There are some things you can do about that (and some things you can’t).
Most people think of Google as a portal to a vast universe of information treasures that we can explore any time. In a sense, it is. You can “Google” anything and get millions of results in little more than a second.
The results Google returns to you have always been determined by the keywords or search terms you use. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of making sure that your website’s content and meta data match the keywords that are used by the people you want to attract.
However, keywords are no longer the only factor that Google uses to determine what results will be relevant.
Your results may vary
In 2009, Google began personalizing search results, so now your Google results are also influenced by (1) the Google data center you are closest to, (2) your geographic location, and (3) your previous searches. This personalizing of search results creates what Eli Pariser calls a “filter bubble.” There are things you can do to break through the bubble, but most web users are unaware that the bubble exists and so are unlikely to do anything about it.
This makes it tricky for people who are trying to determine the effectiveness of their websites. Typing in your company name to see if it comes up on the first page of Google results is not an accurate test—because your results will be different from mine when I type in your company name, and both of ours will be different from the customer in Canada who is Googling your company for the first time in her search history.
Where you can have an impact
You can’t impact your potential customer’s physical location or search history, so it makes sense to invest energy in three areas you can impact:
1. User-centered keywords
To use keywords most effectively, you need to think like a customer. Know what questions people ask when they begin an online search for your services or products. How do they phrase their searches? If they don’t know the term “perfect bound” when they are looking for a print shop, what are they Googling instead? Once you know those words, you can work them into the content of your pages as well as the behind-the-scenes data. (Or you can hire LifeLines to write keyword-rich pages for you.) Don’t “keyword-stuff” —Google doesn’t like that—but use the terms organically so that your content doesn’t suffer. (See Point #2.)
(Are you wondering about Google AdWords? AdWords are essentially paid keywords: you pay to make sure your website is included in Google results when someone types in the keyword you’ve “bought.” You can specify the demographics and geography you want your website to appear for, and you can set a limit on the amount you want to pay each day. AdWords can be an effective way to get more traffic to your website, but my experience has been that often these visitors are of lower value than the ones that come through organic search results. They spend less time on your site, visit fewer pages while they’re there, and have a higher bounce rate.)
2. Worthwhile web content
While keywords can attract people to your site, content is what keeps them there, brings them back, and encourages them to take the next step (like, calling for more information). Every page on your site needs to help a searcher find what she is looking for. The better you know your audience, the more accurately you can tailor your content to meet needs and convert searchers into customers.
3. Location, location, location
If you are a small business serving a specific geographic area, it makes sense to let Google know that. Because Google takes a searcher’s physical location into consideration when delivering search results, you want to make it easy for Google to know where your business is physically located. Go ahead and claim the Google Places listing for your business. (And make sure you use helpful keywords and strong content as you complete your profile.) That way, when your next potential customer is searching for “art gallery near Springfield AZ,” your business is more likely to appear, along with your website, phone number, address, and even driving directions.
Keywords, meta data, user-friendly content, Google Places, filter bubbles—it’s enough to drive you crazy, isn’t it? And if you are busy running a hardware store or retirement community or plumbing business in a way that makes a profit, you don’t have time to get bogged down in website SEO. But LifeLines loves that stuff! Email me today, and I’ll put together a proposal for helping your business website or directory listing come up in Google searches.
Your local customers and prospects are out there Googling. Will your information appear in the personalized results Google gives them?
Other helpful info:
(This post has been submitted to Carol Tice’s blog, MakeALivingWriting.com.)