Let me start by pointing out that in today’s world, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can dish out insight and advice as if they were an expert. So, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise when people using search engines come across such advice and give it more credit than it deserves. The good news for you is that with more than 17 years of search engine optimization (SEO) experience, I feel I have the legitimate credentials to call myself an expert on the subject and to provide you, gentle reader, with advice you can trust. However, even if you can trust me, you probably won’t like some of what I have to say. That’s because there’s a big difference between having a company website and maintaining an active, competitive, and successful online presence for your business.
In 2017, what does it take to be found in Google? In other words, what must happen first so that your company ranks high enough in the search results for users to see the listing? Frankly put, a ton of work. Long gone are the days when only a fraction of the world knew about search engines and how they work. Back then, a business owner could just do “a little of this and a little of that” and top rankings would usually follow. I think it is safe to say that those days are gone forever, and that today even the most esoteric business categories are battling it out for page-one rankings.
But, this is about you and your website’s rankings. So first, run some searches and look at the companies occupying top rankings. Then, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you expending anywhere near the time and effort those top-ranked sites are to promote their sites and content marketing?
- By merely clicking around on your own site for a moment or two, is it clear that you are the local, regional, national, or international authority in your industry?
- Comparing your website to a competitor’s website, do you really think you deserve a higher Google ranking based on online presence alone?
There are only 10 result listings on page one of any Google search, so only a tiny handful in any given industry will make it to that page. I guarantee you that those sites that do make it to page one got there based on more than a few content and coding changes for their site. If that’s all you have done, or if that’s all you have considered hiring an SEO firm to do, it simply won’t be enough!
So, what does work? Based on my experience, it comes down to three main steps.
Step 1 – Optimize Your Website
I don’t care who you are, what your business is, or who your customers are; it is just plain bad business (i.e., stupid) for you not to address standard SEO tactics on your company website. I will admit that I have seen some sites rank well without site optimizations present. But these are exceptions to the rule. At the end of the day, if your site is not optimized, then don’t bother expecting any love from Google.
Of the three steps I am presenting here, optimizing your website is the easiest to accomplish. A typical 15-page site with a blog containing some posts can generally be completed by a SEO professional in 10-20 hours. This would include key phrase research, creating unique title and descriptions tags, making content edits on key pages, providing some coding alterations, alt tags, and enhanced cross-links throughout the site, generating an XML site map, fixing broken links and redirects, providing Schema.org markup, CMS setting changes, and so on.
For those working with a tight budget, or maybe for all you DIY’ers out there, this is not the time to scrimp or ask yourself “how hard can it be?” before lifting the hood on your website. Instead, splurge a little on your marketing budget and bring in someone who makes it their business to stay current on the latest SEO tools and tricks. (Don’t worry, you’ll have some work to do yourself in Step 2 and Step 3.)
TIPS FOR SUCCESS: Hire an agency or SEO freelance professional with at least five years of experience to optimize your site. Insist that as part of their deliverables they detail the specific steps they’ve taken to bring your website up to current standards. What you don’t understand you can read about in your spare time. Knowing the ways your website is working for you will make you feel better about working for your website (see below).
Step 2 – Establish Links to Your Site on Directories and Other Sites
Of all the ranking factors Google considers today, arguably the #1 or #2 most important issue for Google is the number of external links pointing to your site. But not all links are created equal! Google applies more ranking “weight” to links coming from sites that themselves have strong inbound links. In other words, each link to your site may count as a vote, but some votes are worth more than others. This aspect of Google’s search algorithm is such a key component that it remains the only part Google specifically named: it’s called PageRank (more on Wikipedia).
If this is news to you, you’re not alone. Most people just don’t have a clue about how Google works. If you look at a competitor’s horrible looking, clearly unoptimized website and wonder how the heck it manages to frequently occupy top rankings, PageRank may be the reason. The rankings “juice” PageRank can give a site can compensate for it being poorly optimized. For example, an article about your competitor posted to the New York Times’ website – an article with an active link pointing back to your competitor’s horrible, unoptimized site – would provide a massive ranking boost for them. But, while a New York Times plug may be unlikely for your business, the ability to acquire high-value inbound links to your website doesn’t have to be. In fact, anyone can get them.
I once read a great way of thinking about it. Consider link-building to be online equivalent to shaking hands and introducing your business like you would in person. It goes without debate to say that odds of success in business increase with good networking. So, you should be networking both offline and online to help increase the odds for your success. Still, we all know that networking at industry events and social functions is a time-consuming tactic. We know we should do more of it, but finding the time is often difficult. How can we find even more time for networking online?
Establishing links to your website on directories and other sites does indeed take some time. But like that cocktail party where someone introduces you to your next big client, the right online link to your business can make the difference in meeting your goals this year (and next year, and the year after that.) A good start to acquiring worthwhile inbound links is to go to any number of sites like Google My Business, Yelp, YellowPages, etc. (full list here) and ensure you have a current, working listing on those sites. That was easy, right? It might only take a week or so to get the initial connections established, but now what?
