For years Google has dominated the internet and more or less held a monopoly on consumer searches. Not only used as a noun, but also a verb. Nobody ever says, “Yahoo those song lyrics.” However, with rapid changes in social media and new trends in online consumer behavior, webmasters face difficult challenges when it comes to SEO. Especially lately with Google’s new “Mobilegeddon” launching, which basically rewards websites with a mobile friendly version and punishes those who do not when it comes to localized searched. One of the first questions a website client usually asks is:
“How can my business be found on Google?”
While this answer can be complex, there are a few simple things you can do to drastically increase your search engine visibility.
The first thing you need to know is search engine optimization affects only organic search results, not paid or “sponsored” results such as Google AdWords. Usually when you put in a search query (a phrase in the long white box) you will see two website recommendations appear at the top with little golden “ad” box tagged before the title.. Those are sponsored websites. To the right of the searches, 7 or 8 smaller blocks of text appear vertically… these are ads. The only way to get your website in these spots is to purchase ad space from Google.
Now, I’m not going to tell you how to craft your website to be Google friendly just yet. You’ll have to check out my next post for that. Instead, I’m going to tell you the scrappy way to get found on Google. No coding involved.
The first step would be to sign up for Google’s FREE Webmaster Tools so you can track your success. Or, if you’re a WordPress user, install the plugin, Jetpack. It’s great and will save you a ton of time.
So, what’s next?
Have a Social Media Presence
Even though Google’s Matt Cutts specifically stated in 2010 that social media does not affect Google’s ranking, many marketers believe this is a cover-up and that social media does in fact play a heavy part in search engine ranking. Links to original content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. help the search engines understand which websites are credible and should be ranked for what keyword phrases.
In an interview in 2010 by Danny Sullivan, Both Google and Bing admitted (at one point or another) that their algorithms DO incorporate the number of times a link has been tweeted or shared into their search algorithm, as well as the popularity and “street cred” that particular account may have.
We take into consideration how often a link has been tweeted or retweeted, as well as the authority of the Twitter users that shared the link. We also look at the social authority of a user including how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results. -Bing
A later interview with Cutts is crystal-clear at the fact that Google’s algorithms DO NOT include social signals. However, Googlebots do crawl social media websites for content the same way it would any other website. So, while the “authority” of a social media account doesn’t necessarily impact search rank, links published on social media are more than likely marked as credible back-links… therefore, influencing a page’s rank.
Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results. -Google
And, if that isn’t enough reason to heavily use social media cohesively with your website, social media are often higher ranked for keywords due to their massive inventory and data. This also allows your brand to take up as many spots on the first page as possible without your competitors creeping in there.
Matters of fact, if you have a Google+ page (which I HIGHLY encourage that you do), the more reviews and “+1’s” you have along with your completed profile, the more information you will have appear in the search due to Google featuring your company’s Google+ information in the right hand sidebar. You don’t have to be super active on Google+, but I definitely encourage a few posts here and there, as well as several great reviews by your customers/clients. This will really help your page ranking.
Takeaway: There’s no doubt that social media matters when it comes to search engines and people who are looking for you online. A couple active social media channels can make a world of difference in consumers getting to know your brand. Also, while some people consider Google+ the red-headed step child of social media, you shouldn’t discount the fact that a company’s Google+ profile is one of the first things a searcher will see on Google. Therefore, it pays to have a profile with completed and up-to-date info with content that will direct a potential client back to your website.
Have a Site Map
First thing’s first… what is a site map? In simple terms, a Sitemap is an XML file that is full of your individual webpage’s URLs. It’s like an archive of every webpage in your website. A sitemap is usually used for the purpose of letting the search engine crawlers follow the links to all your individual webpages so that it won’t miss out on anything.
A sitemap is pretty easy to create. For WordPress users, you can download the Google XML Sitemaps plugin to make it easier for you. This plugin helps you generate an XML sitemap without having to do anything but activating it. After the plugin has generated your Sitemap, you can find the Sitemap at an address like this: http://YourURL/sitemap.xml
For those who are not using WordPress, you can use this online XML-Sitemaps generator tool. It’s pretty easy and they provide a step-by-step approach for you to implement your own sitemap in your website.
