Why don’t I see my business when I search for it on Google?
The Search Engine Ranking System
To address this popular question from business owners, this article will take a high-level look at how the major search engines ranking systems work. When someone does a search in a Search Engine, (SE), the results show up on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Most often you will see both Ads and ‘Organic’ results. How and why these two different types of results show up on a SERP have developed into two large Consulting practices since the inception of the web. There is a science behind how each of these two systems works and why some companies show up, (rank), higher than others. The two are:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – SEO is a set of practices that focus on how Search Engines (SE’s) work, how ranking is done, and how to help your site get found “organically”, (through the non-paid search process).
- Pay Per Click Marketing, (PPC) — PPC is a way to buy your way to the top of Search results and is what provides Google with the majority of its revenue. Pay Per Click is the advertising of Search. This paper will only focus on Search PPC, which operates in many other venues for Advertisers as well as here in search.
There are thousands of articles written about both technologies and Google & Bing are constantly evolving how both “organic” and “paid” rankings work. So How do the Search Engines determine what shows up on a SERP? The higher you are on the page, the better you ‘rank’. Studies have shown that on average, the higher you rank, the more likely you are to get clicked on. Google now serves up many different variations of SERP pages depending on what they interpret the user intent of the search to be, but in general, there are primary slots on SERPs for Ads, (PPC), and then a list of Organic results, secondary to these. So you see both PPC and Organic results on the same SERP pages.
Google’s Goal in Organic Search & Behind the Scenes of How Search Works
Google wants users to keep coming back and using Google tools and services. To encourage you to do that, they try to server up the best answers they can to the queries that are entered by users. Google looks not just at the words, but is trying to interpret ‘user intent’, as to what are you looking for. So, if you search for “SEO services”, you’ll generally get a list of SEO companies that offer SEO services. They’ll serve up shopping pages if they think you are trying to buy something and other variations for other searches.
Google tells us they are looking for good, useful, unique and most of all relevant content on your site. And they suggest you keep it fresh and promote it so other people find and use your content.
Google’s Index and Organic Ranking
Behind the search is the SE’s Index, a vast intelligent database in the SE’s Cloud. On a regular basis Google scans all of the pages it can in across the WWW, indexes them (tries to understand what’s on them), monitors user interaction with them, and monitors what sites point to what other sites and the traffic volume between sites & pages, (as well as many other elements.) All of this information is combined algorithmically to help ‘index’ what is out there in the web and provides the basis for organic search ranking. The page that the SE feels best answers the query is served up first, followed sequentially for the 10’s, 100’s, or millions of pages that might answer a given query. However, in general, if you don’t show up on the first page or two, you will rarely get clicked on.
As you can imagine, it’s a highly competitive game.
PPC Ad Ranking in a Nutshell
In the PPC arena, the ads that show up first combine Google’s desire to show you the best answer to a query with both:
- ‘Quality’ – Google and Bing look for a synergy between the keywords targeted, the ad, and the landing page the ad points to. They combine those factors with the historical and anticipated rate that the SE’s determine an ad is likely to actually get clicked on. These factors are combined into a measure called a Quality Score, and this is used as a weighting factor along with bids.
- Bid — An advertisers willingness to bid higher then than the next guy to show up in a weighted auction that goes on constantly.
Then, using a formula that combines a proprietary variation of “quality” with what someone is willing to bid, (think bid quality) is used in an ongoing auction which determines what ads show on an SEPR and in what order. You can bid all you want, but often an ad from an advertiser with higher quality will rank higher for less money.
Top 5 Things to keep in mind for Organic Rankings
Some of the reference material in this post on SEO lists out the 100+ factors that SE’s weigh in ranking, and they are all important. But here are some high-level things to think about:
- Relevant content (and research) is “key”. As Google is looking for useful, relevant content, make sure you strive for this on your site. Also, make sure you are using the themes and keyword terms that people use to search for the things you do! Research how people search for what you do! Then, keep that in mind in how you develop, optimize, and promote your content. Nice images are great, but Google indexes words! You have to have enough copy on your pages for Google to derive meaning from and optimally index your site.
- On-page optimization is a MUST. Make sure that the themes and words people used to search for what you offer are optimally on the right places on your pages. While it use to be a common practice to repeat keywords throughout a page, you no longer have to beat Google over the head with keyword repetition. However, you have to be strategic about their selection and use. Write for users, but be aware of how SE’s work. On-Page Optimization is the foundation of a good SEO strategy, and smart designers implement most of the features outlined in the reference material provided here.
- Promotion of your content. Great content that no one interacts with and no other sites point to is generally useless for your site. There is great power in having links to your site from Authoritative sites, but unless they give you traffic they will likely not help much. Getting “bad links” from spammy sites or buying links will actually penalize you with the SE’s!
