For anyone with an online presence, it’s the Holy Grail…
That coveted first page spot on the undisputed heavyweight champion of search engines, Google.
If only it were that easy.
Reports vary, but some indicate that just 5% of searchers ever click through to page two of Google’s search results.
With 380+ websites being launched every minute and 4.4 million blog posts being published every day, the odds of making it to page one seem insurmountable—especially for a humble little local business like a chiropractic office.
Thankfully, it’s not impossible.
In this post, we’ll explain some key things you can do to get Google’s ranking algorithm to love you and your content.
TL;DR ANSWER: Focus on the top 10 known SEO ranking factors Google uses to order search results, leverage your Google My Business listing to rank in Local Pack, and focus your attention on establishing your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
Okay, let’s get to it.
Although Google keeps their official list of ranking factors under wraps in a nuclear bunker beneath Mount Rushmore (just kidding), they have confirmed some variables their algorithm uses to determine the order in which it ranks relevant, indexed results related to a search query.
What we DO know is this…
But first a caveat.
The first time there was any mention of there being over 200 ranking variables appears to be on Google’s Press Day back in May 2006. A few years later, the company’s head of search quality at the time, Matt Cutts, confirmed Google relies on more than 200 ranking factors but that there could be up to 50 variations for each.
Since that initial announcement, SEOs the world over have been chained to their desks trying to figure out exactly what makes up those 200 ranking variables. While there is consensus on some, others have the search community divided.
With that said, the good folks at Backlinko have been maintaining the most up-to-date list on the web.
They categorize the 200+ ranking variables into the following groups:
But now it’s time for a second caveat.
Although there’s no doubt Backlinko’s list is comprehensive, it is a smorgasbord of:
If anything, you should view it as a list of best practices for better rankings and an optimal user experience. After all, there’s no harm in making sure your web assets look good to both Google and to humans.
But how do you determine which variables you should concentrate on first?
Fortunately, not all ranking factors are equal. They can have a variety of states and values with some even relying on others to attain a certain status before they’re triggered. For example, a spam factor might not come into effect until a certain threshold of links is met within a certain timeframe.
But don’t worry; we’re not going to leave you to figure everything out on your own.
There are a handful of ranking factors that have risen to the top as the most important variables to master.
First introduced in 2014 as a lightweight ranking component, site security has since become a top priority for Google. This is especially important for sites on which users are required to enter data.
So what is site security?
It refers to the use of HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encryption, which creates a secure connection between a website and its users. When a site has an SSL certificate installed, it activates a padlock icon and protects the connection between a web server and a browser.
Here’s what it looks like:
Now compare that to an HTTP site without an SSL certificate:
In this second case, you might be prompted to click on advanced settings that allow you to access the site. It’s still not secure, though, so you should be careful not to enter any personal or financial information.
How does site security impact your SEO and rankings?
Besides signaling to Google that the information it’s indexing is safe to searchers, the HTTPS ranking factor serves as a tie-breaker when two search results are equal in everything else. This essentially means that you’re likely to gain a higher ranking position if your competitor doesn’t have a secure site.
In addition, Google Chrome labels HTTP sites as dangerous and warns users before allowing access. This diminishes trust and authority, and can negatively impact click-through rates (another ranking signal). Since Google intends to create a completely secure web in the future, it’s best to make sure your site has an SSL certificate installed now.
Did you know that 63% of all U.S. web traffic comes from smartphones and tablets?
Once mobile searches overtook desktop searches, it was only a matter of time before Google took action. As part of an algorithm update, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing which means the search engine predominantly uses mobile versions of content for indexing and ranking. As a result, your website’s compatibility with mobile now directly affects your rankings.
If you’re unsure whether you have a responsive site design that resizes to fit any mobile device, submit your URL to Google’s Mobile-Friendly testing tool. You should also access it via your phone to check.
Since user experience is another ranking signal (more on this later), you’ll want to ensure your site looks and performs as it should on mobile so that it provides a smooth browsing experience. Fonts should be readable, content shouldn’t be hidden by interstitial ads, and navigation menus and links should be easy to tap.
A high-quality backlink profile is one of your best assets when it comes to rankings.
Backlinks, also known as “inbound links” are the hyperlinks that direct back to your site from elsewhere on the web. They indicate to Google your level of credibility and authority, which can make a major difference in where you rank in search results.
Google takes three factors into account when evaluating your links:
Some of the best link building strategies include guest posting, content repurposing and syndication, and outreach. The more links you have from high-authority domains, the more relevant your site becomes and the better your chances are for ranking top keywords.
People want answers quickly and Google’s mission it to provide the best user experience possible, so it’s no surprise that fast-loading pages (for both desktop and mobile) can provide your site with some much needed ranking juice.
