Google is dead, long live the….oh wait….Jonah Peretti, the founder and CEO of Buzzfeed, previously announced that as little as 2% of Buzzfeed’s content impressions come from Google Search. At this point it would be far too tempting for startups to think “SEO is difficult and Google’s relevance is waning, woohoo! We don’t have to bother!” But the rumours of Google’s demise are greatly exaggerated and it’s time to look at the facts and start working on your listing.
The number of daily Google searches has stagnated at 6 billion. Google is no longer the most popular website in the world, trailing behind Facebook. A restructuring of what was once considered Google into the Alphabet umbrella corporation has confused many consumers. Seemingly erratic ventures into self-driving cars, eye-computers and advanced robotics have confused investors and consumers alike. Why should you care about Google?
Because, while Google may no longer be synonymous with the internet itself Google is increasingly everywhere. Google Search, YouTube, Chrome , Gmail and Android each have over 1 billion users. Google’s products are increasingly interconnected and a strong showing on Google still presents your brand to the world.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation, which should really be called Google optimization since Google is the only one that really counts) is one of the cornerstones of digital marketing alongside pay-per-click advertising (PPC), content marketing, social media and email. Buzzfeed may not rely on Google any longer but unless you have serious resources to invest in advertising, social media and digital content then listing on Google can be one of the most cost-effective ways of getting visitors to your website. With billions of users, a virtual monopoly on search and lots of useful additional services every startup should think of Google first.
Here are the places where startups should be paying attention to Google and get Google to pay attention in return:
Get Your Business Listed
They say page two of Google is the best place to hide a body and statistics support this: over 95% of users never venture beyond Google’s first page. Google is still the go-to-tool people use for research online – tying in with the company’s mission statement “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. For the billions of people using Android or Chrome, the Google search is the first point of call for research – before Facebook, before Wikipedia, before anything else.
Your company should list in the first three results for its own name as a matter of consumer confidence. Being easily searchable on Google is a signal to your potential customers that you are the real deal. If they don’t know your URL off by heart, how exactly will a customer find you online? Real world brand awareness campaigns can be rendered useless by poor SEO. Sometimes it will be impossible to overcome similarly named firms in Google’s listings (for example, if they’re an SEO agency) so an increasingly important aspect of branding is to research potential trading names on search engines, to make sure you have a good starting chance at listing.
Of course, you should work on building your company’s online presence to more than just your website. The importance of social media to small firms is an article for another day but Facebook and Twitter accounts rank well in Google. Amazon and eBay accounts are important for small online retailers while Yelp, Tripadvisor, JustEat or any other useful and relevant index for your company to list on should be high on your priority list. An index which deserves discussion on its own is Google+.
Get Your Content Listed
The internet is approaching 5 billion pages in size. You have competitors, businesses who have been in the game a lot longer than you have. So, how exactly do you get your content to list?
Google is changing, for the better:
Think about how radically the internet has changed in the past twenty years and how fundamentally different the hardware we view it on is. Older content, written in the era of low resolution screens, poor bandwidth, unresponsive websites and easily exploitable vulnerabilities in Google’s algorithm is not looked upon favourably by the search engine any more. Taking a modern and more significant approach to your content will help boost its listing. Now is as good a time as any to get listing on Google because gaps are opening up.
Responsive, responsive, responsive:
It shouldn’t need saying any more but having a website that is not viewable on mobile devices is simply not acceptable any more. We’re moving towards a point in hardware design where screens will be a) high-resolution b) of any size and c) may or may not be touchscreen. Sony have just released a smartphone with a 4K screen. How will your website respond to being visited on that phone? Unless your site is responsive then the answer will not be pretty. If there are companies among your competitors who do not have responsive sites then having a responsive site is a good way to get a leg up on them in terms of listing on Google, good user experience and futureproofing your web presence.
Expertise, Authoritative, Trustworthy (EAT):
We may be moving towards a world of bitesized social content (see Twitter and the trend of “stories” in Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Skype) but Google prefers content to be significantly heartier. Longform content that is well researched, well written and well referenced will be looked upon favourably by Mountain View. The writer is back and here to stay and if you don’t have one in your team then the time has come to get yourself a freelancer. Having good, authoritative content can significantly boost your business.
Sparing, but significant, use of keywords
SEO is getting harder and harder to cheat at. In the early days of Google, sending thousands of spammy hits to your website, writing unrelated content with your target keywords crowbarred in and engaging in practices often referred to as “Blackhat” or “Growth Hacking” could get you a significant slice of that Google pie. This, thankfully, is no longer the case. Writing an article about “French cross stitch patterns” and shoehorning the words “French cross stitch patterns” 50 times into an otherwise unrelated article will no longer get you anywhere. Your content should be long, strong and authoritative. To signal to Google which keywords are the important ones then you should use them like hotsauce: sparingly. Including your main keywords in your article’s URL, the article’s title, in the meta description and a few times throughout should be enough. Tools like Yoast for WordPress will absolutely steer you in the right direction for this.
Keep it speedy:
We’re living in a world of higher and higher resolutions and faster and faster bandwidths but speed, or lack thereof, kills SEO. Tools like GTMetrix can help measure your load times and identify issues. Tools like TinyPNG can help you optimise image sizes so they still look good but don’t clog your bandwidth.
“Google My Business” with Google+
As a social network, Google + is a failed experiment. As a business directory however, Google+’s spinnoff Google My Business is the most effective the world has ever seen for giving customers essential business information and bringing them closer to you than ever before.
By using Google +’s “Google My Business” service you can get your business listed in Google Maps but, even more importantly, become eligible for Google’s useful business card.
After completing Google My Business, Google will send you a postcard with a confirmation code on it (it’s always strange to receive something quite as antiquated as a postcard from a firm that’s so heavily focused on the future) . Once you’ve verified the address of your business your card will be up and running and confirm some important information to your customers. There is no easier way for customers to get directions to your business, be able to phone you or see your opening times than through Google My Business. It is a seriously effective way of having a reliable, searchable online presence which is suited to an increasingly mobile era of browsing. If you’re based at home, don’t worry, you don’t have to list your business address.
Bonus Tip: Google Customer Reviews
If you’re in the business of ecommerce then you should have an understanding of the importance of customer feedback. There are many paid options for gaining customer reviews but Google has recently introduced a free and potentially powerful competitor: Google Customer Reviews. Google Customer Reviews generates an opt-in option for customers to receive a feedback form from Google about their purchase from you. These ratings in turn then appear on Google Search Ads, Google Shopping and on a (completely optional) badge you can ad to your site. With these purchases and reviews verified by Google consumers can approach your business with added confidence. The catch? You need 150 reviews over a 12-month period, which can be a bit of an ask if you’re starting out or selling high-value, low-volume goods. Your customer review score may even factor in to the huge and incomprehensible matrix that is the Google Search algorithm.
SummaryGoogle is still the most significant and potentially cost effective place on the internet for your business. Listing on Google isn’t easy but if you have a unique brand, with strong authoritative content and a modern, responsive website then you’ve got a fighting chance. Just because your competitor has thousands of backlinks doesn’t mean you can’t compete: their content could be old and stale and their website might just might be rubbish. There’s no harm in trying – and ruffling a few feathers while you’re at it. There are plenty of resources out there, not least those authored by Google, to help you get a headstart. Google’s Webmaster guidelines, Google Analytics Academy and Primer are among thousands of resources to help you with your SEO.
If you think there’s even a chance that in five years time people will be getting ferried about in Google’s self driving cars and you want your business to still exist – then you better be listed on Google.
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