In today’s digital world, Google is the primary tool used to search for just about anything.
This is exactly why numerous businesses have shifted their focus towards SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
It’s one of the biggest online marketing strategies that can yield substantial results…
But how do you navigate SEO as a small business?
Google is said to use over 200 ranking factors to determine which website is better suited to rank higher. This makes improving your search ranking harder than you may first think.
People might solely concentrate their time on keywords. But is that really enough?
The same people might report they’re not seeing any gains from SEO.
(Pssst … That’s because keywords can only get you so far.)
Google ranks pages based on MANY other attributes, and scrutinizes them collectively.
Keywords are merely one tiny slice of the pie.
How Does Google Work?
Google fundamentally consists of an algorithm, an index, and a main program called a “crawler”.
The crawler combs through the web, following links from page to page and saving these pages in its index.
This index is updated every time the crawler finds new or revised web pages.
The more ‘authority' you have, the more this crawler comes by your site.
(We'll cover authority in a tick.)
Once your site is saved in the Google index, it will pop up on future search results (and your position in these results is where SEO comes into play).
Google attempts to match particular search queries with pages it has saved in its index.
The exact order of search results is determined by Google’s algorithm.
This algorithm is a trade secret; nobody on the outside knows the full spectrum of factors that affect the ordering of search results.
Although we don’t know those specifics, we do know the algorithm looks for keywords and phrases, the quality of inbound links, the number of inbound / outbound links, user experience, and also total traffic to the site (to name only a few indicators — and these are the basics we are looking at today).
The Importance of Links
Google's algorithm looks at the number of quality inbound links as a measure of a page's importance, or ‘authority'.
The more authoritative its inbound links, the more likely it is to position higher in search results.
The total number of these inbound links (and their particular anchor text a.k.a the clickable text) also aids the ranking of your entire site.
You should have a healthy range in variations of anchor text pointing towards your website for an organic link portfolio.
e.g. X keyword links, X homepage links, X image links, etc.
And then there are links that pass authority, and links that don't…
You can learn all the technical stuff, here.
How Long Does It Take to See Results from SEO?
This is where a lot of people back out. The common concern is, “How long does it take to improve my Google rankings?”.
And this is a great question…
But the probability that most people won’t like the answer is high.
To truly boost your Google rankings, you’ll need to dedicate anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Pages that are ranked higher are usually much older than those below them:
As you can see, the average age of pages ranked number 1 is around three years.
But don’t let this scare you.
Ahrefs found that 5.7% of pages ranked on the first page were created within a year of ranking there. The majority of these pages ranked on the first page within 61-121 days.
While these metrics show that it’s possible to quickly rank on the first page of Google, it still depends on many factors such as budget and competition.
How To Rank Higher in Google
As mentioned, Google keeps info about its search algorithms under lock and key, so no one knows exactly how the search engine decides to rank results.
The algorithm changes periodically too, to keep people from figuring it out and exploiting its mechanics.
But there are tweaks you can start making now to make sure you have a future on the first page of Google.
Everybody has to start somewhere, so let's dive into the core topics.
Here are 5 major ways to improve your Google rank:
#1. Boost Website Speed
A slow website will provide a bad user experience for searchers.
Even if you still somehow managed to rank high on Google with a slow website, you would still suffer a huge loss of visitors (which makes ranking almost pointless).
The longer a page takes to load, the more frustrated your visitors become. This may cause them to promptly leave and shop at your competitor’s site.
Once that initial trust is lost, you probably won't regain it.
(Source: Neil Patel)
Finding a trustworthy hosting provider is one of the very first steps to take if you want to perform on Google search.
It doesn't matter how well you optimize your on-site speed if your host just doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to data transfer.
Here are some of the next key optimizations for website speed (a technical web developer should know any jargon, so send it to them):
- Optimize images — The larger the file size, the slower it is to load. That’s why you should compress your images and resize them to make the file size as small as possible. Also implement lazy loading, which defers the loading of images that aren’t immediately visible on the visitor's screen. JPEGS are made to scale to different resolutions, so they are usually a good choice for image file types.
- Caching — Both server and browser caching speed up your website. Browser caching is faster but requires the visitor to have opened your website at least once before. Server caching is essentially creating static resources from dynamic files, lowering processing times.
- Content Delivery Networks — If you have a large, complex website with lots of media, a CDN is for you. It’s going to make your website much faster by utilizing servers around the world. This also reduces your server load, possibly resulting in a smaller hosting bill.
To see how fast your website responds and discover other speed optimizations, use Google’s PageSpeed test.
A 2016 study conducted by marketer Geoff Kenyon deduced that if your site loads in 5 seconds, it's faster than approximately 1 out of 4 pages on the web. If it loads in less than one second, your site is faster than around 94% of pages.
CDN provider Akamai found that a 2-second load time is considered the maximum threshold for e-commerce websites.
More ambitious sites should aim for much less!
Research shows that just a 1-second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
If you sell £500 per day, that's nearly £13k of lost sales every year.
And let's face it, attention spans aren't getting any better in our hectic world…
Faster load times = More visitors that stay and buy.
