*UPDATED FEBRUARY 2018*
Clients often ask me when making them a business site, ‘can you make the site show up at the top of Google?’
So I thought I would write about how I answer this. What you can and can’t do, and even if you spend a lot of time and money, does it make a difference.
My focus is on WordPress but a lot of the tips can be used for any website.
In very basic terms, how do Google choose who comes up top?
When you search Google, you are not searching the web, but you are searching Google’s index of the web.
They have a search algorithm and It decides which sites are most popular for that search term. It uses over 200 different ways of deciding that, including
- who has previously searched and what they clicked on
- does your site have that information on it
- your sites Page Rage (more about that later)
- how fast your site loads
- is Google able to crawl and index your site
- is your site accessible on mobile devices
- do you have a Google My Business Page
Some factors you can control by the basic set up of your site, others are controlled by the content and how users interact and share the site.
So if I pay someone, can they improve where I come?
If a client asks me to do this, I will always start by saying that making sure you have the basics covered is always a good idea, making sure the site isn’t dealt with in a negative way. But improving it by ‘conning’ Google into thinking it is more popular than it is, is not something that is easy or quick, or something I do.
Big online retailers will have people employed full time to just work on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and getting sites out there, but for most small online e commerce sites, or people with blogs this isn’t an option to go up against the big guys.
There are web site/IT guys out there who will happily take (lots) of your money with huge promises to improve your standing, but I am yet to hear anyone who has actually had a positive experience from spending £400 for this.
So what can I do to make sure my site isn’t dealt with in a negative way?
The basics, quick and easy things you can do
1. Get a Google My Business page for your blog or business
This then allows you to edit the information that shows up on the right of a Google search. The image below shows how the website comes up on the left and then more business information comes up on the right.
Setting up the basic Google My Buisness page is simple, make sure you are signed into your google account (or Gmail account) and then go here you will go through the process of setting it up.
You have the chance to select if your place of work has a fixed address or is mobile. You will have to do a verification of the fixed address – they send a card with a pin so it can be verified.
Having a Google My Business page means that people can find you easily, you can add photos and information about what you do. It will also show your reviews from FaceBook, and let others leave you direct reviews too.
2. Does Google know your site exists? Can it crawl it and do you have a sitemap?
This can be checked in Google Search Console – you add your site and then Google will check it can crawl it and also you can submit a site index.
I have written an article here explaining how to do this.
It will also contact you if there are issues with your site, for example you’ve been hacked and have suspicious links injected into your site.
Google loves GOOD QUALITY CONTENT. That is content that is of interest to people.
I always advise clients to take a step back and think how will people try and find you? What search terms will they use? Have a think about what you are selling/offering, and the location. And now make sure all those words are on the site.
Google Trends allows you to see what people are searching.
For WordPress there are different SEO plugins you can add to assist with this, but I am a great believer in keeping it simple. I have published blog posts on a WordPress site and within an hour I can find them by searching Google. Because WordPress is awesome.
But you can tinker with this, and if you have the time to, then add the tags, make sure the meta information makes sense so people will click it on a search page. Label images well so they will be found on Google image searches. Have the right keywords that relate to the content.
(meta is the little bit on info under your site name in a search)
On this site I have lots of sets of social media icons free to download. When I add them I make sure they are labelled well, with the colour and shape. As I know when someone is searching for a pink heart Facebook icon, that is probably what thy will type in. So the images and the post have these tags.
Google uses links as a major factor of deciding how popular your site is. That is how much and how many links to yours site are on other sites. But it is also aware that these links should be natural and not paid for links.
Yes people do pay to get their links on people’s blogs and sites and the ultimate price to pay for having these is having your PR (page rank) stripped. Which does happen.
But if you can get your site linked naturally on others, have something on there that people want to link to e.g. on here the free social media icons. They are linked on lots of sites, not only is it great for my PR but also for getting traffic here.
5. Google Page Rank
PR goes from 0 – 10
Facebook has PR of 9, Twitter has 10, I have a PR 4. This took me 2 years to achieve and mainly came from the amount of links I get to the site. Google explains PR as “PageRank is the measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages”
But as previously explained, not all links are equal. Simply adding a link to another site e.g. when you comment on a blog post, won’t hold as much weight as someone talking about how they really liked a recipe on your blog and showing a link.
6. Site Speed
We all know the frustration of sitting and waiting for a site to load, and especially with so many users viewing sites on mobiles devices over cellular data. This is an area that people can obsess about and for me it is a balance. Doing a few simple things, not loading huge images to your site and then re-sizing. Add the right size to start with. Don’t upload 5 different versions of the same photo.
Plugins – go through and deactivate and delete any you don’t need. Themes – again delete ones you don’t need (but always leave at least one basic WordPress supplied one on there aside for your current theme.
If your blog is traditional style, one post after another think how many you want appearing on the home page.
If your site seems really slow, check with your hosting to see what their expectation is. All hosting is not equal, but you don’t have to pay silly prices for brilliant service. I recommend Siteground for speed, security and support.
An easy way to speed up your site is with optimising images using a plugin, I mainly use Smush It as it is free for so many images at a time. And then adding a cache plugin, I recommend WP Fastest Cache as it is free, easy to use and gets results.
You can test your site speed here
7. Make sure your site is mobile friendly
Over 70% of views on site these days are on mobiles. Most modern WordPress themes are responsive, if yours isn’t then consider a redesign. And don’t just trust desktop tests of what a site looks like on a mobile, actually check it on different devices. You can use sites like this for an idea also though.
Also Google does not like pop ups ads on mobiles that cover the screen.
When clients ask what do I do, on this site to get it appearing so high in Google searches for things like ‘free social media icons’ and ‘social media icons’ the answer is nothing very fancy or clever.
I have done the basics and because the content has been appreciated and shared my PR has gone to 4 in 2 years. If you have a product, or content people like and want to find. Then others want to write about, your site will get an improved PR and therefore do better in search results.
So should you pay that guy £400 or even £2000+ to make you site appear on the first page of Google searches? I wouldn’t, unless you can afford to pay him that weekly to sit in a cupboard and do very clever things that warp what Googles does. Oh and you will have to keep getting him to do that forever.
Do the basics, make your site look good and work well and have information people want to see and find. Don’t expect results in days or even weeks, but keep checking on your stats (Google Analytics) how people are finding you, what pages they are reading etc and make changes to reflect that.
It is also important not to just focus on Google rankings and SEO, use Social Media and other sites relevant to your business like Trip Advisor, Bing etc.