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If you’re like me, the way that Google displays search results seemed pretty mystical at first. All I knew was that I wanted to rank high, but had no idea how to do it. Google was a lot like the cool guy in class who you wished was your friend. You knew very little about him, but you knew that being friends with him would go a long way for your social life. Google is the same with your business life: very mysterious initially, but once you get to be best friends your business can really take off. To help get that relationship started right, here is a list of the things I wish I knew about Google and how they handle search rankings.
1. Google Cares About What People Search For
Fact: Google cares a lot about its users and they want to deliver websites in their search results that are valuable for whoever is searching. One way they do this is through relevancy. If the text on your pages isn’t what people are searching for, Google isn’t going to rank your website high for that search term.
A Company Doing it Wrong: You own a clothing store that only sells short-sleeved shirts. You have the phrase “short-sleeved shirt” all over your website, but you aren’t getting anyone to your website from Google. The reason is that no one actually searches for short-sleeved shirt. Everyone just calls it a T-shirt.
What You Should Do: The question then becomes, “How do I figure out what people are searching for?” If there’s a lot of industry jargon in your business, how do you figure out what potential clients are calling the things you sell? The answer: Google’s Keyword Tool. Google’s free keyword tool will take a list of words or phrases you enter and provide suggestions for keywords you should be targeting. It does this by providing a twelve month average of the number of monthly searches performed for a word or phrase. Here’s what I would suggest you try:
1. Create an Excel and add a list of words or phrases that relate to your business and what you sell.
2. Ask your friends, coworkers, family, and anyone else to throw in words or phrases that relate to your business that you haven’t already included.
3. Copy and paste that list into Google’s Keyword Tool and click the “Search” button.
4. Look at the words or phrases listed to find the ones that have a high “Local Monthly Search” and generally lower competition.
5. Pick one word or phrase to target for each page on your website. Make sure the word or phrase actually relates closely to what you sell. If Google shows that the term “corduroy pants” is searched often, but you don’t sell corduroy pants, it’s probably not a good idea to include it on your website.
6. Include that exact word or phrase at least four times on the page.
2. Google Loves Text. Lots of It.
Fact: Google loves text. Lots of text. As I mentioned in the first point, when any search engine decides what to show in its results, it wants to show pages that have text that is relevant to what the user searched. If a web page only has three lines of text, that’s a lot fewer words to rank for. Basically, the more words you have, the more opportunities you have to rank.
On top of the quantity of different words or phrases, Google also likes to see a lot of depth in your word choice. Having a word or phrase listed only one time on your page is going to make it difficult to rank for that term. You need to have that word or phrase listed at least a couple of times so Google’s search spiders can say, “Hey, this page has a lot to do with…”
A Company Doing It Wrong: You have a small law firm that handles business litigation. You have one page devoted to your services that has four sentences on it:
“Our firm was founded in 2001 to provide the best business litigation in town. We help your business grow while also keeping you legally sound. We take a team approach to working with every client and strive for the best possible outcome. To talk about what we can offer you call us at 555-355-7777.”
Not only is this not a great description of what you can offer me, the only phrase in here the firm would want to rank for would be “business litigation” which is only included one time. Every other phrase, “business,” “firm,” “legally,” is extremely broad and probably won’t give you the targeted traffic you’re looking for.
What You Should Do: Use a lot of words, use headings, and be specific. Try using at least 300 words on each page you create. Since most people like to scan web pages, use headings to break up your content more easily. Finally, be specific about what you’re offering. Broad terms won’t bring you the traffic you’re looking for. Instead of talking about your “law services,” discuss your firm’s ability to handle “purchase agreements” or “intellectual property.” Even though those are encompassed in “business litigation”, Google doesn’t know that and won’t help you rank for those terms if you don’t include them on your page.
3. Google Doesn’t Know Where Your Office is Located
Fact: Google doesn’t know where your office is located unless you tell them on your pages. How do you tell them? By putting your phone number, address, and the names of the cities and towns you serve on your website.
Local search is becoming more and more important every day, especially with increasing competition and specialisation. You’ll likely find that often people are searching for “hobby shop Chicago” instead of just “hobby shop.” Just because your physical office exists in Chicago doesn’t mean that Google knows that. Unless you tell Google, they probably won’t help you rank for searches with the word “Chicago” in them.
A Company Doing It Wrong: You have a small Italian restaurant in the city of Omaha, Nebraska. On your website you have a contact page with your phone number and address, but other than that you don’t mention the city of Omaha, or any of the surrounding cities that you serve. You do have the phone number listed in the footer, but it’s an image instead of plain text. Since Google can only read plain text, they don’t know that’s your phone number at all.
What You Should Do: Put your phone number, address, and the names of the cities you serve on your website in plain text. When I say plain text I mean inside the HTML and not in an embedded image. If you’re unsure whether you’re using text or an image, try to highlight the individual numbers in the phone number. If you can’t, then you’re most likely using an image and should consider making a change.
To make you location visible to Google, you can add your phone number, address, and location information in a couple of places on your website:
- Within Your Content – Instead of the text, “We are an Italian restaurant,” you would write “We are an Omaha-based Italian restaurant.”
- On Your Contact Us Page – You’d be surprised how many companies don’t put their address or a local phone number on their contact page. Both help Google know where you are and also help people contact you. If you want to go the extra mile, embed a Google Map with your location and make sure the phone number you list uses a local area code.
- In the Footer – I’ve seen many companies rank well by placing a list of their service areas in the footer of their website. For example, “Serving Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Huntington Park, Inglewood, and Torrance for over 30 years”.
4. Google Has No Idea How Awesome Your Company Is
Fact: Google has no idea how awesome your company is. You have 500 clients. Google doesn’t know. You made a million dollars last year. Google has no idea. All Google sees is your website and all the other websites on the Internet. So, when it comes time to pick which website to show at the top of the results, how does Google choose who to show first?
Aside from relevancy, Google cares about links. Google determines which websites are important or popular based on how many websites link to your website and how popular those websites are that link to you. So, if I got a link from my five year old nephew with a one page website, Google doesn’t think that’s as big of a deal as if I got a link from the homepage of the New York Times website. If I got a link from 50 websites that are just as popular as the New York Times, chances are my website would rank pretty high.
A Company Doing It Wrong: You own a cookie store at the corner of 5th and Grand that makes a lot of money selling sweet, delicious cookies. People in the neighbourhood know the store and they come there often for a snack. You paid a company $5,000 to make you a website that shows off your cookies. Aside from making the website, you didn’t do anything to promote it or let other websites and other people know about it. Even though the website is probably awesome, Google is not going to think it’s very popular or important which means you likely won’t rank very well.
What You Should Do: To help you build the links to your website, and in turn build your popularity with search engines, you need to submit your website to every place possible. Here are some great places to start setting up accounts or submitting your website:
- The Open Directory Project
- Google Places
- Yellow Pages
Aside from adding your website to the list above, there are plenty of other ways to build links to your website:
- Start a blog
- Write articles for other sources and link from your author biography to your website
- Advertise on other websites
- Ask business partners to link to you from their websites
The point is try your best to build as many links from reputable sources as possible.
Even though search engine optimization can be trying, the four items listed here should be a great starting point to improve your rankings. Remember, you won’t become best friends with Google overnight. It usually takes a bag of chips or a high five first to pave the way to a lifelong friend.
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