Getting your website to the top of search results on Google could transform your sales. But how do you get to that top spot? Michelle Symonds shares her expert tips for SEO success
How do you get your business to the number one spot on Google? It’s the million-dollar question, of course, and there is no simple, or single, answer. Achieving the top spot on Google will depend on how your website is built and what your competitors are doing - that’s before you even begin to think about search engine optimisation (SEO).
Even if you do everything right, your competitors could also be doing everything right, but doing it bigger and better and with a larger budget. That’s the bad news; fortunately, there is plenty of good news too.
It’s important to note that we’re talking about reaching the top of the organic search listings using SEO. Reaching the top spot of paid Google Ads - those search results that are labelled “sponsored” - is a different process.
SEO for small businesses
“One of the things I love about SEO is that small companies can compete successfully online with much larger firms in a way that would not be possible in the bricks-and-mortar world.”
Small companies can even reach new customers nationally or internationally even if they only have a single location. Given that SEO provides a great return on investment (ROI), it’s vital that every business runs an SEO campaign.
A fundamental part of every SEO campaign is understanding how your potential customers search online. Keyword research and analysis is an important first step. If you have not yet been through this process take a look first at my article on choosing keywords.
Otherwise, read on for a basic overview of how SEO works.
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What is SEO?
Search engine optimisation is the process used to make your website appear high up in the Google rankings. As with any form of marketing it is an ongoing process for a number of reasons:
- Search trends change over time;
- Your own products or services change over time;
- Google continually refines the algorithm that determines ranking positions.
Google’s algorithm is a set of rules that its computer programme uses to analyse web data and which decide which web pages appear at which position in the search listings.
The basics of SEO for Google
Google's aim is to find and deliver the best online content in response to any given search. So, an important element in achieving high rankings on Google is to focus on the user experience. Ultimately, people will decide if your website is worthy of its ranking position and Google measures this via various user engagement metrics.
You need to create web pages that are informative, descriptive, well-written, thought-provoking and relevant for your audience. Your web content needs to be better than the content on your competitors’ websites - both from a reader’s perspective but also from a search engine’s perspective.
Companies often fail to grasp the difference between the needs of readers and the needs of search engines. Content can look good and sound good but if competitors have additional - sometimes unseen - elements on their web pages that provide Google with more in-depth information then you will need to do the same in order to compete in the search rankings.
The quality of the backlinks to competitor sites will also have a significant impact on how well they rank. Link-building (sometimes referred to as off-site SEO) is a major part of the SEO process but let’s look first as some SEO basics on your web pages which can improve your Google ranking.
- Write a good page title and description . These elements usually appear in Google's search results, so they need to entice people to click. Google also shows the user's search term in bold, so be sure to incorporate your target keywords in the page title and description.
- Use eye-catching calls-to-action on the page to increase user engagement once they have clicked through to your website from the search listings.
- Use alternative text on all images that both accurately describes the image and also incorporate keywords when relevant.
- Make sure images are not too large as they will slow your pages down and affect user engagement. Roughly 600 x 400 pixels is large enough to avoid loss of resolution but small enough to be fast to load.
- Use formatting elements such as sub-headings, bullet points, tables and a table of contents to make the content more easily readable.
- Write content that uses the language people use when typing their search requests . It's no good having a page about “carbonated beverages” if everyone searches for “fizzy drinks”. Keyword research will help you zero in on the best terms to use on your pages.
Using off-site SEO to improve your search ranking
Another essential element in any successful SEO campaign is high-quality backlinks. This is a vital part of any SEO campaign but it takes time - don’t try to take a short-cut by using companies that offer mass link-building that will contribute nothing towards improving your website’s rankings.
A genuine link-building campaign will involve:
- Content research and creation;
- Outreach to digital publishing platforms;
- In-depth checks of digital publishing platforms for industry-standard metrics (such as Domain Rating) as well as visual inspection of websites;
- Placement and monitoring of backlinks;
- Ongoing monitoring of all backlinks and what value they add for SEO purposes.
Build links gradually and consistently
Link building should be a gradual, ongoing process that builds collaborative relationships as part of your digital marketing, traditional marketing and PR processes.
A way to gain some links yourself might be to offer to provide quotes to authors from digital publishing platforms in return for a brand mention (and a link). Or you could appear as a guest on podcasts related to your industry. Better still, host a podcast or video yourself with other industry professionals as guests and ask them to promote the end result. This can help you acquire links from a diverse range of websites.
However, links from the websites of local or national newspapers very rarely provide any SEO value. There are “behind-the-scenes” factors only visible in the HTML code of a web page that can impact whether links adds any SEO value. An SEO professional can provide more details.
Consider using schema markup data to tell Google more about your page content and business. For instance, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with the appropriate markup code are useful for both readers and search engines. If your competitors are already using the more common data markup such as FAQs then consider bespoke schema markup to gain an edge over the competition. An SEO professional can implement this for you.
Focus on quality, but consider quantity
Like people, Google prioritises quality content over quantity so it does not rank websites based on the number of pages they have. The Google algorithm will filter out poor quality information and pages with little useful content, as well as websites that contain duplicate content.
This helps smaller websites that may not have the resources to create hundreds of pages of content but that can deliver high quality, relevant and helpful information. Make sure your site contains information specific to what your business does. If you operate in a market niche, focus on authoritative content that demonstrates your expertise within that niche.
However, the number of words on a page can play a part in optimising a website, as long as it is useful, informative and well-written. One way to gain a competitive edge is to create longer pieces of content than your competitors - providing, of course, that it is high quality.
As with page content, Google values the quality of backlinks over the quantity, but the quantity will still have some impact. For example, a website with, say, 100 high quality links acquired over a single year may still struggle to compete with a website with 10,000 medium quality links acquired over several years, all else being equal. A good SEO campaign can overcome this sort of disadvantage by, for instance, focusing on elements such as content type, content length and schema data markup.
Focus on mobile performance
Much of the traffic on the web now comes from mobile devices so SEO and mobile usability are inextricably linked. The actual percentage varies depending on the industry but on average mobile traffic is now nearly 60% and can be much higher in some sectors. Google, not surprisingly, prioritises websites that display properly and quickly on small screens so businesses should make sure their websites are optimised for this ever-growing volume of search traffic. An essential part of that optimisation should focus on speed performance and user experience, and specifically on three Google metrics known as Core Web Vitals.
Three things to do right now to improve your SEO
Michelle specialises in Technical SEO but provides a range of other digital marketing services. Her strong IT and web expertise, gained developing software and websites for many years, is fundamental to devising her SEO strategies.