Search: Pulling Rank
With all of the thought, expense and energy businesses put into building their presence—and brand—online, you'd think that one sure-fire success would be getting found. Haven't we all run searches on the Web pages we've nurtured through planning and execution, only to find they're buried beneath pages that seem less targeted, less content-rich and overall less worthy to rank higher in search? What's a marketer to do?
Raising a page's rank through linkbuilding—the process of generating links back to specific Web pages—can be done. But like any worthy goal, it takes strategy, persistence and good implementation to succeed. Whether you drive a linkbuilding strategy on your own, work with a search engine optimization professional, or partner with a communications agency specializing in integrated online optimization, put the right mix of creativity, logic and commitment to work and your pages should rise through the ranks.
Here are a few ideas about how to apply insights you already have to the process of page optimization through successful linkbuilding.
• Know and interact with the people who influence your market. Use your own business knowledge or partner with an agency to identify the most influential people and sources in the markets you serve. If your agency has access to tools for mapping key influencers, excellent. Create that map and begin to target communications to key influencers, helping them understand and reference your pages and content. And use their content and insight to further refine your own messaging. All of this will contribute to your search ranking and the response visitors have when they find you.
• Raise your ranks by eliciting trust. Trust is a key factor in determining the value of a Web page, and leading search engines determine that trust by analyzing, among other factors, how many other Web pages link to that page.
For example, let's say you have a homepage that's been active for several years. It's known in your business ecosystem, has been referenced in your corporate communications, and linked to by media, partners, customers and related pages.
Depending on the number and nature of those links, Google assigns your page a unique value called "PageRank" that falls somewhere between 0 and 10—only a handful of websites in the world have a 10. That value helps set your page apart relative to similar pages.
If you were to clone that page and "mirror" it out on the Web, that new mirror page launches with a zero PageRank, even though its content is identical to the original. Why? Because it hasn't had time to accrue trust.
Now if you expose that new page in the right circles and point media and partners to it, little by little, trust (and links) will grow, and that page will rise through the ranks.
There's no value in mirroring your site; this is just an illustration. But it gives context to our recommendation of raising trust to raise the rating of your website.
Here's how to elicit trust and succeed in linkbuilding:
1. Create pages that offer real value to unique audiences.
2. Make them findable and worth linking to for these audiences.
3. Have those pages support your integrated Web presence and extended marketing efforts.
Depending on your audiences, this might mean creating an array of unique landing pages optimized toward specific use cases and associating those pages with unique and likely search terms.
Let's say that you're an online flower shop and you want to raise the search ranking of your homepage. You can create an array of landing pages targeted toward unique use cases—wedding bouquets, baby gifts, Valentine's Day, funerals, anniversary flowers, which flowers to bring on a special date, etc.. Link once—and only once—from those landing pages to your homepage, and then begin promoting those pages in relevant marketing materials and outreach. As people find those pages and link to them, the trust that those links carry will travel up the chain and accrue value to your homepage, raising its search rank.
There's plenty that you can do to catalyze this process. You can write blog content pointing to these pages; tweet about them consistently using relevant terms; comment on relevant online content and point to these pages; and work with partners, suppliers and media to guide the way they link to these pages. Using microblogs, social networks and other channels, you can also build trust—and value for your audience—by sharing links to interesting, useful or entertaining content like videos, coupons, free content downloads and giveaways.
• Plan and be consistent with keywords across all of your communications. Planning and committing to specific keywords is a cornerstone of effective linkbuilding and your overall search marketing mix. Determine the terms best associated with your use cases or likely search parameters, and use them consistently across your content.
The long tail is particularly valuable for keywords and SEO. The trick is to determine the best keyword phrases for a niche market you are targeting, because these will have the least competition—helping you to rank higher in the results—and the greatest potential rewards in terms of conversions. An example is "marketing agency" versus "B-to-B tech marketing agency San Francisco." You should own your chosen keywords and think of them as working together to reinforce each other from a search perspective.
Developing an integrated content strategy and planning onsite, online and social content around your strongest keywords will, over time, contribute to the strength of your ranking—while also helping you message clearly and consistently as your page rank rises.
• The first link is the one that counts. Search engines only count links to unique URLs, so there's no need to link to the same page multiple times in the same content. The other links in your content should be to different pages of your site.
• Avoid "click here." The words "click here" are meaningless in terms of ranking. Go back to those keywords you've developed and make those your linked text.
• Tweet wisely. It's true that Twitter can help raise your ranking if you're very consistent with keyword use and how your tweets point to your pages. But you must stay consistent with those tweets over time, and that can get (a) exhausting and (b) spammy. Save the power tweeting for launches, big events and promotions, and use your keyword variations consistently during those times.
Remember, too, that the real value of a tweet is measured by retweets. Deliver value to your followers and they'll jump in to spread the word—and give your ranking a bit of a boost.
• Do what's right, analyze and repeat. Message respectfully, authentically and generously. Partner wisely with influencers. Build community. Then test your results to learn what actions—and influencers—best helped you get the job done. Some easy measurement tools are Google Analytics and Google rankings.
Your SEO results will reflect the clarity and focus of all your communications—online, offline and at all touchpoints of your users' experiences. The framework you build with an integrated communication strategy will reinforce the value of your Web presence, which will build the trust you need to rise through the ranks.