At the heart of the marketing strategy for many small businesses is their website. This, along with supporting online promotional expenditure and social media, often represents a significant proportion of the small business marketing budget. It highlights that business owners see the web as a key tool in driving sales enquiries and converting business leads. And if your business is focused on markets in the UK, Europe or the US, then how your site performs on Google will also be a major consideration in that investment.
But the past 18 months have felt like somewhat of a rollercoaster with Google and, if you’re like a number of business owners we speak with, you probably feel a bit punch-drunk from the never-ending cycle of changes, new rules and latest algorithm rollouts. All of these affect the way websites perform on this vital search platform and will influence what return business owners get from their website investment.
So what are the current key changes business owners need to be aware of when trying to keep their websites in Google’s ‘good-books’. Phil Reynolds, a colleague of mine at Extended Thinking, has been monitoring the latest developments and here are four of his recommendations.
1. Freshen up your content
Historically, the content you loaded on your site used to take a few months to feature in the results of Google searches but this is no longer the case. Fresh content is now key for Google and it will prioritise the latest most relevant in its results for a specific phrase. To help make the most of this (and to try to maintain your position in Google organic rankings), find keywords and phrases that are popular within your sector and customer base – look on news websites, Twitter, Facebook, Google Trends and Ubersuggest for additional help.
Focus your website strategy on building up new content around these phrases – say perhaps writing a monthly series of articles. If you already have content on your site for these keywords and phrases, update it and keep it fresh – perhaps adding some new results, perspectives or things which are now relevant. Write less about your products and services and more about the things your customers want to accomplish. Also share what you write socially across your networks to help build more ‘currency’ and fuel discussion and interest.
2. Check your link liability
Google has completely changed how it views the links between websites over the last 2 years. Previously a significant number of links to your site would propel you up the rankings but now quality over-rides quantity. Google’s latest view on this isn’t completely crystal clear yet and it continues to define what types of link it approves and which it deems ‘un-natural’.
To try to keep your site in Google’s good-books it’s worth using a combination of link classifier tools such as Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer and of course Google Webmaster Tools to manually audit your site’s link profile and ensure there isn’t reason for it to be penalised. Be careful about what text is being used as the anchor for any links to you. Google will frown if this has a dubious relevance to where the link actually points to, or they are over optimised with too many generic keywords. Be mindful that a total reliance on links in today’s search engine optimisation of websites is decreasing as Google’s algorithms get more and more sophisticated. Instead focus your efforts on producing fresh content and trying to stimulate positive online word of mouth, bookmarking on the social networks and other referencing to your products, services or business.
3. Alternatives to ‘Not Provided’ search phrases in your website analytics
This development has affected how business owners measure their website’s performance and fine-tune it to perform even better on Google. It’s a change that has been bubbling away for a little while but came to a head in recent weeks and removes some of the insight that was previously available about a website’s performance on Google.
In assessing a website’s visitor traffic, a useful set of stats used to be what keywords and phrases people had typed into Google, which brought them to your site via organic search (so not as part of an online advertising campaign). Unfortunately Google is no longer going to reveal this information and will now categorise the traffic under ‘No search terms entered’ in this section of your analytics. This is a loss of great insight for many business owners as it was hugely valuable for understanding a site’s effectiveness to see what phrases had brought organic traffic to it… or not.
Hopefully someone somewhere will find a way of making this information available once again. For now though, it is probably sensible to pay closer attention to which of your web pages are generating the most traffic (or not). This will enable you to draw some conclusions as to the relevancy and quality of the content on them. Also if you have an internal search facility on your site, do keep an eye on what phrases and words people type into that as another rough guide.
Google will share some keyword data for its advertising clients so you may want to consider moving to one of their Adword campaigns if you haven’t already. Saying that it will only share keyword data for the ad-related performance (not the organic traffic you attract to your site) so remember it’s only a part of the picture.
4. Make it easy to click-to-call you
In a study commissioned by Google and undertaken by IPSOS, 70% of mobile searchers said they used click to call functionality and favoured those sites who enabled this. With forecasts claiming mobile browsing is and will continue to rocket, it is sensible to check how easy your site makes the process of contacting you. Mobile sites sometimes lack even the most basic of information and yet callers are often the most qualified and warmest of leads. Avoid losing this potential source of business by ensuring the phone numbers and click-to-call buttons are integrated clearly within your site’s mobile-friendly design. If you can improve the user experience in this regard you will drive more enquiries your way. In fact Google suggests that pay-per-click ads with integrated call extensions have an 8% higher click-through rate whether the visitor calls or not!!
I guess one thing we’ve learnt from the past 18 months is that we’re probably set for a continuing cycle of change as Google tries to further strengthen its position, boost its revenues and respond to evolving browsing behaviour. It’s clear that to invest in a website these days means you also need to set aside time and money to keep your site fresh and engaging which, let’s face it, will hopefully be a positive thing for your website visitor experience. The pace of change though is unlikely to diminish so it’s worth continuing to follow the developments.
It is also worth assessing periodically how vital the web is in terms of delivering the quality of customers you want. Set up your own internal systems to identify where new business leads come from and which channels are bringing the best quality opportunities your way. Invest more time, effort and finances to those which bring the best volumes of profitable customers.