“Are we there yet?” These four words make every parent twitch.
Especially when you’re fifteen minutes into a 12-hour road trip. Raise your hand if you’re with me.
Can we really get upset, though? How much do children understand about time, distance, and speed? Throw in a super fun vacation that awaits them at the end of the drive, and you’ve got a recipe to hear these words on repeat.
Let’s face it. It is hard to be patient – even as adults!
One of the most common questions we get at our agency is, “how long until we rank on the first page of Google?”
This is as loaded of a question as, “are we there yet”?
In this article, we’ll discuss the variables that influence search engine rankings, how to use them to your advantage, and what’s realistic when it comes to ranking organically on search engines like Google.
First, what does it mean to rank organically on search engines?
When you go to Google and type in a search query (if you’re playing along here, go to Google and type in Water Softeners Winchester VA), a list of results will appear. Typically, you’ll see paid or sponsored links first, depending on the type of search, followed by Google Maps listings if Google deems your search to be local. Then, the “answer box” where common questions around your search query are answered will appear, and finally, after all that scrolling are the “organic” listings.
When someone clicks your organic listing you don’t pay for that click – unlike the paid ad section at the top of the results page.
This makes showing up in this section desirable for many business owners.
The second question you should ask yourself is, “For which keywords (search queries) do I want to rank organically?”
This too is a loaded question!
Unless you already have data for your specific business that tells you which searches are going to drive people to your website AND result in sales, it’s important to gather that data first so as to not waste precious time and money with a spaghetti strategy (let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks). Search engine optimization (SEO) is far too expensive and time-consuming to take this approach. However, it is one of the most common mistakes I see time after time.
How do you gather that data?
One of the simplest ways is to run Google Search Ads. Because you only pay when someone clicks your ad, you can bid on any keyword you can possibly think of! You pay nothing if no one searches for that query or clicks your ad. However, if they search and click your ad, you can track through to the sale to know which keywords are most profitable for your business.
After enough data builds, you’ll know how to start building your search engine optimization strategy using the best time-tested keywords that produce real results. Without paid ads, it would be trial and error to find out which keywords work for your business and your market, as no two are identical. SEO is not cheap, so this can save you big bucks over the long haul.
Once you have your list of profitable keywords, you can begin working with your SEO professional to develop your strategy. It’s important to note that if you’re a local company, there’s very little chance of ranking for non-local generic water treatment terms.
For example, if you search for Water Softeners, you’ll notice it’s an international search showing e-commerce products as well as major global retailers of water systems. If you’re a local company, there’s a very slim chance that you’ll be able to compete, nor would you want to as you’d have people from all over the world reaching out to you.
Adding your local city and state can help you rank locally for these terms while you use Google Ads for the non-local terms targeted within your local geographic area.
Once you have your list of high-value keywords and are dying to know the answer to how quickly you’ll rank on the first page of Google, here are the variables to consider:
- Google Business Listing
When many businesses are competing for placement on the first page of a search engine, it will naturally be tougher to rank than if you’re in a market where there are fewer competitors.
Using tools like Ahrefs.com, semrush.com, or spyfu.com can help you identify your competitors, which keywords their sites rank for, and the traffic volume so you can find holes in their strategy in which to fill.
It’s important to note that if your competitors are forking out a significant amount of money to build content and backlinks, you’ll likely have to do the same or discover different keywords that provide you revenue that they aren’t ranking for yet. You can also overcome tough competition by producing better content.
When it comes to content, relevance and value are two highly important aspects to consider.
Including text, images, and video so people can interact with your content in different ways is ideal. As with any type of marketing, thinking about your customers first is vital. What information do they want? What questions do they have that need to be answered on your site? How do they prefer to consume information?
According to an article by Search Engine Land, Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines break down the characteristics of high-quality content by type:
Informational content should be accurate, comprehensive, original, and professionally presented.
Artistic content should be original, unique, and convey a high degree of skill.
News content should be in-depth, well-cited, accurate, and contain original reporting.1
When one website links to another a backlink is created. Backlinks are also known as “inbound links” or “incoming links.”
Think of these links to your site as votes. The more websites you have voting for you, the more search engines see that your site is relevant and valuable to users. This, in turn, has a positive effect on your organic rankings.
There are many different ways of obtaining backlinks, however, here are a couple that you implement easily:
Reach out to any businesses with whom you have a working relationship. Ask if they’d be open to adding your logo, article, or content to their site and linking it to your domain. Of course, let them know that you’ll do the same for them.
Hire a marketing agency to handle link building on your behalf. You’ll want to be careful with this option and perform your due diligence to ensure that the agency is using widely accepted methods to get these links. They may reach out to influencers, complementary markets (think health and wellness magazines if you sell reverse osmosis systems), and relevant directories on your behalf to ask them to share your content and link to your site. Avoid at all costs agencies who use spamming techniques! This can damage your online reputation and cause more problems than you want to deal with.
According to Search Engine Journal, “Generally speaking, fewer, high-quality links from relevant websites will have a far greater impact on your results than a greater volume of low-quality links from irrelevant websites.”2
It’s no surprise that Google likes you to use their products and creating a Google Business Listing is one way you can leverage this to your advantage. Especially relevant for local businesses, your Google Listing can help you rank in the coveted “Map Pack” section. Here are some things you can do to help improve your listing:
- Ensure your listing is claimed and verified. If you have access to edit your listing and have those edits published, you’re all set. If not, you likely need to go through this process.
- Make sure all your contact information is up to date.
- Select the appropriate primary and secondary categories.
- Complete each section completely.
- Collect and respond to reviews
- Update your service area
- Add products and services along with pictures.
- Answer commonly asked questions.
- Set up messaging and call tracking.
- Add photos and posts on a regular basis.
Depending on how well you’ve already addressed these variables, ranking for your high-value keywords can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Of course, for sites with great content, lots of backlinks, and lower competition, you’re looking at the shorter end of that scale. You may be looking at a long-term investment for those with new sites or sites that haven’t proactively addressed these variables.
The key is not to give up! As long as you or your marketing team has done the hard work of identifying the biggest opportunities for you to grow both traffic and sales, stay consistent with your strategy and you’ll get there.
Before you know it, you’ll no longer be asking, “are we there yet?!”
1. Search Engine Land, Chapter 2: Content & search engine success factors https://searchengineland.com/guide/seo/content-search-engine-ranking
2. Search Engine Journal, How Long Does SEO Take https://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-guide/how-long-seo-takes