Search Engine Optimisers (SEO’s) know that search engines have a very complicated scientific algorithm that they use in order to determine which web pages will come up first on the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages). Google for instance, has over 250 different variables (each holding a different weight) that it uses to determine which pages should rank for certain search queries.
As an SEO Trainer, I often get asked what the Google Algorithm (Formula) is. While I would love to be able to say that I know exactly what that formula is, this is Google’s secret sauce which is why they have never published their secret recipe to ranking number one on Google. If they do, just imagine what their competitors (or web spammers) would do with that information.
So how do SEO Specialists know how to get websites to rank on Google’s first page? The answer is a simple one: Through years of experience and with much trial and error; by thoroughly researching trends that work and trends that don’t; and by following the best practice guidelines offered by other experienced Search Engine Specialists, as well as those guidelines published by the Search Engines themselves (more on that later).
With over 250+ variables, how can the average website owner, developer or marketer possibly know how to get their website to rank well on Google?
Here are 10 power tips to help the non-SEO Specialist improve its website’s rankings on Google:
- Audit your website
- Clean up your website
- Write a killer Title & Description
- Clean up your link profile
- Create a Content plan
- Integrate Social Sharing
- Market your content
- Become an authority
- Create a mobi-friendly website
- Localise your content
Let me explain each of these in more detail:
1. Audit your website
Conduct a thorough audit of your website to ensure that your website is remarkably better than your online competitors by offering your users the best experience online:
- If you want to rank for a particular search query, does your website contain enough information about that particular search term?
- Does your website offer more valuable content for this search term than your competitor’s websites?
- Is your website considered to be the authority website for that particular search term? Do you offer a better content mix (i.e. not just streams of text heavy pages, but a combination of text, video, images, PDF’s etc.) than your competitors do?
- Which pages on your website do visitors tend to like most and which pages seem to be redundant?
- How much time do visitors spend on your website and do they come back, or do you seem to attract a lot of visitors but none of them seem to stick around long enough to browse through your website or even convert into a customer?
These are just some of the important questions that you should be asking yourself. There are companies that can offer SEO Audit services should you not have the capacity to conduct this level of audit on your own.
2. Clean up your website
Make sure that the architecture of your website is clean and that both search engines and website visitors have a good experience on your website:
- Have you followed Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to make sure that Google can find, crawl and rank your website? Google offers design, content, technical and quality guidelines for webmaster to follow in order to improve the quality — and hopefully the rankings – of your website. This is about as close as you will get to Google’s ‘secret sauce’ recipe.
- Validate your website through W3C to ensure that your website’s code is both clean and accessible to all. W3C (the Worldwide Web Consortium) has published numerous web content accessibility guidelines to help website owners make their websites universally accessible. This means that Google identifies and prioritizes websites that are more easily accessible to those users who might be visually impaired and have to rely on-screen readers to read and use websites in the same way that other users do.
- Optimise your website’s on page HTML tags (e.g. Title Tag, Meta Description, Headings, images etc.) to ensure that they contain the search term that you wish to rank for, while carefully avoiding the tendency to over-optimise your website (i.e. don’t stuff or hide keywords or links all over your webpages to try to trick the search engines into thinking that your web-page is about that). Make sure that your usage of the keywords is informative, natural, relevant and unique to the web page’s content.
3. Write a killer title and description
When a user searches for something on Google, the list of results on the search engine (SERP) displays a Title, a short description and the URL (Uniform Resource Locator, aka Universal Resource Locator) for the page. One of the secret ingredients that Google uses to determine the relevance of a page is how many times people click on a particular page in the results. This is known as the Click Thru Rate (CTR).
If Google has chosen to rank your web page on the first page of its results, but nobody ever clicks on your listing, then Google will start to downgrade your listing. What gets people clicking?
The better your Title and Description (and displaying URL), the more likely users will to click on it:
- The title and description tags should be relevant to what users search for.
- To find out what users are searching for use Google’s Keyword Tool.
- Think of your title and description as a mini billboard for your web page. What would compel a user to pay attention to your billboard?
- Tell the user how they will benefit from clicking on your listing.
- Show them that you have the solution to their query by giving them a small teaser in the description of what’s to come if they visit your web page.
- Make sure that your title and description tags are unique to the page that the user will land on.
