For many years now, it’s been well-documented knowledge that the majority of search engine traffic goes to the top 10 listings on Google’s search results pages. Everyone wants to be in one of those top positions, but the hard fact is, Google only rewards that coveted distinction to ten entries per search. How can you qualify to be one of the ten lucky listings? That’s what this article will strive to outline for you.
In order for you to make the most of this information, we need to start with a definition of how search engines work so that we’re all on the same page. This will enable you to understand the work ahead and will also give you a clearer idea of what a company like ours does for clients like you.
How Search Engines Work
The job of a search engine is to gather data that has been published on the Internet. When a search engine like Google wants to gather data, it sends out little programs called ‘bots’. The bots crawl the web, from link to link, crawling through each document they discover and then putting the documents into their giant index.
When a person uses Google, they type in a query. A query might be something like ‘handcrafted cabinet’, ‘dentist in san diego’, or ‘holiday gift basket’. When the person makes the query, Google rapidly searches through its giant index and retrieves the answers it thinks are most relevant to the person’s query.
No business needs to submit web pages to any search engine. The job of businesses like Google, Yahoo, or MSN is to come to you and index your content. This is the service search engines perform for the public. However, while it is never necessary to submit your pages to a search engine, it is necessary to create your pages in such a way so that the bots can understand what the focus of each page is when they come to crawl it and index it. The practice of creating search-engine-friendly web pages and websites is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Google determines the value of each and every page it indexes, based upon Google’s algorithm. An algorithm is basically a mathematical equation by which Google compares, judges, and values each web page. Only a couple of Google employees know the 100+ components of Google’s secret algorithm. But, search engine optimizers like us have now spent years analyzing what we see Google ranking at the top of its results and this observation has allowed us to identify some of the main components that Google values. This is the knowledge we have to share with you.
And now that we’ve gotten that big explanation out of the way, let’s start talking about your business.
Your Business Idea – Dream Big, Start Niche
The experience of working with so many small business owners over the years has taught us that the small business budget is most often suited to the creative, niche venture. You can’t compete with Amazon.com without Amazon.com’s budget, so while it’s great to dream of the highest potentials and profits you may one day reach, it’s generally best to pick a specialized need you can fulfill. Market research is a must for you, in order for you to determine whether what you are going to do or sell combines a high enough public demand with a low enough level of competition. You’ve got to have a great product or service that people really want. Even the best website in the world won’t sell something that isn’t desired by people. You’ve got to have passion for the field you’re entering to stick with your business for the long haul. And finally, you’ve got to have the budget to present and market that idea to get your business off the ground and into the public eye.
Your Domain Name – Choose the Very Best
Once you’ve got your market research done and your business plan drafted, it’s time to take your first steps on the web. If you come to us early enough on in this process, we can guide you in finding the best possible domain name. It’s an incredibly important step. The best domain names combine 2 factors:
If your website is going to present your local auto garage online, it’s going to be a smarter choice for you to pick jimsautorepair.com than it will be to pick jimjohnsononline.com or something without a real keyword focus. Your domain name may simply be your business name, a shortened version of your business name, or a version of your business name that is slightly altered to incorporate a keyword. For example, say you’re a music teacher and the name of your business is Lundquists. You might choose lundquistsmusiclessons.com as your domain name. Or, say you’re a realtor, and the local focus of your business is what makes it a niche service rather than a broad one. You don’t need to rank for ‘real estate’. You need to rank for chicagorealestate.com. Your domain name can reflect that. Choose wisely.
You will quickly discover, when you begin researching domain names, that so many of your best ideas are already taken. Don’t give up. Keep trying variations until you hit on something that really shines. *Very importantly, make sure that you purchase your domain name without any strings attached. It must belong solely to you and not be bundled with any other services the domain registrar would oblige you to use in order to control your domain. Owning your domain name is absolutely vital to keeping your online reputation healthy and under your control. We’ll be happy to advise you not only about domain name ideas but also about good places to purchase them.
Your Website Hosting – Go For Reliability and Reachability!
