SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is probably the number one thing I am asked about by my clients. When you launch a new website your ultimate goal is probably to get to number 1 on Google and ultimately find more paying customers. Everybody wants that spot and the question is; “How do I get there?”
SEO is the answer to that question. If you’ve searched at all on this subject you may have come across articles that claim to know “Google’s 200 Ranking Factors” or something similar to that. These articles are a myth. SEO is a very large subject and the truth is nobody but Google fully understands the complex algorithms that they use to determine that number 1 ranking. However, there is hope! We do know the main principles upon which Google and other search engines determine their ranking of websites. We will discuss each of those principles below.
User Intent and Content Relevance
In order to develop relevant content you need to understand who your target customer is and what are they going to search for. You need to think like your customer. If you run ACME Inc. selling rocket skates for example, what is our friend Wile E. Coyote going to type into Google to find you?
Your content needs to be tailored with these things in mind. To test this, pretend you are a customer searching for your product or service. Go to Google and type in a search term related to that product or service. See who shows up in the first few search results. Now go look at their website content and compare it to your own. Do you see some clear differences in how they have structured their content? You can learn a lot by looking at your competition.
There are several technical factors which will impact where your site ranks. Let’s break those down one by one.
Page Load Time
Websites that take a long time to load will not rank as well as others that load quickly. Google is all about the user experience and they want to present users with websites that offer the most relevant content AND the best user experience. Poor load times could be caused by a number of different things including poorly compressed images or poor web server performance. If you’re on a low end web hosting plan this could be the source of your speed issues.
Internal links are simply links from one page of your site to another. It is important to build these into your content. For example, if you run a photography business your website will likely have a portfolio section with examples of your work. From there it would make sense to have internal links to a page referencing your prices or a booking page if you use one. Google, and your users will follow these links which essentially lead them through your site to exactly where you want them to go.
Mobile-Friendliness or Responsive Design
This is incredibly important in today’s mobile world. According to current statistics more than half of all global web traffic is now delivered to mobile devices rather than a desktop computer. It is absolutely essential that your website be mobile compliant. If it is not you will almost certainly be losing customers and your Google ranking will also suffer. This can be tested a couple of different ways. The simplest is to just open your website on your phone and see what the user experience is like. Is everything still laid out in a nice manner? Is the text legible and menus clickable?
The more technical way of checking this is to use Google’s “Mobile-Friendly Test”. Visit that web page and type in the address of your own site. Hopefully you get something that looks like this showing you that your site is mobile-friendly.
If not, Google will provide some suggestions on what needs to be improved.
“What the heck is that?!” you might be asking. HTTPS or “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure” is the secure version of HTTP. This is the protocol used to send data over the internet between your web browser and the website you are viewing. HTTPS is important because it encrypts the data you send through a website. Any website that has user input of some sort should be encrypted particularly online stores. If your site is run only on HTTP then your users are risking their personal data being intercepted when they send it. This can include names, addresses, emails, or credit card numbers. It is simple to check if a website is HTTPS enabled. Just look up in your browsers address bar and it will tell you like this:
If you click on that “Secure” wording you will also get some more details about how the website is encrypted. I won’t get into too much detail here about HTTPS but just know that this is another important ranking factor for Google and your website should be using it.
This includes things like the title of your web pages, use of H1, H2, H3 tags etc. Google will look for keywords throughout your content based on what the user is searching for. To use our ACME Inc. example again; if someone is searching for “Rocket Skates” having that exact wording within your page title will help improve ranking.
Google have also stated they do use H tags to understand the structure of your website. Ideally each page of your site should only have one H1 tag followed by H2 or H3 etc. to define sub content below that.
Another thing Google will look at are “Alt Tags” for images on your website. Alt Tags are text that you define on each of your images. You can define a title and a description for each image. This information can be accessed by screen readers and is typically used by the blind to give a text representation of images which they cannot see visually.
Google makes their living on storing, analyzing, and understanding data. They handle an absolutely mind boggling amount of it. Current estimates put that amount somewhere around 10-15 Exabytes of data. I’ll be honest, I had no idea how large a single Exabyte was when I sat down to write this article. To put this in perspective 1 Exabyte is roughly equivalent to 1 Million Terabytes. That means Google is managing the data equivalent of around 30 million average home computers.
Google accesses data through your search history, the use of their web browser Google Chrome, Google Analytics, or through your Android enabled devices like Smart Phones or Tablets. Because Google has access to so much information they have an incredibly accurate understanding of how users think and act when browsing the internet.
So how does this data impact your ranking? Google will measure user actions to determine how happy they are with a search result. This introduces something referred to as “Bounce Rate”. A “Bounce” is when a user visits your website and then immediately leaves it after looking only at the first page. This indicates that the user probably wasn’t interested in what they saw or perhaps there was a technical issue with the site that caused them to leave and look for something else. A “Bounce” is bad and you want your “Bounce Rate” to be as low as possible. A low Bounce Rate indicates that users are satisfied with their search result and they’ve clicked through to other sections of your website to view more content. Google tracks this and websites with higher click through rates will correspondingly rank higher in search results.
This used to be one of the most important search engine ranking factors but recent studies have shown this is becoming less important. Google themselves have stated that backlinks are becoming less important over time. Still, referrals from other websites are an important factor in determining ranking and just increasing your web traffic overall.
Getting more backlinks can take some time to achieve but there are a huge amount of places to get your website listed. Find every online business directory you can and post your website to them. Places like Yelp, Yellow Pages, or Local Business Directories are all ideal places to start. Go to Google and try typing in your city name followed by “business directory” and see what comes up. Check out the results and get your own site listed if possible.
There is a lot of information here but hopefully we’ve helped to clear up some of the mystery that enshrouds SEO. The basics that you can do yourself to help increase your ranking position are as follows:
- Update your site content and ensure it is relevant to your target customer
- Post regular updates to your site to help add fresh content for Google and other search engines to consume. Consider starting a Blog for this purpose.
- Ensure images and other content that you upload are optimized. Use an online image compression tool to help you with this. There are lots available but we like TinyJPG. (The panda is cute, what can we say?)
- Ensure your site is mobile-friendly. If it isn’t and you need help to achieve this, BP MediaWorks can help. Contact us to discuss your project.
- Ensure your site is using HTTPS if you run an online store or users are able to submit any information to you like through the use of a contact form.
- Check your page load times. If your site is slow talk to your web host. Maybe they can assist in speeding up your site. If you aren’t happy with your current hosting provider we can also help with that. Our world class web hosting partner SiteGround have plans for businesses of all sizes.
- Cultivate backlinks from outside sources. Visit online business directories and add your own website. Utilize services like Yelp to promote your business.
The biggest thing to keep in mind throughout your SEO journey is that this is not an overnight process. It can take weeks, months, or longer to get to the first page of Google. But if you follow the steps above your chances will increase dramatically.