So, why have a sitemap? Well, search engines don’t always know when new content is published, so, having a sitemap helps with this process. The more pages that they index from you (which in Google’s eyes… more pages = more content and information), the more trust your site gains. Having a sitemap ensures that search engine spiders crawl all the stuff they need to crawl from your website. It won’t greatly boost your on-site SEO, but it would definitely help.
Create Google Local Business Pages
If you’re a local business, you definitely want to capture as much local traffic as possible. Local businesses can usually find a place in Googl’s search results by registering or claiming their business on Google Places For Business and Google+ Local. But why do this and how will it help?
Getting your website to appear in the first few pages of Google is determined by how well you optimize some key Google elements in areas that are known factors for local search ranking:
Google+ Local & Places Profile Completion
Your Google Places Profile should contain up-to-date contact information, physical address information, operation hours and a few photos that represent your business. You need to make sure that your name, address, and phone number is consistent among all of your Google owned pages (places, business, maps, plus, etc.). Another way to ensure consistency and to add authority to your brand is to pick accurate business categories. This will affect your local ranking based on your competition in the area for each category you select. Another helpful tip for standing out against your competitor is to use a product/service based keyword in your business title as well as a location. For instance, “Angela Stewart DeLorme, P.C.” wouldn’t be a great title, but “Blue Ridge Attorney at Law – Angela Stewart DeLorme” would.
Another factor that Google considers when ranking youor authority is your number of reviews. if you have a high number of reviews, you will be preferred to Google over your competition if they have less reviews and a less overall ranking. You can get reviews by simply asking your clients, friends, and family to go to your Google+ page and giving your posts a +1, as well as write a short review. Oh, and don’t forget to verify your Google page! If you don’t verify your page, Google doesn’t consider it a viable source.
And if you don’t have a Google+ page yet, you better get one… and quick! The longer you have the page, the better it looks to Google.
- Make sure that when you go to Google Maps and type in your address, your business name comes up. If not, you need to “add a local business” and claim your address. This will most benefit you when it comes to local searches.
Great Landing Page
Having all of this Google and Social Media stuff is great and all, BUT once they click off these sites and are directed back to your site, you need to make sure your actual website is up to par. These tips can ensure that Google sees your site as a valuable resource and makes sure that your wonderful site gets found:
- Make sure your website doesn’t have a slow load time.
- Using an older domain… or if you have a new business, stick with one domain and don’t let it go or alter it through the years.
- Ask your clients to put a link on their website that points back to your site to increase your inbound links. Also, having links on pages like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Yelp, YellowPages, will also help.
- Make sure all of your content information on your website matches the name, address, and phone number you listed on your Google Places/Local accounts.
- Once again, be sure to include location based keywords in your description, headings, and photo alt text attributes.
- Make sure your website has a blog that has the title of “Blog” on your main navigation. This lets Google know that you will constantly be providing new content.
- Make sure to have an embed of a Google Map somewhere on your site. This will help Googlebots track your location and match you in search results.
- Create content that encourages social shares from the website. The more traffic you can capture on social media that links back to your website, the better.
Make Sure Your Website is Responsive
Well, as no surprise to anyone, mobile use for websites have already surpassed desktop usage. In fact, more than 25 percent of all search queries are done via a mobile device. There is no denying that mobile responsiveness is huge.
Matters of fact, most companies are making a beeline to go mobile, which is causing massive chaos in the web design work due to the influx of consumers who are wanting responsive websites. Responsive websites take a bit longer to code than a normal website due to the developer having to size the new size for multiple platforms, as well as design the site to properly stack to ensure the site is not only functional, but aesthetically appealing as well.
According to Google Think Insights, NewEgg, America’s second-largest online retailer found traffic improved their visitors by 39 percent thanks to its new mobile website design focused on multiple screens. The Huffington Post reported a 37 percent rise in their mobile visitors after refreshing their design, too, which now focuses on carefully picked content, speed, and an overall social experience.
So, Google’s “fix” to the massive amount of mobile traffic and the lack of responsive websites is “MOBILEGEDDON.” The new overhaul of its mobile-search algorithm (mobilegeddon as some are calling it) will likely to penalize many websites that are not mobile friendly and in return, reward the websites that are.
