Kiwis love Google. Some 88% of internet searchers in New Zealand use Google when they start looking for products and services. This includes your customers and prospects. There are only two ways to get on the first page of Google results:
Pay Google, or Plug away at Google
Smart companies use a mixture of both techniques, knowing that Google visitors use the different links at different stages in the buying process:
- Visitors who are ready to buy are likely to click on the paid links.
- Visitors still at the research stage prefer the natural, non-paid links.
- We covered paid links last time. Getting high on the non-paid (natural) results is called search engine optimisation (SEO for short). This involves thinking like Google thinks.
Thinking how Google thinks: the Google Quiz
Imagine you are Google. A visitor asks you to recommend the 10 best sites in the world about ‘bike shop’. You don’t know anything about bike shops yourself (you are a robot, remember?). Your recommendation will be based on factors like:
- Does anyone else recommend the site?
- Does the site specialise in bikes and shops: lots of pages about ‘bikes’ and ‘shops’? (Remember, robots don’t know what a ‘bike shop’ is!)
- Has the site been around for a few years, or is it brand-new?
- Is the site still alive, or is it stuck in 2003?
- Is the site honest, or is it just a dot-con site, an impostor?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
This is the art of getting higher up the Google natural results: ideally number one, but certainly on the first page. It’s a long haul process — do not expect overnight miracles. For a start, it might be two weeks before Google next visits your site. The process of optimisation means your site getting the right answers to the Google quiz above.
A central part is having a site that really is all about your subject — ‘bike shop’ in this example. Pages and pages relating to the subject. And having lots of similar ‘key phrases’ on your site. For example:
- bicycle shop
- mountain bike shop
- bike store
- bicycle store
- …and so on
All of these key phrases tell Google that your site is all about bike shops. They also help when a searcher is looking for ‘bicycle store’, for example.
You need to make sure that these key words, and synonyms, are used a lot on your site. In particular they must appear in:
- Page titles
- Page file names
- Headings on pages
- Normal copy on pages (the content)
There are upwards of 40 factors that all contribute to your Google ranking, including links from other sites to yours.
As well as these active steps, you have to avoid some bad tricks which will get you banned by the search engines. These go under the heading ‘black hat’ techniques, and include ‘cloaking’ and ‘stuffing’. Google has a list of webmaster guidelines to help you stay onside.
Finally: do not get carried away with search engine optimisation and create a site that is unusable for humans. Google will always come back to your site, but a disappointed human visitor will click off… maybe to a competitor’s site!