Whether you’re a brick and mortar business, a solely digital storefront, or somewhere in between, you probably already know how important your search engine ranking is. If you’re tech-savvy and knowledge-hungry, you may even be familiar with some of the basic terminology, like keywords, crawlers, and backlinks. Almost certainly, if you have taken any amount of time to try to understand this topic, you also know how easy it is to get bogged down in technical knowledge. You could easily read for two, three hours or more and walk away understanding even less about search rankings than you did when you sat down to learn. In this article, we’re going to simplify Google’s ranking system, answer the important questions for you, and distill those answers into the takeaways you need in order for your business to show up and stand out in a Google search.
4 Ways to Optimize Your Google Ranking and Search Result Appearance
How do search engines work? How can providing my visitors with a better website experience also improve my search ranking? What are the key factors that determine when my site ends up at the top of the results? You’ll get the answers to these questions and more in this article.
1. Understand Search Engines to Understand Search Engine Rankings
How Google Crawls the Web
To understand how search rankings work, it’s important to have a few mental models that help us connect all the moving pieces. Imagine the internet as a web (original, I know.) The internet web model turns out to be a useful metaphor for understanding how search engines work. Search engines send out crawlers which behave like spiders, crawling through all the points and links of the internet web to understand what exists on which websites. Search engines like Google store the information about what is where in a database, so when someone types a search into Google, it can quickly pull up all the websites related to that query.
How Google Determines Rank
So how does the search engine decide which page to display first? This is where search rankings come into the picture. Today, search engines like Google strive to be more intuitive for the everyday person by providing the most helpful, relevant, and trustworthy content for the person performing a search. Three categories—helpfulness, relevance, and trustworthiness—are useful for understanding what determines the search rankings.
The website that comes up first in search results, after advertisements, is the website that Google has decided is most likely to be the result the searcher will want to see, based on these criteria. The actual way it decides this is a vastly complicated algorithm, but you don’t need to understand the algorithm to put your website’s content into perspective and focus on the areas that matter when trying to improve your search ranking.
For small business owners, this is a great advantage. Gone are the days of stuffing keywords into your pages to try to outrank your competition for terms on sheer volume. Today, if you focus on providing a useful experience to your website visitors and follow a few key guidelines to help Google understand how your website does this, your search engine rankings will soar.
2. Use Long-Tail Keywords to Build Authority
The first term you should understand when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) is “keywords.” Using keywords effectively has always been a critical piece to the search ranking puzzle, but the strategy in 2018 has evolved far beyond the keyword stuffing strategies that some might still believe.
Keeping with the theme of being actually helpful, search engines are now looking to see that keywords are used in meaningful ways. Blogging that focuses on long-tail keywords is the preferred strategy to achieve this and mandatory for many businesses in 2018. If you own a cupcake shop, and people are often searching for “best cupcake recipes for a birthday” in your area, you want to be positioned to provide the content that meets their need.
While this might not seem directly related to generating a sale of your cupcakes, it will show Google you’re a trustworthy authority on cupcakes in your area, and with enough content like this, your cupcake business will see a boost to your organic search ranking whenever someone is looking for cupcake businesses.
If you rank high, this means that Google trusts you, and if Google trusts you, its users can trust you too. The further benefit of this is long-tail keywords like “best cupcake recipes for a birthday” might have far less competition than a keyword like “cupcake recipe,” so you’ll have an easier time reaching the top of the search rankings for this term.
3. Use Structured Data to Improve Your Listing’s Appearance
To truly stand out in search rankings, you want to take every advantage offered to you to increase the visibility of your search result on the page. The best way to do this—once you’ve handled the fundamentals of a good search listing described below—is to use structured data snippets. Structured data is how you can get colored rating stars, pricing information, and other relevant product or service information to appear in your search listing. It’s the best way to create legitimacy and draw attention to yourself on a search listing page with minimal other information about your business.
4. Help Google Understand Your Value with Tags and Metadata
Let’s pretend you own a bakery called Dave’s Delights in Muffintown, New York. Your website features a lot of great branding and imagery, you get some traffic by handing out business cards to customers with your URL on them, and you have high-quality blog content. Your customers think it looks great and feel it’s very helpful for browsing your inventory. A nearby business orders through this website and speaks highly of the ease of use.
These things are all indicative of a great user experience, which is important for your search ranking. There’s just one problem – you aren’t showing up on the first page for “bakeries in Muffintown” and no one can find you without getting your URL from your business card. What gives?
Well, it turns out when you went through and built the site to look great for your users, you neglected to make it look good for Google’s crawlers. These programs are smart and getting smarter, but they are still programs, so they rely on web development/SEO best practices to really understand what it is they’re seeing.
This is where your tags and metadata become important. This means doing things like adding an attribute to your image to tell the crawler “this is a picture of a cupcake” and inserting headers and titles that tell the crawler “Dave’s Delights serves the best cupcakes in Muffintown.”
1. Programs are smart, but they still require some assistance to understand what the most important information is on a website. Properly using tags like header, alt tags, and titles help crawlers to understand where to look for the information that makes this website relevant to search users.
2. Tags like this are used properly when the web developer is following web standards – the “best practices” for websites that have been agreed upon by the industry as a whole. Crawlers can infer a lot about a website and its content even when tags aren’t used properly, but the lack of these tags or improper implementation is a red flag that this website is not providing the best possible user experience, and thus the search ranking for this site will be worse.
Following the web standards for SEO—especially through the use of Headings, Alt tags, Title tags, and Meta tags —helps search engines like Google understand the most important information on your website and indicate that your website is a quality source. This is the number one consideration when trying to rank for keywords related to your business.