Search Engine Optimization
How Google and other search engines work.
First things first. Google is not the whole internet. Google is a directory of discovered website links that it algorithmically ranks in order of perceived relevance and trustworthiness.
Just because your site doesn’t show up on Google doesn’t mean it’s not accessible. Your website may be live and have great content, but unless it is structured in the right way it may never rank for the terms your customer is searching for.
Google works like this: They have automated searchers running 24/7 that discover and follow links on websites to discover other websites, then they store that information in their database and assign a ranking value to each link depending on its authority score. Google then uses this data to determine which websites are most relevant to a searcher’s keywords, which is then displayed in order of importance and relevance. The resulting list of sites is known as a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
So, now that we have a broad understanding of how their algorithm works, how do we improve our site pages so that Google ranks them higher than our competitors?
Establish Your Baseline
1. Check your site speed
Your website should load quickly on all devices. Time to Load is a critical ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.
Website speed has a considerable effect on conversion rates. Studies have shown that fast page speed results in better conversion rates.
Pages that loaded in less than 2.5 seconds had a 1.9% conversion rate, but at 3.3 seconds, the conversion rate was only 1.5%.
Now that may seem like a small delta, but if you consider that it means that you will get a 27% higher client conversion rate (1.5% vs 1.9%), which ends up as a big difference on your bottom line.
Nobody likes to wait several seconds for any website to load, so most people exit out of a page if it’s taking too long.
You can conduct a free page speed test on Google’s Page Speed Insights or use the free tool GTmetrix to test your website page speed, page health, and find optimization opportunities.
2. Check your site health
After you have analyzed your page’s speed, assess the overall health of your site to see which factors are most important.
There are lots of great and free tools to identify opportunities for health and speed improvements.
- MxToolBox Domain Health Report: Free tool to check for multiple major site issues.
- Pingdom.com: Enter your URL to test the page load time, analyze it, and find bottlenecks and improvements.
- KeyCDN Tools: The KeyCDN Speed Test tool can be used to evaluate the health and speed of your website to see where improvements can be made.
3. Assess your current Google ranking
To measure the effects of your modifications and improvements, establish a baseline of your ranking and save the information for future comparison.
Use tools like TheHoth SEO Ranking Checker to see how you are ranking for search terms and which are currently leading to the most traffic.
Long tail keywords are 3-5 keyword phrases which are very specific to the service or product you are offering. Specific and long-tail keywords are easier to rank for and tend to match better with your intended customers.
1. Pick 3-4 long-tail keywords to own
The most valuable keyword strategy for producing more leads is to focus on long-tail transactional keywords. Transactional keywords are the search terms a person uses when they are looking to purchase something.
Informational keywords are usually searched by people that want information, and are not ready or looking to purchase anything.
Example: A person that is looking for information on how to install light fixtures may search “how to install kitchen spotlights”, while a person looking for a contractor to do the work may search “kitchen spotlight installer” or “light fixture electrician”.
Creating and ranking for informational posts are great for building authority and driving traffic, but they are not high-converting resources.
On the other hand, ranking for transactional keywords is valuable because the searcher has already decided that they are ready to purchase. They just need to find the right contractor (you!).
Keywords that have the words below as a prefix or suffix to the rest of the keyword phrase indicate a searchers buying readiness:
2. Review competitor analysis
If your competitors are ranking higher than you in search results, you can find out why and by how much they are outranking you.
Seeing what your competitors are ranking for is a great opportunity to find keywords missing on your site, and which keywords they are ranking for that you can target.
Use a tool like SpyFu’s Competitor Analysis or UberSuggest to learn more about your competitor’s ranking.
3. Analyze and decide on your keyword strategy
Once you have identified your highest value keywords, start planning your content around them and strategizing on how that content can convert into a paying customer.
Identify your main keywords by doing keyword research in a tool like UberSuggest.
Prioritize keywords by their potential, because you will generate thousands of keywords. You have to be selective about what you want to rank for and decide which are most important to you and your business.
It’s critical that visitors to your site can do two things as soon as they land: know what the page is about, and easily find the information they are looking for.
These are indicators to search engines that your page is meeting the searchers intent, which boosts your rank higher and drives more traffic.
4. Plan your content based on the highest-value keywords and tailor your content to those keywords
The best content is useful content that is shareable and easily digested. Optimize for informational as well as transactional keywords and improve your search ranking by writing resourceful and detailed content that helps the searcher in their search intent.
After you have optimized your content for your chosen keywords, you can return to tools like SpyFu’s Competitor Analysis and UberSuggest to see how your new content is affecting your page ranking. Please bear in mind that search engine optimization and ranking take time, and older content is valued more than newer content. You can expect to see improvements in your ranking typically 3-6 months from your publishing date. These timeframes are accelerated by social sharing, traffic, and backlinks.
5. Generate content that is useful and captivating
The main content marketing strategy today is writing useful blog posts for your potential customer, but there are multiple types of content you can have on your website.
Some of these are:
- Blog posts, informational (how-to) or transactional (leading to a sale).
- Product page (a page about your products)
- Category page (a page showing multiple products or services)
- Landing page (a page pitching a product or service)
6. Optimize your pages
If you have multiple products, services, or client types (also known as buyer personas), you should have separate landing pages and service pages for them. What may appeal to one client may not be relevant to another.
These pages should have different keywords that are tailored to their needs.
Having content that aligns with search intent is the first step, but your pages also need to be deserving of a place on the first page, where Google shows the most relevant and useful results.
After analyzing your client’s search intent, you should know what information they are looking for and how to provide useful answers.
Backlinks are considered the most important factor in having a high-ranking website. Backlinks are essentially “votes” from reputable sites. If you have more votes than your competitors, you will usually rank higher than them in search results when the search intent and keyword matching are the same.