Effective online networking involves an ongoing effort to find other respectable sites that offer a listing opportunity. It involves asking partnering companies to link back to you. Working for that page one Google listing involves doing competitive link research and finding appropriate sites from which competitors are linked so your website can be linked there as well. It includes reaching out to engage with the “power bloggers” in your industry and requesting that they throw a link your way. The list of ways to maximize your online networking efforts continues to grow and evolve with the latest technologies, so this is really not a “once and done” proposition.
But, like horse-drawn buggy builders in the age of Henry Ford, we all get pulled forward eventually. Today, business success comes first to those who recognize the realities of networking in a digital age. (When was the last time you picked up a telephone book?) So, are you going to embrace online networking? The amount of time one should invest in link building is, honestly, endless. It should rightly be considered a core component of any successful business model. And yet, despite me telling you that this facet of your online presence is perhaps the most noteworthy rankings factor for Google, I have never met in 17 years a business owner willing to invest his or her own time in link-building at a consistent, driving pace.
Those who do succeed in this area either hire an agency on a monthly retainer to do the work for them, or they split the effort up among members of their team and make online networking a recurring function and core job responsibility. No matter how it gets done, know this: you’re either working to optimize your link-building efforts or you’re just wasting time and money maintaining an empty online presence that doesn’t add anything to your bottom line.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS: Find someone affordable such as your front desk person, a college student, an associate, etc. to take on this task. There are plenty of how-to articles, advanced methods, software tools, and tips and tricks to read on the net. Good places to start include Backlinko and Moz. Also, you can lean on your marketing agency (assuming they have a digital department) to provide some guidance and monitor monthly progress.
Step 3 – Provide Authoritative and Growing Content
Let’s think like Google for a moment. To keep its customers happy, Google wants to supply the best content to match each user’s search and intent. If Google sends users to sub-par websites, users will be unhappy and may decide not to use Google (let’s pretend Google actually has competition). If users stop using Google, then the advertising mega-revenue that pays for all those little camera cars and shiatsu massage chairs in the employee break room dries up. So clearly, it behooves Google to provide the best search results for each search request.
So, assume you have completed Step 1 and your website is optimized. You are working on acquiring quality inbound links. Google takes note, but your site is still “back-of-the-pack” in rankings. Now it’s time to prove to Google that your site deserves to be ranked on page one because you are the voice of your industry.
If there is a question about your industry, your site has the answer. If the press is doing some due diligence on the industry, they go to your site to get the information they seek. If one of your customers needs a pointer, they can go to your site for a quick how-to video. Other industry-related outlets repurpose and repost information from your site. You put up a new blog post weekly, ensuring your customer base has a continual flow of thought leadership to digest.
This is the kind of activity Google wants to see from top-ranking sites. When your site features this kind of authoritative and actively growing content, Google will happily move you to that coveted first page. And as we all know, it is those page one websites that generate the most traffic and the best sales. You see, Google is not an evil monopoly asking for the unreasonable. Google is just a business that wants to make money, and they do that when they send users to the right sites. Remember this: Google is glad to help your business and they know exactly how to do it. First, however, they want you to help yourself. So, what exactly does that look like?
To succeed with Google, you are going to have to take stock in the customer journey and then develop and execute a wide-spread content marketing plan to provide the right content at the right time along your customer’s path. You will have to assess your competition and ensure that your site and your content is better, more up to date, and more authoritative. You must keep your social channels viable by posting great, user-focused information rather than the normal self-promoting fluff that clogs our phones and monitors. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you and your associates really will have to begin to see your business enterprise as a thought leader in your industry, and generate the type of leadership content your customers trust.
Unfortunately, many businesses see these activities as taking too much time and effort. Well, I suppose we should say it is unfortunate for them. They will continue to languish among the also-rans down there somewhere on page two or three while their competition moves up in the page ranking sweepstakes.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS: Develop a list of all the questions your customers and prospects might ask. Maybe even do some SEO keyphrase research to find out what users are searching for. Make sure your on-site search function is recording what terms users search for. Gather this information and then develop a content development plan aimed at providing answers to those specific searches. In addition, get the company leaders and knowledge base to provide thought leadership material – even if only high-level bullets that someone else on the team can craft into a clear message.
About Todd Wold
Leads clients through the process of leveraging the internet for all aspects of marketing, customer acquisition and retention – helping clients leap over their competition online. 18+ years specializing in website strategic development. SEO, SEM, and Online Display, Search and the Google engine. Todd’s strategies increase qualified visitors via any and all internet marketing channels available.
About Hallaron Advertising Agency
Hallaron is a full-service advertising agency located in The Woodlands. The company was founded as a digital web design shop in 2003 before growing into a diversified advertising agency offering a wide range of professional services. Today, the agency boasts an experienced strategic team and a skilled, agile creative team working together to build brands, marketing communications, websites and integrated marketing communications solutions that translate into real growth for their clients. For more information, please visit hallaronadvertising.com.
2002 Timberloch Place, Suite 420, The Woodlands, Texas 77380