Your website hosting is the space you’re paying for on which to park your website. It’s like paying monthly rent for your house. Pick a host that offers you these qualities:
You may purchase your domain name and hosting from the same company, or acquire them separately. We’ll be happy to recommend hosting companies to you that we’ve had a good experience with over the years and that have met the above criteria for our clients.
Keyword Research – The Words You’ll Live By
There are a number of great free keyword research tools out there as well as some exceptional paid ones. Whatever you use, your goal here is to discover how the public is searching for the kinds of goods and services you offer. Suppose you’re a construction company that specializes in building porches with screens on them. Are more people calling these screen porches, screened porches or screened-in porches? Keyword research will answer that question for you and guide you to understand what sets of keywords each page of your website will need to reflect in order to be speaking the language of your future potential customers. This is a step that cannot be skipped. You should definitely do some keyword research of your own, and if you work with a firm like ours, we will be doing keyword research of our own as we lay out the overall architecture of your website.
Planning Your Website’s Architecture – Make It Easy-To-Navigate and Keyword-Focused
This is the stage of the process in which we work with you to determine the number of pages your website will initially contain and what the focus of each of those pages needs to be. Maybe you’ll need 10 pages, each describing a service your business offers, plus basic informational pages like a home page, a contact page, an about us page, a testimonials page and a sitemap. Maybe yours is an e-commerce venture that will require 30 product pages plus basic informational pages. The tags and copy of each page must focus on the keywords that relate specifically to that page and the system of navigation devised for the site (the menu) must get the website user from A to B to Z on the site with as little effort as possible. Excellent navigation is what leads the website user through the sensible architecture you’ve created for your website and it’s what ensures he has an easy ride.
Website Design – Simple, Professional, Usable and OPTIMIZED!
Bells and whistles may be fun, but your goal as the small business owner is to publish a website that is supremely intuitive for your users to use. Visually, the design of your site needs to present your business in a professional way, but your chief concern needs to be how the site will be used by its users – your potential customers. Build it for their use. This means a site that loads quickly and renders correctly on all major browsers. It means that the text is easy to read.It also means that the key elements of the site are rendered in plain HTML text that search engine bots can read and understand.
All too often, clients come to us with an existent site that has been built entirely of images or Flash. Google can’t understand these things and so the site has almost no hope of being ranked well. Images, and even Flash elements, can be used to good effect on a site if they are treated as embellishments – not as the main offering of a website.
Browse the web and make note of sites you like, sites you find easy to use and sites that you don’t like, too. Share these with your designer so that she can get a clear idea of your personal preferences. If you work with Solas Web Design, we’ll be consulting with you about the human usability aspects of color, font sizes, layouts, menus and so much more. If you’re working with a truly qualified, professional designer, be prepared to express your tastes and wishes, but also be ready to accept the designer’s advice regarding human usability. Having a site that can be used well by your users is vital to your success on the web.
Absolutely critical to your goal of achieving top rankings for your website’s pages is the insistence that each and every page of your website be SEO-based. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of creating pages that can be crawled and understood by search engine bots. SEO is an integral part of good website design – not an afterthought to be considered at some later date. The architecture and design of your website must be based on SEO best practices and Google’s webmaster guidelines if you plan to compete for search engine rankings. That’s the bottom line.
A good website is a site that can be used with equal ease by humans and search engine bots, while presenting the business in a totally professional manner. Your business deserves no less than this.
Website Content – The Stuff Success Is Made Of
So, you have your business plan, your domain, your hosting, the architectural plan of your website and the usable visual design all in place. What comes next? Website design is simply the container of the real substance of your business – your content. Website content includes text, images, videos, forms, tools, applications, products and anything else that your website needs to contain to make business happen for you and your users.
For the majority of our small business clients, it is the text content of their websites that is their main tool for winning public attention and working to achieve high search engine rankings. At this point, Google can’t read images or videos and though they are working on trying to decipher Flash, they’re not quite there yet in a way that would make us recommend Flash to small businesses except as an embellishment to text. Currently, text is the small business owner’s best friend.
