Who’s making the most of their top places in Google? (Part 1)

Despite the claims of the “search engine optimisation” companies, driving your way to the top of the Google results for the big generic product terms is almost impossible nowadays. Those companies who find themselves on the first page of results probably put in the hard work a long time ago, or have got there by good fortune. If you consider that clickthroughs from Google AdWords might be worth, say £2 a time, the value of a top position in a widely-searched generic term can be significant. One company I talked to recently was getting over a thousand visits a month from Google searches on a particular term (let’s call it “blue widgets”) and, being an AdWords advertiser, was quite aware of the value of a single visit. But they hadn’t put two-and-two together, and were quite surprised when I suggested that the Google search traffic was therefore worth in excess of £2,000 a month. An asset of that magnitude deserves a lot of care, but it’s quite clear to see that few companies are giving it sufficient attention. Quite frankly, most companies’ Google results look awful. And it’s not Google’s fault.

Just because you appear on a Google results page doesn’t mean somebody’s going to click on your result. Getting there is only half of the battle. Now you need the result to shout: “click on me!” But many companies take this open goal and blaze it over the bar.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a Google result.

The most important element is the heading, in blue (purple if it’s already been clicked). As the website owner, you’re almost 100% in control of this. Every one of your web pages has a “title” tag, and that’s what Google usually shows, if it’s relevant. So you write Google’s heading.

Just like an advert, the heading needs to sell. Confronted with a page of results which all say “4-20mA aerospace widgets”, how do you make the Google user click on yours? By employing exactly the same considerations as you would if you were writing a book title or an advertisement headline. In this case, the website page creator (er – me) decided that anyone who’d typed “4-20mA aerospace widgets” into Google probably wanted some basic information about them. So I added “introduction and glossary” after the “4-20mA aerospace widgets” bit. Even if other results appear above mine in Google, many users scanning the page would click on the one which clearly offers the background they’re probably searching for.

A simple “label” is not really good enough as your page title. Labels don’t hurt, but they don’t work as hard as a properly-written heading. Worst of all, however, are those sites where the page titles have been auto-generated and reflect the website’s structure. This can lead to the worst mistake of all, which is writing titles longer than 60 characters, and getting the important bit cut off, like this:

Then there’s the website URL (in green). This is becoming increasingly important; most of us scan these subconsciously as part of the decision on which result to click. To be fair, there’s probably not much most website owners can do about these in between website redesigns, but it’s something to bear in mind next time you have an overhaul of your site. See how in the top example above, the green URL reinforces the sales pitch which is being made?

Finally, the two lines of descriptive text. You can “suggest” these, using the “description” meta tag for the page, and although Google’s algorithms might decide instead to use an automatically-selected chunk of text from the page, it’s worth a try. If the search term features in the description you’ve written, there’s a good chance your suggestion will be used. Again, make sure you’ve written it to a sensible length (in this case, 120-160 characters) so that if it is used, you don’t see it cut off with three dots at the end. If your description does get used (as in the top example above), make sure it works nicely with the heading to form a package which neatly encapsulates what the reader is going to get by clicking on the result.

Google wants its results to look better. Imagine if a manually-written directory (or, say, an exhibition catalogue) looked as messy as Google’s results currently do. It wouldn’t be acceptable. Google’s target is to make its automatically-created results just as clean. One way it’s doing this is to constantly monitor what people are clicking on, and to promote those results. So by creating nice-looking Google results, you get more clicks …and a boost up the rankings.

Tomorrow I’ll look at a typical page of Google results and offer my critique.

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