4. Clean up your link profile
Google has recently made a number of changes to its algorithm in order to downgrade the rankings of those websites who have participated in un-natural link building tactics such as buying links or participating in link farms. While having many links pointing to your web page can improve its rankings on Google, if those links appear to be un-natural then your web page can be penalised by having your rankings drop, or by being removed from Google index (meaning that your website won’t come up at all).
- Make sure that you only have real, natural and relevant websites linking to your web pages.
- Do not buy links for the purpose of trying to trick Google into thinking that your website is popular.
- Do not participate in link farms. (Link farms are networks of pages filled with links interlinking to other pages with not contextual relevant content).
- Ensure that the links your pages receive come from various sources such as blogs, pages, directory listings etc. (If you only have links from one particular type of source, it doesn’t seem natural).
- Try to get links from websites that are hosted in the same country as your website and where your target audience resides.
- When links point to your website, these backlinks should contain text in the link (known as anchor text) that is relevant to your web page. However, if all of the links pointing to your webpage are exactly the same (word-for-word) then this would appear un-natural. So make sure that some of the links are in fact only a partial match to the search term you want to rank for.
- Make sure that only thematically, contextually relevant clean websites link to your web pages.
- Ensure that your link profile grows naturally and gradually over time. If you suddenly have a huge spike in your backlink profile, then search engines might think that you have just purchased bulk links as opposed to having earned them naturally.
- Create a link building strategy to grow your link profile
There are a number tools available to analyse your link profile, however should you not have the capacity to do this on your own, or should you not be able to interpret the link data, then you can contact an SEO professional who can do the analysis for you. Most SEO’s understand the penalties and violations relating to link profiling and have extensive experience in this field and would be able to provide you with a lot of valuable information in this area. Be careful to stay clear of companies who offer bulk link building through buying links or participating in link farms.
6. Create a content plan
As Google starts to pay more attention to how users engage with your content, it is becoming increasingly important for websites to offer fresh rich content for their users. While in the past it was good enough to simply have a lot of content on your website (whether users engaged with it or not), the recent updates to the Google algorithm make it possible for Google to detect how users actually engage with your content. In other words, it is no longer good enough to have a shop filled with shoes if nobody ever walks through your shop, or bothers to tell anyone else about it.
How users engage with your content will make a difference to your rankings:
- When visitors land on your webpage, do they stay and browse your website further?
- Do they share your website’s content with their social networks?
- How much time do visitors spend browsing your website?
- Do users scroll further down on your pages to read your content?
- How many of your visitors print or download your website’s content?
These are just some of the signals that search engines can use to detect the quality of your content. In order to improve your content, you should put together a 12-month content plan which includes a mixture of content types relevant to the audience, tied back to the keyword research and seasonal trends for your search terms. Your content plan could include articles, blogs, FAQ’s, checklists, case studies and social feeds, to mention a few.
Google Analytics provides valuable data to help you better understand the type of content that your visitors enjoy most. If you are not familiar with Google Analytics, or do not know how to interpret the data then you might want to consider contacting a Web Analytics or SEO professional to assist you. Once you understand the data, you can put together your content plan. A number of SEO companies offer Content Audit, Planning, Engineering and Marketing services should you not have the capacity to manage this on your own.
7. Integrate social sharing
As social signals are becoming more important, ensure that you have made it easy for your website visitors to share your content with their social networks.
- Include social sharing buttons on your article, blog and products or services pages to encourage your visitors to share.
- If your target audience is present on a particular social network, then you need to have an active, entertaining and engaging presence on that network.
- Share your most relevant content from your website onto your company’s social networking platforms (e.g. Google+ Page, Facebook Page, Twitter Account etc.)
- To include social sharing buttons on your web pages you can sign up for your own unique account on AddThis. You will get some code to copy and paste onto your website to publish your selected
- social sharing buttons. AddThis also provides valuable sharing data.
Experts recommend updating your social profiles at least once a day. This is sometimes difficult to do when you are focused on other more important tasks. There are a number of tools that can help you schedule and automate your social posts such as Hootsuite, which allows you to manage and monitor your profiles on the various social networks.
As with your content plan, should you put together a social media implementation plan which ties back to your content plan. By integrating your social plan with your content plan, you will be able to market your content to your target audience more effectively.
8. Market your content
Once you have created your content and have published it on your website, you need to tell your target audience about it. If they don’t know your content exists, they won’t find it. If they can’t find your content, they will be unable to share it with others. The more people share your content, the more likely you are to attract more natural, quality backlinks to your website.
