How To Get Your Website Found in Google
So you have a website for your small business, or are about to make one, and you want to ensure that potential customers can find it easily. Search engines such as Google want to show the best and most relevant sites to their users, who are searching for a particular product or service. Making sure your site stands the best chance of being highly ranked by Google involves a mixture of some fairly simple 'technical stuff', and good old fashioned quality content.
Please note, I'm going to refer to Google exclusively throughout this article. Other search engines are available of course! But as Google currently has about 77% of the internet's search traffic, it makes sense to target your SEO efforts towards them. I'm not saying the other search engines don't matter, they do, but if you make your site Google friendly, it should also do well in Bing, Yahoo etc.
Although search engine optimisation (SEO) is best done from the ground up (that's to say at the time your website is being built), there are many things you can do to tweak an existing site that's already up and running. Here we'll look at practical things you can do to any small business website to help get more visitors, and turn those visitors into paying customers!
1. Make an SEO Plan
Do some keyword research. Think about what words or phrases people might use when they search for your products or services. For example, if you have a business making hand made furniture, do most people search for 'hand made furniture', or do they search for 'bespoke furniture'?
Finding out the type of words and phrases people actually use is important, because you want to make sure your site is optimised for those words. If you sign up for a Google AdWords account (you don't have to use it) you will have access to Google's free Keyword Planner, which can be a useful tool for this.
Also, be aware of how much competition there may be for certain popular keywords, and be realistic with what you can achieve. For example, let's say you run a florists shop in Devon. Trying to optimise your home page for the keyword 'florist' or 'florists shop' would be a waste of effort, the chances of getting on the first page of Google's results for this general term would be very slim. Better to use a key phrase where there is less competition, for example 'Devon florist' or something that you specialise in, such as 'organic wedding flowers'. These longer, more specific terms are know as 'long tail keywords'. The competition for these long tail keywords is much less than generic, high volume ones, and for a small business they are much easier to rank on.
You also need to consider that if you business sells more than one product (and most do) it's important to have a separate page for each product type, and to use specific keywords for each page. Take a wedding cake business for example, they may have their home page optimised for the keywords 'Devon Wedding Cakes'. But they should also have separate pages for various popular cake types, and these should be optimised accordingly. For example a page for 'Chocolate Wedding Cakes Devon', 'Wedding Cupcakes Devon' etc. Or a photography business might have a page optimised for the keywords 'London Wedding Photography' and another for 'London Portrait Photography'.
Next, if you already have a website, check on how you are doing at the moment for your chosen keywords. Do you appear on page one of Google? Research shows that between 75- 95% of searchers won't go any further than page 1 of the results, and the top 3 results get between 60-80% of traffic. I don't know how accurate this research is, but the take home here is that you should aim to get each page of your site on the first page of Google for a relevant long tail keyword.
So, now you have a plan of the keywords you want to use, and where you need to improve your results. Now it's time to put your plan into action.
2. Choose a Domain Name
If you already have a website, you can skip this section. If this is your first site, you will need a good domain name. For an established business, try to get a domain which matches your existing business name.
If you're a startup, choose carefully! Avoid hyphens, they lack credibility and can look like spam. Would you trust a site with the domain: www.only-the-very-best-wedding-cakes.com?
Likewise with domain extensions, avoid some of the less common ones such as .cc .ws etc. Generally speaking, if your site will trade internationally, try and go for a .com. If you only do business in your own country, use your country's domain extension e.g. .co.uk /.uk, .ie, .us, .au etc.
You need to strike a balance between a name that is short, easy to remember and easy to type - and one which contains one or two of your target keywords. For example, devonweddingcakes.co.uk contains three useful keywords, but sounds a bit generic. divineweddingcakes.uk has two important keywords, plus a 'proper' marketable name. For UK businesses by the way, I recommend choosing .uk as your domain extension rather than .co.uk. In my view, the latter will slowly disappear as the '.co' bit is now redundant.
3. Choose a Reliable Hosting Company
The reliability of your website (does it suffer from frequent 'down time'?) is a factor in page ranking, as is the speed your pages load. Choose a good quality hosting company, and also remember that their server (the equipment which stores your website) should be located in the country in which you do business - this is an often overlooked ranking factor.
