The benefits of a high ranking in Google are clear:
- You get more traffic
- You get more enquiries and more sales
- It doesn’t cost a penny
The first question is: How do I get up there?
The second question is: How do I stay there?
It’s actually quite easy. Just follow these 5 steps to get to the number 1 spot and stay there!
Step 1: Set Up Your Local Listings and Get Reviews
Before you even touch your website, you need to create accounts with the most important local listings.
Once you’ve done this you’ll need to optimize them fully. That means adding your business name, address, contact details, business category, hours of business, keywords, an introduction, photos, video and confirm your map location.
Fill in everything – don’t miss out a single thing.
You’ll then need to verify your listing. Usually, you do this is by post.
The thing is, you’ll notice that Google’s local search results show the first three results (known as the ‘Three Pack’). It used to be seven but this was reduced in late 2015 to three so this is where you need to be and that is why it is important to set up and optimize your local listing.
These top three results have one thing in common – they have more reviews than other sites.
Make no mistake about it – Google Reviews count. Anyone who has a Google+ account can review your business so you need to make sure that you are in the habit of asking for reviews.
IMPORTANT: However, this comes with a word of warning. Your reviews need to be genuine and they should occur over time. Resist the temptation to try to game the system with loads of reviews in one week. That can raise alarm bells at Google and can get your account suspended or in extreme cases banned.
What you can do though is to have an initial plan of attack followed by a longer-term plan. If you have existing clients, then you probably know who your best ones are. Make a list and drop them an email politely explaining that you appreciate their business and asking if they would be willing to leave you a review.
Just give them the link to your Google account with some instructions on how to leave a review. You can even create a little handout with step by step instructions for leaving a review.
Then, over time, whenever you have a happy customer, just send them over the instructions and ask for a review. You’ll find that you start to pick up more and more reviews and you’ll naturally start to increase your ranking.
Step 2: Get NAP Citations And Some Easy Backlinks
So far we haven’t even touched your website and that continues with our next step.
NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone number. A NAP Citation is just a mention of your website on another website. Typically it will be local business directories which will list your NAP details.
The reason for this is that Google wants to present relevant, legitimate businesses in its results and your NAP Citations are one way that it determines this.
The most important thing you need to understand about NAP Citations is that they need to be consistent and you need them across multiple directories.
You should start with reputable directories such as Yell, but there are hundreds to choose from depending on the country you are in. Some are free, but others are paid for. All you need to do is to add new NAP Citations consistently.
As well as getting NAP Citations, we need to start building backlinks. Later we’ll look at creating great content to build backlinks on, but for now, you need to understand that backlinks from other websites send important signals to Google. Getting backlinks is a time-consuming task but there are a few quick and easy wins. Most of them are on your doorstep.
If you are a local business then you’ve probably got loads of suppliers. Your legal representative, accountant, printer, web designer, hosting company, office furniture supplier, IT support. The list goes on. They would appreciate a genuine testimonial from you. Just drop them an email with your testimonial and say you would be happy for them to use it on their website if they like.
Also are you a member of any local business groups? These are easy wins as they normally have a members section. Or is there a local charity you support? Again, they are usually happy to list their supporters. These links all send valid messages to Google and they are as easy as sending an email.
Other quick wins are industry specific directories. Run a search in Google on your industry and look for specific trade directories to get listed there.
Are you a member of a specific trade association? If so, claim your listing. Or maybe you’ve achieved a certain level of qualification which allows you to be listed on the training website as an accredited member.
All of these send very strong signals to Google about what it is that you do.
Step 3. Optimize Your Pages
Now we need to start working on your website.
The first thing to recognize is that most small business websites are just too small and do not have enough content.
The first thing to do is to create a complete list of EVERY product you sell or EVERY service you provide. Now you need to create a page for every single one of them.
