“Get me on page one of Google!”
That’s the most common request Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts hear from their clients.
We all get it: Online traffic equals sales. Unfortunately, getting to page one is getting harder more and more every year unless you’re truly remarkable. Why? Search engines keep tweaking their algorithm to return better results.
Two Ways To Rank
Since Google is the top search engine in the world and dominates a huge portion of the market, we’ll just focus on how to rank in Google. To get to page one of the search engine results page, there are two routes. You can either buy your way to the top (Pay Per Click, or PPC), or you can organically earn your way to the top.
Buying your way to the top isn’t complicated. With PPC advertising, you can expect it to be instant, expensive, and effective. Google’s quite fond of PPC because it accounts for over 90% of their total revenue. It’s their bread and butter. Marketers like it because once you’ve done everything right, all you have to do to make more money is to spend more on PPC advertising (that is until someone outbids you or the niche is over-saturated). For example, your ad spend could be $1,000 a month, but reaps $3,000 in sales. It just makes business sense to keep going. With PPC, there is no fuss over mastering the complexities of SEO. Now organically ranking on Google is a different story.
Currently, Google uses this concept called “semantic search” in their complex algorithm augmented with artificial intelligence (RankBrain). As the term semantic denotes, Google is trying their best to understand what people mean when they search for something. The algorithm for this evaluates 200 different components in a matter of milliseconds, which is phenomenal. With each query, Google’s results are so good, it’s almost intuitive.
To fine-tune the machine, Google updates their algorithm (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc), Google is clearing out a lot of businesses who aren’t following best practices. If you’ve been an online marketer, this is old news. A lot of sites went from page 1 to page 100, losing millions in revenue as a result. Unfortunately, a lot of decent websites incurred penalties without even intending to. Google doesn’t exactly announce their plans so if you don’t play along with their game, you’re sunk.
The End Of Low-Value Content
The success of spammy niche websites said a lot about the flaws in Google’s earlier algorithms. It allowed people to build websites like a fast-food restaurant. It allowed a world of appearances and digital franchising. From a distance, everything looked great. But up close, what you really got was pre-fabricated, low-value content. It was a digital mess that erred on quantity, not quality. This wasn’t the case for every site, of course. But you might have noticed a lot of sites in the top ten weren’t all that valuable: I say good riddance.
That’s why semantic search is so important in finding the highest-quality resources. Today, you can’t offer up low-value content anymore. The fast-food process is useless here. We’re now in the organic, slow-cooking artisan foods business: high-quality, hand-crafted, and original stuff only. This is better for both the user and Google as a brand. We’ve known these changes for quite some time (years, actually). And finally, people are starting to understand terms like “content marketing” and applying Google’s best practices to their websites. The short of it is that it’s just harder to rank these days.
Your Website Will Have To Be Remarkable
I have a prediction about the future of online search. In the future, only the most remarkable websites will organically rank (surrounded by PPC results, of course). Google will finally figure out how to do this. In truth, this is not a ground-breaking prediction. SEO experts have seen this coming for years. You can say that this was Google’s goal all along, but they’re just not there yet. Getting there depends on how Google defines remarkable and applying that concept to their algorithm.
How To Make A Remarkable Website
Consider the word remarkable. It means that something is worthy of attention. It means that something is worth noting and it’s so good, you want to share it with others. Social sharing and virality is built right into the word. And in Google’s world, social indicators boost rankings.
So what makes for a remarkable website then? Lots of things make a website noteworthy to Google. So many new businesses owners I talk to lead with great web design. To that I say that the best-designed website in the world means nothing if no one ever sees it. That’s where SEO comes in. While design is still very important, remember that there are 200 components or “signals” in the algorithm and design covers only a few of them.
In a sense, Google scans each page and can quickly get a green light, yellow light, or red light results. The more green signals for each component, the better. But with so many factors, it would be a waste of time and money to treat all of them equally. It makes sense to focus on just a handful of things that have the greatest impact. For that, you might decide to focus on just three general categories: Technical SEO, Off-Site SEO, and On-Page SEO. 1
1. Technical SEO
Online you have to get the technical things right, and that’s precisely why you hire an SEO specialist. The technicalities of SEO are the little things you do that help your site get crawled better. If search engines can’t find your site, even the best content in the world won’t matter. It’s like trying to find your soul mate by just sitting on the couch. (No internet access, of course.) You have to make your site find-able.
