I’m often asked by my clients about getting their brand new website to the top of Google. And this is not a surprising question because we all know that being at the top of Google for the keyword you want to be ranking for is one of best things in life right! Mostly because it means you can be found by all sorts of people who you don’t even know are looking for you and have no way of connecting with otherwise.
And I’m not about to say ‘well surprise surprise being at the top of Google doesn’t matter after all‘ because it ABSOLUTELY DOES MATTER! Hence why the SEO industry in just the UK alone is worth over a billion a year.
SEO is something that I never thought I would know about or care about, let alone be writing about but I do (all three) thanks to having had my online press agency Talk to the Press between 2008 until 2014. And I know with complete confidence that when Talk to the Press was acquired by the SWNS media group in 2014, one of their reasons for buying it was the fact it consistently ranked top five positions in Google for ALL the main keywords that would bring in new leads.
So, I’d like to tell you my ‘SEO story’ about how I got my site to the top of Google. And I’d like to let you know right here that the events that follow took place of a period of years, not a fortnight. First of all rank must be acquired and then it must be maintained.
Rewinding back to 2008, when I was a freelance journalist and had set up a cheap website in order to enable members of the public who wanted to ‘Talk to the Press’ to find me. The website had been built, the content was done…… now I just had to enable people to find it.
And like all brand new websites, it didn’t appear in the search results at all. And this is because new URLs, even when set up correctly and submitted to Google, take a while to start ranking. I started paying for PPC ads (which bring your site into the sponsored listings on Google’s home page) and as I didn’t have any money to pay a SEO agency, I decided to learn about SEO myself.
I bought myself a little book called Get Into Bed With Google, and the subhead was something like ’50 things to do to your website right now to rank top of Google’. It contained 50 short chapters and each one was a guide to how to do this particular thing to your website or digital strategy to get your site to rank. At the same time I’d just had a baby (a lot happened at once in 2008) and I sat at home with the baby, going through this book doing all FIFTY things to my new website, putting a little star next to each chapter until all of them were done.
Bearing in mind at this point I had no web or technical expertise at all, it was probably one of the hardest things mentally that I have ever done as parts of the book read like Japanese. I remember when I had done everything I could do and still had around 10 chapters without that star next to them as quite frankly I just couldn’t understand what they were asking me to do. But I figured that if I just read each page really carefully, line by line without looking ahead to a few lines later and freaking out, and did each thing step by step whilst trying to avoid giving myself a panic attack, I’d eventually get it all done. Which I did……
The result was that around six months later, my website was on the bottom of page one of Google. It had worked! I was on the front page! But who wants to be on the bottom of page 1 when you could be on the top?! And besides, I thought that the higher my site ranked, the less I’d have to spend on PPC (which incidentally didn’t turn out to be quite right and I’ll cover that in another blog post).
I wish I could say here to give any new website owners out there a little bit of hope that I was the top of page one a few weeks later but in reality it was probably about 18 months later that I reached the middle of page one, and that was only done by employing a regularly and consistent content strategy (aka blogging) on site.
The good news is it’s not actually the end of the world being in the lower half of page 1 as people looking for things tend to shop around. Which is why alongside working on SEO, I employed all sorts of strategies in terms of content, imagery, demonstrating authority, storytelling, list building and conversion expertise to make my site clearly and instantly so much better than the ones above me. And this did work as many people who phoned us would tell us ‘I looked at all the agencies and yours is clearly the best’ (and they were right of course!).
Still, I’m very competitive so I didn’t abandon my hope of getting to the top of page one. Checking my website rankings became a daily obsession. If ever I found a new computer, for example while at a friends house, on which my search terms hadn’t already been checked, I’d quickly run through them all (because Google knows everything and recognises you and shows you the results you’ve seen before and also results change depending on location). And sometimes Google would taunt me! I was at my mum’s hosue checking on her computer and I was on position 1!!! My job was done!! The next day, back at home, I was back at position 5, and I realised my job would never be over.
Around this time (three years into the life of my business) I employed a proper SEO agency and paid them quite a few thousand pounds to improve the site further as to me, the site seemed mostly stuck at position 5. I can’t remember how much I spent but in total probably around £8k, and this took me to between position 1 and 4. YIPPEE!!!
But still there were plenty of days when for all I could tell my overall ranking could have depended on things such as the cycle of the moon as it seemed impossible to control or predict with absolute certainty. And all the while I kept blogging, learning about SEO myself (because things keep advancing and rules keep changing) and doing whatever I could to improve the site which in turn would improve our rankings. And in case I ever had any doubt that all these little and constant tweaks I was making were helping, Google told me firmly it was when I had my second baby, stopped focusing on SEO and stopped adjusting and adding to the site. Within 6 months, the site was back at position 7. And there it began all over again!
Today, if you Google any of the keyterms that might bring new customers to Talk to the Press, you’ll find the site still ranking between positions 1 and 4, and whereas once back then it was mostly position 4 and occasionally position 1, by the time of sale, it was mostly position 1 and occasionally position 4. But bear in mind, this domain however is now 8 years old and to Google is an absolute authority as it contains hundreds of blog posts which demonstrate the agency’s expertise, are written to rank for specific keyterms and showcase the agency’s successes and achievements.
I don’t mind admitting that the day I sold Talk to the Press, I felt hugely relieved that I no longer had to fight that battle for position 1. Because it is a rollercoaster. Because it is not just about what you do, but what your competitors do too (how much they spend on SEO, how much they blog, how much they learn). Because no sooner than you have won the battle, than you lose again. Because Google moves on and everything changes. And because it never ends!
With that in mind, here are my key thoughts on SEO
- It is entirely possible to achieve page 1 rankings, but you must manage your expectations. The launch of a website is just the beginning, not the end.
- SEO is not an overnight thing, especially if you are launching a new URL (domain name) and you want to rank for keywords other than that those that are in that domain name. ie, in the case of my domain Talktothepress.co.uk, while yes I did want to rank for searches of ‘Talk to the Press’ but also for all sorts of searches such as ‘sell my story’ and even ‘help, there are journalists outside my house…..’
- Don’t ask yourself ‘Why doesn’t my site rank’ and instead ask yourself ‘How can I make myself SO good that its obvious to Google this site should be ranked in position 1.’
- Think about it from Google’s point of view. They are a business and their business is search. Their customers are looking for the ‘right’ answer to their question and the way Google measures this is through relevance. If I search ‘blue jumper’ and they deliver ‘pink jumper’, whilst you the owner of the pink jumper website might be happy, Google as a business has done a bad job and just lost a customer who thinks their search engine is rubbish. Your job is to make it absolutely clear to Google what you are relevant for.
- Google loves authority. Demonstrate authority, expertise, passion and knowledge by blogging. One blog post won’t do it. Sites left to languish will get removed from the listing just like unloved gardens no longer win gardening awards. Blog, blog and keep blogging. The Talk to the Press website contains hundreds of blog post about what they do and what they are relevant for. It doesn’t matter if site visitors only read the latest ones. Google can see them all.
- There is a good book to read by Tim Kitchen called SEO for 2015 and beyond. http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Get-Top-Google-including-ebook/dp/B0076XVNM8. Read it. Read it again and read it again. A lot of this is a process. Go through the process, take each step, do each thing (if you need technical help call in an expert) and then look at your ranking again.
- Remember, even the highest ranking sites never have it completely in the bag. Maintenance is essential.