Finding Yourself: An SEO Journey
Are you confused about how web users find your company online?
In our recent blog, Local SEO Ranking Factors, you can read about the weight that Google currently gives to factors that affect a site’s ranking by the current algorithm.
However, what in user search queries allows potential customers to find you? And what do they see once they search for terms related to your business?
What Users See
The best way to get an idea of what users find when they search for keywords related to your services and location is to sign out of your Google account if you have one so that your results will be unbiased. Because Google’s goal is to deliver personalized results to users based on past searches, your own preferences could alter the search query if you are signed in as yourself.
When Google sends out its spiders to crawl your site, it is looking for keywords and recognizable data that indicate trustworthiness. The following factors are given the most weight during these crawls, leading to specific ways in which users find your information.
1. Local terms: If you are searching “Spas Vancouver wa,” for instance, you will observe that the first results are mapped urls for businesses that include the words you used in your query, bold and in blue. This maps result is pulled from your Google Places listing.
2. Keywords in Context: Below the “maps” results you will find listings with meta descriptions and “rich snippets” attached. Meta descriptions include a summary of the site content, while rich snippets add relevant information to your listing, such as the current date or the amount of time it takes to cook a recipe. Within the black text of your meta descriptions are often bold words. This bolding is referred to by Google engineers as Keywords in Context, or KWIC, and indicates keywords found in the text that correspond to keywords entered by the user.
In order to determine what words get bolded in context, Google uses stemming, morphology, and synonyms to connect the querent’s keywords with keywords within a document These keywords are often in a pluralized form or utilize a different gerund (-ing, -ed) than that used by the searcher. Bolding various forms of entered keywords allows Google to provide you with results best suited to your search without the exact form or tense of the keyword eliminating relevant content.
What’s the takeaway? Be sure to use keywords that are directly related to your services and/or location, as Google will match them to user searches to create bold terms that attract clicks and conversion.
3. Misspellings: Google knows searchers are not perfect. Whether someone’s finger slipped or he really doesn’t know how to spell the word, Google uses “Did you mean” and Google Autocomplete features to help users save time. These features display related terms, common misspellings, and popular queries, all in order to direct the user to his optimal result. Keywords found in these searches are generated by web crawlers and search algorithms and typically relate to searches that users have completed before.
4. Reviews: In the “Spa” example, the first non-maps result is for a page on Yelp where a spa in “vancouver wa” was reviewed. Because this spa is a match both locationally and topically AND has received at least one “elite” 5-star rating, Google found it most relevant to the search query on all counts. Skimming the best of the best from the top of the query-results-cream provided you with a spa review that links to the business site.
Notes on Markup
The way users find your business, particularly in local searches, relies heavily on how NAP and content summaries (meta descriptions) are “marked up” in code. Markups essentially highlight pieces of data, such as your business address, and associate them with content or other site details that provide search engines (and thus, users) with a packaged understanding of the what and where of your business.
Markup takes your data and turns it into a consumable “rich object,” or storytelling snippet that provides content in context to inform searchers about your business. Both schema and open graph markups are effective for creating rich objects, with the former working best on search engines and the latter specifically on social sharing sites.
While markup does not directly affect ranking, it does increase your click-through rate by providing an improved user experience. And improved user experience makes Google smile
1. Schema.org: This scrupulous html markup formats your site pages in ways recognized by search providers. Many sites are generated from structured data stored in databases which is then formatted into HTML. Once formatted, this data becomes difficult to recover. In order to make this formatted data easy for search engines to “read,” schema markup highlights and thus “translates” HTML into readable results. The better the engines understand your website, the more often they will refer you to users seeking your services, in your local area.
However, with search engines like Google growing savvier by the millisecond at delivering personalized, accurate results to queries, markup as detailed as schema may soon fall out of vogue. Still, for the moment, schema markup is the norm and can be found in downloadable plugin or extension format on your WordPress and Joomla content management systems.
2. Open Graph: A newer form of markup, Open Graph enables any web page to become a rich object within a social graph. On Facebook or Twitter, Open Graph builds on existing technologies to give developers a one-step method of marking up data to function the same way as any other object on the site. The simplicity of Open Graph makes it a favorite among developers.
3. Authorship: Expert = Trustworthy = Well-Ranked.
Authors with this markup enjoy better exposure regardless of their business type because search engines LOVE EXPERTS.
Are you more likely to click on a result placed beside a smiling face than one without a picture? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Because of the widespread user preference for search results with “faces,” rel=author markup was born. This code allows you to connect your Google + account (and thus, headshot and social page personality) with content published elsewhere on the web, creating your online identity as an expert in your field.
If you’ve written blog posts (you’re not blogging? Try these ideas on for size), establishing authorship is a natural move that draws attention to both your top-notch content and your business offerings.
Now that you’re familiar with markup and exactly what you are looking at when you implement a search, be sure to experiment with your business keywords to see how you come up on Google, Bing, etc. Note: your results may vary daily, depending on a wide variety of search engine updates, so check in often!