You can test your site’s page speed using a tool like Google’s PageSpeed Insights. If you find that your speed score is low, there are a number of things you can do to improve it, including optimizing your pages, leveraging browser caching, reducing redirects, and compressing files. Be sure to check your site on a regular basis to ensure it’s loading at an optimal speed.
The way users interact with a site lets Google know whether a search result is valuable or not. Since Google is all about positive experiences, this can significantly affect rankings.
Three known user metrics Google analyzes include:
Sites with high click-through rates and good time on site stats hold higher relevance and value in the eyes if Google than sites with high bounce rates. While it’s essential to ensure your site is functional first, you’ll also want to make sure it’s well-designed and uses high-quality graphics. In addition, the site architecture should be natural and easy to follow, users must be able to easily navigate through your site using internal links, and content should include compelling titles and meta descriptions for search results. If people don’t like your site or don’t find it useful, they’re going to let Google know through their behavior.
It might seem like an overused phrase, but content is still king. More to the point, quality content—whether written or visual—is king. Google recognizes it and rewards it with higher search rankings.
Consistently publishing fresh content strategically peppered with keywords not only attracts search spiders and boosts your visibility in the SERPS, but it also gives you an opportunity to provide value you to your audience. The key is to make sure your content is compelling, engaging, well-written, free from spelling errors, grammatically correct, and on-topic.
Most SEOs agree that you should focus on quality over quantity, but there’s also one other factor to consider: length. Studies show that there’s a correlation between content length and top search positions. Although there is no rule of thumb, evaluate what your competitors are pumping out and be better.
When we look at domains in terms of ranking factors, there are three key aspects to consider:
Although most of these ranking factors aren’t completely in your control, knowing how Google potentially weighs the value of your domain will allow you to identify issues and opportunities.
Going into content creation blindly will lead to nothing good. There is a strategic element to performing keyword research and figuring out exactly what topics will attract your audience and the search terms they’ll use to find it. Remember, the goal is to drive traffic to your site. More traffic equals higher rankings.
When conducting keyword research, it’s important to understand the different kinds of keywords and how Google ranks search terms. In addition to short, generic keywords, you should look for relevant long-tail keywords and questions your target audience uses to find information. You’ll also want to understand keyword search intent, which is essentially the reason why someone searches. Google favors pages that contain content matching keyword intent, so mapping content to different stages of the buyer journey and using applicable keywords is a critical exercise for being ranked and found.
Here’s a list of keyword types to explore:
Finally, you’ll want to consider the competitiveness of keywords. With so much content flooding the internet on a daily basis, it can be difficult to beat out sites that have been around for longer and have maintained top ranking positions. Rather focus on less competitive keywords you might actually have a chance to rank. As a local business, geo-targeted keywords and phrases are an excellent place to start.
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing your site for effective crawling and indexing.
What does that include?
Ignoring these aspects of SEO can be hazardous to the health or your site and your rankings.
With SEO taking on more of a local approach in a major way, structured data is a crucial ranking factor for small and local businesses.
So, what is it?
Schema refers to HTML code that’s added to your website in order to provide Google with more details about your business, products and services, prices, reviews, and more. This microdata can lead to featured snippets in search, an increase in visits to your website, and better rankings as a result of higher click-through rates. The good news for non-techies is that Google offers a Structured Data Markup Helper to make the process of adding code to your site easy.
But there’s one more thing about SEO ranking factors you should know…
Even if you’re an SEO master, Google’s penchant for constantly updating their algorithm can make it seem like you’re playing a futile game of Whac-A-Mole. In fact, the search giant reported a mind-boggling 3,234 updates in 2018 alone—an average of almost 9 per day. Plus, they’ve introduced artificial intelligence into their algorithms through RankBrain, which means the engineers at Googs don’t necessarily know every factor.
While it can be difficult and time-consuming to stay on top of little algorithmic changes on your own, you should at least check-in on a regular basis to make sure your website and other online assets are in good SEO health. Consider working with a team like ours to ensure you don’t miss a beat and lose precious ranking power.
Now that we’ve provided an overview of SEO ranking factors in general, what should local businesses focus on when it comes to winning a page one spot?
A few months ago, we wrote a comprehensive guide with in-depth, step-by-step instructions and tips on local SEO. It offers an excellent launch point for getting your feet wet with local search optimization and ensuring your website and business listings are ready to race up the ranks in Google’s result pages.
We highly recommend the read, but for those of you who want the high-level fundamentals of getting into Google’s Local Pack, using it to rank on page one, and staying in that prime position, here’s what you need to know…
The Local Pack, also referred to as the Snack Pack, Map Pack, and 3-Pack, is the section of Google’s search results that displays the three most relevant local businesses related to search queries with local intent.