The most recent change isn’t intended to discriminate against rivals, but demote sites in Google’s mobile-search results that are not deemed “mobile-friendly.” It’s as simple as that. If your site is deemed “non-mobile friendly,” the offs are your site has text too small to read on a smartphone screen, or an abundance of links too difficult to open with the tap of a finger, etc. “As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns,” Google wrote in a blog post in February.
To read more about this, CLICK HERE.
Always Have Fresh Content
I’m not saying that old content doesn’t appear in searches though… because it does. It just doesn’t rank as high as newer content. Content is considered new when a large portion of the document is altered or updated, or a new document is created and published. Another great way to boost your content is to provide links to cited sources. You also want to make sure your content contains many rich keywords that will really get Google’s attention. I use spyfu.com to track what words my competitors are using and then I incorporate those same words in my articles.
Also, you want to make sure you are fulfilling your visitor’s search intent. If they are searching for let’s say “Michael Jordan make a slam dunk.” Obviously, Michael Jordan isn’t dunking much these days, and if he is, it’s not in a pro game for the Bulls. So, you wouldn’t want to just list all the games in which Michael Jordan played in. You probably want to include a few links to clips of some of MJ’s greatest dunks. Right? You want your post to include the most popular content popular. This will increase page views and decrease the chances of a high bounce rate.
Also, make sure your visitors have the opportunity to subscribe to your site, share your posts on social media, or even read your post via RSS feed.
Word of advice, don’t try to out think Google though. Don’t try to simply change the date of a post to appear “new.” Google will catch you and be mad. Thus, penalizing your post instead. The best way to go abut revamping old content to make it appear new is to simply create a new post with much of the same information, but add a few paragraphs with additional information or perhaps give an update on the trends today in that subject matter. Then, you can refer back to the older post throughout your new post and even provide a link for them to read the full article. This will actually boost both posts.
Submit Your URL & Sitemap to Search Engines
If you have a brand new website and you aren’t being found online, you should submit your URL and sitemap to the two major search engines (Google & Bing). You do this by searching “Submit URL to Google (or Bing),” then following the web link to the URL submission page, then entering your URL. You will want to do this because with the massive number of pages being published every day online, it may take search engine page crawlers to discover your website and then rank it. So, I like to make it easy for them.
I always submit my URL to both search engines, then login to their webmaster tools pages and then submit a sitemap. Google actually has a “Fetch” feature that will allow you to also link pages to the URL and index them on Google. This is the quickest way to become found online and it’s a great way to track your website’s search success if you are actively using both engine’s webmaster tools.
Use Bold Words and Header Tags
It’s a common practice when building a website for webmasters or developers to organize pages using headings and “strong tags.” Headings are pieces of HTML code that allow you to make certain words stand out on a page. They usually are larger in font weight and size. It’s very similar to how a newspaper or magazine is laid out. The title of the article is usually bigger and more noticeable than other words. This allows a reader to quickly scan the page to find what they are looking for. An H1 tag has the same function, except it also helps let search engines know what your page is about. When H1 tags are used properly in addition to meta description, keywords, and good content, it drastically helps improve serach engine ranking for the specific keywords and phrases mentioned in the post.
The H1 tag is the most important heading because it’s the highest level tag that shows what your specific page is about. Search engines generally give this tag more weight over other headings, so it usually improves your search engine ranking when you use it correctly. You have other heading tags that are important too, though. Not as important, but nevertheless, still important. H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6 tags are also options when organizing your content. They are sort of like sub-headings. They are more for your readers benefit though instead of search engines.
To determine if you’re putting your H1 tag to good use, follow this advice:
- Your website should have only one H1 tag. If you have more than one H1 tag on a page, change the less important “H1 tags” to an H2 or H3 to make sure you don’t confuse the search engine bot.
- H1 tags should be at the top of the page content.
- H1 tags should contain the most important keywords for that page and if possible the first word or words in the H1 should be the keywords. These should also match the page title keywords and META keywords
- Your H1 tag should help your reader understand what the page is about.
