Search results can be funny things. When searching on your own site, they can cheer you or or bring you down. But how is ranking decided? What do the search engines look for (or at) to decide whether you’re the first result or the last one? What factors go into their decisions? And can you do anything to affect where your site comes up?
What exactly are ranking factors?
Ranking factors are the indicators search engines use to decide where your site should come up in a search. Some of these things are obvious, like does your site answer a question the searcher asks, or are you local. But many of them are not obvious unless you really sit and think about them.
Why are they important to my business?
Because they help search engines decide if your site will show up at the top of results or at the bottom. And the bottom is a long, long, long way down….
How do search engines know what’s on my site?
Search engines send out a tool referred to as a “spider” that “crawls” your site (on the “web,” get it?). Google refers to theirs as the Googlebot. These tools look at the code and all the elements of your site. If you have Google Analytics or Google Search Console set up, you can see a lot of cool results from the crawls. You can also view some general info by using Google to search “site:[yoursitename.com]“; this will show you which of your pages have been crawled, and the title tags and meta descriptions shown for each. This is a concise description of what the Googlebot does and what it looks at.
Where may I find a list of ranking factors?
Here’s a secret: neither Google nor the other search engines tell anyone what they look at (Google calls them “signals”). Nope, they don’t. They hint, but that’s as close as they get. Moz does a survey each year that gives the most specific information, though, and that’s what most SEOs go by. Their surveys are not random “whaddaya think” sort of things; these are studies that use the input of many respected companies and individuals, and the results have been honed so that even Google acknowledges they’re pretty accurate.
So what are the most important ranking factors that I need to know about?
While opinions vary slightly, the most important things that you can adjust seem to be:
1. Google My Business details – exact location (street address, because Google uses proximity in their rankings), categories of what your business does, keyword in business title (are you Bob’s LLC, or Bob’s Pet Sitting and Dog Walking? The latter is very much better) and your phone number.
2. Name, address and phone – listed on your site AND in your Google My Business listing. They must also be listed consistently, so if you list Third St. in one place, you can not list Third Street anywhere else.
3. Reviews – the quantity, quality, consistency, and diversity of reviews (and YES, Google favors Google reviews over Yelp and others).
4. Links – the number and type of links coming to your site.
5. Click-through rates from search results.
6. Mobile-friendly website design.
7. Location in Google My Business listing title (are you Bob’s Pet Sitting? Google would prefer Bob’s Pet Sitting of Mytown Alabama).
What can I do to help my site rise in search results?
Now that you know the above, and have a good place to look at the specific details of the 2017 survey, let’s look at what you as a site owner can do to help yourself. Referring to the items above, you can:
1. Look at your Google My Business listing and make sure your name, address, and phone are listed and are consistent with the info on your site. Your street address is key, because Google looks at your location first when deciding where your result should come up. While I understand this is a personal decision, make it knowing your street address is the key to moving up in search listings.
Also, make sure your keywords are in your business title. If you walk dogs, indicate that. So for me, it’s not just Pet Sitter SEO, it’s Pet Sitter SEO Pet Business Website Consultant (because that indicates who I am and what I do). AND a side advantage of this is that it catches people’s eye. If you are Bob’s Pet Sitting and Dog Walking and someone else in your town is Petunia’s Pets, then guess who stands out in a search?
2. Make it easy for everyone by displaying your address and all contact info, meaning your phone and email addresses, on both your site and your Google Business. Consistency and visibility are the keys here.
3. Request reviews from happy clients. Use a review code generator or do your own thing, but encourage reviews from any and everyone who has used you (don’t review yourself, though, or encourage spammy or illegitimate reviews; Google knows all and will remove them).
4. Ask other local businesses to provide links to your site. Ask veterinarian’s offices, or local rescues, or local chambers of commerce. Maybe ask if they’ll share links with you (you link to them and they’ll link to you).
5. Edit your title tags and meta descriptions so they’re clear, concise, and eye catching. They should accurately reflect the page they’re describing, contain keywords, and stick within the space restraints (70 characters for title tags, 150 for meta descriptions within Google).
6. Your site should be mobile-friendly. This means that it can be viewed easily on mobile devices of all sizes (phones, tablets, etc.). If you’re not sure if your site is mobile-friendly, use this tool to check. And if your site is not, consider using a tool like Duda Mobile to get it set up (or get a new site design) (the latter is the best alternative, but if you love your current design, Duda is a big help!)
7. This is not something many folks think about. If you’re a local business (and most of my readers are), you want your neighbors to know that. And what better way to show that by indicating it in your GMB name? So again, not Bob’s LLC, but Bob’s Dog Walking Raleigh Durham NC. It’s long, but indicative. And what Google wants, so try it!
Your website’s position in search results is dependent on the ranking factors the search engines use. By keeping up with what they deem important, you can adjust things to gain the most exposure, which will in turn increase your position in search results.