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Why Rankings are Misleading

In the early days of Google, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies were very different. In those days, the best way to drive traffic to your site was to show up on the first page of search results.

Over the years, especially recently, Google has made many algorithm changes. This means that search rankings are not the same as they used to be.

Having the #1 spot is not always as lucrative as it was in the past. In fact, the top spot is 37% less valuable than it was in 2018. However, many site owners still strive to win the top spot on search results, with little to show for their efforts.

Instead of obsessing over your rankings, you should focus your time on other strategies that cultivate stronger leads.

Why the #1 spot isn’t as powerful as it used to be

Most results are geo-targeted and personalized

The search results that you see are not the same for everyone. Google uses its RankBrain algorithm, a machine learning system, to deliver better search results for each unique searcher. The algorithm seeks to learn the behavior of each user to show results that are personally tailored to them. As such, internet users see different results based on their search history and location.

For example, sometimes, the rankings that a user sees are due to their previous interaction with the site. If a user finds you organically and visits your website, Google assumes that you are a resource that the user trusts.

This means that your site will rank higher in their results the next time they search for that initial search term. However, if a user instead clicks on your competitor’s link, then their future search results will favor your competitor's site in the rankings.

Additionally, the search results are different on mobile devices than on desktop computers. Google’s algorithm favors mobile-friendly website designs, as well as pages that load and render more quickly on mobile devices.

This is one of many reasons why your website should be optimized for mobile users.

There is no “real” #1 spot any more

In Google’s early days, when the algorithms were different, the search results looked pretty plain. Now, the top half of the page is filled with paid search ads, featured snippets and, in local searches, a map view with Google’s “3-pack.”

All of that can take up the entire top half of the page, which pushes traditional organic search results to the bottom. Sometimes, the #1 result is halfway down the page.

And, in many cases, the top few organic listings are aggregate sites, like Yelp or TripAdvisor. If that is the case, then the highest-ranking small business may not even appear on the first page at all.

What to focus on instead of rankings

There are many reasons why chasing the top of the results pages can be a lost cause. That being said, there are a few techniques to help improve your presence in search results that don’t focus on that #1 spot:

1.) Build rich content to get featured snippets

Google’s “featured snippet” is the text box that sometimes shows up at the top of results page with an answer to a question.

For example, if you look up, “how much does gas cost in Texas,” the featured snippet shows an excerpt from a chosen search result with the specific answer, “$2.51”, highlighted in bold. These snippets are also commonly used in voice search.

Oftentimes, the link that gets displayed in the featured snippet is not the first result. Sometimes, it is toward the bottom of the page. To rank for featured snippets, Google tends to favor content that is brief and to the point, especially short answers and bulleted lists.

In addition to the featured snippets, the same criteria can help you rank for Google’s “People also ask” widget. When links to your site show up in these widgets, it gives the appearance that your site is trustworthy, and more people will click on it.

2.) Build strong local profiles

Many first-page results are aggregates, like Yelp, Top Rated Local® and other review sites, and it is nearly impossible to out-rank these listings.

You know the phrase, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?" If you have profiles on these sites, then you can take advantage of the traffic that they receive.

Once you have profiles on local aggregate listing sites, make sure that all information (like your phone number and hours) is accurate and consistent. Having consistent information across multiple profiles sends a relevancy signal to Google, which helps boost your ranking.

Save time and ensure your listings have accurate, up-to-date information by using local listings management software, like Marketing 360® Listings.

Also, make sure you have a Google My Business profile set up and verified. To show up on a map listing or the Local 3-pack, make sure you have a verified Google My Business page that has detailed and accurate information.

3.) Create a review strategy

It is important to have user reviews on your Google My Business profile and other local aggregate sites. When Google decides which businesses to rank in their local 3-pack, they take into consideration the number of reviews (especially positive ones) and engagement level.

Yelp and other review platforms have similar criteria for which businesses they rank highest and get the most visibility.

Google and Yelp do not like businesses to solicit user reviews. However, instead of actively recruiting customer reviews, you can make it as easy as possible for customers to leave feedback.

See how Websites 360® can help

As we’ve learned, having the “#1” spot in search engines is less important than it once was. But, what is important is having a website with valuable content, accurate and consistent local listings,and an active review presence.

There are many marketing tools and tactics that can help you improve your online presence. From local listing management to review strategy, we’ve made it easy to use these marketing strategies from right within the Marketing 360® dashboard.

See plans and pricing, and learn more about the Marketing 360 platform.

Originally published on10/14/19