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10 ways to rank higher in search results

The process of improving your search results is not rocket science, but it does take time. As small business owners tend to be short on time, it’s often simplest to get a professional online marketer managing your online exposure. Regardless of whether you hire a search guru or choose to do it yourself, you need to understand the basic concepts and tools involved in improving your search results. In this article, Nett outlines ten ways to improve your presence in search listings.

Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) services like Google’s AdWords let you purchase a text ad alongside the standard, ‘organic’ search results for a chosen keyword. Not only is this the quickest way to get to the top of search results, but it also helps you understand which keywords people are using to find your business online, and which of those most often result in sales.

David Duffield, CEO at search marketing company Outstanding ROI, explains that SEM lets businesses easily experiment with a wide range of keywords to see what works. With search engine optimisation (SEO), which is the process of improving organic search results, you’re required to focus on a much smaller selection of keywords. Improving your keyword knowledge with SEM helps to formulate a stronger approach with SEO.

“For SEO you generally focus on a handful of phrases, and you’re kind of locked into those,” says Duffield. “With PPC or SEM, you can really test out a wide number of niche phrases.”

To find out more about SEM, read Top 5 ways to market your business online.

Keyword rich domain

Having refined your selection of keywords, you need to use these strategically on your site to improve your organic search ranking.

Ideally, the domain name for your website will contain keywords that are core to your business. Some businesses even form their entire marketing strategy around a keyword-rich domain.

If this isn’t feasible, it’s worth investigating the availability of some domains that contain your keywords and having these redirect to your site.

Site architecture

The way your site is laid out also impacts on search. Google favours sites arranged in layers rather than organised as a bundle of pages randomly linked together. From your homepage, visitors should be able to navigate to a series of category pages, which should link to pages dedicated to individual products.

In order to maximise the effect of this model, it’s important that each category page and each product page centers around or includes keywords that you want to target in search. For example, if you stock a particular brand, you should create a category page for that brand that links to individual pages for each of the brand’s specific products.

Also, the URL structure for your site should mirror the architecture, including keywords to denote each stage of the navigation. For example, a product page URL should take the form of yourcompany.com.au/brand/model.html, as opposed to yourcompany.com.au/category200_1/z7800.html. This makes the URL easier to read for visitors, and simpler to understand for search engines.

Keyword placement in meta-data/title tags

It’s common knowledge that search engines scour the text content of a page for keywords. This is why you should use relevant keywords throughout the copy on your site.

Keywords also need to be used in the HTML, or code, of each page. This can be accessed through the content management system of your site by selecting the ‘view source’ option. The use of keywords in this context is referred to as meta-data, as it provides the search engines with further information about what visitors are likely to find on the page.

There are three types of meta-data that are important for search. Meta-titles (denoted by a line of text wrapped in < t > … < /t > tags) act as the page’s title, and can be seen at the top of the browser toolbar after you’ve navigated to a page.

“This is displayed in the Google search results. When you do a search, and your website’s found, that’s the title that users will see when they go to your website,” says James Richardson, director of Optimising SEO and Design.

H1 tags (< h1 > for a primary heading, < h2 > for sub-headings) display as content headings on your site’s pages. Accordingly, search engines deem the content within these tags to be highly relevant to what the page is about, so they should contain the page’s target keywords.

Finally, the meta-description is used to describe the page to a search engine. It should accurately and concisely summarise its contents and purpose, and include relevant keywords.

Get a sitemap

An XML sitemap is a document that presents the layout of your website to Google in a format that’s easy to process. Every time your site is updated with a new page or a new blog post, it’s best to generate and submit a new sitemap to Google to alert it to the changes that have occurred. Although it is possible to do this manually, plug-ins are available for most content management systems that automatically create a new sitemap and send it to Google with each update.

“Whenever I create a new piece of content, this sitemap is auto-updated with the URL for that new blog post,” says Optimising’s Richardson. “That sitemap plugin – a small piece of software for WordPress, for example – then pings Google that there’s a new piece of content, so when Google crawls that sitemap, it can quickly update your new content into results. It just means that your content gets indexed a lot quicker than it would otherwise.”

Content that targets keywords

An effective method of improving search results is to create and publish content around your target keywords. Having a blog on your site that is regularly updated with content relevant to both your business and your target customer’s interests will give the search engines more information to work with. If the content is actually useful to visitors, this strategy can also increase the number of links to your site, which helps search results.

Link building

When trying to improve your search ranking, it helps to understand that search engines like Google are simply trying to find the most relevant results for their users.

Google’s algorithm isn’t able to read what’s on the page to judge how relevant it is for the term you’ve chosen to target. For this reason, search engines reward pages that have incoming links from other sites, as this implies that someone has found the content useful enough to share.

Google’s recent Panda update means the search engine now favours the quality over the quantity of links to your site.

“To show Google that you are the most relevant website to what people are searching for, it’s important that you are getting links from a high authority website,” says Optimising’s Richardson.