Most small businesses will have a single ‘Services’ page and this is a problem because you need to spread your net wide so that Google picks up on specific keywords related to each page. For example, if you are a plumber and you do call outs as well as project work then you might offer central heating installation, kitchen plumbing installation, bathroom plumbing installation, external drainage installation, etc. Rather than list them all on one ‘Services’ page, create separate pages for each service.
Now, you need to create long pages. Anywhere from 500 to 1500 words. Yes, you read that correctly – between 500 to 1500 words per page. Why? Because Google prefers longer pages.
Think about all of the information you have up in your head or stored in the hard disk of your PC or in our email outbox. You need to get that content onto your website. Do you have some presentations you can use to give you ideas? Do you have some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)? How about just running through an imaginary conversation with a prospective client. You have all the answers – you just need to get it from up there to out there on your website.
Now you need to optimize each page. Here’s a list of things you need to do:
- Identify a target keyword for each page e.g. kitchen plumbing installation
- Create unique metatags for every page – metatags are just the HTML code that Google uses to recognise what the page relates to. The most important are the Page Title Element and the Meta Description
- Create Keyword-Rich URLs – e.g. www.yourdomainname.me/kitchen-plumbing-installation-YOUR-TOWN-HERE
- Create H1, H2 and H3 Headings and use your keywords in the Headings. Headings like you use when you create a word document. They split the page up into logical chunks and Google uses them to understand the content of the page
- Include your keywords in the text of the page at a rough ratio of 2% to 3% – the main thing is not to stuff loads of keywords in unnaturally. If you have long form pages you will have plenty of opportunities to include your keywords in a natural manner
- Link to other pages in your website using your keywords as the link that will be clicked on (this is called the Anchor Text)
Finally, you need to setup Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, create an XML SiteMap and set up robots.txt. These are one-off items and if you are not sure you should get your web designer to set these up. They are very straightforward and won’t take long for an experienced web professional.
Step 4: Optimize Your Website For Speed, Mobile, and Security
Google rarely tells us what its search algorithm consists of. However, there are three key areas where they have clearly stated that these are ranking factors taken into account when determining a website’s rank.
- Website Load Speed
- Mobile Friendliness
- Website Security
Let’s look at each in turn.
Website Load Speed
How fast your website loads is important to Google because faster websites result in a better browsing experience for the end user. Google therefore measures how fast your site loads and takes this into consideration.
We don’t know for sure how much it affects your ranking but every little advantage counts.
There are so many factors that will affect your website’s load speed and while some of them are very technical they can be broken down into two main areas:
- The code of your website
- The hosting infrastructure your website is hosted on
The first point involves optimizing the code of your website. Over time, your site can become slow due to adding scripts and extra functionality. For most small sites this is not too much of an issue though.
When it comes to your hosting this is where the rubber hits the road. If you are on a low-cost hosting platform then you might want to consider upgrading to Solid State Hosting (SSD). The advantage of SSD is that unlike traditional spinning hard drives, there are no moving parts. In some cases, SSD offers speeds hundreds of times faster than traditional storage devices.
Mobile Friendly Website
The days of ‘just having a website’ are long gone. Mobile is changing the face of the web, fast.
Irrespective of whether you are a large or small business you are not immune. Having a mobile-friendly website is no longer a nice to have – it is the entry price if you want to do well online.
Your potential customers are not just sitting at home browsing on a desktop. They are walking around your town or on the move and they are browsing the web on mobile phones, tablets or laptops.
It is for this reason that Google announced in 2015 that it was taking mobile friendliness into account in its search results. That isn’t to say that non-mobile websites will disappear from the rankings, but the direction of travel is clear.
The first thing to do is to run a mobile friendly test. If your website is not mobile friendly then you have two options available to you:
- Set up a side by side mobile website
- Redesign your website using Responsive Design
A side by side mobile version is the cheapest option. You just use a mobile website builder and add some code to the pages of your website which the mobile device will detect and present the mobile version to the browser.
The advantages are that it is quick and cheap but it is not an optimum solution because you are restricted by the features and you have to effectively maintain two different sites.
