In many ways, taking charge of your search engine results page is like answering the age-old philosophical question, “Who am I” — but for your business.
You may still be in the dark about what motivates some of your personal actions, but if you’re a business owner, I’m pretty certain you know exactly what your business is all about. That’s the first step.
Now you need to translate that into Google results. Sound easy? Didn’t think so. It’s a bit like trying to reel in Nessy with a Pocket Fisherman.
But all hope is not lost. You can – and should — take ownership of your SERP (Search Engine Results Page), and there are more ways than ever to do just that.
Integrated search has been a thorny issue for marketers since it came out, and the issue is only getting pricklier.
Local maps, the Knowledge Graph, one-boxes scraped from Wikipedia, and the various tools Google provides based on user searches have combined with ever-increasing screen real estate for paid advertising. The results are often chaotic, and have left some siding with Microsoft’s FairSearch rallying cry of “anti-competitive.”
Certainly, online marketing on Google is getting more complex and difficult, but even a part-time marketer such as an SMB owner can use paid, organic, and social techniques to reach the zenith of comprehensive search engine marketing: showing in each of the parts of Google’s SERPs.
Branded SERP Ownership
For the part-time marketer who is not focused on a number-one rank for every relevant keyword, the biggest goal is to allow a brand-aware user to find the business’s official site by name.
Verifying word-of-mouth with anonymous reviews, strengthening the deeper pages on the site, and surfacing real news about the business are all important to ensuring that a new brand-aware customer comes in the door.
Branded AdWords Campaign
The first step for any small business to clearly own the SERP is to start a branded AdWords campaign. By tightly controlling keyword choice with exact and phrase match types, a marketer keeps costs low, avoids brand squatters without filing for a trademark, and strengthens the brand’s appearance on the Google SERP.
It may seem crazy to pay for clicks to your site, especially if your site shows up in the first position organically, but the data shows that having both the first and “zeroth” positions increases clicks by up to 89%.
Furthermore, by using phrase and exact match in your keyword set, you limit your ad from showing on less-related keywords, keeping your cost-per-clicks low and manageable.
Finally, the naturally high quality score the ad will have for the brand name allows a wide variety of ad extensions to show, expanding both the size and the trust factor of the ad.
Branded Organic Results
Slightly more difficult than showing ads for your brand is to ensure your site shows prominently in organic rankings. While domain name plays a role, the stronger signals come from, as you might expect, links. The easiest way to do this without trying is to get links from news sources and local blogs by doing newsworthy things as a business.
Short of getting natural links, posting press releases about truly meaningful company news can be picked up by news sources; and there’s no worry about PR links not working, as was preemptively reported by some outlets.
As important to organic’s role in owning the results pages is managing how the site’s snippet shows. Promoting and demoting sitelinks via webmaster tools allows branded searchers to find deeper, more meaningful pages on the site without refining their search. Authorship provides a face to the name, increasing trust compared to a blank set of search results.
Review pages with Schema or hReview markup show that your existing customers love you, and other semantic markup like breadcrumbs makes the content on the page clear before your analytics platform show a bounce.
Google+ & Local Optimization
Authorship has been mentioned before, but Google+ pages have become so much more than a Facebook competitor. By merging Google+ with Local results, it’s become imperative that a marketer set up a Google+ page.
Reviews, both on and off Google, +1s by friends, and accurate hours provide a wide variety of information that shows in the Knowledge Graph area above any poorer ads that might be running on your brand name. Linking your Google+ to your site with rel=publisher allows you to combine whatever +1s come to your site with your Google+
But Google+ isn’t a cure-all. Expanding a consistent business profile to Yelp and other, more mundane business directories helps ensure that your Maps listing is strong in its own right, and provides more owned and “rented” content to show for your brand search. Keeping a strong and consistent local presence also helps with the real Holy Grail: non-branded SERP domination.
The Real Win: Owning The Non-Branded SERP
Convincingly showing up on Google for your own brand name is great, and honestly not too difficult, but there is yet one more major hurdle for the intrepid internet marketer: non-branded search.
Getting all these things right is hard enough, but to have to compete with others who have a reasonable reason to show for a given keyword forces you to take all the lessons from brand-level marketing and push it to the limit. The too-short answer is to turn your branded marketing efforts up to 11 while simultaneously shifting gears to target more general terms.
Non-branded AdWords requires a well-optimized campaign, a manageable level of competition in your area, and a relevant landing page that ensures high quality scores and comparably low costs-per-click. Again, judicious use of match types can keep the budget-focused marketer from wasting an entire day’s budget on one click.
Consider reaching out for descriptive anchor text, often found in appositives, instead of linking your brand name to help your organic search visibility. The same strategies of outreach and re-publishable content creation will allow your business to reach for the stars in organic search.
Finally, making your social and local efforts relevant to unbranded search queries is the final straw to break Google’s back. Accurately categorizing your business on Google+ Local and Facebook provides on-page factors that make it more likely to show up in SERPs.
Likewise, review sites such as Yelp or DealerRater are further strengthened by the natural location and keyword data provided in organic reviews; these, when strengthened by links from your site and others, have a high chance of showing up for “money” keywords.
The trick for the non-branded ranking domination is to scale your content and linking in a way that focuses not on your business name, but on your business’s services — a logical move to pull in customers who don’t know of your business’s existence. Using “rented” space on other platforms allows you to have a variety of domains showing in the ranking pages that funnels new business to your website.
The Holy Grail Of Internet Marketing
Owning the SERP is a far-reaching goal for most SEO campaigns, but a little bit of work can assure your business is considered by Google to be the answer to a keyword query. With a well-managed strategy, a business can dominate search results, letting all roads lead to the Rome of your site.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.