I recently did a webinar with search experts 3WhiteHats called ‘A modern marketer’s guide to search’. It’s all about what we should be doing to be seen in 2017 (and beyond).
Watch it now below – or keep scrolling and read my breakdown.
Here are the big five search engine optimisation topics we spoke about.
1. Ranking Factors
It’s still about backlinks
These are the criteria that Google uses to decide which results to surface for any given search – and in many ways, they haven’t changed very much over the years.
Backlinks remain the most important factor, although successive algorithm changes over the years have made clear that quality is far more important than numbers alone. Gone are the bad old days of sites crammed with poor quality links dominating the rankings, as Google has cracked down pretty severely on this behaviour.
Since 2015’s RankBrain algorithm update, intent has received more attention as a ranking factor, as Google seeks to better understand users’ immediate needs depending on the context of their search. Searching for the name of a new film, for example, might mean you want to know about the time and location of screenings near you, not who the executive producer is.
In between these two is content – an effort by Google to determine whether a site is filled with quality material or not. The distinction is important because it helps Google determine which sites are trying to cheat the system by cramming pages with high-value keywords, and which ones hold the answers searchers are looking for.
The key takeaway, then, is that Google is always getting better at measuring quality and cracking down on anyone trying to cut corners in the hunt for good ranking positions.
2 & 3. Google Seller Ratings vs. Rich Snippets
As an occasional source of confusion, we decided it would be worth clearing this one up. Both manifest as a set of stars displayed just below a result on a search engine results page, but there are some key differences.
Google Seller Ratings
These are enabled through an automatic feed from a reviews provider to Google and display below a brand’s PPC adverts, such as in the example below.
Testing suggests these drive higher click through on the ads in question, which will lower your costs and give you a better ROI. All you need to get this going is 150 reviews over the last 12 months and a rating above 3.5 stars – we even know a reviews provider you could contact about this.
These relate to organic search results, and they’re a little harder to earn.
To get the rating stars for your landing pages, you need to show Google that there’s a rating present on the page. You can add markup code to the page which will do this, or if you use Reevoo’s standard embedded display, the code will update automatically as new reviews come in.
It’s also important to make sure the reviews are clearly displayed on the page, or your star rating could disappear. But once you get it in place, you should start to see higher click-through rate on your listings, and possibly even improved rankings.
4. Standing out from the crowd
A common issue for retailers is standing out when there are dozens of competitors selling similar products.
In some cases, Google will filter out pages that are deemed too similar to provide users with more varied results. After all, 10 results showing the same product with the same manufacturer description isn’t a great user experience.
3WhiteHats’ advice is to think carefully about your differentiators as a brand and make them clear across your site – re-write content that feels generic until there’s no mistaking you for your competitors.
They also drew attention to the role that user-generated content can play in this area.
It’s not always easy to find tons of fresh, unique content about your products – there’s only so many hours in the day after all. That’s why you should be turning to sources like reviews or Q&A type content, particularly if you’re looking to rank for long tail keyword searches (read more about this in one of my earlier posts).
You can even take this further, and start asking customers to share wider stories of how your product fits into their lives.
For example, we asked customers of Cottages.com if there were any good cycling routes near the cottages they rented, to build out content around the activities available in the area around each property.
The result was not just inspiring content to give potential renters holiday inspiration, but a wealth of rich content to help Cottages.com rank for long tail searches around specific activities.
5. Local Search
As Google has stepped up its game in understanding the context of users’ queries, so the demand for localised results has grown.
Since 2011, searches containing the phrase ‘near me’ have grown 34x, and doubled in the last year alone. Google estimates that half of people who make a local search on their phone will visit a store the same day, so having a strategy in place for these searches is serious business.
When searches are conducted on mobile, occupying the top positions becomes even more vital, as Google tends to surface the results in a ‘local pack’ with map results and listings for the businesses it considers most relevant to a search.
So, faced with these challenges, what should you be doing about local search? You’ll be pleased to hear that our advice is budget friendly.
Making sure your Google My Business profiles are set up and accurate is a vital way to tell the search engine simple information like your location, phone number and opening times. After all, there’s no point ranking for a search if what people find is inaccurate or misleading.