Responsive Web Design is a technique whereby a website responds to the device being used to browse it. It doesn’t matter if you are browsing using a mobile, a tablet, a laptop or a large desktop screen. The website will adapt to the browser and appear correctly.
Longer term the Responsive Design is a better option for you but if budget is an issue then you could look at switching to a pre-made Responsive WordPress Template.
In terms of security, again Google makes it clear that security is an important issue for them.
Google’s recommended approach is to switch to SSL. They even admit that SSL is a ranking signal. SSL may be more familiar to you as the padlock, secure area in an E-commerce site. It creates a secure connection between the visitor’s browser and your website.
The other thing you will notice is that your website appears as https rather than http in the browser bar.
SSL certificates are not that expensive and usually your hosting company will install them for you.
If you do decide to switch to SSL and you have a small website then this will not be too difficult but if you have a larger site you should get an experienced web professional to migrate the files for you and also update Google Webmaster Tools so that Google now understands that your website address is now using SSL.
Step 5: Create Authority Content
Finally, we come to your Content Strategy.
Creating high quality, ‘Authority’ content is increasingly important. The reason is because you need to stand out as an authority figure in your niche or in your area.
Being an Authority doesn’t mean being interviewed on TV or anything like that. It just means that you create content that allows visitors to perceive you as an expert in your field.
When you create this content it allows you to reach out (a process called outreach) to other influential websites and this will get you more social shares and backlinks to your website.
Fortunately, there are several types of proven Authority content that you can create. These include:
- Definitive/Ultimate Guides – These are long-form content on a specific area of expertise and can range from 5,000 to 20,000 words in length
- Buyers Guides – This is educational content created to help busy prospects to make an informed purchasing decision by laying out the options and explaining the important points without the jargon
- How-To Guides – Short pieces of content that provide expert insight into a narrow, focused question. Ideally suited to video content
- Comparisons – Comparing similar products or services and exploring the features, pricing and benefits allows you to demonstrate your market knowledge
- Case Studies – A Before and After story of transformation starring your happy customers, a well prepared Case Study is a powerful conversion tool spoken in their words. Pure solid gold
Your content should appear on your blog as well as being repurposed into PDFs, videos or slide presentations. Creating Authority content takes time and resources so repurposing it means you get more bang for your buck.
Getting to the top of Google is an achievable and realistic goal as long as you follow five key steps.
First, set up and optimize your Google and Bing Local Listings. Get some reviews from existing clients and get in the habit of asking for more, providing clear instructions if necessary.
Get NAP Citations from the most important local directories and keep adding more NAP Citations each month. Make sure your NAP Citations are all using the same Name, Address and Phone details and correct any errors or omissions.
Get some backlinks. Go for quick easy wins like links from testimonials you provide. Get listed in industry directories or any other relevant online listing.
Optimize your pages. Create a page for EVERY product or service you provide. Search through your hard drive to find content that can be re-used on these pages. Aim for a minimum of 500 (and up to 1500) words per page.
Identify the best keywords for each page and update all pages with Metatags, keyword rich URLs and headings, link to other pages and use your keywords in your text.
Google prefers faster websites. If you only have a small website then you should run a speed check and if necessary upgrade to a faster hosting platform such as SSD hosting if required.
Mobile is vital these days and Google penalises non-mobile friendly websites. One option is to get a side by side mobile version. This should be considered as a stop gap until your next website update when a Responsive Web Design should be considered.
Security is also a stated Google ranking factor. Switching to SSL would meet Google’s requirements. If you switch to SSL (https://) then you should ask a Developer to migrate your files and update any internal links and update Google Webmaster Tools.
Finally, you need to create content that will increase your ranking by helping you get more backlinks and social shares. There are five proven types of content which will help you achieve this.
So how many of these techniques are you currently using? Are you planning on implementing any? Do you have any questions or concerns over them? Let us have your comments below.