Tag Your Photos
You know how when you go to Google and you search for (example) “Black Hummer H1” and not only does results come up with websites that refer to this search query, BUT there’s also an option to search for images related to this topic? Well, not only do search engines crawl the text on a page, but they crawl the keywords and titles within your image file names as well. Those images are then tagged as relevant (or not) by Googlebots due to the image title and alt tags. This is just another way to increase traffic to your website and be found on Google (and by the way, when I say Google, I mean any search engine). Alt tags are also used to tell someone what an image is about.
The alt text is also commonly added to an image so there will be a descriptive text when the image (for whatever reason) can’t be displayed to the visitor. I can’t put it any better than Wikipedia: “In situations where the image is not available to the reader, perhaps because they have turned off images in their web browser or are using a screen reader due to a visual impairment, the alternative text ensures that no information or functionality is lost.”
And lets face it, not only do images provide additional SEO support, they also make posts a bit more intriguing.
So, now that we’ve concluded that adding an image is better than no image, and that if you do add an image, you must include an alt tag… let’s talk about how to create an alt tag.
As mentioned above, when building a site for SEO, using appropriate keywords is key. You could use the generic name that your camera gave to the image such as DCMIMAGE10.jpg. However, it would be much better to name the file something more relevant like “2012-Black-H1-Hummer.jpg.”
Also think about how your potential visitors would search for the picture on Google. What naming patterns do they use when they search? Keeping with the “Hummer” theme, a user might search for:
- 2012 Hummer H1
- Black Hummers
- Black Hummer H1
A good habit to get into is to look at your website analytics, and see what phrasing patterns your customers use to perform searches. Determine the most common naming patterns they use, and apply that formula to your image naming process.
If you are not going to get that detailed, just be sure to use good keywords when naming your images (and try to be descriptive!).
Here are some simple rules when it comes to alt tags:
- Describe your images in English… not camera numerals.
- Do not keyword stuff your alt tags. For example, “Cheap Black Hummer H1 for Sale.”
- Don’t use alt tags for decorative images. Search engines may penalize you for over-optimization.
Now you might want to provide larger views for your visitors, which is a great user experience enhancement – just be careful.
Whatever you do, don’t place the largest image on your webpage and simply shrink the dimensions via the source code. This will increase your page load time because of the larger file size associated with the large image.
Instead, make it a smaller image and provide the option to view a larger image in a pop-up or to be displayed on a separate webpage. Remember, when adding a photo to your website:
- Most consumers wait about 3 seconds for a website to load on a desktop or laptop.
- …and about 5 seconds on their mobile device.
- Amazon found that if their pages slow down by 1 second, they lose $1.6 billion a year.
- Google uses page load time as a factor in their ranking algorithm.
If an image takes 15 seconds to load, more than likely that website visitor will have moved on to another site.
A good rule of thumb is to try to keep your image file size below 70KB. That can be difficult sometimes, but when it comes to SEO, that will save you a lot of page speed and potential bounced viewers.
So, Let’s Recap:
#1: Have a Social Media Presence
Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it then we can return that in our search results.
#2: Have a Site Map
A Sitemap is an XML file that is full of your individual webpage’s URLs. It’s like an archive of every webpage in your website
#3: Create Google Local Business Pages
Getting your website to appear in the first few pages of Google is determined by how well you optimize some key Google elements in areas that are known factors for local search ranking.
#4: Have a Great Landing Page
One a visitor is directed to your site, your site needs to be up to par and seen as a valuable resource.
#5: Make Your Website Responsive
More than 25 percent of all search queries are done via a mobile device and Google now penalizes websites that are not mobile friendly.
#6: Always Have Fresh Content
Google is 100% bias to fresh content.
#7: Submit URL & Sitemap to Search Engines
With the massive number of pages being published every day online, it may take search engine page crawlers to discover your website and then rank it. So, make it easy for them.
#8: Use Bold Words and Headers
It also helps let search engines know what your page is about.
#9: Tag Your Photos
Not only do search engines crawl the text on a page, but they crawl the keywords and titles within your image file names as well.
(Sources: Sean Si – SEO Hacker, Chloe Mason Grey – Kissmetrics, Boris Demaria – WooRank, Rand Fishkin – Moz, VerticalMeasures, Mark Hayes – Shopify, Julie McNamee – Wordtracker, Michiel Heijmans – Yoast)