Now you could do the technical stuff on your own, and there’s lots of tools for this. However without a technology background, it’s difficult. Most people find it too complicated and see why it takes years of training to master it. Furthermore, people who start off wrong often need to hire an SEO tech to repair the damage. There are SEO packages that cater specifically to Google penalty recovery. That in itself is a reason SEO specialists are valuable. No site ranks well if it’s perpetually in the red (if the owner is aware of it or not).
2. Off-Site SEO
Once the technical side is squared away, people should focus on the other two impactful tasks: content creation and backlinks. Backlinks (links to your site) seem to be the currency of SEO. Sure there are lots of other off-site tactics like Pay Per Click campaigns, but nothing works like backlinks.
In fact, getting backlinks from high-quality websites is single-handedly one of the most important things you can do for your site. A link to your website from The New York Times or the most influential blog in your industry is pure gold. Since you can’t buy backlinks or fake it, backlinks have to be earned. That is, content must be produced using good old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears. So by satisfying On Page SEO, a lot of your Off Site SEO efforts are simultaneously completed. How so? Remarkable content gets shared. Those are backlinks!
3. On-Page SEO
When people say On Page SEO, you should think Content Creation. Content is a broad term meaning blogs, articles, copy, videos, infographics, white papers, podcasts, etc. It all makes sense. Google tracks words, content is usually words, the more valuable the words to the user the better. So if you really think about it, writing great content and providing rich media should be the central task of website development. Unfortunately, people skimp on it or write content so thin, no one finds it valuable enough to share. To help with this, search engine companies created a few guides specifically on the kind of content that ranks well.
In 2011, Google published a lengthy article on what they look for in high-quality websites. What they call “high quality” I call remarkable. Their list of 23 items can be grouped into broad categories that indicate the content is: relevant, trustworthy, accurate, original, expertly-written, and Google compliant. These are the ways your content and website can demonstrate higher value, all of which lends itself to being highly sharable. In a word, your website and every post must be remarkable. Not much has changed since 2011. As business owners, we must agree to these terms or perish.
The Silver Lining
Google’s rules for ranking isn’t the worst news you can hear. In fact, it’s kind of a blessing. At the end of the day, don’t we all want a profitable, high-quality business to be proud of? Shouldn’t we all strive to not cut corners and serve our customers the best way possible? And if our products and services are truly remarkable, don’t we deserve all the press, backlinks, and recommendations we can get?
When you create a valuable website, you’re also creating a valuable brand. What many don’t see is that built right into what makes a website rank better are the same components used in an ideal business. Businesses who leverage high authority experts and industry influencers are trusted more. Transparent businesses who utilize customer empathy are highly regarded and produce better results. Websites and marketing efforts that communicate simplicity, clarity, and beauty in design translate to a better user experience. It seems almost too basic, but in the digital world if you take care of the customer, they’ll take care of you. Great SEO helps you do all of this. If by doing all these things right leads to a sale, you’ve earned it.
But it’s not always about ranking in search engines. The best strategy for businesses to perform better is to have a full-spectrum marketing program. This includes a little PPC for short term gains and a lot of SEO for long-term, sustainable gains. In addition, all the other forms of marketing and promotion come into play too. This might include direct mail, email marketing, print ads, video ads, radio ads, etc. Choose the appropriate forms of marketing to make sure you’re connecting with all of your customers. We have to remember it’s about the customer experience that counts and that can be done on several different platforms.
The end result is if we create remarkable businesses, people will find out and they’ll want to share the news. In this case, Google won’t be the key to our success, but rather just one of many platforms and catalysts to learn more about us. That’s a much better position to be in since your success is not dependent on Google. I don’t know what the future holds for search, but if it encourages better businesses and websites I’m all for it.
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