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How to be number one on Google

To appear on the first page of a ‘natural’ Google search – and even better, at the top of the list – is the holy grail of marketing. Crack this one and you are sorted. Of course, it’s not that easy. Especially when the product or service you are selling is not unique, with many other companies out there trying to do the same thing. The reality is that there is only one ‘top spot’ every time someone searches, and it’s not necessarily going to be you.

So what can you do to improve your chances of appearing near the top of the page? You can start by understanding Search Engine Optimisation, most commonly known as SEO. 

SEO (Search engine optimisation) can be defined as the activity of optimising web pages or whole sites in order to make them more search engine-friendly. Search engines are text driven so by understanding what items are most important and what SEO looks for when scanning for relevant web pages will give you a greater chance of being number one in search results.

Here are some handy tips which we’ve picked up along the way:

Competitor Research
If you want to beat the competition on Google, this is an essential first step. You need to define exactly what it is that you are offering to your customers, and then identify other companies on the Internet who are offering the same. Of course, there will be many (unless you’re offering a REALLY unusual service) – but there are ways to narrow this down. For example, if you only really operate in a small geographical area, or your business is targeted at a specific niche or sector.

Once you have identified a selection of competitors, look closely at their sites – but remember to think of yourself as a potential customer and not as a competitor. This will enable you to assess their strengths, but also their weaknesses, both in terms of what they actually offer and also in terms of how they present themselves via their website. This will help you to make any changes to your site that you think will ‘give you an edge’ should a potential customer be choosing between the two of you.

The next step is to see what they are doing in terms of SEO. If you found them, then chances are they are doing something right. Look at the titles of each of their pages – both on the page and in the browser bar in the top left hand corner. See whether they are running any ‘Pay Per Click’ activity and hence appearing in sponsored links as well as natural searches. All of this will help you to assess what you are competing against when someone is trying to find your services – and will enable you to make sure that it’s you they choose.

Keyword Research
You will have heard people talk about ‘keywords’ in relation to search engine optimisation (SEO), but it’s amazing how many people don’t really know what this means, or how to use them properly. A ‘keyword’ – or in fact ‘key phrase’ – is a word or phrase which someone might search on when looking for what you are offering. For example, ‘photographer in Basingstoke’. It seems obvious, but the human mind is a strange thing, and it is often the case that the search phrases people use are not always what you might expect.

One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to determine what keywords they should use, is to assume that they know how their customer audience thinks. By not carrying out this vital research phase, it is easy to miss some of the most effective and powerful keywords. We guarantee you’ll find that some of them are ones you would never have even thought of. 

The other thing to remember when selecting keywords is that you are not just looking for words and phrases that will get people to your site – in effect ‘shop window browsers’. You want to attract people who are actually in the market for your services. Using a consumer example for a moment, someone who searches ‘deep fat fryer’ could just be having a look around to see what the options are, whereas someone who searches ‘Tefal Actifry’ knows they want one that uses little fat – and someone who searches ‘cheapest Tefal Actifry’ or even ‘buy Tefal Actifry’ is most likely to convert to a sale. So if people find you using such specific keywords, the chances are they are more likely to convert to being a customer.

Page Titles
Page titles are one of the most powerful SEO tools, yet are often completely overlooked. Getting your page titles, and most importantly your Home page title, right is vital. Each page title should begin with your strongest keyword for that page, not with your company name. It’s not about who you are that matters, but instead about what you offer. Potential customers know what service they want – but at this point they don’t know specifically about you, so there is no point using your company name as part of your keywords. Unless you are hugely successful of course! The other thing to remember is that Google listings only display 66 characters (including spaces) for a page title, so make the most of every one.

Meta Descriptions
This is a short paragraph of text which describes your site, or a page on your site. It sits within the page code and is only visible to search engines, but Google will display this paragraph as part of the search results, under the page title. By writing these ‘meta descriptions’ specifically for each page, you can ensure that anyone scanning a list of results is seeing exactly the information you want them to see about your company. Without this meta description, Google will use the first few words of your web page – which may not necessarily provide the information which the searcher needs in order to decide to click on your website.

In effect, the meta description acts like a little advert, so use it to give the searcher a clear and concise summary of what you offer. Remember also that any keywords you include in your meta description should match the ones in your page title and in the content of your Home page.

Google only allows 150 characters including spaces for meta descriptions so make sure you work to this, or it may well truncate your description, cutting you off in mid-sentence.

Headings and sub-headings
At the very least, these are important for breaking up content on your website and making it more ‘scannable’ and easy for your visitors to read. Main headings and subheadings are also important for SEO. Google uses headings to help it understand the content of your site, specifically in relation to what is known as ‘relevance’ – as in, how relevant is this website to the phrase which someone has just searched on? Make sure that every page on your website has a main heading and a series of subheadings, and that these headings include your target keywords wherever possible.

