We web designers and web site owners need to pay attention to what Google wants. And, Google wants what is best for us – high quality content and “good internet citizenship”. Local SEO and Internet Marketing expert, Rod Holmes of Chicago Style SEO, broke it down for a rapt audience at the October Chicago WebMaster MeetUp group.
Google is not the only search engine in town – but Google does have a 65% share of the market (despite Bing’s hip marketing efforts and placement on shows like Gossip Girl). To “google” (search) has crossed into our daily lexicon and Google’s uber secret search algorithms provide daily fodder for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts and reverse engineering efforts.
Your Web Site on Google
There are several different types of search results: local, organic (natural searches) and paid (AdWords). To perform well in any or all of these search results, the savvy internet marketer must concentrate their efforts on keyword* research. Google wants to make this easy for us so that we can perform well and succeed.
*What is this “keyword”? Keywords are descriptive words and phrases that we enter into a search engine to find information.
Trust Issues: the Long Tail and the Head (keyword)
One of the key factors in how well you do in searches is based on how much Google “trusts” your website. This trust has to be earned – just like in real life. One way to gain Google’s trust is to target the low-volume “long tail” keywords for your industry. You can use Google’s AdWords tools to do this. Low volume means low competition. Once you start to perform well in searches for those low volume keywords (by providing consistently high-quality and relevant content to users) Google will begin to trust you more. This trust will allow you to perform better in organic searches and you can begin to cast wider net for those more competitive “head” keywords.
So, who are you competing with? Walmart or a local boutique gift store across the street? Based on the way a user conducts a search and ultimately decides to purchase a good or service (the buying funnel), the long tail keyword is closer to the final purchase decision and can therefore be more effective for small, local businesses than the more general, popular head keywords.
Local Search Results: Fueled by Data
“AdWords do NOT influence organic search results.” – Rod Holmes
Google has another free tool for businesses – Google Places. Odds are if your business is listed in the phonebook or you have registered your business with the city or state you already have a listing in Google Places. Search for your business in Google and see if there is a listing (look for the red balloon “places” icon) – if there is, claim it! Bing/Local and Yahoo/Local also have these listing services. Make sure your information is current and that you control your listings. Complete all fields and encourage reviews. All of this data is fuel for search results. Don’t stop there – make this an ongoing project.
Reverse lookup your competitors by address and phone number to see where they think its important to be listed. Some obvious places to list your business might include your local Chamber of Commerce, professional directories, college alumni directories – you get the idea.
Reality Check: Ranking #1 on Google
That elusive promise of internet success, that chimera of popularity — Ranking #1 on Google — maybe isn’t the most realistic goal to set for your website. Search rankings are constantly changing and re-evaluted to better serve the end user. That’s right, the web is PEOPLE. And, how do you get people to like you? Can you buy high-quality friends with free iPads and candy? No. People have to get to know you a little bit and learn to trust you. Search algorithms are designed to mimic this behavior: to provide increasingly intuitive results based on the users preferences (clicks). If they didn’t – the search results wouldn’t be relevant (Can you image a world without Google?).
Companies can spend tens of thousands of dollars a month (and do) to achieve the top of Google Search results. Although paid results do not factor into natural ranking returns – earning and maintaining a page one ranking requires a constant investment of time and research involving writers, SEO experts and high-quality micro-sites.
As a small business, this may not be the best approach for you. However, you can still do well in natural search results and improve those results over time by making ongoing Search Engine Optimization efforts a regularly scheduled task.
Google has levels of trust. Your domain name is one level but each page of your website also has its own individual trust and ranking factor.
Important SEO Factors in Your Site Ranking:
- Trust/Authority of your host domain – keywords in your domain are good but don’t go crazy. Keep it concise – no more than 3 words – and don’t use hyphens. In the long run your content will be the determining factor in how well your site ranks.
- Link popularity of a specific page – who is linking to you and are they quality inbound links?
- Be a “Good Internet Citizen” – include outbound links to high-quality websites on your website and in blog articles. This provides the user with opportunities to find more information and makes your article a “resource”.
- When including links to other sites and your own content – don’t just cut and paste the URL. Use keywords in your link. Note: some frequency of “click here” or generic text is expected.
Help your web site grow!
Develop helpful content that other people want to share. Cultivate a readable, dynamic website and your audience will grow as will your Google “trust” factor. Make it easy to share and sign-up for your great content. Include simple share links on your website and in blog articles, burn your RSS feed using Google’s FeedBurner, and create a Facebook page for your business to share your articles and be sure to encourage feedback.
It will require an investment of time, energy and research to build the site that attracts your ideal users. But, like all good relationships the trust you build is reciprocal and exponential.
Chicago Style SEO – Need a professional? Free website SEO evaluation offered, SEO and Internet Marketing strategists.
“Chasing the Long Tail,” LeftClick Blog - a helpful intro to learning about long tail keywords
Better Business Bureau – The one paid listing that has some real benefits for your site. A worthwhile investment for many businesses – the BBB trustmark is instantly recognizable to users and this listing can help with local and organic searches.
SeoMoz.org – free resources and tools to monitor your onsite SEO
Google’s Webmaster SEO Help – Download the official Google SEO Starter Guide!
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s WebSpam team – a blog o’ resources