Remember the days when Google served up search results pages that consisted of just ten blue links?
Now those ten links are competing against a host of other options:
- Google Adwords (sponsored ads)
- Local packs
- Answer boxes
- Featured snippets
- Knowledge panels
Despite this, the top organic search result still has an average click through rate of around 20%.
Ranking number one on Google is still a very profitable place to be.
So, what does it take to be top of the SERPs (search engine results pages)?
Common Traits of Google’s Top Organic Search Results
Depending on how competitive the search query is, the top search results are likely to have the following characteristics.
- The page is on a site that provides a good user experience. The site will be speedy, easy to navigate and well coded.
- The page is on a site that has good quality pages throughout the site.
- The content of the page is highly relevant to the intent of the search query.
- The page URL, page title and page description all make sense in relation to the query intent.
- Visitors engage with the page with comments, shares or form submissions
These are the bare minimum requirements for a page to rank well. For competitive search queries you are probably going to need some good quality backlinks.
Let’s take a closer look at what it’s going to take to rank number one on Google – and stay there.
Your Business Reputation Matters
I’m sure you realise that if you have a business website, your business is responsible for its content.
What’s less clear is how your reputation can have a positive or negative impact on how well Google ranks your pages. Your reputation applies to both the website and the actual business the site represents. Google mainly measures your reputation by taking note of what other independent, reputable sources say about you and your business.
However, there are steps you can take to help your business gain a positive reputation by:
- Acquiring positive reviews
- Responding professionally to negative reviews
- Ensuring all you business listings are accurate
- Having terms of service, full contact information and a Google map on you site
Providing Google with verifiable evidence you are a legitimate business will help your rankings.
User Experience Matters
Ask yourself these questions about your site:
- Is your site mobile responsive?
- Do the pages load quickly?
- Can visitors easily navigate the site?
The first step is to fix any sitewide issues that are impeding you rankings.
Google takes the overall quality of a site into account, not just individual pages.
Common sitewide issues are:
- The site does not have a clear purpose
- Poor spelling and grammar throughout the site
- Site speed issues
- Excessive coding errors
- Poor interlinking between pages
Even if your competitors have sites that load slowly, look awful and are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, it doesn’t mean these types of issues don’t matter. They matter a great deal.
Don’t try and second guess why your competitors are ranking above you with a site that has obvious faults.
Focus on your own site shortcomings and get them fixed.
For starters, it’s well worth investing in a site audit and having any issues fixed by an expert. It’s a cost effective way to lay the foundations for a successful site.
Once you’ve laid this foundation, it’s time establish a content strategy that maximises your results and minimises your costs.
Create Better Content Not More Content
We all suffer from content overload, but how much of it is actually useful?
Don’t add to the noise by creating content nobody cares about or has any interest in.
our job as marketers is not to create more content … it’s to create the minimum amount of content with the maximum amount of results.
— Robert Rose
You can create the most indepth, well researched page on the internet but if it lives on a site surrounded by shallow content, it still won’t rank to its full potential.
This idea is nothing new. Here’s what Google had to say back in 2011.
low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content
— Google Webmaster Central Blog
You should to take a step back and run a critical eye over the all your content.
If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably discover you have some dross intermingled with your better stuff.
You have to decide whether these low quality pages are still relevant to your business and are worth turning into something really useful.
If they’re no longer relevant or useful, then the best course of action is to simply delete them.
Deleting content in a world where everyone seems to be bashing out more content with increasing frequency seems counterintuitive but your focus should always be on quality not quantity.
Here’s a good example of how weeding out poor quality pages helped increase visitor numbers by 88%.
If you’re really candid with yourself, you might come to the conclusion most of your content isn’t up to scratch and you need to do something about it.
Here’s what I’ve discovered about the content on many small business websites.
The content has little chance of ranking at the top of the search results because it’s targeting the wrong search phrases.
Here’s how you can avoid that mistake.
Be Realistic with Your Keyword Targets
It’s very easy to get carried away by the prospect of ranking number one in Google. The reality is that many small businesses try to rank for the wrong search terms. Keyword research is as vital today as it has always been; you just have to be smarter about it now.
Chasing the same search terms as big businesses with big marketing budgets is the wrong approach.