More on relevance
This is worth expanding on a little more. Over the years people have tried to ‘get clever’ with the use of keywords, in an attempt to drive more traffic to their website, even if that person was not really looking for what they offer when they started searching. For example, if you are a business selling patio heaters, it is reasonable to assume that if someone searches on ‘garden furniture’ they might be interested in buying a patio heater as well. So you add ‘garden furniture’ to your keywords and sure enough – you manage to make yourself appear on the first search page.

At this point the searcher could opportunistically think ‘ah yes, I need one of those as well’ (as the company hopes they will) or they could equally just get frustrated that their search brought up something which was totally irrelevant to them. In fact, some companies have took this even further and included keywords which were not even vaguely relevant, in the hope if distracting people from their initial search completely.

A while back, Google realised that this was happening and decided to toughen up the rules a bit, to ensure that it’s ‘customers’ – the searchers – got the best possible user experience. As such, Google’s algorithms now assess keywords and phrases for ‘relevancy’ in relation to your website’s content, and if they feel the site is not relevant to what the searcher was really looking for, they will stop the site from appearing in that set of search results. Repeated use of this approach can also result in a website being ‘blacklisted’ by Google, if feels that the site owner is trying to drive traffic to it by unfair means.

File Names
The names which you apply to your images, media and web pages also need to be optimised, by using your keywords within the file names themselves. For example, if one of your key phrases is ‘wedding photography’ you should save any sample images used on that page as ‘wedding-photography-01.jpg’ and so on. This helps search engines to understand what that image file contains. The same applies for the file name of your web pages, as many search engines now look for keywords within the URL as well – these are known as ‘inurl:’ searches. 

Visitor Sitemap
This is a web page that holds links to all the pages on your website, in a ‘directory’ format. Sitemaps offer a valuable alternative navigation option for your visitors, but more importantly they can also be valuable for SEO. Sitemaps do exactly what a map should do - help search engines to ‘find their way around’ your website more easily! This also increases the chances of all your pages being properly indexed by the search engine. Sitemaps should appear with sub pages ‘indented’ on the list, in a way that reflects the exact hierarchy of the site - and all headings should be linked to the relevant page. Page name information should be in text, not images, and no two pages on the sitemap should have the same name - as this can confuse both users and search engines.

Keyword Density
As you will have seen from this article so far, there are many text elements within a web page which counts towards the overall ‘keyword density’ of the page. These rank as follows in terms of importance for SEO:

  • Page title
  • Meta description
  • Headings (using ‘H1 tags’ or similar)
  • Alternative image descriptions

You need to ensure that your Home page contains content that is keyword rich, but without making the visitor aware of this. There are many sites that you will see where it’s obvious that SEO has taken priority over ‘readability’ and often the site, especially the Home page, start to make no sense at all! It’s a fine balancing act between the two, and one which it is vital to achieve.

Your chosen key words must also work alongside the other elements of your on-page SEO, to help search engines identify your site as highly relevant to those keywords, which – as described above – will help to increase your rankings for them. As a guide, the ideal density for a particular keyword on any page is around the 5% mark. So, for example, if you are targeting the phrase ‘wedding photography’ then this should be should be repeated around 10 times for every 200 words on your Home page, or on the relevant Wedding Photography page, if you offer other types of photography as well.

Link Descriptions
When you place hyperlinks to either internal or external web pages on your site, you must make sure that you give the search engine a description of that link. As we’ve already explained, Google likes to understand the relevance of a link and will then give it a ‘link score’. For example, on your Home page you might have a panel with a wedding image and a graphic underneath with says ‘Click here to find out more about our Wedding Photography services’, with a button to click. That button is a link and must have a description which enables Google to determine if the visitor will find relevant content by clicking on it, so make sure you include the phrase ‘wedding photography’ in the name of the button graphic.

Likewise, when you’re hyperlinking words, make sure you use the words themselves as the link description. Going back to the phrase above, the link should work like this – ‘Click here to find out more about our Wedding Photography services’ – and not like this - ‘Click here to find out more about our Wedding Photography services’. With the first option Google can immediately see what the link is about.

Pay Per Click
Otherwise known as ‘Google Adwords’, this is in effect an advertising campaign which enables you to pay to appear on the first page of a set of search results, but in the ‘Sponsored Links’ sections at the top and down the right hand side. A PPC campaign is set up using much of the same information as we have already described – keywords, relevance and so on - with the only difference being that you agree to pay a set amount for every ‘click through’ to your website from a sponsored link. Hence the name ‘Pay Per Click’.

All of the same rules regarding relevance apply, and if Google thinks that your ad is not relevant to your websites – and hence is not driving the searcher to a sit that is useful to them - it will drop it further down the list, and even off the first page altogether. Google decides how ads are rotated to give everyone a chance at the ‘top spot’, but again the weighting of this can be affected if your ad is not relevant to your site.

There is far more information on PPC which is not covered here, but if you carry out all of the other activity described in this article, chances are you won’t need it. 

We hope the above information has been useful. For more information or a general chat about business plans call us on 0500 234111 / 01442 275767.

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