankings faster.
If you are trying to scale a large business on a national level, with lots of competition, you will need greater resources.
How to Rank Higher on Google and Other Search Engines
1. Structure your Website Properly
Search engines send ‘bots’ out daily to crawl websites. Their sole job is to navigate through the databases and files on a site for the information store there. The bots use the structure of your site to decide where to go next.
This means that your website should have a clear structure and be interconnected with logical navigation. In other words, your menu should link to the primary pages of your site and each page of your website should be linked from somewhere, be it the footer or within the content of your pages.
The absence of this navigation creates what are called orphan pages. Google and other search engines like to see that users can navigate through your site with ease, in a manner that makes sense.
In addition to navigation, your site should be set up in a hierarchical fashion. Each page should contain proper titles and page structure – each page should have a title and that title is most often reflected in your ‘H1 Tag.’
Sub topics of each page should be wrapped in h2’s and h3’s, depending on how you are trying to categorize info on your page.
You should also make sure there are no 400 errors on your site, and each page that should exist actually does. Where you have made changes to urls, your site should utilize 300 redirects to point to the new url.
If you aren’t sure on how your site stacks up, run an audit, then simply fix the problems cited in the report.
2. Speed, Speed, Speed
Google has long-indicated that page speed will play a role in its ranking algorithm. This means that site owners should heed their advice. The absolute best thing a company can do to help this cause is to make sure images are compressed.
It can be done a number of ways, but we recommend the old fashioned methodical approach of sending each one through Photoshop and then ‘Save For Web.’
This allows you some flexibility with each image but most importantly, will allow you to shrink the size, thus loading speed, of your website’s pages.
For now, get your images compressed for a quick speed boost, then look into some of the other measures that will impress search engines, but most importantly will provide a solid user experience for people visiting your website.
3. Write with Google in mind
So maybe you don’t actually write for Google, but you for sure should edit for the tech-giant.
See, there are certain things that users are looking for when they search online. The only way for Google to connect them to a site is through its words – its content.
Using the Fitness Walla Walla example above:
Fit connect needs people, specifically moms, who are interested in fitness.
Say moms are using search engines to find places to work out, specifically for moms and babies.
Search terms might sometimes include fitness classes for moms, but the volume is so low that you’d want to build a more broad topic that encompasses that term.
It turns out that walla walla fitness centers has about 20 people per month who search for it, and a whole slew of other terms that are related to fitness. Probably all-told, there’s about 100 relevant, non-brand searches per month.
Fit Connect, in order to rank for those terms, simply needs to build content around those topics; specifically those keywords and key phrases that people are looking for.
Easily the single most important factor in building your search ranking online is related to your website’s authority.
There are a number of tools out there that classify each website’s comparative authority, but the gist is – you need to have a website that is more authoritative than your competitors.
The only way to do this is to get what are called ‘backlinks’ from other websites.
And you guessed it, the higher those website’s authority, the more “juice” they provide your website when they link to it.
Those important links are like the other site giving your website a vote of confidence for subject matter.
If you operate a wine website and have a really terrific Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Seattle Times writes about it, then links to your cabernet sauvignon webpage, Google sees this as a specific vote for “Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Theoretically, if all else is well established, this will give your website and section on Cab Sauv a boost.
I don’t want to oversimplify, but build links like this over and over and over again, (intentionally) and you have a recipe for growing a very authoritative website related to wine.
One of the issues I find most common throughout our discussions with clients is that people don’t actually know what it takes to rank higher on search engines. Most know that it’s important and want to give it a go, but aren’t sure where to start.
While the list we’ve compiled above is by no means comprehensive, they’re a great place to start. Little tweaks and adjustments and a little effort and your website will rank higher.
If you rank for the right terms related to your business and what you sell, your chances of changing your bottom line improve – and that is what we’re all after.