We often hear from business owners who are anxious to be ranked at the top of the first page of Google for the keywords they are targeting. We can’t blame them – being one of the first search results that a person sees can be huge for a business (especially when you consider the fact that only 8.5% of online search traffic makes it to the second page of results in their Google search). But is it realistic to expect that your website can get to page one of Google?
While achieving a high-ranking spot on Google is a worthwhile aspiration, the sobering fact is that it is often a difficult and long process to get there – if you can make it there at all. Google uses 200 different factors to determine your website’s rank: from the obvious factors (like keyword density) to the more surprising factors (like linking domain age), it can be overwhelming, tedious and sometimes unrealistic to try to get your page to the top of the search results.
Does your Google rank really matter?
It’s important to not get too hung up on what your website’s search position. Why? While your average rank may provide a guideline of your website’s success in search, it is not the definitive measure of your website’s value.
The concept of “rank” isn’t as cut-and-dry as it used to be. Search results used to be fairly similar for all Google users. Nowadays, how your page ranks for each person will vary greatly based on a multitude of factors, including:
- The geographic location of the person searching
- The type of device they are searching from
- If they are signed into their Google account or not when they search
- Their search history
- Their social media activity as well as social activity in their networks
With Google customizing search results based on individual user data, your website could rank first in one person’s search and not even make the first page for another person’s search of the exact same phrase. That’s why there is no fixed ranking for each keyword that your website is targeting. While there are tools that enable you to calculate your average position each month, it’s important to remember that this rank is not your fixed position for every search user.
If you are a local or regional business competing against a national brand, it may not even be realistic to achieve the top spot on Google consistently. However, if you put in the effort to build a quality website, you’ll see your efforts pay off at the local level.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t strive to optimize your website to rank high in search results; rather, being aware of how Google lists their results will help you have a more realistic approach towards search engine optimization.
How to rank in Google: rock solid SEO strategy + time + a bit of luck
There are many misconceptions out there about how to get your website to the first page of search results; the most heinous delusion is that there can be any kind of guarantee that your page will rank on page one. If you’ve ever been emailed with such a promise by a self-proclaimed “SEO Expert”, run away – fast. As with most things in life, you should never trust anyone or anything that makes such a guarantee.
Though you might be emailed with a compelling pitch, it’s important to realize that no one – not the person emailing you, not a marketing agency, not your internal SEO expert – can guarantee how well your website will rank. In addition to the 200 factors Google uses to rank your site – to which you have a fair amount of control over – your rank is also determined by the number of competitors, how they rank and the ever-changing algorithm that Google uses to determine rank – all things that are out of your hands. And that is to make no mention of the fact that maintaining your Google rank is a never-ending process, as all of those factors are constantly changing, thus leaving you with a fluctuating rank. Improving your SEO isn’t an overnight process: it takes time, effort and often money. Anyone who tries to lead you to believe it’s quick and easy does not have your best interest in mind. Furthermore, the people who make such misleading guarantees tend to also be the people who deploy tactics that result in penalizations from Google – thus achieving the exact opposite of what they’re promising.
While we don’t want to discourage you from trying to improve your website’s rankings, we do want you to be armed with realistic expectations so you can develop a practical action plan to help you make worthwhile strides to achieve your goal.
Three things you must do if you are dedicated to working towards a high Google ranking
1. Plan to dedicate serious time to working toward your rank goal
If you’re in an industry with a high level of organic search competition, time is the single most important factor to consider when developing your SEO strategy for ranking well in Google. You must plan to consistently dedicate time to working on your strategy – whether it’s in the form of content marketing, onsite optimization or a combination of tactics.
If working on SEO every day is not realistic, we recommend carving out a couple of hours at least two to three times a week to work. If this is still not realistic, you should consider hiring an internal resource or outsourcing the work to ensure it’s done.
It’s important to note that when we talk about spending time on your SEO strategy every week, we don’t mean every week for a set period of time. SEO is a never-ending endeavor; even if you land the coveted number one position for a large percentage of your target search visitors, you won’t be at number one for long if you don’t continue working to stay there.
2. Get people to engage with you, whether it’s on your website or social media pages
Engagement encompasses two different aspects of your SEO strategy:
- Social Media– While it might tempting to write off social media as too time consuming or not fruitful enough to spend time on, did you know that the number of social shares, likes, tweets, pins Google +1’s, and overall authority of social channels tends to correlate with a higher search ranking? While Google has not said there’s a direct cause-and-effect relationship between social and search, we have seen firsthand with several clients that social traction rarely comes without some increases in organic traffic and visibility.
- Website Engagement– When people visit your website, are they clicking on your links? How many pages do they visit? Do they stay long enough to read your content, or do they leave your website quickly? What search terms brought them to your website, anyway?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you should begin tracking your website engagement. Using tools like Google Analytics, you’ll learn how people use your website. Do people frequently leave your page after viewing your About Us page? Do people who visit one of your landing pages frequently go on to make a purchase? Knowing how people behave will allow you to continually optimize your website so that you’re providing a quality user experience – which will ultimately help your ranking in search.
3. Create quality content that helps answer your customers’ questions
While it’s been stated so often that, at this point, it’s cliché, the adage that “content is king” is popular for a reason: developing content for your website plays a critical role in how you rank. This content should answer questions your customer may have -- whether directly or indirectly related to your product, service or industry. How does content help you?
- More quality content provides more opportunity for your website to show up in search results.
- Content that answers questions your potential customers have translates into opportunities for search users to land on your website – and stay there – when they are looking for information regarding their search query.
- Great content has the opportunity to be shared by others; if shared by other websites, you’ll build quality links that help your page rank.
In the earlier days of SEO, marketers took a leap of faith when they shifted from tactics like meta keywords to linkbuilding to help improve their search ranking. Today, they must trust evidence indicating that investing in websites with a great user experience and quality content – useful information that potential customers are looking for when they run a search – is key to optimizing for search visibility. Results can’t be expected overnight, and winning that number one ranking in Google may feel more elusive than ever, but by investing in a website that delights your customers, you’re investing in an SEO strategy that will be immune to the countless algorithmic changes we can expect from Google in the years to come.