But don’t despair; there are ways to grow your traffic without taking on the big boys.
Long tail keywords
Long tail keywords are the longer phrases that searchers submit to search engines.
For example, “wireless headphone for iphone 8” would be considered a “long tail” keyword, whereas “wireless headphone” is a “short tail” keyword.
Long tail keywords are invariably easier to rank for because big businesses concentrate their marketing efforts on the short tail.
Another advantage of targeting long tail keywords is that it’s easier to work out what someone is looking for. Knowing the intent behind the query makes it easier to make you content relevant to what people are actually searching for.
Because you are providing your visitors with the exact information, service or product they were looking for your chances of them doing business with you significantly increases.
Don’t worry about getting masses of visitors to a single page. If you target all your long tail keywords you will increase the number of visitors to your site.
Finding the right keywords to target is a specialised process that requires strong analytical skills and a high level of expertise.
If you’d like me to find a valuable keyword for your business you can contact me using the form below.
It’s a free service so I have to restrict it to just one keyword. It will be a profitable keyword directly related to one of your products or core services.
You will receive a full analysis of my findings along with the steps you need to take to rank top spot for the keyword.
Unearthing profitable long tail keywords is vital to any small business but the hard work doesn’t stop there.
Now it’s time to produce the best page on the internet for the topic your long tail keyword is targeting.
Don’t forget, although top spot may be a page that doesn’t seem too great to you, it’s there for a reason.
It got there originally because Google thought it was the best answer to the search query.
It only stays there because visitors don’t bounce back to the search results and click on another result too often. If they did, it wouldn’t stay in the top spot.
Keep that in mind before you start creating your content. The best content is the one that answers the search query better than the rest.
Keep your visitors happy by providing them with something of value. Google will take note and your rankings will improve.
If you want Google to trust your website and rank it well in search, you need to promote your content where you have verified profiles.
Typically this means site such as Google+ (G+), YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
If you already have several social accounts, make all your social network profiles link to all your other social profiles and make sure you have links to them on your website.
Typically businesses just republish the content from their website to all their social sites. I don’t recommend that because there’s a better way.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to just repost your latest content on Google+, that’s the exception, not the rule.
Your audience will be more receptive to your content if it’s provided in a format that’s native to platform.
For example, no one on Instagram is interested in visiting your website to read your long form written content. But let’s say you new content contained a short video. Why not upload the video to Instagram?
Whenever you repurpose content on social media, always consider who your audience is and why they are there.
If your target audience is there to be entertained, entertain them. If they want a problem solving, help them solve it.
It’s a great way to get your content in front of more people and it brings traffic to your website you wouldn’t otherwise get.
The extra traffic helps with rankings and it signals to the search engines that you are active on social media.
I realise being active on social media is time consuming but if your top ranking competitors have a social presence you should be there too.
There are lots of ways to acquire backlinks but the following methods are the most widely used.
There a some very popular and services that automate the process of submitting your company details to the hundreds of the best known free online directories.
It seems an easy and cost effective way of getting lots of free links to your site; but there’s a problem with going down this route.
Apart from a handful of notable exceptions, the profile backlinks you get from these directories will not provide any SEO benefit. Google has to trust the site that contains your backlink otherwise the backlink is ignored.
Google doesn’t trust most directory sites because generally they don’t exercise any editorial discretion. You don’t want to be listed alongside a lot of spammy sites.
The free directories I feel comfortable submitting to are:
Creating a handful of free listing is a quick win and the links help to diversify your overall link profile.
Guest posting is the SEO industries most common method of acquiring links.
Guest posts are when a “guest” content creator (that’s you) provides content for another website. In return, the guest is allowed to insert a backlink in the body of the post or at the bottom on the post in the form of an author bio section.
Done the right way, guest posting benefits everyone. Some of the best content on the web is provided in the form of guest posts.
If Google thought guest posts didn’t provide a significant amount of value to their search results they would have disincentified guest posting completely by discounting the value of the backlinks. That’s not going to happen for two reasons:
- Google champions valuable content and guest posts only get published on reputable sites if they provide value
- It would cause a huge disruption to Google’s search results
Guest posting has stood the test of time better than any other method of building backlinks, but it’s not without problems. Let’s take a look at those problems now.