- Find your niche. It’s a big search world out there and the more you can narrow your competitive environment, the more likely you are to be found. Local Business are helped by identifying their location in Google. But the more you can remove competition by finding a niche, the more you can differentiate yourself and the better off you will be.
- Have Realistic Expectations. Nothing happens quickly in organic SEO. To gain authority and credibility with Google, the process must happen naturally. It takes time for the Search index to recognize patterns of user interaction and links on/to sites. So work on developing your SEO naturally, but recognize it can take months for results to show up. Get your On-Page Optimization done and being your promotion, but just recognize it takes time for results to show up.
Top Things to Keep in Mind for PPC Ranking
In PPC marketing, results can show up right away if and when PPC Campaigns are properly set up. But you have to be intelligent in what you do or have very deep pockets! PPC is full of ways to waste money. For example, a PR company was trying to drive a Healthcare business but instead found 50% of their clicks were going to searchers looking for Puerto Rican Health Care providers. When done right, PPC marketing can bring profitable traffic to most sites.
- The key is to know what to target. As with most of digital marketing, identifying your targeted audience in your campaigns, having good messaging in your ads and landing pages, and continually measuring and enhancing your campaigns are all important. You have to research what to go after, setup good campaigns, and measure ROI and Conversions. Then, you can reinforce what works and eliminate what doesn’t, as you react to competition and the ever changing PPC environment you are participating in.
- Strive for High Quality. Make sure you go after high-Quality Scores in your Campaign Setups. Only people with big budgets can plan in PPC with poor quality scores. You must have good alignment between ads, keywords and landing pages, and have an enticing copy that people want to click on and Informative and engaging Landing pages, people will not bounce from.
- Understand the relative value of a new customer or sale to your business. If you understand what incremental profit on average a new customer/sale can bring to your organization, then you can understand the ROI calculations of your specific business’ environment. Every PPC environment has varying levels of cost to chase competitive keywords, and profit margins and these determine how much you can afford to profitably spend in a PPC campaign.
How Do You Measure Where You Are and What is Success?
There are a lot of measurements to monitor and measure your success in SEO and PPC. Here is a quick Introduction of what to measure and tools to help you do it.
Conversion Measures. In general, you want to measure conversions when you can. Conversions could be sales, or someone calling you or requesting something or downloading something from your site, and they need to make sense for your business. Conversions can be setup in many ways, it’s up to you setup and measure what is important for your business environment.
Google Analytics (GA) — GA provides a great wealth of information about interaction with your site. You can see how visitors are interacting with you site, where they are from and how they got to you through GA’s metrics tools. Stats are collected over time, so you can see how you are doing, and compare to any range of date.
PPC Consoles — In both Google and Bing PPC, the consoles have more information than most people can sift through to monitor the progress of your Campaigns. Leverage this information to your benefit, or have someone do if for you.
Google Search Console, (GSC) Query Ranking. Actual search queries that get impressions and clicks to your site are a treasure trove of information for any business. While you can see this data in Google Analytics, it’s source is the GSC. The big difference here is you will see interaction with your site in the SE’s index that does NOT get to your site, (impressions but no clicks). Here you can also monitor how you rank on average for your most important key terms.
Domain authority & page authority. We mention this word authority a lot in discussing SEO and Google rankings- that’s because authority is the bread and butter of how Google views your website and what you offer to the web. While you are building these organically, there are some general measurements of your ranking and domain & page authority that can be tracked using Google and third-party online tools. There are additional measures of authority and trust that can help you look at how your site and individual pages “rank” compared to other pages and site. I’ll describe two of these measures below:
Domain Authority. This is a general measure of the authority of your site compared to other domains on the web. It’s a 1-100 measure and is meaningful only in comparison to others in your industry. You would hope to improve your DA over time.
Page Authority. This is another relative measure of how valuable a given page is. Again, this is useful in comparing to other pages. In general, higher PA pages will rank higher in search then lower PA pages.
What it All Comes Down to…
In general, it’s not SEO or PPC- The question is more, what is the search environment for your business given the state of your industry, your business, and your site? And what makes the most sense for you to focus on, given your business environment and your ability and willingness to create content and promote it? Most businesses find they want to leverage both technologies where they make sense.
Good Background Info and External Resources:
https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/ Google’s view of how their search works.
https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo Great 2015 54-page guide to SEO, mostly still valid. Moz is a toolset provider that I in our SEO Audits.
http://searchengineland.com/seotable This is a great visual from Search Engine Land that depicts in one page all of the elements that make the up organic search.
http://marketing.wordstream.com/WSPPC101Guide.html Wordstream is a PPC toolset & service company that has a great PPC Beginners guide and a PPC University online you can do for free.