First, let’s demystify Google and try our best to squash all the buzz words you hear associated with the search beast.
These words — brand authority, click-through rate, social media signals — confuse more so than inform especially on a topic that doesn’t need any more mystification than we are already subjected to.
But often we have our head in our hands, head pounding, trying to understand that mysterious thing that helps us find cheap sneakers, late-night pizza, but somehow always ignores our precious business/venture, forcing us to dreadfully contend with this reality: how do I get noticed on Google, especially on that most coveted piece of pixel real estate, Page One?
While I will likely get punished by the experts for reducing the answer to this question to a simple formula, let’s reduce the answer to this question to a simple formula.
And we are better off — and much wiser — if we apply Occam’s razor: the simplest hypothesis or solution to address a complex problem or phenomena, i.e., Google. Otherwise, we will be forced to read hundreds of thousands of words and hundreds of thousands of blogs about this subject, which more or less address some aspect of this simple formula:
Strong Brand (B) + Quality/Consistent Content (C) + Social Efforts (S) + Links to Your Site (L) + Following Basic Search Engine Optimization Guidelines (G) = increased probability of climbing up the Google ladder and getting more clicks and business $$$.
So that’s B + C + S + L + G = Google Success/Traffic (and maybe $$$$).
Is it that simple? More or less, yes, it’s that simple. Are there more technical and complex elements that I am ignoring? Of course, but that’s not the point. In order to understand the problem — the problem of getting your Main Street Small Business or Side Street Home Business noticed on Google (and thus your town or the world) — we have to reduce the complexity into its simplest parts (which honestly tell most of the story and address a lot of what we are concerned with here).
And from there, we can get fancy (and mind-numbingly technical), but we need to understand how the nuts and bolts work before we build your eye-catching digital mansion that everyone can’t help but not notice. You have to learn how to frame a door before you build that mansion.
And no this is not merely an elementary approach. In “Steps to a Google-friendly site,” the first thing Google points out is the need to create “high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage” so your pages “contain useful information” that people will click on and link to (the more links you get from others the more recognition you get from Google (and others since you are featured on other sites; it's that simple; it's a popularity contest). That suggestion is from the horse’s mouth and addresses all of the elements of the formula.
A strong brand (B) creates informative, persuasive, and even entertaining content (C), which is shared on the brand’s social media channels (S), which is then shared by audience (S), which potentially spurs audience to link (L) to that content, and the content (C) gives Google quality information about your site and how it should rank it (G). All of these variables work together and reinforce each other, and give Google the signals (last buzz word I promise) it needs to understand your site and judge its merit/popularity (links, traffic). If done well and consistently, this will improve your search ranking over time.
Gone (for the most part) are the days of tossing a thousand highly researched keywords into your copy and engaging in a thousand foolish black hat techniques to appease Google’s robots/machines. Now those robots/machines are more adept at understanding human situations (I want to find the best pizza in Denver) and human language (a sentence written by a human, not a robotic keyword junkie).
That means you’ve got to create an appealing brand that appeals to humans so they trust your site and your business. (And by the by, if you write lots of good brand copy on your site, you got your keyword dilemma covered).
“Brands are the solution, not the problem,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt once said. “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”
And audience trusts your site and your business because your site is designed well (not a cesspool), is easy to navigate, looks amazing, and has a credible (brand worthy) custom domain. Thus, they visit your site, buy your products, and help improve your search ranking because your site is becoming more popular (because of digital traffic, which Google also recognizes and thus pushes your rank up higher because of that noted surge in popularity).
But that also means you have to create on-brand content that offers something to humans (10 Ways to Make Awesome Pasta Sauce in Under 30 Minutes) instead of offering content that the now retired Google machines used to like (lots of keywords, little substance).
(Quality) Content is King. That means writing blogs, white papers, ebooks, creating videos and infographics that humans want to read and see (C) and link to (L) and share (S), all of which is a foundational SEO technique (G). More links |L| (honestly obtained by other humans and not through spammy techniques) to your content equals improvement in search rankings (G).
And because of those efforts that means you now have content (C) you can share on social media (S) that will drive traffic and potentially more links (L) from audience that checked out your awesome content (C) and want to link to it because it's awesome. But to get here, your social media platforms must be tuned up — visually adhering to your brand (B) — and properly maintained: at its simplest, consistent quality (branded) (B) content.
Your messaging (C, a fancy way of saying content) must stay on-brand (B) as much as possible, albeit sometimes you got to have a little fun (a cold corporate voice doesn’t work as well as it used to).
Now you are creating a palatable, fulfilling and enjoyable experience that humans (i.e., audience) will want to take a peek at, share, visit (more traffic) and link to (more traffic). This also helps the “G” variable, engaging in foundational (and basic) search engine optimization techniques.
And your wealth of branded quality content (branded meaning the content sticks with your niche, business, and concerns) is feeding the Google beast with a variety of concepts and associations (word associations, semantic relationships) the machines piece together to get a better understanding of your brand and business - helping variable G of the formula.
To that end, Google’s machines will sift through that information when a user searches for best chefs in Denver and your name pops up on page 1 because you followed the formula (which gave Google the human language, concepts, and other information it needs to understand whether to rank your site or not when a user searches for something related to you).
Of course, there are other basic and advanced SEO techniques that should be incorporated into your site. The Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide is a good starting point — a 101 that will get you well on your way.
Likewise, the formula provides a similar starting point and a roadmap. Albeit, as Google’s robots become more advanced and adept at understanding human language and concepts, we seem to be leaving behind many of the mystifying SEO techniques of the past in favor of (or at least on equal footing to) quality brand and content, and all else that follows from those things that cause people to go to your site, enjoy your content, and share it with others (thus increasing your popularity-authority and Google’s ability to recognize that popularity-authority and rank accordingly).
You have to think like a publisher these days, more so than a website administrator. You have to offer an experience worth sharing, a brand that appeals, and content that sings (not numbs the mind).
That’s the nuts-and-bolts. Welcome to Page 1.
Stephen J. McConnell is the co-founder of Guiding Type, a content development and internet marketing company based in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter, @sj_mcconnell.com, or subscribe to his thoughts on writing blog at sjmcconnell.com.
Stephen also recently finished a novel about a sudden collapse in Earth’s environment and finished a screenplay about a United States soldier’s woes in Afghanistan. He is currently seeking representation for both works. In addition, Stephen recently published an eBook on creative writing, In Search of You. Creative Writing: Journey, Style, Method. That work is available for purchase on his portfolio website.