Apart from the speed of you web hosting company, you should ensure that your pages are optimised for fast loading (not having unnecessarily large image files etc) and that your site is mobile friendly.
4. Page Title
So far we've talked about keywords, but where do these keywords go exactly? The first, and most important place to use your keywords, is in each pages 'title'. The page title should tell visitors what that page is about in a concise way (less than 70 characters), and should also include the name of your business . The title will appear in search results (see screenshot below) and it also tells search engines what the page is about, hence it's importance.
The title is also what shows in the tab of a visitor's browser window, as below.
5. Meta Description
The next place to put your keywords is in the pages meta description. This is the piece of text which appears below the page's title in search results.
It's not just about getting your keywords in though, along with the title the meta description should make searchers want to click on your results, rather than someone else's. So write something that includes a description of the page, and gives people a reason to visit.
6. Page Heading
Not the same as a page title, a page heading is visible on the page itself. It should either be identical to the page title, or similar. It needs to contain you keywords, so it can't be very different.
7. Keywords in Text
When you write text for the main body of your page, make sure you use your target keywords when writing. Some SEO experts talk about 'keyword density' saying that your keywords need to appear a certain percentage of the total number of words on the page. I don't agree, that may have worked in the past, but Google now simply prefers well written pages that are easy to read and are well structured. Always write naturally for humans, not search engines!
8. Add a Blog
Some websites don't lend themselves to having very much written content on the main pages, for example sites which are mainly visual - photographers, florists etc. where photos are going to make up a large portion for the content.
For these types of business in particular, you may want to consider writing blogs to supplement the main part of your site. Blogs give you a chance to write content that is both useful to your audience, and can contain keywords you might want to target - without needing to fit the content within the normal page structure of your website. A blog post can tackle a subject in depth, making it a useful resource to potential customers.
Google likes to see updated content on websites, writing a blog post every few months or so is a good way to keep your site fresh. It also encourages visitors to come back to your website multiple times.
As mentioned above, some sites will contain more images than others. But no matter what type of business your site is for, you will want to have some photos to make your pages look attractive.
Google can't (yet) see photos on a website and understand their subject matter. So you need to tell Google what an image or photo is about. There are to main was to do this, the filename, and the Alt-tag.
All images need to be saved with a filename, and Google can read this. So rather than have a photo on a web page with the default filename of say DCM0011.jpg, change it to one that contains your keywords, for example: naked-wedding-cake-devon.jpg
An Alt-tag is a piece of text attached to an image on a website which should describe in words what the photo is showing. It's purpose is to provide information for a visitor if the image cannot be displayed for any reason (e.g. too slow a connection), or for a screen reader (software which reads text aloud) for a visitor who may be visually impaired. But Google also use this text to understand what the photo is of, so try to include appropriate keywords. For the image above, the text reads 'naked wedding cake with flowers'
For more on image SEO, see my post on SEO For Photographers.
10. Off Site SEO
Off site SEO really means working to get links from other sites to your site - know as 'backlinks'. One of the factors Google will use to rank your site is how many other sites link to it. It sees this as a measure of how authoritative your site is. The more important the site linking to you is, the greater the weight Google gives to that link. Google also prefer the sites to be 'relevant', in other words that the site is in a related field as yours. So it's not just quantity, it's quality that counts.
So how do you persuade other sites to link to you? In time, if the content of your site is good enough, this should happen naturally. But there are things you can do, you can simply ask related businesses to link, although they may expect a link back in return. This may not help your SEO much, as Google doesn't give much weight to reciprocal links; however it may help to drive visitors to your site. A better strategy to get backlinks would be to post on forums related to your business. So if you are a plumber for example, you could get involved in conversions on DIY forums. Most forums allow users to put a web link as part of their signature, so every time you post you are placing a backlink to your site on that page.
Depending on your type of business, there may be websites that will list your business for free, and allow a link to your site. Search in Google to find these sites!
Also, don't forget to promote on social media, and make sure you have a link to your site in all your profiles.
How you make the changes suggested above depends on how you website has been put together, and what platform it's hosted on. For those reasons I can't give specific instructions, you may need to ask you web designer. If you are about to build your own website, I recommend using WordPress. With some basic tech skills you can create a basic website fairly quickly, and WordPress is quite SEO friendly. If you lack the skills or the time to do any of this yourself, we can take care of all this for you.
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