Guest Posting Services
Most SEO practitioners make use of paid guest posting services to acquire links for their client. You could of course go directly to a guest posting service yourself but doing that has serious downsides.
One is the difficulty of finding a reputable guest post service provider.
Check out this study to find out what I mean.
Another big problem is figuring out whether it’s going to provide you with a decent return on your investment. Take a look at this Guest Post Case Study and you’ll see why.
To get value for money, my advice would pay at least £200 per guest post and only then from someone you have absolute trust in.
Here’s something else you need to know about guest posting and it’s vitally important.
Backlinks from guest posts should not link to your product or service pages here’s why.
Google tolerates links in guest posts only if they provide value to anyone who clicks the link and finds value on the page they land on. Very rarely does anyone want to be redirected to a sales or service page.
Of course you want to funnel traffic to your “money” pages and you want those money pages to get the link value of the backlink but you have to do it in an indirect way.
The guest post links to a high quality page on your site. Anyone clicking the link will find your valuable content there.
Of course within that page you have linked to your product page.
This serves two purposes. Firstly, part of the link value will be passed through to your product page.
Secondly, visitors may click through to your product page.
That one guest post has delivered two big wins for you. You get some extra visitors to your site that wouldn’t otherwise know about you. You get a ranking boost to two of your pages.
Note: There have been numerous guest post case studies done. Generally they conclude that you shouldn’t expect to get too many visitors clicking through to you site. I’ve always believed the main benefit comes from increased search engine rankings.
There are other forms of link building services other than guest posting but they are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say they are more likely to hurt your rankings rather than propel you to the top of Google.
It’s time to move on the final and most important section on backlinks.
Earned links are a byproduct of creating high quality content.
They are links freely given by someone who has no obvious reason to link to your content other than to show their appreciation of the value your content provides.
If a link comes from a reputable business or individual, Google will take note and rank your content higher.
These are the type of links that will propel you to the top of Google’s search results. The downside is they are the most difficult to acquire.
Earned links are subtlety different to every other method covered so far. The process of earning links focuses on creating “linkable assets” and building relationships rather than building links.
Linkable assets are resources have the capacity to attract backlinks without excessive promotion. Examples include:
- Publishing unique research related to your niche to gain media coverage
- Providing a free tool that solves a problem in your vertical
- Creating the biggest, best, most useful resource page in your niche
- Creating a how-to video series that address common problems in your industry
I understand if you think that creating linkable assets is beyond your marketing budget but keep this in mind. Thinking in terms of linkable assets is almost bound to lead to you creating content that is at least link worthy to some degree.
That about wraps up the section on link building.
But don’t go away, because this next section shows you the best ranking strategy there is.
I appreciate why so many small business feel that video isn’t right for them. It seems miles away from the realities of running a business.
But the facts are well known, video gets attention, builds website traffic, converts leads into customers and even builds brands out of almost nothing.
What’s not well known is that video is often the best, fastest and safest way to rank web pages.
Desperately want to get high authority backlinks to your sales or service pages?
Embed a YouTube video on every sales or service page on your site!
Google will love you because you are sending traffic to YouTube, which, as I’m sure you know, just happens to be owned by Google.
But video marketing isn’t just about YouTube anymore.
We’re entering this new golden age of video, I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.
Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook
Video is supported on all the major social platforms and audiences on social embed, share, and comment on video content far more than they engage with other content types.
How to Stay at the Top of Google
Imagine for a moment that all your hard work has finally paid off and you have reached to top of Google for a long tail keyword.
As a consequence of ranking at the top of Google for just one of your pages, your sales improve and you’re making more money.
But now’s not the time to get complacent; it’s time to ensure you keep your number one ranking.
You can take several approaches to securing your rankings. The most obvious one is acquiring more backlinks with any of the methods discussed earlier.
But there’s a better approach.
Go find yourself another long tail keyword and repeat what you did with your top ranking page.
Make it the best page on the internet for the search query you’re targeting.
If you keep producing good quality content in this manner you website will get stronger and stronger. Google will reward you with higher rankings for all your high quality pages; often without the need for backlinks.
What happening here is that you are building up domain authority, your site is being recognised by Google as high quality.
Good luck with your rankings – see you at the top.