Helpful Tips to Grow Your Website Search Engine Ranking

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.

improving your website search ranking

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.

understanding the difference between branded and unbranded search

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.

check your websites health by running an audit

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.

There are tons of other, more technical measures, that can be performed to speed up your website as well. If you’re working with WordPress, there are plugins that make things like javascript, html and css minification a snap. Likewise, some plugins allow you to leverage browser caching and your hosting provider might be connected to a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

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.

4. Backlinks
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.

Wrap Up

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.

J.C. Biagi is a partner with Wonderboy Creative and has a passion for family, faith, the Outdoors and SEO. Drop him a line at: [email protected]

Marketing in a Small Town… Like Walla Walla

Small-Town Marketing

Marketing in a small town presents challenges.

Marketing in general has shifted dramatically over the past two decades from one of valuing things like “impressions” and “visits” to zeroing in on more tangible and scrutinizing metrics like “conversions.”

Antiquated media like banner signage, newspaper, magazine and radio ads seem to have a stronger staying power in smaller communities, but they all rely on the former.

Marketing in a small town is thought to lag behind large metropolitan areas because of demand and competition.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is bad (in fact, we produce a lot of these) – I am saying that its efficacy is difficult to measure; you don’t always know how well it works.

It’s difficult because your clerk, front office attendant, or secretary has more important things on their mind than the radio ad you ran this week.

And the only way for them to figure out where the customer came from is to ask.

There are certainly ways to gather some data (like call analytics) through these advertising channels, but it’ll never be complete.

This is because we can’t review the activity and behavior of people who almost purchased, called or brought in the coupon.

All of these things are measurable if you advertise through digital channels.

I would guess that a lot of local advertisers participate in “old-school” advertising for a few reasons.

Tradition: We’ve always advertised this way – think of the local ads you hear on the radio… do you even listen to the radio??

Competition: Our competitors’ ads are present on these channels/mediums – this is actually super common in the wine industry. Just look at the sheer number of wineries advertising in the latest local wine publication.

Effectiveness: While it’s difficult to call “empirical,” being able to say “our sales increase when we run print ads” is a wonderful thing.

Can you think of more?? Drop us a line at [email protected]

With the continuation of traditional advertising, the utilization of digital marketing efforts naturally takes longer to materialize in small communities.

Obviously, local businesses in places like Walla Walla have limited marketing resources.

So What’s the Big Deal?

Larger corporations understand this conundrum for small businesses, and they exploit it.

They deploy marketing in a small town the same way they do so in a big city; Targeted, conversion-oriented and efficient.

In industries that don’t require specific locality, they’re able to poach prospects, leads and ultimately customers who are looking online for things you sell.

Small-town customers are simply part of a larger cohort that they use to analyze and entice.

Take for example a very specific and common online Google search for ‘tires walla walla.’ The above-the-fold results display ads from massive national companies but none of the local guys.

Walla Walla digital advertising on google ppc

The ads above those are big companies too.

Why is this important?

Because somewhere between 50-90{b497a24d07ddde503a8e20c28adddb355e76b486645aa7e354353fdb0a2d3437} of clicks on search engine result pages happen in the top three positions.

Some of the local tire shops even sell one of the brands listed here. Instead of supporting their Walla Walla wholesale account, they’re trying to sell over local companies.

But hey, if the local companies fail to advertise where the national chains do not, it’s fair game, right?

We could go on-and-on, finding examples in a lot of different industries.

Google search your industry and see what the results look like.

There was a somewhat recent study that Inc magazine published demonstrating trends of today’s consumer shopping behavior.

The focus was mostly consumer packaged goods (CPGs) where the US is one of the final frontiers where most people prefer shopping offline (though that was only 52{b497a24d07ddde503a8e20c28adddb355e76b486645aa7e354353fdb0a2d3437}).

I’d love to say this is alarming, but it seems right in line with what we’ve witnessed over the years in many industries.

People, especially our younger generation of consumers, are finding the convenience of shopping online appealing.

Advertising online to millennials is increasingly important

You already know this.

What is alarming, is when we begin to look at the depth of research that a consumer engages in prior to a purchase.

According to iResearch, about 80{b497a24d07ddde503a8e20c28adddb355e76b486645aa7e354353fdb0a2d3437} of consumers are likely to visit a local store that is selling something that they find online.

This, rather than just purchase the same item online.

According to, about 88{b497a24d07ddde503a8e20c28adddb355e76b486645aa7e354353fdb0a2d3437} of consumers research products prior to buying them, either on or offline.

So… what can we gather from all of this?

1. Being available online, as a company, is important

Walla Walla Website
Having a website that functions is a good first step. Also, your Facebook page does not count as your “website.”

2. Your website should be visible to search engines

SEO Walla Walla
(SEO) is NOT dead despite what your friends think.

I would go as far to say, unless Google can figure out a way to objectively rank the zillion pages online by hand, it will always exist.

Methods for improving rankings has certainly changed over the past twenty years, but opportunities await – ESPECIALLY in small communities. Your customers should be able to find your website using common search terms – not just your company name.

If they already know your company, theres a good chance you’re advertising to an existing customer.

3. Allocating some ad dollars to digital marketing is increasingly important

It doesn’t mean that you should dump all your advertising dollars in Google PPC, but certainly figure out the most effective way to attract customers to your business online.

This could be Facebook, Google Display Network, Instagram or any other.

4. Figure out your content marketing strategy

Like we just mentioned, people research and need reliable information to read.

If you just list your services or miss opportunities to show off products you will find difficulty finding consumer trust. Make it informational; something people would find interesting and would want to share.

5. Continue investing in what works

But be objective… There are lots of tools that could offer insights into your business, your customer demographics, and industry.

Keep a close watch on this stuff and see if there are things you can do to put your great products, rather than your name or brand in front of customers.

6. Invest in Analytics

Walla Walla analytics company
If you haven’t installed analytics or don’t utilize call analytics software, find something. The important thing is knowing where your customers come from so you can do more of it.

Rather than looking at the sheer cost of something, maybe evaluate how cost effective it is.

Maybe something costs you more in the short-term, but has a high upside and opens you up to sales in places like Tri-Cities, where billboards and radio ads could put you out of business.

If you have a small town business with some level of scalability, or if you don’t feel you’ve reached your customer threshold, so to speak, the future is in digital marketing.

J.C. Biagi is a partner with Wonderboy Creative and has a passion for family, faith, the Outdoors and SEO. Drop him a line at: [email protected]