In the beginning, there was Google, and it was good. In fact, it was so good that it’s come to dominate the UK web search market. Depending on the methodology used to calculate results, studies indicate that between 85 and 90 per cent of all domestic searches are performed by Google. That far outstrips its only significant rival – the Bing/Yahoo partnership.
While Bing’s market share can’t be ignored, Google rankings are clearly a primary focus for any search engine optimisation campaign or web development strategy. And although the composition of Google’s all-powerful ranking algorithm remains a closely-guarded secret, many things are known to have a measurable impact on search engine results positions.
These are ten steps everyone should follow to improve their Google rankings…
- Use a recognised TLD. Top level domains are the final part of a web address, identifying it as a company (.biz, .co) or denoting its location (.uk, .scot). Regulatory body ICANN releases dozens of new TLDs every year, but well-established ones like .com are more trusted among the public. Trust encourages traffic, which reassures Google that a website is legitimate and relevant. Country code TLDs like .uk also perform better in domestic searches, though they’re occasionally used to spell out a URL like Apple’s www.itun.es. This now redirects to Apple’s international homepage.
- Deploy a streamlined and responsive template. Websites built using platforms like WordPress automatically resize according to each output device’s screen size. This is crucially important, with most web traffic now displaying on smartphones and tablets. Google rankings penalise sites that don’t display clearly on mobile devices, as well as downgrading pages that may take more than a few seconds to download. Google PageSpeed Insights can identify if a particular page is likely to be penalised for slow loading. Minimise this by stripping out unnecessary code or CSS layers, deleting superfluous plugins and compressing images. Never allow videos to play automatically, and host them on YouTube’s servers rather than your own for optimal performance.
- Create canonical URLs. Some web pages can be accessed with and without an https prefix, or with and without a / symbol at the end. Canonical URLs establish a standard address which universally identifies that page, ensuring its SEO benefits aren’t divided between multiple interpretations of the same address. Google has published several articles on defining canonical URLs, and the benefits of having a standardised address for each page on your website.
- Optimise written content. Ensure every page contains several keywords or long tail phrases, which are usually several words long. Identify popular or relevant terms with analytics packages like KWFinder or SEMrush, to understand what people type into Google when searching for companies in your chosen market or region. Once software like Moz has confirmed static pages are optimised, create a Blog or News page for additional content updates. These are great for squeezing in extra keywords, while putting another tick in the SEO box by reassuring Google that your site is being updated frequently.
- Exploit tags. SEO text is valuable, but many people fail to incorporate keywords and long tails into page coding. From title tags to image tags, platforms like Yoast will identify missed opportunities to boost search engine performance. Every page should have a title, link text and image captions, plus a snippet of summarised content that appears in search results. Don’t forget to create a robots.txt file and an XML sitemap, whose presence boost ranking results by ensuring Google’s web crawlers correctly index every page.
- Develop inbound links. Multiple inbound links suggest your site is a valuable resource, so these are a leading factor in calculating results positions. Encourage partners and intermediaries to feature your web address on their own site, with regular links from social media platforms. Links can be created with externally-hosted case studies, guest blogging, reciprocal links and press coverage. Google is less keen on directories than before, but paid advertising remains beneficial on the whole.
- Promote your website offline. While inbound links are valuable, don’t ignore offline traffic generation as well. Site rankings increase with traffic volumes, so promote your homepage on business cards and flyers. Consider published directories like Yell and Thomson Local, and don’t be afraid to dip a toe into the UK’s local newspaper market if your products or services are aimed at specific regions. Combine conventional newspaper or magazine advertising with more unusual platforms like petrol pumps or event sponsorship, and don’t forget to include your URL in email signatures and corporate stationery.
- Advertise with Google. No official link exists between advertising with Google and performing better in searches, but many observers believe there is a correlation. A Google AdWords campaign will certainly increase your online profile, since paid ads frequently appear higher up than organic ranking displays. With immense scope for campaign customisation and no minimum or maximum daily budget, there are clear benefits to running an advertising campaign with the world’s leading search engine.
- Read up about SEO changes. A few years ago, Adobe Flash was a default vehicle for video content and animations. Nowadays, though, its presence will damage your site’s ranking and reputation. Google rankings fluctuate as the company revises its web crawling algorithms; tag clouds were acceptable in 2010, but they aren’t necessarily advisable today. A basic knowledge of SEO will enable you to follow and respond to algorithm changes, as something currently perceived as a benefit morphs into a hindrance.
- Avoid black hat marketing. This builds on the previous point, where formerly acceptable marketing tactics become unacceptable and toxic. Those “1st page Google!” emails often rely on black hat techniques like plagiarised text or cut-price link farms, both of which can severely damage your site’s ranking by association. Cloning competitor URLs represents another underhand trick that could get your site blacklisted entirely from future search results. Undoing a blacklisting might be impossible, requiring a complete relaunch of your website under a new domain name…