#2. Optimize for Mobile
Mobile-friendly websites aren’t optional anymore.
They’re a must-have.
Responsive design refers to the practice of designing web pages to load properly on a mobile format, no matter the size of screen.
It allows a site to completely change its appearance depending on the device on which it is displayed.
Google now prioritizes a website’s mobile version over desktop, and it even penalizes sites that aren’t mobile-friendly.
60% of all online searches now come from mobile devices:
(Source: Search Engine Land)
And if you've ever visited a site with a poor mobile design, you know how much of a turn off that can be!
Responsively designed pages are constructed so the size of each element is dependent on its relation to other elements on the screen.
If the screen changes, the elements change to accommodate the device.
It’s not only B2C websites that need a mobile version. B2B businesses are in dire need of mobile friendliness (right now).
Studies by IDG Global Solutions showed 77% of senior executives use smartphones to research products or services for their business.
A properly designed mobile site not only retains visitors, but shows them your brand is professional and to be taken seriously.
To check if your site is mobile-friendly, use Google’s mobile-friendly test.
#3. Produce Valuable Content
Posting high quality, actionable and memorable content is one of the top ways to win at SEO.
Other changes you make to your website won’t matter if your content isn’t helpful and based on what people want.
The best way to prep your site for content creation is to form a blog.
This area is used to consistently display your educational material, and to get recognized for being supportive to your audience.
A blog can help you improve Google rankings in a few ways:
- By targeting keywords
- By creating backlinks
- By increasing visitor retention
It might not be easy to create super content at first…
You may be better off choosing to delegate or outsource.
Alternatively, you can dip your toes and learn on the way — but you must be dedicated to blogging and hone your skills.
Try mixing it up with an array of media types including downloadable PDFs, video, and interactive content.
Whatever you do, make sure your material will naturally attract backlinks and audience love, all on its own.
Write for Humans & SEO
There are some pitfalls to avoid when creating page content.
Keyword stuffing refers to the practice of (attempting to) artificially boost a page's performance in search results by packing it full of keywords to trick the search engines' algorithms.
Keyword-loaded pages usually sound forced and don't flow well at all.
Google took action to prevent keyword stuffing from affecting search results…
This tactic simply does not work anymore!
Write for humans, and optimize for search engines.
Don't be repetitive — make sure that keywords fit naturally into the structure of your text.
You should also avoid using irrelevant keywords which can increase your bounce rate and hurt your rankings.
You want your page to be considered an authority on a particular subject, so keep material relevant in order to retain visitors.
On the topic of relevancy (or rather, irrelevancy):
“Spinning” means taking an existing high-ranking article and rewriting it using the same keywords.
Spinning is a bad idea for a couple of main reasons. You can be punished by Google for messing with its algorithm, and it can also damage your brand's reputation.
Poor content = No results.
There is also “cloaking”, which refers to creating a separate page to show search engines, while leading human visitors to a different page.
Cloaking is not only highly unprofessional, it can net you a permanent ban from Google if you're caught.
Lastly, there is “clickbait”.
You know the ones:
“Man finds THIS in his garden. You'll never guess what happened next…”
While gaudy clickbait title may be good at grabbing attention, it's a tacky marketing trick and can ultimately reflect negatively on your brand.
A good headline should entice interest, but not be misleading.
(Your content should actually exceed the excitement induced by any headline.)
#4. Focus on Inbound, Outbound, & Internal Links
Linking is an important strategy for SEO. However, many small business blogs fail to utilize it.
You could have the best-written blog piece on the whole web — although if it has no backlinks, it may be easily missed by Google et al.
Inbound links (backlinks) are one of the top 3 Google ranking factors.
Google considers how many web pages link back to your website, and their authority.
But this number might not be easy to increase if you're just starting out in business…
That’s why your most powerful tool to attract backlinks is — you guessed it — amazing content. 🙂
Also, when you’re writing a blog post and planning to include a statistic to back up your points, find the original source of that statistic and link to it.
This way, visitors will know you didn’t simply make it up.
It builds trust.
The more reputable the linked site, the better it looks all around…
A study actually found evidence to suggest outbound links are used as a ranking signal.
Finally, don’t miss the chance to link to one of your own pages or blog posts. It will direct visitors to continue reading your website, and also help other pages rank better.
Be careful though. Too many links can look suspicious…
The key is to have a sensible balance of both inbound, outbound, and internal links — with seamless anchor text and flow.
#5: Continually Optimize (Forever)
Search Engine Optimization is an ongoing process with an undefined time-frame. You need to keep doing it, eternally improving your methods and remaining up to date with Google's changes.
(You can keep track of those, here.)
Unfortunately, SEO is definitely not a ‘once and done' task.
It takes a lot of time and effort. Have patience and continue to optimize in a strategic manner.
Google loves fresh content, so keep posting your golden knowledge to reach that coveted first page!
This is a guest post by Rick Manarauskis, Content Marketer @ Piket Media.
Rick has been a part of the content marketing industry since 2009. Working with many clients, he has built his experience in the website hosting and website builder niches.