In this post we’re going to dip our toes into the world of search engines. Rather than launch into lots of details about bots, spiders, PPC, SERPs, SEO and a host of other acronyms, we’re going to take a step back and think about why it’s important to take the right path on the way to the top of Mount Google.
So far on our journey we’ve done the introductions, decided on the goals for our new website, talked about the importance of choosing a domain name, considered the perils of social media and now we’re going to move onto how we get our customers to our fantastic shiny new website.
It may seem odd to be talking about getting customers to our site when we haven’t even talked about actually building it yet, but at this point I’m just going to ask you to trust me. If you spend time and money building a website without giving any consideration to how people are going to find it, you’re asking for trouble.
Having your business on the internet is all very well and good but what’s the point of being online, if nobody knows that you are there? This is where search engines come in.
The point of a search engine is to find relevant webpages. If you want to know about armadillos, crocheting, Lady Gaga or how to make a risotto, you tell the search engine what you want and it searches for relevant online content and presents it to you as a list of links to that content.
Before the internet if you wanted to know something, you had to either ask somebody or look it up in a book. Now if you want to know something you can just “Google it.” What makes a rainbow? What is Harry Styles’ middle name? Where can I buy a Disney Princess dressing up outfit? It doesn’t matter what you want to know, Google has it covered and the power of the internet has changed the way that people find information.
Given the choice between finding my copy of the Yellow Pages and looking up the contact details of my local carpet shop and googling it on my phone, the Google phone app wins every time. At this point the question is: “What happens if my local carpet shop doesn’t have a website?” In a lot of cases, not having a website means that you are excluded from the list of people your customers will consider buying from. Not necessarily because they care about your lack of digital real estate, but because you were simply not visible to them. You can’t sell goods and services to people who don’t know that you exist.
The fact that “to google” has become a verb in the English language shows you how much things have changed since the late 1990’s when they first started trading.
Now just in case there is any confusion, Google is not the only search engine, it wasn’t even the first search engine, but at the time of writing it has an overwhelming majority. In February 2014 Google had over 88% of the UK search engine market. (The E Word, 2014) It’s closest rival is Microsoft Bing, standing at less than 7%. The most recent figures show that Google’s global dominance is dropping slightly, but with such a mammoth head start, it makes sense to focus on them and ensure that the website you are building is easy to find and present to your future customers.
1. Make Sure Your Site Is Helping
Google use computers to discover websites and other online content. They then check all those pages and the links they contain to other pages and indexes the content it finds. There are a number of things you can do to make sure that you don’t hinder this process.
- Do your pages include a title?
- Do all your images have supporting alternative (alt) text?
- Have you included title information for links?
- Do you have any broken links?
- Have you included suitable meta data as part of the site?
- Is your content appropriate, suitable and relevant?
Adding additional information such as titles and alt text to your website is something that is done as part of the process of creating your individual webpages. (Now can you see why we’re having this talk now instead of later?) If for some reason the person building your website doesn’t include this information as part of the code, then adding it later would be an additional piece of work.
Not only is including this information a simple way to make sure that your website isn’t working against you with search engines, but more importantly, it also helps to ensure that your website remains accessible to users who may use screen readers or other technologies to access the internet. By ensuring that your site is accessible, not only are you maximising the number of people who can use your website, but you are also complying with the Disability Discrimination Act.
2. Do Not Try to Trick Google
Realistically the chances of you being able to trick Google into consistently getting you extra visitors is quite unlikely. The Google search engine uses a complicated top secret algorithm to make sure that whatever sneaky plan you come up with fails. Not only will you not get more visitors, but Google will also punish you.
3. Don’t Let Anybody Trick Google On Your Behalf
There are a lot of highly skilled, reputable online marketing agencies who specialise in search engine marketing. These companies can work with you to help you achieve the best possible search engine rankings. Unfortunately there are also a lot of other companies out there, who will not only put you at risk of being penalised by Google, but will also charge you for doing it.
If Google believe that you (or somebody else on your behalf) are deliberately trying to gain a higher position by breaching their guidelines, they will penalise you by ensuring that your website either doesn’t appear in their search results or appears on the last page. Being moved to the end of the results may not sound particularly bad, but as many search terms can generate millions of results, this is a very effective way of making sure that your customers find everybody except you!
4. Monitor Your Web Traffic
Once your website is live on the internet, don’t just sit back and think that’s an end to it. Ensure that your website includes an analytical facility to help you monitor performance. This is usually done with the inclusion of a harmless tracking code that collects information. Services such as Google Analytics provide you with a mass of in depth information on how people use your website. These include allowing you to count the number of people visiting your site, see which pages of content are most popular and identify the average amount of time people spend on each page.
Even this basic information will give you a much better picture of how your website is working for your business. When you can clearly see that your website traffic shoots up after local advertising or which product category pages are more popular, then that helps you make informed decisions about your business.
5. Don’t Be A One Hit Wonder
Getting to number one is a wonderful thing and means that the maximum number of people can see your website but if they arrive and then immediately leave, it was a waste of time.
Don’t bring the wrong people to your website just to get the numbers up. Your business will not benefit from having lots of people visiting your website by accident.
According to their website Google’s mission is “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
If you deliberately bring people to your website who have no interest in your business and are never going to convert into customers then the information they find isn’t useful to you, them or Google.
A popular sales tactic for some online marketing agencies is to guarantee that you will be at the top of Google’s first page for a particular phrase. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure that the phrase is one that your customers will actually use. Unless you are in an extremely niche business it is unlikely that people will naturally use a term that wouldn’t apply to your competitors.
It is hard to think like a customer and the more involved you become with your website, the harder it will be to look at your site objectively. Ask other people what terms they would use to look for your business and the products and services you offer, before you go ahead. Analytics software can also tell you which terms people used in order to find your site. Take advantage of this knowledge and consider including them as keywords and search phrases.
Hopefully these five pointers will help you stay on the straight and narrow. Despite the title of this blog post Google rankings are important, but essentially your goal should be to build a website that contains useful relevant information which helps to grow your business.
Good quality relevant content and a well structured, accessible website will go a long way to making sure that your potential customers find what they need, and by doing that you will also be complying with Google’s recommended guidelines.