Gone are the days when companies placed a listing in the Yellow Pages to catch customers’ attention. Now, people find out about products, restaurants and companies by searching online. Who runs the world? All together now: Google.
When the internet influences 64 percent of all in-store sales, according to Hosting Facts, and search engines, according to Adweek, are the research method of choice for 81 percent of consumers prior to purchasing any product, service or business, startups can’t ignore the state of their search results.
If a company’s website shows up at the bottom -- or worse, doesn’t show up at all -- during a customer search, the business is in dire straits.
Why Google rankings matter
Companies used to differentiate themselves from competitors with bolder fonts or bigger listings in an annual paper directory. Now they do so by climbing to the top of a user’s online search results. For entrepreneurs building their brands and businesses from scratch, how their websites rank in Google’s search results affects their bottom line -- as much as a solid product and excellent customer service.
At the heart of that ranking is search engine optimization, or SEO.
To rate a company's SEO results, Google uses more than 200 algorithms, or computer programs that look for clues or signals, such as keywords, to return search results that are in line with what users seek.
A specific algorithm called Penguin was revamped in September to be part of Google’s core algorithm, and it may very well change how some sites appear in search rankings.
It now runs in real time, filtering out spam signals as it goes, rather than updating its list periodically. With its new page-specific focus and real-time refreshment, Penguin should prod companies to keep all pages on their websites current.
Make sure your domain name is clean.
Business domains are tricky to manage. Entrepreneurs looking to purchase a domain name befitting their companies need to make sure the domain hasn’t had any past negative SEO issues, isn’t on Google’s blacklist and isn’t the past home of spammers.
A domain with any of those issues will mean a waste of the money spent to purchase the domain, because new owners won't be able to advertise in Google, and the domain's organic search rankings could be tanked beyond repair based on prior usage.
So, how does an entrepreneur make his or her website content appear at the top of those rankings? Here are three ways to make sure a startup’s domain is poised for good search results:
1. Google it. Google every potential name the particular business could have, and see if a relevant domain name is either currently registered or available to be registered. You can do this by conducting a comprehensive trademark search. If a desired domain is currently registered, research its rankings and any site issues before reaching out to the current owner about purchasing it.
If it is available, make sure to immediately register the domain name. Not only will this save the business money in the long run, but it will also strengthen the business’s online position. Go into this process as you would go about buying a home. Just as you would do running a title search on a home or property, make an effort to research who really owns the desired domain.
And never send a payment to purchase a domain without consulting a legitimate agency to conduct the transaction and safeguard against fraud. I have used Escrow.com in the past to conduct domain purchases and sales. The company will hold the purchase price in escrow until the buyer and seller both agree everything is as expected.
2. Revamp your site. Conduct a full audit on the site’s content to comply with Google’s search rules, especially with that updated Penguin algorithm. Realize that any alterations made to eliminate spam or poorly written content on the site can now be reflected more quickly, improving the chances of reaching the top of search rankings. And, if necessary, refresh the site’s appearance.
Take my team’s site, Quote.com, for example. Our business was more than a decade old when we recognized that it was time for a full website renovation. If our website had been a house, it would have changed from Terrazzo flooring to all-natural bamboo floors. A complete overhaul showed our customers that our business was current and ensured that our website was compliant with Google’s updated algorithms.
We also analyzed the content on our site, removing quite a few outdated and unnecessary pages. If information is no longer relevant, remove it. Update articles, product descriptions and purchase information to make these factors current, as well. Leave customers with the impression that they're getting a complete package of information. If the customer experience is first-rate, Google will rank associated keywords highly, thereby increasing the odds of better search results rankings.
3. Produce quality content. Never fill a site with quick pieces of content just to have something visible online. Content should be quality from the start. Even for a simple pizza restaurant’s website, there are things users will expect to be able to find: a menu, the ability to order online, hours of operation and so on.
Domino’s, for example, has used content like its Domino’s Tracker to boost business. In fact, 50 percent of the company’s sales come from online. Every business should strive to be the premier resource for what it provides, and that starts with a customer’s online experience.
But not every business domain provides quality content. Fewer than half of businesses surveyed in CMI’s B2B 2016 content marketing report claimed to have a clear, effective content marketing strategy. They knew they had work to do.
Part of that work is to provide high-quality articles and content that benefit the site’s visitors in some way. At the end of the day, everything is about brand authority. The more authoritative a domain and its content, the better Google will view the user experience. That’s why relevant keywords, the centerpiece of SEO, are one of Google’s 200 considerations for higher rankings.
So, that's it: The “Google It” culture is here to stay, and entrepreneurs must pay attention to their search rankings to stay successful. Establishing and researching the right domain and creating quality content may take some time and effort, but it’ll pay off in the long run with a lot more pizzas -- or your product, in particular -- sold.