For example, a search for “chiropractor in Celebration” yields the following result:
One of our chiropractic clients, Celebration Family Chiropractic, takes the top spot in the Local Pack and in organic search results.
Although Google has introduced paid results to the Local Pack, paid ads appear above the three organic listings and are labeled accordingly as in the example below.
So, how do you get your small business to show up in Local Pack organically and how can you make sure you’re not bumped off page one by competitors?
A 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors Study by Moz revealed there are eight ranking signals that matter most when it comes to being found in Local Pack and localized organic search. While the signals remain the same for both, the order of importance differs slightly.
Let’s break these factors down a little more, specifically for Local Pack rankings.
When analyzing your GMB listing, Google primarily determines local ranking based on three essential elements:
As mentioned earlier, links are a highly influential variable for local SEO. For positioning within Local Pack, inbound link authority, link quantity, link diversity, and inbound links from locally relevant domains matter most. The more authoritative links are, the better your ranking.
According to BrightLocal’s latest consumer research, consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before trusting a local business. Reviews establish credibility, letting Google know you’re trustworthy and that you deserve a bump in rankings. It’s also important to note that reviews impact Local Pack more than the organic results below it.
Many people resort to keyword stuffing when attempting to optimize their site, but that can have disastrous outcomes for your ranking efforts. The factors to concentrate on here include content length, the local relevance of content, page titles, meta descriptions, header tags, and NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) details.
These indicators relate to how well your business’s information can be verified by other online sources, including social media platforms, review sites, directories, and other businesses. When assessing citation signals, you’ll want to evaluate NAP consistency, as well as citation volume, authority, and relevance. Besides boosting your rankings, the benefits of citations include an increase in exposure, driving referral traffic to your site, and giving your business legitimacy.
In line with user experience, behavioral signals relate to how people interact with your site. These variables include everything from click-through rates, bounce rates, and time on page to mobile clicks-to-call, directions to business clicks, and check-ins. Any time someone interacts with your site, Google takes notice and assigns the action a weight for ranking purposes.
Whenever anyone does a search, results are personalized to some degree. It could be based on the country the person is in, their local area, the device they’re using, their personal search history, and even the Google tools and apps they use. As a local business owner, you don’t have much control over many personalization factors. However, you should at the very least make sure your business information is correct, your site is mobile-friendly, and that you provide an exceptional online experience that makes people want to visit your site again.
Engagement with your business brand on social networks sends signals to Google that you’re relevant and engaged with your audience. This kind of social proof, along with reviews left on your social profiles, can give your business the lift it needs to move up in rankings.
Now that we’ve covered what impacts Google’s Local Pack, let’s explore some things you can do to set your business up for page one rankings.
If you haven’t already signed up for Google My Business, don’t wait any longer. Besides being super simple to use, it’s an awesome free tool that helps you generate exposure while creating an online presence across all of Google.
Before you claim your listing, read through the guidelines for representing your business properly. Don’t forget, you can also follow our step-by-step guide. We’ve included 11 additional optimization tips to help you beat out competitors and nail local rankings.
Whatever you do, make sure you:
Here’s what a complete and well-optimized listing should look like:
Most local business websites will already include NAP data in the footer or on a contact page, but that’s not the only place to include a citation.
Here’s the thing: people don’t only use Google to search. They use sites and apps like Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Instagram, and online directories to look for the products and services they need. Being listed on any third-party site effectively increases your chances of skyrocketing your rankings, driving customers to your business, and increasing revenue.
It’s important to note that NAP citations must be consistent across all properties in order for this tactic to be effective. Too many variations or outdated NAP data makes it difficult for customers to find the correct information, which leads Google to believe your business isn’t trustworthy. The result is often a demotion in search rankings.
While you can manually conduct an advanced local citation audit and clean-up, you can also use tools like Moz Local or The HOTH.
If you’re looking for citation opportunities, here are some handy tools and resources to help:
In addition to our local SEO guide, we’ve also created a post on optimizing blog content. Within that post, we dove into strategically placing keywords in your page title, sub-heads, anchor text, permalink, meta description, image descriptions, image alt text, and more. It’s a great start when you’re just learning to optimize for search, but there are a few other things you can do site-wide to help boost rankings.
These are just a few other on-page SEO tactics you can do right now to influence Google’s algorithm.
Want to reach page one of Google? Develop a solid backlinking strategy.
Sure, you’ve just sown a field worth of NAP citations, but those website links are likely no-follow links. You need to remedy that by consistently adding quality follow links to your backlink profile.
You can do this through:
We’re not going lie: building a backlink profile takes time. But you’ll be so glad when it starts to pay off in SERPs.