Picture, if you will, two pages from two different companies selling the same service. Let’s say the service is security fence installation in San Rafael, California. Company 1 has a single page on their site that gives a one line mention to the fact that security fence installation is one of the services they provide. Company 2 (and this needs to be you) has devoted an entire page to their security fence installation service in San Rafael. Their page outlines the process of having a contractor come to assess the property and the customer’s specific needs. Their page details the main types of security fences they install (chain link, brick, iron, aluminum, wood, etc.), showing great photos and giving a good description of the benefits of each. Their page outlines the benefits of having a security fence and lists testimonials from local customers who firmly believe that their safety has been increased by the installation of one of these fences. Their page offers a list of reasons why security fencing has become a good idea in San Rafael (increase in local break-ins, protection of pets who might otherwise run away, better safety for children, peace of mind for owners, etc.) Finally, their page calls the user to the business owner’s desired action – making a phone call or filling out a form to schedule a consultation.
Which of these two pages do you believe deserves to rank for its keywords? Google is always looking for the very best answers to users’ queries. Text is your tool for providing the most thorough, helpful, relevant answers you can. This isn’t something to stint on. It’s something to dive into with creativity and gusto.
In developing the website content for our clients’ sites, we work in one of two ways:
We’re happy to work either way with our clients, and both routes ensure that the finished text copy of the site is true to the company’s voice, directly engages the user, is error free, is rich and thorough, is properly optimized and is calling the user to the desired action on each page.
You will have an initial amount of content that will be present on your website at the time of launch, but we also often advise our clients to make a plan for continuing to add to the useful content of their website over time. Very often, this involves incorporating a blog into the client’s site so that he or she will have an easy way to continue to publish new, informative pages in the coming months and years without the help of a webmaster. We are major proponents of blogging for a wide variety of small businesses and are especially keen right now on the disciplines of hyperlocal blogging for business that have a local focus. If you work with Solas Web Design, we’ll consult with you to determine whether an ongoing content creation strategy will be the right move for your small business.
In addition to showing off what you’ve got and engaging your users, content has a third potential that will become important to nearly all websites after launch. This will be the subject of our next section.
Links – Links Everywhere!
Google’s bots crawl the web from link to link, whether that’s links pointing to a page on your website from an outside source, or links within your site pointing to pages within your site. Links are the doors that lead Google’s bots from one ‘room’ to another across the Internet.
Links are one of the key metrics by which Google values the relevance of pages to users’ queries. Every link pointing to a page on your website acts as a vote for its usefulness and popularity in the eyes of Google. Because of this, you are hoping to win as many links to your pages over time as you possibly can. But how do you win those links?
One method is to engage in a linkbuilding campaign with a qualified company that offers such a service, but the subject we’re going to cover here revolves around creating content that is so exceptional, people link to it without having to be asked.
Imagine you are a local medical doctor. One winter, your town is hit with a very bad flu that can be dangerous if left undiagnosed. In an effort to protect the public health, you publish a page on your website that carefully outlines the symptoms of this flu and the actions residents need to take if those symptoms are present. Maybe the flu is accompanied by a rash you’ve got a photo of. Maybe the patient needs to avoid taking certain drugs as soon as they suspect they may have this flu. Maybe the patient needs to avoid being in contact with others and should be excused from work or school if they suspect they have this flu. You make your page thorough and helpful, you optimize it for the appropriate keywords and perhaps you alert some of your colleagues to the fact that you’ve created this page for the good of the community. This is a topic that is really on the minds of your neighbors this winter, and so people are searching for it. They find your page and decide that it’s so helpful, they should bookmark it. Or maybe the people who find your page have websites or blogs of their own, and they decide to link to it in order to share it with other neighbors.
What you’ve just witnessed is how good, helpful, timely content naturally wins backlinks from the public. This basic practice of creating such content can be applied to literally any subject in the world whether that’s weaving a basket, building a deck or refinancing a home. If your content is more useful and worthy than what your competitors’ are publishing, you can hope to acquire these kinds of voluntary links over time, and each one will be acting as a vote for your page in the eyes of Google. For the life of your business online, so long as Google continues to give such value to links, you will be needing to concern yourself with winning links. For the small business owner, the publication of awesome content is often the very best means to this end.
