It's rare now to find a business that does not care about being found online. We head to the web to find everything, from restaurants, to household repairs, and even medical advice.
It's widely known that if you are online then you need to be in Google.
A good Google ranking can deliver tons of leads you would otherwise never see. If you are not visible in Google, then, sad to say, for many people you simply don't exist.
Getting Google to look favourably on you can be both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Recently Google changed the goal-posts again, which could either be great news for you, or bad news, depending entirely on how you respond ...
Google has a reputation for creating massive shifts in the online marketplace when they implement their more ambitious upgrades. They make these changes to improve the quality of the results they deliver to users of their search engine, and to punish low quality sites.
There have been a few occasions over the years where Google have dropped huge bombshells and the two most recent were codenamed "Panda"
Panda was implemented in February 2011, with Penguin arriving April 24, 2012. While both of these updates were implemented to improve the quality of search results returned, they both targeted a different set of perceived problems.
No longer could someone think they could throw up a site with a few pages, get some friends to link to it and wait for the visitors to roll in.
What does this mean to the honest, hard-working business website owner? Well, it means if you want to show up in Google then you have some work to do.
What always works to rank in Google
Let's start with what will never change.
Google wants to deliver good quality, relevant content to their search users. That means their PHD boffins will work hard to always reward you if you create useful content that matches what their users are looking for.
What does change over time is exactly how they determine what is good and relevant and what is bad and cluttering their database. You can find some of the more advanced details in my Google Authority article.
Let's now take a look at how Google is going to look at your site in the future...
The first noticeable sign that something big was happening in the search world was when some massive sites started losing visibility in the search results.
It turned out that a portion of their site content was either duplicated or was deemed low quality. Google wants to hide sites with low value, or sites where the content was copied from elsewhere.
What does that mean for you? It means you have to be writing useful and original articles. It also means that you can NOT rely on copy and paste content that can be easily found elsewhere.
A great example is Cody, a realtor in Calgary. Most of us are familiar with real estate where many sites consist mostly of home listings.
If the only content you present to Google can be found on every other Realtor's site then you will be hidden down in the rankings, but if you can show you are sharing valuable ideas, advice, news and stories then you will rise. Cody is seeing his traffic from Google grow month on month because he keeps adding more and more unique content to his site. He varies content aimed at a general Calgary audience, such as "Best Calgary Romantic Restaurants", along with real estate specific articles like his "Calgary Condo Guide".
What else impacts user experience?
As well as the actual content, Google wants to know if the site is going to be engaging or if it will be frustrating to visit.
Think about your own behaviour as a web user. If you hit a site that takes ages to load and then you have to hunt down the actual content you were looking for, you would hit "back" in a second wouldn't you?
As a site owner that means making sure you are on the fastest web host you can afford, and that your site is well-built.
After that, again, it means continually developing engaging content… What can your visitor find at your site that they can not find anywhere else?
Google also knows we now live in a social world. With Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+, they can see what real human beings are interested and sharing with each other. "Social proof" is becoming more and more significant.
This means creating content that will get shared. Add Facebook, Twitter, etc buttons to your articles and call in favours to ask people to spread to their networks.
Get customers to follow you in the social networks and keep your relationships with them warm. You will gain insights into what your customers care about right now, and also some of these customers will help you spread your messages.
A nice side-effect of all of this content-sharing and social networking is it can increase your referrals, builds trust with your prospects, and also lead to old-fashioned linking too.
Google wants to give their users the best results. They don't want to display the junk we so often have to wade through to get to the answers we are looking for.
This means the game is constantly changing in favour of those companies who add original, useful articles, news, advice and resources to their websites.
What is your experience with Google? Please share your thoughts in the comments...
Chris Garrett is VP of Educational Content for Copyblogger Media and the founder of Authority Blogger.