Besides impacting your credibility and reputation, reviews are often the deciding factor for potential customers. We’ve already mentioned their value in terms of Local Pack rankings, but sadly, many small business owners take a passive approach to collecting testimonials. The number of reviews you have is equally as important as gaining a high average rating.
The bottom line: online reviews can either make or break your positioning within Local Pack, which brings us to our next point.
While many aspects of getting into Local Pack involve one-off tasks, you can’t sit back and relax once you’ve gained page one placement.
One of the best and easiest ways to ensure you remain in a top spot is to develop a review and ratings system that allows you to gather online reviews for your practice systematically and ethically.
How do you build this social proof?
Step 1: Touch base with patients at key points of care and train staff to engage with patients at the end of each visit. By building probing questions into your process, you’ll be able to gain an understanding of a particular patient’s experience with you.
Step 2: When a patient indicates that they’re happy with treatment, ask if they’d be willing to do you a favor by providing a review.
Step 3: After a patient agrees, provide guidance regarding how, when, and where to leave a review. Some patients will follow through while others won’t. Don’t let the latter discourage you from regularly seeking out testimonials.
Step 4: Consistently offer patients opportunities to provide feedback. Whether you ask at appointments or work an email into your automation and CRM software, give people ample opportunity to say ‘yes.’ While you don’t want to hound them, you do want to make sure you’re building reputation capital that will raise your ranking position.
With Google, online review sites, social media, and mobile apps empowering consumers, anyone anywhere can post a review—whether you want them to or not. While you have little control over what people say, you can establish some sense of control by ensuring you systemize your approach to collecting positive reviews in a non-sleazy and predictable way.
At this point, you should have a rock-solid foundation for getting your business to page one on Google. However, there’s one more thing we want to cover as part of your SEO strategy.
Google’s goal is to show credible pages in search results. As part of that effort, they released Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in 2015 (okay, it was initially leaked but we’ve got their secrets now).
These guidelines provide insights into what Google looks for in a high-quality website and they contain a set of principles known as E-A-T.
The acronym stands for:
Expertise – You need to be viewed as an expert in your field for high rankings. Google evaluates this by analyzing your content, your credentials, and your author biography across the web. On-page indicators like shares, time on page, and bounce rates are also relevant metrics, so they need to be up to snuff.
Authoritativeness – Authority indicators like backlinks from reputable sources, reviews, content quality, affiliations, and awards are all signals to Google of your credibility.
Trustworthiness – Google needs to determine whether users can trust you so they take into account everything that makes a website visitor feel safe. This includes factors like your website security, recent reviews, footprint across the web, and more.
Many SEOs believe that E-A-T signals are as influential to rankings as links from authority websites. Whether or not that’s true, Google has indicated that these signals are especially important for legal, financial, and medical websites since they have the ability to impact the health and well-being of users.
As a website owner, it’s critical to follow these guidelines if you want to attain and maintain visibility within search result pages. As a business owner, customers don’t buy from people they don’t trust. As a result E-A-T is as important to your rankings as it is to your bottom-line.
Many of the tactics we’ve discussed in this post contribute towards your E-A-T status, but there are several additional things you can do to further enhance your standing with Google.
Besides including an author name and biography on all web content, spend time creating a compelling About Page on your website. This page offers an opportunity to establish trust factors by giving visitors information about the owners or leaders within your business while letting them know there are real humans behind your brand.
Video marketing has taken the internet by storm, and since Google own YouTube, it’s no surprise that the platform’s content is often given preferential treatment within the SERPS. As a way for you to demonstrate your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness for Google, YouTube videos are ideal for capturing attention, driving high traffic volumes, reaching a larger audience, and gaining premium placement in search rankings.
We’ve touched on guest blogging, but podcasting—whether you’re hosting one yourself or appearing as a guest on someone else’s—is another super powerful way of expanding your reach, demonstrating your expertise, and boosting traffic to your website.
When Google tracks your name, bio, and links around the web on authoritative domains, they see you as someone who has something valuable to say. The reward is putting your business on the first page of Google.
Here’s an awesome podcast example from one of our chiropractic clients:
With Google’s current emphasis on E-A-T, you don’t want to be left behind competitors. Make sure that you’re consistently implementing tactics and building assets that will enhance your E-A-T reputation.
Google’s algorithm updates are continuously paving the way for websites with quality, relevant content to rise in the ranks. Business owners who don’t abide by the rules will find their content sinking into result page oblivion.
It’s not always easy for someone who isn’t tech-minded to stay on top of the SEO game. But that’s why agencies like ours exist. While this post intends to show you what you need to be doing to ensure search visibility, book a free 15-minute consultation to find out how we can help you achieve SEO success and grow your local business.