Once there was a large book of thin, yellow pages. Often kept near the home phone, it was the be-all and end-all of directories. Old issues were kept for decades, often being used to prop up tables, or elevate monitors. Sadly, for those of a certain age, those days are gone and now the mega search engine Google does everything the Yellow Pages did (except prop up monitors). We do not ‘look for information online’ these days, we Google it. Welcome to our quick shot beginners guide to SEO in 2019.
Despite this we still talk to new clients that are paying for advertising through the Yellow Pages. Not just the print version but for an elevated ad on the Yellow Pages website. With an estimated cost of anywhere between $400 and $700 AUD per month on a one year contract, thats a significant annual investment for any business. At the end of 2018 we had to explain to a client that website users arrive at the Yellow Pages website via Google.
Over the last 20 years Google has replaced the Yellow Pages as the go-to resource for local business searches, followed closely in recent years by Facebook recommendations. In 2019 Google is Thanos. Yellow Pages is Mr Beans teddy. Where once people reached for the trusty yellow pages, flipping through the pages until they arbitrarily found a bit of text or logo which appealed to them, they now almost entirely turn to Google for answers (except for the strange minority who use Bing). The benefit for customer and business are clear. Businesses are now ordered on merit rather than alphabetically – although Aardvarks Web Design does have a ring to it. Customers can research, read reviews and discover if a company is suitable all before making contact.
It is impossible to have a business website without being bombarded by the importance of SEO. Most web-savvy business owners have an awareness of how important having their business rank highly on Google is. Despite this, some people have managed to cruise into 2019 without being totally aware just how important ranking high on Google’s search engine algorithm is, and just how easy it can be achieved.
Whatever happened to the Yellow Pages anyway?
While some of us lament the disappearance of the structurally useful book, the Yellow Pages was in a slow decline for over a decade. With backlash over the waste of paper, combined with the gradual move to online search engines all sounded the final death knell. In Australia, the Yellow Pages is still delivered to the door upon request, but it is a shadow of its former self, while the UK version plans to cease production of physical copies as of this year and move to a fully digital system.
Although Yellow Pages exists in an online format, does anyone actually use it? According to the Australian Yellow Pages website, the answer is an emphatic yes, though if you read reviews, it seems to be operating like a 24-hour gym, convincing clients to sign up for an expensive and unbreakable one year contract which goes unused after the first week.
Buzzwords and Magic
How Google ranks websites can seem to be a mixture of buzzwords and magic, a complicated and secretive algorithm which somehow turns search terms into a list of relevant results. With so many people, sites and blogs proclaiming how you can increase your ranking, it isn’t a surprise that many people close their eyes and hope for the best.
The truth about search engine optimisation is more complicated than we like to admit. Google likes to play its cards close to its chest. Google, quite rightly, doesn’t want to share the full details of is algorithmic magic. There is nothing sinister behind this as it is simply Google’s attempt at maintaining the level of trust the general public has in the search engine as being an unbiased, trustworthy source. If the perfect and complete list of how the search engine worked was released, it is guaranteed someone, somewhere would find a loophole and begin to manipulate the system. If positions in Google’s organic search engine ranking were purchased by the richest, the general public’s faith in Google would decrease.
All this being said, Google has published a manual on how to improve on search ratings and regularly keeps the document updated, where it currently stands at 160 pages. It’s a comprehensive list of what to do and, like with most comprehensive things, it’s dry and not really the sort of thing you sit down with and enjoy a glass of wine alongside. Fortunately, there are many clever and dedicated folk out there who have read the original document and allow the information to filter out through many blogs and articles. With this information and a little experimentation, every single website can achieve a degree of success in increasing their site’s position in Google’s ranking.
Quick Tips to Increase Your Google Ranking
Although the Internet, in general, can’t seem to agree how many factors go into Google’s search algorithm, they can all agree on some of the top ways you can improve it (Well, sort of. The Internet really never agrees on anything.) Put simply, Google assesses every page for quality, speed, security and relevance. By simply tailoring those four items a website can increase in ranking and be found by more potential customers.
The easiest ways to improve the performance of your website are to:
- Improve the content of your website by keeping it updated and making sure it’s unique. Don’t copy/paste information from other places, instead hire a content writer to create something special for your company. If you have a blog or regularly post updates about your business, keep it updated.
- Make good use of descriptive headers to indicate important information, then tag them in order of importance – H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 (if in doubt ask us how)
- If you’re using a CMS like WordPress download the free Yoast SEO plugin. It’s a must and their setup guidelines are simple and easy to follow.
- LInk and connect with other websites, especially those which are large, important and high ranking. Share your blogs, interact with your local community online, guest blog, become a guest contributor. These links help establish trust – if a large, well trusted website is linking to you then Google increases your own trust rating.
- Resize and compress your images. Use free services such as Bulk Photo Resizer and Tiny JPG to bring the image file size down and improve your sites loading time. Google is really cracking down on slow loading sites!
- Pick the right website hosting. Cheap hosting is cheap for a reason. It’s important that your host servers are fast, super reliable and supported locally (no offshore phone calls!)
- Ensure your website is safe for users, by ensuring you’re not a spammer. If you’re an entrepreneurial spammer hoping for some tips, this might be the wrong blog for you. A great way to announce your legitimacy is to publicise and update your WHOIS data, hiding it can suggest to Google you’re up to no good.
- Have a related URL. If you are selling hats for cats, you might want to sign up for hatsforcats.com rather than myniceswebsiteaboutthingsIsew.com
- Use the words your potential clients are going to use. If your customers call it a hat, don’t call it a chapeau ( which happens to be ‘hat’ in French). Think about how your customer will look for the information you can provide.
Search Engine Overlords
While getting a high ranking in Google might seem half black magic and the other half guesswork, working on the basics isn’t as hard as it seems, and it is worth doing. There are plenty of good resources online to help you on the way. For those who wish to stick to the Yellow Pages, good luck to you, and when you’ve finished with your book can I have it? I need something to prop open a door.