1. Complete competitor analysis and find backlink opportunities
You can use a free tool like SmallSEOTools Backlink Checker to find which sites link to the one you’re interested in.
The backlink checker should list the domain rating of the linking site, which is an estimate of the score that Google would assign to the link. The higher the score, the more valuable the link.
2. Find the most valuable backlinks and strategize how to get linked
The more high-quality backlinks you have, the higher your odds of ranking among the first few search results.
So how many backlinks do you need?
There’s no exact number to reach, as not all backlinks are equal. Having links from industry-specific and high-authority sites like associations, chambers, and suppliers is the best strategy.
Some backlinks can be considered “toxic” if the linking domain has been flagged for spam or “black-hat” practices.
3. Add internal site links
Internal site links are a great way of leading your customer around your site, and it provides a useful map to search engines on how your pages are related.
Google’s crawler follows links throughout the internet to find and index websites. If your website has proper internal linking, the crawler has an easier time finding the new content that you create and link to. As a result, indexation happens faster, and your content is rewarded by improved search engine rankings.
4. Review potentially toxic backlinks and remove them
There are backlinks that are considered being bad for search ranking, or ‘toxic’.
These links come from spammy sites or are gained by trying to game the search engine algorithm.
From Google’s Quality Guidelines:
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
Use Google’s Disavow Links guide to remove toxic backlinks from your search ranking.
Content ages like fine wine. The longer your content has been active and shared, the more valuable it will be when it comes to your search ranking. Research from Oracle reveals that on a per dollar spent bases, content marketing generates more ROI than paid search ads, so for the startup company it makes sense for the owners to generate their own content, and for larger teams it makes sense to have someone in-house.
1. Define the purpose of your content
Smart marketing isn’t just about being a good writer, speaker, or media generator. It’s about being strategic about your production and understanding your buyer personas. Knowing exactly what your desired outcome is from an article is the first step to producing content.
Is it to generate brand recognition and industry authority? Or specifically to generate leads for a service or product in your business?
Your ability to take a piece of published content and get it to thousands of readers, within a specified time frame, will determine your success. Your readers will find you with an effective long-tail search, ideally in an organic way.
2. Focus your articles on data
If you back up your content with accurate data, people will see your content as more authoritative and will possibly share it on social media, thereby expanding your organic reach.
Essential to a successful content marketing strategy, which will produce accurate, high-conversion traffic is the creation of relevant, true, and quality content.
3. Tell a story
Your content should ideally connect with your audience’s pain points. perhaps you begin the introduction by describing the pain or questions that your customer is experiencing or asking.
It’s generally accepted that short content has a harder time ranking over a page with more substantial content, so you’ll want to have a content length of at least 400-500 words.
Use story telling to guide your audience from point to point.
4. Write a captivating headline
Google has made a lot of changes to their search algorithm, but one element has stuck around: the headline.
Writing a killer headline for your content is one of the most important factors in getting your customers attention, and getting them to share it with their network.
Even if you are ranking first for your desired keywords, it’s the headline that converts a view to a click. Clicks lead to sales.
The key to writing a captivating headline is to invoke curiosity. Curiosity is what makes your customers click on your headline before moving further down the search result list.
Some tips for creating a captivating headline include:
- Know your audience.
- Add numbers to your headlines. “5 Ideas To Remodel Your Kitchen” is better than “Ideas to Remodel Your Kitchen”.
- Ask questions. Use what, why, how, or when.
- Create a knowledge vacuum (combined with numbers). “These Are The 5 Best Ways To Remodel Your Kitchen”
5. Use numbers, images, and multimedia to illustrate your point
Written content is important, but it’s not for everyone. If you find a medium that works well for you, try to specialize and excel in it.
Some people can’t or won’t write, but they do well in speaking engagements and interviews. Perhaps podcasting or videos are the way forward for them.
Here’s a list of possible mediums for content creation:
- Helpful Informational Videos
- Guides, How-to’s
- Infographics (great for social media)
- Webinars and Demos
Google Ads are the linked text ads that show up at the top and bottom of Google’s search results pages.
Google’s search results are like real estate, you can either own (by having great SEO optimized pages) or rent (by buying ads).
1. Understand what Ads are and when they are appropriate.
Google Ads are great for lead generation and for converting transactional searchers, but not, in my opinion, very valuable for informational content or building brand recognition.
Contractors typically use Google Ads to get new customers, but there’s another audience that could see your ads and help grow your business. Industry partners.
Construction companies rarely provide every solution that their customer requires. For example, you are a mid-size general contractor doing work for a local development firm. That development firm also needs services for engineering, permitting, legal services, and surveying. Companies offer those complementary services are potential partners.
2. Understand how Pay-Per-Click (PPC) works and how to structure your ad.
Also known as cost per click (CPC), PPC is a method that Google charges based on the number of times a searcher clicks on an ad.
Another metric is cost per thousand (CPM), which is the number of views in thousands, regardless of whether the view results in a click.
If you’re just getting started with your business, ads are a great way to generate traffic and sales quickly. You can give your site an immediate boost as you wait for your organic ranking to increase. This makes Google Ads an appealing strategy for new businesses to acquire leads and grow sales while building their content strategy.
From my personal experience, it’s easiest to integrate construction-related long-tail keywords in case studies and project profiles.
This serves two purposes. It creates useful content for both searchers and search engines, and it provides potential buyers with your track record of successful projects.
Search engine optimization is no longer about keyword stuffing or creating useless content. It’s about continually developing your understanding of your customers pain points and needs, then creating high-quality content that will help them.
Following the guidelines in this article will set you on the path to long-term success and organic traffic for your business. Write and speak naturally, as if you’re communicating with your customers one-on-one, and focus on answering the questions they are asking.
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