- Try to load at least one new piece of content to your website each month. (The more content you create, the quicker you build up your authority in a particular category).
- By creating content that people like to share or engage with, the more your ranking will improve.
- Create a knowledge center on your website which includes helpful instructional guides, checklists or video’s, white papers, case studies, tools, FAQ’s etc. and then tell your customers and relevant media about your resource library.
- The more content you have about a particular topic, the more of an industry expert (or category authority) your website will become.
- Share your content via your own blog or on other related blogs through guest blogging.
- Share a link to your content via your company’s social networking platforms.
- Market your content directly to other industry related websites, blogs and article directories.
- Create an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for your content so that visitors can subscribe to receive updates on your latest content.
9. Become an authority
A trending ranking factor that Google is starting to pay more attending to is the Google AuthorRank. AuthorRank is a ranking factor given to individual authors of website content (such as Blog contributions, articles etc.).
- By tagging your content with your unique author tag, you are able to attribute your content to a specific author (e.g. The MD or spokesperson at your company) in order to build up their profile as an authority in your category.
- Set up a Google+ profile for the company’s author and link your website’s content (e.g. blog posts) to the author in the profile settings.
- Add the author’s unique Google+ profile number to all content posted by this author on your website.
- Ensure that your unique author tag is also added to content posted on other websites such as guest blogging.
- The more contributions an author makes, the more of an authority the contributor becomes.
- Encourage users to share the author’s content to help improve the authority ranking of the author.
9. Create a mobi-friendly website
In emerging markets most search queries are done from a mobile device over the weekend. It is also suggested that 50% of people are engaging through their social networks (such as Facebook) from a mobile device.
A study by World Wide Worx in May this year showed, for instance that at least 7.9-million South Africans accessed the Internet via their cellphones as they start to embrace digital tools on their mobile phones. Other research has shown that more and more mobile users are migrating to websites that have been specifically designed for their mobile devices, and the growth of mobile website (aka Mobisites) seems to be larger than the growth of desktop sites in South Africa.
According the DMMA (Digital Media Marketing Association of South Africa), the 10 largest mobile websites in that country served 79-million page views in July 2012, again illustrating the popularity of accessing the internet via mobile devices.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when creating your mobile website:
Create a unique version of content specifically designed for the mobisite – don’t just resize your desktop site to mobi screens as users browse differently on mobile than they do on desktop.
Only add the most relevant and useful content to your mobile site. Users don’t usually read on mobi sites, they are seeking out information fast and, in most cases are ready to buy when searching for information via mobile.
Keep the navigation simple and don’t make the user scroll too far to find your most important content. Put the most important information in their first view of the site (i.e. above the ‘fold’ so that they can see it first without having to scroll down).
Make the action process simple. Don’t expect the user to fill out pages of information to get what they want. The simpler the process, the better – so only ask for the information that is absolutely necessary for the action to take place. (You can always get more data from them once you have established a relationship with them).
10. Localise your content
According to several studies approximately 40% of all searches on the internet are done with local intent. This means that a user has typed in a search query on a search engine, but has added a local modifier. A local modifier indicates the user’s intent to find information within a geographically restricted area. For instance, by typing in a town or city name, a postal code or a telephone code as part of the search query, they are expressing their need to find information specific to that particular location.
If your business is location-specific (e.g. a hair salon, restaurant, guest house, real estate agent etc.) then you want to ensure that you are attracting only the most relevant people to your website who is looking for your business within their area. In order to come up in those types of search queries, you need to optimise your website for the specific location. Here are some pointers on how to improve your rankings for local search:
- List your business on Google Places. When a user searches with a local modifier, Google shows results on Google Maps at the top of the search results page.
- Embed your Google Maps on your websites contact page.
- Include your full address on the contact page.
- Include the directions to your business in text on the contact page, making sure to use the relevant street names (including popular intersections), suburb, town, city, region and country.
- Make sure to use the location of your business in your website’s copy, such as including your suburb in the about us description.
- Include the location in your HTML tags (e.g. Title and description) to help add local relevance.
- Make the location bold (or if you know how to do a [<]strong[>] tag, even better) so that it stands out for both the user and the search engines.
- List your business in other local business directories.
There are so many other on and off-site SEO factors that can be improved to help your business rank well – and stay there – on Google. These are just some of the most important steps that you can take as a business as you move into 2013 to help your business improve its search engine rankings and of course, search user experience.