The quality of these links also depends on their context on the other site – whether the content of the two sites is related, and whether the link appeared naturally within content, rather than hidden away in comments or on a sidebar.

“You want to try and build links as naturally as possible, and some of the things that you should look at first is your existing relationships and commercial relationships with other businesses, other entities that may be in similar industries,” suggests Victor Navarro, content manager at search marketing agency Outrider. “Look within your own networks first and seeing if you can generate links that way.”

Location-based listing

Mobile search is becoming increasingly popular, so it’s essential that your business has a Google Places listing, and appears on Google Maps.

“The principles for a Google Maps listing are very similar to optimising your website for specific keywords. It works in a similar way to SEO,” says Optimising’s Richardson. “It’s a matter of making sure your listing is completely filled out. Make sure you fill out all the options. Uploading videos, putting images in there. Make sure you list all the services that you provide.”

Besides the benefits for mobile search, having a Places listing is beneficial as it provides another way of building a business’s presence in search with content and links.

Social media

Social media has never been hugely important for improving search rankings, used by most marketers as simply another touch point for your business online.

Regardless, Google has toyed with displaying Twitter posts, LinkedIn profiles and YouTube clips in search results, implying that social media will eventually play a bigger role in search. The company has also recently introduced the ‘+1’ button into search results, mirroring a similar function in its new social media service, Google+. The button allows searchers who are logged in to their Google accounts to recommend certain results to their contacts.

For more information on this function and how to use it in your rankings, read Google Announces Global Rollout of +1 Button.

Monitor your competitors

Keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing to improve their rankings is useful for both SEO and SEM, but particularly for the latter.

To supplement the ‘trial and error’ approach with SEM, tools like Keyword Spy can help you monitor how your competitors are using SEM to market themselves, and whether or not their approach is successful.

“You can have a look at their budget, their campaign, and also the length of time an ad’s been showing as a good indicator as to its success,” says Duffield. “People usually won’t continue to run an ad unless they’re getting a return.”

For SEO, it’s worth subscribing to competitors’ RSS feeds, and to take note of how they’re using content and social media to target keywords. What you find can be used to strike a point of difference with your own strategy, or to improve on the messages used in theirs.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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  1. Clancy Clarke says:

    Just a quick one re the keyword rich domain point. Google recently announced they were reducing the weight that keywords in domain names are given in the search results.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAWFv43qubI&feature=player_embedded

    Further to this, SEOmoz recently release some information on negative ranking factors, including the use of excessive keywords in domains, domains that are too long, or domains that are overly hyphenated. Basically, these domains look like spam!

    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/googles-negative-ranking-factors-whiteboard-friday

    I’d say before advising people to simply purchase a keyword rich domain, first think about how much additional work is required for SEO – maybe a domain name that is easily recognisable as a brand would be a better bet.

  2. Simon Creedy says:

    Rumours are continually spread about what google does and does not consider important.

    My experience is that logic will always prevail.

    Google can see copied information because it is easy to reference … so dont copy.

    Google can pick up and regulate keywords, well written copy, named images, contents within document and pdf files. They can see video, they can see linkages.

    Google cant see beautifully presented graphics or anything that is actually visually appealing.

    SEO then is a logical process only… it really doesnt require (so called) SEO experts. It was designed for simply working out a way of priorotising worth.

    It is interesting to note though… that if your site isnt well designed as well as well optimised … then people may come… but they wont buy.

  3. Louie Ramos says:

    I just would like to add on the “Content that targets keywords” about regular blog posting on the site can help in rankings, it sure does but make sure that the contents are not thin are are high quality that makes sense. I have seen a lot of websites that are publishing blogposts every 2nd day but the contents are very thin and similar to each other. The end result was, their rankings have dropped.

  4. Dan Rippon says:

    A good overview, agree with Clancy on the keyworded domain name though. If you’ve got one already in use, fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a future strategy or something to target. Yes domain names are cheap, but it would make more sense to use the same amount of time it’d take to purchase and configure to write a solid blog article or two.

  5. Patricia Lucock says:

    Thanks for these interesting and informative articles; I am struggling through a huge learning curve to just understand how to make my advertising dollar be as effective as possible, how to know when an advertiser is spamming you, how to make sense of stats and data. I have always thought that you do your bit and pay someone who knows theirs to do what you cannot do, but here in internet land that approach cost me thousands and two ineffective years of rip off sales people. I wouldn’t mind a couple of articles on how to recognise real service providers – SEO’s et al – to help very small business people like me avoid pitfalls. Most of the articles I read here and the magazine continue to provide me with little bits of the puzzle and I am gradually understanding some of the rules of engagement with internet advertising. Please keep up the good work.

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The term small business marketing encompasses many strategies and ideas, however the skill lies in knowing which ones are most suitable for your small business. Generating small business sales is the ultimate goal of any business and learning the different ways in which small business marketing can assist will help increase your overall sales. NETT features compelling articles covering all angles of small business marketing from SEO and SEM to email campaigns and social media.