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Getting to the top of Google

We get asked this a lot from our clients & associates. How do you get to the top of the most popular search engine in the world? When it comes to search engine optimization, Google sets the standards in the industry and is an advertising behemoth. To get onto the first page of Google and possibly even the top 3 results can be a lot of work. There is no quick fix or easy answer.

This article is a no nonsense introduction to search engine optimization. SEO doesn't have to be a mystical practice, and once you break it down you'll realize just how intuitive it really is. We recently attended an event for agencies at Google Partners in Toronto, so this topic is at the top of the mind right now.

Google is Number One

Google is often the innovator in the industry, raising the bar for most of the other search engines out there. As far as the numbers go, they currently own over 80% of the market share. It's a safe bet to build your marketing plan and website efforts to fit in well with Google's platform. Some, if not most website and SEO marketers focus solely on Google. The other search engines follow suit.

The Dark Art of SEO?

At Jackson Wynne our focus is on design and branding but we often work on and produce digital projects including websites. Coming with that territory is Search Engine Optimization or SEO. We're not experts in this field by any means, but it helps to have a basic understanding on how it all works.

Sometimes we'll partner with a team that really knows there stuff when it comes to Google. That way we can focus on the type of work we can produce excellent results at, while still offering the full package as needed. A lot of people come to us and ask how they can get to number one and if we know any quick fixes or methods to get there. That's a loaded question!

Define Your Search Terms & Target

Make the most of your efforts by first defining which search terms you're targeting.

For example:
Targeting the generic term "shoes" in all of Canada might produce a billion results or more.

A better example:
Targeting the specific term "dress shoes toronto" cuts down your results to only 16 million.
(hey that's better than a billion, right?)

An even better example:
Target the super specific term "donald pliner dress shoes toronto" is at ~600,000 results.

The more targeted your search is the less competition you have, the more likely you will have a fighting chance of getting to the top. The key here is to understand and know what you're going after. And then target that niche to the best of your ability.

Half the battle is just getting to the point of understanding how it works. Once you break it down it starts to make a lot of sense. Let's dig a little deeper.

Location Specific

The more localized your search terms are the better. If you're a retail shop in Oakville, it might be easier for people living in Oakville to find you online. They want to search and shop local and Google does a good job at making that easier to do. The Google algorithm does it all for you, so wherever you are accessing the internet it delivers relevant results based on your location.

Things start to get more complicated for international brands, but it's still manageable.

Getting Traffic

Generally the more links on the web that point to your website, the better. It's somewhat of a popularity contest. This makes sense though because Google sees that your website is highly sought after, and relevant to what people are looking for. This is ideal but could take many years to build and not everyone has the resources or exposure they always want to start off with. You can't get from A to B to C without a bit of hard work.

A good marketing plan can kick start things and with a solid direction you can build momentum over time. It's not likely going to happen over night, and it's sometimes not even necessary. Especially if you're only interested in local results, you've found a niche and your target market is enough for you to build on - you don't need a million website visits (and you probably can't handle it).

Don't expect a lot of visitors out of the gate. It takes time.

Building (Good) Content

What can really help is good content. Content is king reigns true and is a timeless idea. Good or "interesting" things get shared and endorsed. It also keeps your visitors coming back for more.

Some websites have a strange approach of spammy "feed the monster" tactics that can back fire. Google checks for things like duplicate content and other things frowned upon. You could get penalized and lose rank in extreme cases. Gone are the days of meta and keyword stacking. Best practices are not just for "best practice" but for best results.

Original content is best. Do you want a cookie cutter solution or something that reflects your brand? It's preferable to launch more relevant, better quality work less often than push out half baked content "just because". Remember you have competition and your goal is build a reputable brand, not a "me too" sort of approach that can easily get lost in the noise.

The Proof is in the Numbers - Analytics

One way of seeing Google at work is to track your inbound traffic and see how visitors are finding you. These results will give you a good idea of where people are finding your website online, what search engines they use, what computer they're on and more. We recommend Google Analytics as a solid option for tracking your website traffic. You might gain insights that will help determine where your SEO efforts should go.

You've Changed

Think of the web as an organic machine. It's always improving, adapting and growing. You can't just launch a website and let it sit for five years. You need to update, adjust and improve. Stay on top of it and make it work for you. Get the most out of your website by tracking results and adjust as needed. There is no sure bet - the truth is that you need to keep working at it.

Your website is another tool that can get you leads and potentially be quite lucrative. Invest in it.

SEM is Another Game

Search Engine Marketing or SEM is another type of beast. This is where you build Google Adword Campaigns, remarketing, web advertising and so on to promote your product or service. It's definitely an art in and of itself.

SEM is one way of getting to the top for specific terms, though it comes at a price. It can become really competitive. Bidding for the top spot can be worth it if you can get a decent return on your investment to get those leads. Pull out the ROI calculator and figure out if it's worth it to you. If you have to spend $500 a month and it generates $5000 worth of business is it worth it? Probably. With Adwords it can take a little while to learn the ropes and make the most of it, so definitely think of it as a long term investment.

Don't disregard organic SEO building altogether, ideally you're doing both SEO and SEM together.

SEO Doesn't Have To Be Hard

Don't just take my word for it. Google put together a pretty slick website on how search works as a decent introduction.

SEO is not a mystical creature, and there are no quick fixes. If you have enough money to invest in AdWords you can get some decent results for a little bit of instant gratification to get your feet wet. Don't expect the world all at once. Build for the long term and keep in mind quality content, solid SEO structure and plan out what will work best for your brand. It's good practice to have a monthly budget and plan in place.

There is plenty of information online about the subject. SEO MOZ has a great getting started guide worth checking out.

I hope I helped break down the mystery even just a little bit. One step at a time.

To get the best results you need to constantly work at it.

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Jack Shepherd
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Jack Shepherd

Co-founder, Partner and Design Director at Jackson Wynne

@jacksheps
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