With one billion internet users worldwide and 14 million in Australia, being easily found in Google can have a huge impact on the success of your business.

Even if you don’t sell online, many of your potential customers do research on Google before making their buying decisions.

If customers don’t find your business online, you can be fairly sure they’ll find your competition.

To rank high in Google’s search results, you can hire a consultant or, given the time, there are some easy changes you can make to your website yourself, or perhaps ask your web developer to do for you.

How does Google rank websites?

Before you make any changes to your website, you need to understand how Google finds and ranks your website in the search results.

Search engines use software, often called a “robot” or a “spider”, that constantly “crawls” the internet following links from one site to another, reading the text of the sites it finds, then recording or “indexing” the results in its database.

When a potential customer does a search (for say “Sydney drycleaners”), the search engine uses its secret formula or “algorithm” to create a list of what it deems to be the most relevant search results for that request.

The Google search results page is made up of two sections: sponsored links and organic results.

The sponsored links (paid advertising, such as Google Adwords) are the entries at the top of the page and the right-hand column. The organic results are in the left-hand column below the first sponsored entries.

Getting your website to rank as high as possible in the organic results is referred to as search engine optimisation (or SEO).

There are two basic steps to improve your rankings. You need to improve the content of your website so your keywords are very prominent in the text of your website, then you need to get lots of other websites that are relevant to your business linking to your website.

Very few website visitors click on beyond the second page of the search results, so your goal should be to get at least within the top 20 search results (that is, the first two search results pages) for any keyword phrase.

Let’s focus on improving the rankings of your home page. Follow this step-by-step approach to optimise your home page for two keyword phrases. (This process can be repeated for each of your web pages.)

Step 1: Keyword research

What keywords do you think your customers would type in to search for your products or services? A keyword can be one word (for example “restaurant”), but multiple keywords or keyword phrases are usually preferred, because they are more specific to what your customers are looking for (for example “French restaurant Bondi”).

Write down as many as you can think of. Brainstorm with your team. Think of alternative words. Consider geographical phrases if they are important to your customer (for example, “house cleaning Hornsby”). Get some ideas from your competitors’ websites. Try to make a list of 20-30 keyword phrases.

Choose the two keyword phrases you think would be searched for the most. But remember, the more competition there is for a keyword, the harder it is to achieve top rankings.

If you want to rank high in Google for the keyword “insurance”, you have a very long journey ahead. So try your best to select two keyword phrases that are the most relevant to your business but are not vague nor competitive. It’s a good idea to have two or three words in each phrase (for example, “wedding catering services”).

Once you’ve selected your two best keyword phrases the next step shows you how to make some improvements to your home page.

Step 2: Web copy

Web copy refers to all the words or text on your website. Because content is king in the world of search engines, your keyword phrases need to be placed strategically on your webpage to convince Google that your content is highly relevant to those keywords.

The more prominent they are, the better. But keep in mind that as important as search engines are, customers come first, so make sure your copy also reads well.

Here’s how you can increase each keyword’s prominence:

  • Put them in headings, preferably at the beginning of the heading;
  • Include keywords towards the top of the page;
  • Bold or italicise keywords where appropriate;
  • Instead of a link to another page “Click here to read more”, include keywords, e.g. “Read more about our vehicle fleet financing”.

An important tip is to also include these keywords in your HTML “title tag”. Use your content management system to make these changes or ask your web developer to do it.

Consider adding new content, such as detailed descriptions of what you offer, FAQs and informative articles about your products and services. (If you don’t want to write these yourself, they can be located for free on the internet – do a search for “articles directory”).

It’s also good to bear in mind that search engines can only read text, not pictures. Often web developers embed words in images to look better or use Flash for animation, but this is a major impediment to search engines.

Step 3: Linking

Each link from another website to your website (not from your website) is considered by search engines as a vote of popularity for your business and will improve your rankings.

But it is the quality, not quantity, of the links that is crucial. The other websites should be relevant to your industry, and preferably highly regarded themselves. Ten quality links count far more than 500 links from arbitrary websites.

In the same way your personal business network can have a significant impact on the success of your business, so too the online network you build on the internet.

Brainstorm all the relevant websites that could link to you, such as non-competing companies, and industry bodies and organisations.

Write a friendly email to each describing the benefit their visitors would get in knowing about your business, and request them to create a link to your website.

Most people will not respond first time round, so a follow-up phone call is usually required.

How do I monitor my results?

Monitor your rankings in Google over the next few months by typing your chosen keywords into the search box and recording your ranking. You should also have an analytics reporting tool in place with your web hosting service to allow you to see how many visitors your site gets and, importantly, what search term they are using to find your website.

The above process can be also be repeated for each page of your website. Remember to keep updating your content and continually increase the number of links to your website.

As you see your rankings climb, you should see a corresponding increase in web traffic and a substantial increase in sales inquiries.

Be sure to record the source of your customer inquiries, so you can measure the success of your marketing efforts. If you measure it, you can improve it.

By Philip Shaw, director of Cleverclicks


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