After Launch – Things To Consider
So, you’ve launched your site, filled with great content and you’ve got a plan to continue creating new content because you know that every new page on your website represents a chance to rank well for further keywords and win important links for your site. What can you do next to ensure that you’re taking the most proactive approach to winning top 10 Google rankings? Here are some things you’ll want to consider:
Definitely install an analytics program on your website, whether this is Google’s free one or a paid version. Analytics data will begin to paint a picture for you of how users are interacting with your site, where they are coming from, what browsers they are using, which pages on your site are most popular, what keywords are being searched for to get to your pages and a bevy of other useful facts. These facts enable you to see where your website is hitting the mark and where it’s missing the target. This will show you what needs improvement, what future opportunities for new content may be, who the people are who are coming to you and what their needs are. Studying your analytics on a regular business will point the way for your website and how it needs to evolve to become ever more useful to your users.
Pay-per-click advertising like Google’s AdWords program may be necessary for some small businesses while they are working towards achieving high organic rankings. In this scenario, you are paying Google or another broker to display your ads for certain keyword searches. Many businesses continue to combine paid advertising with their organic efforts for the life of their business online. Our best advice for this is to work with a qualified advertising consultant when setting up a paid ad campaign. It is so easy to waste money if you’re a novice at this. A paid advertising expert will make sure that you are targeting the right phrases for your budget and seeing a maximum return on your investment. Solas Web Design does not offer PPC consultation at this time, but we are happy recommend colleagues we truly trust when clients need this service.
Blogging, which we’ve discussed above, is a form of Social Media (SM). But, SM has rapidly evolved over the past few years to include interactive platforms like Twitter and Facebook and social voting sites like Digg, Reddit and Stumbleupon. There are also interesting sharing sites like Flickr where you share photos or Yelp where you share your reviews of businesses. Bright businesses are learning to use Social Media to great effect for their companies. The recent story of a mobile taco wagon publishing it’s moving locations and daily menus as well as fun little tidbits of news on Twitter comes to mind. The local public has become absolutely devoted to this taco wagon business and the taco chefs have become so successful that they’ve been asked to supply popular local restaurants with their sought-after meals. The type of business you are running will determine which Social Media opportunities are right for you. We advise you to start studying this subject, and at some point, you may want to engage some consultation time with a Social Media expert who will help you discern which efforts might be most powerful for increasing your visibility.
Local Search Marketing
This is a favorite pursuit of ours at Solas Web Design. If your business serves your neighbors, you qualify as a Local Search candidate. Let us show you how to create strong local business profiles for your business and what other efforts need to be made to increase your local-focused visibility across the web. Local SEO and Local Search Marketing have rapidly developed into unique practices of their own, branching off from traditional SEO and Search Engine Marketing, and we will be delighted to teach you what we know and love about Local if Local applies to you.
Though we’ve tried to keep it brief and concise, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. Let’s sum up the basic key points you need to take into account in order to pursue your goal of winning top 10 Google rankings:
There is so much more to cover. So many more opportunities awaiting your business. Maybe you’ll get into video. Maybe you’ll become the king of linkbaiting at a popular social voting site. Maybe hyperlocal blogging will make you the local news in your town. Maybe you’ll work with a developer to create tools that make life easier for your users. Who knows what’s in you to do? But first, you’ve got to get that solid business plan, that optimized website, that developing library of content going. Sound exciting? We’d like to walk you through every step of the web process if you’re ready to get started.
The truth is, everyone wants a Top 10 Google ranking. The steps you take to deserve to be one of those happy 10 businesses for the keyword phrases that are most important to you are going to involve hard work, creativity, passion and money. Dream big, find your niche and strive to be the best at what you do. With the right practices, an investment of your time and a winner’s attitude, you can do it.
Solas Web Design has successfully guided numerous small business owners along the path to Google’s Top 10. How can we help you?