Want to succeed online? It's pretty much universally agreed upon that, to do so, you need to appear high in Google's organic search rankings.
Unfortunately, this is getting more difficult to achieve, due to two factors: not only do the organic results found on pages with Google's paid ads experience lower click-through rates (CTR) than those on pages without the ads, Google is also reducing the amount of space available for organic listings in order to promote its own content.
In fact, according to the Blumenthal's post linked to above, Google has recently achieved 100 percent monetization above the fold for some local search queries (to zoom in, click on the image):
Of course, that's frustrating for the small businesses that rely on Google traffic, but what many people forget is that Google is a for-profit entity that generates about $50 billion a year in revenue - money that comes almost exclusively from advertisements.
Getting Noticed on Google
If you're a small business fighting against Google's profit motive, you'll need to rethink your search engine marketing strategy in order to get your business noticed. Start by taking the following steps:
Optimize Your Google Places Listing
Google Business listings account for about two-thirds of the unpaid SERP results that are displayed for local search queries.
In the case of most Google local searches, users will see about seven or eight Google Business results and only two or three other pages in the organic search rankings.
According to one study, the top entry in these local listings receives about 36 percent of all clicks on - higher than the top listing in Google's traditional search results. Get your page top the top with the following suggestions:
- Check your "NAP." One of the strongest local ranking factors out there today is including consistent business information - such as your business's name, address and phone number - on all local listings.
- Take care of your customers. Clients who have great experiences with your brand are more likely to leave you good reviews online, which can result in stronger local SEO performance.
- Be active. Having citations in as many places as possible can improve your local rankings, so get active online and get your business listed on different social networks, directories and "white page" style websites.
In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes I see clients making is setting up their Google Business listings once and then never returning. Don't be that guy!
Instead of "setting it and forgetting it," check back from time to time and continually optimize your listing by adding new information and sharing it in new places. With time and effort, your position in the local search engine results pages (SERPs) will improve.
Don't want to stick around and wait for your local SEO activities to pay off? While I wouldn't recommend dropping them entirely, you can speed up the process of getting your content found by paying for ads.
While the value of SEO is declining, the visibility that Google Adwords customers receive is higher than ever, according to a recent study that found Adwords click-through rates (CTR) have increased 26 percent year-over-year.
The same study also showed that pay-per-click advertisements can increase the CTR of organic listings, likely due to the fact that higher brand visibility draws more attention from Google users.
That said, you'll want to exercise caution when getting started with paid advertising, as it's easier to throw money at pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns than it is to achieve a positive ROI with these methods.
Here are a few considerations you'll want to keep in mind:
- Start small, grow big. When you first log in to AdWords, you'll find it tempting to add as many keywords as you can think of to your campaigns. This is a terrible idea! Instead, choose 5-10 of your best keywords to start. You can always add more once you get your feet wet and can prove a positive ROI with this smaller group.
- Match keywords to landing pages. As a rule, it's better to send your PPC traffic to special landing pages that appeal to their interests and can capture their information than to your broader homepage. Use the keywords you're targeting with your ads to decide what content to include on your landing pages by guessing what users searching for those queries are most likely interested in finding.
- Set your budget. Google AdWords includes a feature that lets you put a limit on your daily ad spend, and I highly recommend you use it. Left unchecked, ad campaigns can burn through thousands upon thousands of dollars of low value clicks.
Are you playing into Google's hand by paying for advertisements instead of relying on its organic listings? Sure. But the end result is that your content will be seen, and as long as you're able to maintain a positive ROI, the expenses will be worth it.
Boost Your Visibility in the Shrinking SERPs
Few businesses are excited about changes from Google that result in less space for organic results in the SERPs, but that doesn't change the reality of the situation.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps that you can take to get exposure, whether you decide to pay for ad space, focus on different keywords or enhance your Google Business listing. If you're willing to adapt to these changes, there's no reason your website can't take advantage of a steady stream of organic and paid traffic, now and in the months and years to come.
Have Google's changes affected your business's ability to drive natural search traffic? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world's largest and most recognized brands to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, their Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.