CUTTING EDGE - Getting on the Google A-list

If your business isn’t appearing on the first results page following a relevant internet search, chances are customers won’t find you. James Greig of search engine optimisation specialists Bloomtools explains why getting high up the rankings can be a challenge

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a set of techniques used to raise the ranking of your website in the free, or organic, section of a search engine’s results. In other words, to get you on the ‘A-list’.

As Google is the biggest and best-known search engine, obviously most SEO strategies focus on Google.

SEO is important because, according to Google, the internet is now the number one source of information for anyone making a decision.

DARK ARTS

SEO is a ‘black science’. There are no guarantees in SEO because the search engines don’t tell you how they make their decisions about where a website should rank for a particular search query.

Companies like Bloomtools test and measure a range of strategies and from this we make a best guess about what works. This is largely made up of two components:

‘On-site’ factors are the things you can do to your content and your website to make sure that Google understands what it is that you are talking about. This mainly focuses around the placement of keywords in important places on each page, such as the page name, title, headings and the ‘meta’ description.

‘Off-site’ factors deal with how important Google thinks you are when compared with pages containing similar content. It does this by analysing the links, and keywords in the links that point to your site, with every link thought of as a ‘vote’. But not all votes are considered equal: for instance, if the website is a leader in the industry and links to you, this has more value than a link from a small online directory.

Google has a tool that you can use to see how many local searches there are for particular keywords. You can see this by going to http://keywords.bloomtools.com. Make sure to choose Australia from the ‘Advanced options’, and then type in the keywords for which you wish to see the search volume. What you will find is that there are a lot of queries for general keywords like “homes for rent” and “for sale property”, but there are also lots of queries for targeted phrases, like “houses for sale [and their location]”.

This is typically where the opportunity lies. A real estate agent can target people looking for properties in their specific area, rather than try to compete with competitive keywords like “real estate”. These are called ‘long-tail’ keywords.

KEY STRATEGIES

There are two types of strategy that can be used to improve Google rankings: ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’. White hat techniques are the strategies that Google recommends web-developers follow.

Black hat techniques are based around how to ‘beat the system’. The challenge with trying to beat the system is that Google employs thousands of very smart people to make sure this doesn’t happen, and even if you do get initial results, Google will probably find out and you may lose your ranking altogether along with the money you paid for it.

Typically, we find real estate agents aren’t focused on SEO as they don’t believe they can compete with the likes of large operators such as www.realestate.com.au and Domain.

The opportunity to compete for the more targeted keywords, however, is huge. It’s definitely one of those things that if you do some research online, you can do yourself.

The challenge though is that it takes a lot of time, and SEO companies like ours have developed proprietary systems and processes that can make it a lot more economical to pay an expert to do it.

Also, Google regularly changes its rules for how it ranks sites and if you do not put in the time to stay on top of these changes, you can lose your ranking very easily.

PROFESSIONAL HELP

The question of cost is really affected by how competitive your area is and how many keywords you want to appear for. To give you an indication, it can start from as little as $300 per month through to $3,000 and higher.

If you decide to engage a specialist company to handle your SEO strategy, here are some questions you should ask:

Check their results. Do they have clients that rank well in Google searches?

Is the SEO company open with you and will it provide accurate and regular reports on how you are progressing? They should include information about where you appear on Google for each keyword, how much this has increased on a monthly basis, and give you their suggestions on content changes as your site starts to progress in the search results

Ask them if they think your website is well developed and SEO-friendly

Ask how long the process will take. (From our perspective, you shouldn’t expect immediate results; rather, it will take six months before you notice an increase in your position).

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