Digital Marketing: Optimising Organic Search Ranking
Business owners are asking, What about digital marketing? Years ago this meant building an effective web site. Today it can involve so much more than this. While you need to determine in which platforms and media your audience is most likely engaged, you also need to utilise the knowledge and experience specific to that platform. This article covers non-paid search engine marketing.
What’s the process of online marketing through optimising organic search ranking?
Introduction - It is not Magic
Search results involve mystery, but no magic - No magic on the search engine’s part and not any magic wand that you, or any marketer can wave, from your side. (And no pixie dust either.) The entry list you see displayed when using a search engine such as Google is purely the output of a computer program - what is also known as an algorithm.
Search results are normally of two distinct types: there are those placed by way of paid advertising - known as Google Ads (see The Google Ads Process) and the unpaid, free, or ‘organic’ search result entries. This articles seeks to provide an introduction to Organic Search Ranking.
How it Works - Think of a Cake Mix
For what is called ‘organic’ search results think of this algorithm as a very complex cake mix recipe. Complex in that instead of eggs, butter flour, sugar, and raising agent etc… perhaps a total of around eight ingredients, the Google ‘search cake recipe’ has hundreds, many hundreds of distinct ingredients.
Technically the ingredients are known as ‘ranking factors.’ While only select Google insiders know what all these ingredients are, and also their relative proportions (weighting), there is an entire industry committed to monitor frequent recipe changes and to conduct experiments attempting to deconstruct the Google’s ‘cake recipe’.
The take-away here is that search results are the output of a closed, proprietary process, one which for hopefully obvious reasons is a closely guarded secret. While Google does provide broad ‘best practice’ guidance (for example on their Webmasters Blog), they rarely provide any specific recipe details.
While much can be written about the many likely ranking factors, it boils down to something close to this: Include on your site good, relevant, well-written text content - content that it likely to address your prospective customer’s inquiries and questions and your site should compete well in search results. Of course there’s much more to the story than this. But Google’s super-condensed version is: Publish good content.
So, be ready to apply a healthy amount of scepticism when evaluating enthusiastic search engine marketing claims. Look more for science and less for magic in their pitch. And think of sustainability: Seeing your site ranking well, not just this month or next, but for the long term.
Key take-away here: Search result ranking is not simple - be weary of those who offer apparent short cuts, claiming they posses the secret sauce.
Specific but also Thematic
Most people have an awareness that the search engines investigate the words used on the pages of a web site. What few people grasp is how good the major search engines are at doing this - how much effort they invested in their proprietary software, and how vital it is to Google’s business model success that their search results are not blatantly gamed - all suggesting that SEO tricks rarely work, or work for long.
Google indexing - the term used to describe a search engine process of reading the content on your site and deciding under which search terms it might be relevant - looks not only at individual words, but also words within phrases, pages and even (likely) the main topics and themes of an entire site. Sprinkling a keyword in here or there is not sufficient.
When Google indexes pages on your site - they become mere candidates for search results - several other factors are also involved - see Time to Trust (below).
Good, relevant well-written text content provides opportunities to include a range of words and terms relevant in your audience’s mind, to use a broader variety of terms, and to use them naturally - rather than awkward attempts in repeating one specific keyword keyword keyword.
Key take-away here: Search result ranking is not simple. Improvement often comes from making numerous basic content improvements. If there was a ‘magic bullet’ why isn’t everyone already using it?
Do your homework!
Not matter what device you are using, you use search because there’s something you’re seeking. Information, how to do something, or an answer to a question. Which is why the iconic magnifying glass is so commonly used. Some need in your mind is motivating you to seek.
Now take that motivation you experience and apply it to the audience with which you want to engage online. Think, not about what you want to offer, market or sell - but about the seed thought in the other person’s mind. What is it he/she needs, wants or seeks?
Yes, this can be something of a guessing game. Yet it is part of the research necessary to build a list of words and phrases likely to be used when searching for your product/service. The person searching is in the driver’s seat - you are merely the passive observer in search. You have no control over how, or on what, people search.
The home work here is compiling as long a list as possible of potentially words and phrases, technical and non-technical, of colloquial terms, even several variations and misspelling of terms - terms describing the problem your product/service solves, or the need it meets - terms that can well inform the framing and wording of your content. This is about authentically and naturally engaging your readers’ needs - as they alone individually perceive them.
Key take-away here: Good, relevant, well-written content is most likely to be recognised by the Google algorithm, be helpful to your potential clients, and in the long term lead to more organic search traffic received. While certainly not the whole story, researched content remains an essential ingredient.
Time to Trust
A challenge faced by a newly launched web site is that by design the search engines initially apportion very little trust to content on new domain names. As a generalisation, Google takes time to trust a new web site. This appears to be in the order of some months. The search engine knows about the pages of the site, and may well return those pages for specific business name searches, but give little prominence to the pages for generic search terms.
Also, domain names that have any shady history - those previously used for scams, distributing malware, or other questionable activities, may (might) find Google trust harder to come by.
Key take-away here: Optimal organic search result rankings involves waiting for trust to ripen. If waiting is not an option, then paid Google Ads may be called for (at least for some months).
So called SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) should not be some ‘magic’ added on after a new site is completed, like some favourite salad dressing. Rather, having content optimised for Google’s indexing algorithm should be present from the beginning.
- Some possible examples of ‘cake mix’ ingredients include: The page title, wording of the major page heading and sub-headings, the photo/image captions, the text used for hyper-links in your navigation menu, and unsurprisingly, your text content. Broadly speaking Google uses sophisticated computer programs to analyse all the content on every visible page of your site.
- Think about an individual olympic event: How many competitors can possibly achieve first place? How many second, and how many third? Likewise, in any given competitive batch of search results (what’s displayed when you search) there can be but one site resident in each results position: first, second third etc.
As a well-experienced web developer, Info-Design Online’s Graeme Morris is in a good position to create search engine friendly sites.