When building our online business it is crucial to realise that offering a fantastic product is only a small part of the battle. Reaching our customer base is the key to success and, in this area, Google are the primary gatekeepers.
The monumental rise of Google, from its modest beginnings as a student project some twenty years ago to its status today as one of the most valuable brands in the world can be attributed to the strength of the company’s very simple mission. Google has strived to develop the fastest and most precise web search in the world and to offer users the best and most relevant results possible. This is why Google is the search engine we turn to when searching for something online, and with this in mind, when building an e-Commerce website we must make sure that we tick all of the boxes in terms of what Google is looking, if we are to reach and maintain a beneficial position in those search results.
Google’s Mission Statement
The sophistication of Google’s ranking system is completely mind blowing and there are hundreds of “Ranking Factors” at play. Rather than getting bogged down in the complexity of this, we can simply look at our relationship with Google in a metaphorical sense, and consider the key areas that will influence this relationship in a positive way.
The way Google assesses the billions of web pages it indexes can be compared with the complex way we as human beings assess people, brands and services we meet and interact with in the real world. Every day we decide who and what to trust, based on our knowledge and experience. This could mean trusting someone who is trusted by other people we value, choosing a brand that we easily recognise or choosing a product or service that has been recommended by a friend. We also assess how people behave and whether the things they say to us make sense, seem honest, and fit with our previous experiences. As we spend more time navigating these choices we get better at it, learning to spot when something might be untrustworthy, or even a scam. We make these instinctive decisions all the time, and in a similar way Google has worked hard to build an incredibly adept system for assessing which websites are going to satisfy Google’s users the most. In SEO (search engine optimisation) terms these qualities are known as “Brand Signals” and it seems likely that brand signals will continue to play an increasing role in ranking web content so it’s worth looking at your e-Commerce site from this metaphorical perspective.
Let’s have a closer look at how this translates to actionable goals for you to pursue:
Build A Trustworthy Website To Earn Google’s Favour
- Make your domain name relevant
- Register with Google My Business
- Tell the story of your brand
- Make sure your business information is accessible
- Ensure that the information you share correlates across the internet
- Build a real world reputation that Google can trace
Earning Google’s trust is really common sense once we break it down. Transparency and information are key, so your aim is to give Google the opportunity to learn everything it needs to about you, and Google is hungry to learn.
You’re going to need a relevant branded domain name, as in “yourbusiness.com” and register your brand with Google My Business to boost and manage your online presence across Google. It might seem irrelevant to register for a service that will increase your local search ranking when targeting a national or international customer base but registering with Google My Business will give you access to tools to help optimise your broader Google presence and the opportunity to gain citations, which are online listings of your business that will in turn boost your Google ranking further.
Mismatched information will ring alarm bells for Google so everything about your business needs to correlate across every platform. This means that your trading address, phone number and company number, if your business is a registered company, need to match wherever they appear. Enlist the help of your web developers to make sure you get all of these points right. Your trading address should show up within the footer of your website and if you operate from multiple addresses, i.e. an office address and a distribution address; make sure these are both clear and visible.
Make sure you can access and manage your domain name and that it is publicly registered. When you buy and register a domain you do so through a “domain registrar”. Although Google have no interest in buying and selling domain names they are registered as a domain registrar for the sole purpose of being able to access information associated with domains just like yours. They will be looking to see if the address and phone number on the domain record matches up with the details on your website, so check your domain registration is up to date and make sure your details are public and not set to private. This is something many businesses neglect, so use it as an opportunity to leap ahead.
Create real world connections that will transform into an online presence that Google can trace. Think about opportunities you could explore to get your business covered in the local press. Try sponsoring a local event or getting involved in charities or fundraisers. Submit your business to local awards or contests. This will create buzz with local customers and contribute to a trustworthy online profile that Google will rate. You never know, you might even win something!
- Protect your customers via HTTPS and a valid SSL certificate
The security of your e-Commerce store is paramount and needs to be in place from day one. Google are actively seeking to increase security across the internet and keep a constantly updated list of unsafe web resources in order to protect their users. Any website served via HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) will ultimately rank higher with Google but for an e-commerce store this is an essential step to take care of. Online shoppers are increasingly aware of the importance of security and what to look for when shopping online to determine whether or not a website they visit is safe. Browsers are making this easier by giving visual cues, such as a lock icon or a green bar, to make sure visitors know they can trust their connection. Google is actively warning consumers if they visit online stores that are not secure, which will inevitably turn away site traffic.
It is fundamentally your responsibility to make sure your online store meets basic security standards and to protect your customer’s private information. To meet these requirements and to be able to process card payments on your site you need to have a valid SSL certificate which will guard your customers personal and payment data by encrypting it as it is communicated. Your hosting provider will be able to provide and install your SSL certificate.
Create Honest, High Quality Content
- Avoid duplication at all costs
- Ensure your content is unique and engaging
- Check your spelling and grammar
- Ensure your content is accurate and truthful
Google’s capacity to interpret language and cross-check information is quite phenomenal. While we are going to get onto relevancy in a moment, let’s take a moment first to look at the aspects of quality that will set your content above the rest, and the absolute don’t-dos.
At all costs, avoid duplication across your web pages. It might seem really efficient to cut and paste a big chunk of product description between different product pages, but repetitions of the same text will impact negatively in Google’s ranking. Try to make your product pages as streamlined as possible; for example if you sell several of the same item but in lots of different colours, make the colour an option on one product page rather than making multiple repetitive product pages. If many similar product listings are unavoidable, take the time to go through each listing and ensure that the descriptions are varied and engaging. Similarly, avoid using text from manufacturers or suppliers that may appear elsewhere online, as Google will simply view this as you appropriating someone else’s content and downgrade you accordingly.
As you look at each of your product pages you will see what areas are individual to that page. While Google understands that your header, side bar and footer will contain the same text, it is the quality of the individual content that will boost your position. Quality content means the difference between pages that Google rates or ignores so it’s an important area in which to focus your efforts. Each page needs unique and engaging content with some substance to it so take the time to flesh out each product description. Run your content through an online grammar tool to catch any grammatical or spelling errors and then if possible recruit a friend or colleague to proof read your content.
In the same way that duplication will damage your ranking, so will misinformation. With the capacity to cross-check vast amounts of data in seconds, Google cannot be duped with exaggerations or false claims. Take responsibility by double checking facts and figures before sloppy sourcing reflects badly upon your business. Know that as Google’s search tools continue to become more advanced, building a reputable, honest brand with accurate representation is your best approach, in terms of ensuring your success in gaining trust from Google.
Be Relevant And Concise
- Make your content relevant and avoid repetition
- Keep your product listing structure tight and logical
- Choose your strategy in terms of your market niche
- Backup your site before making any big changes
When someone types a search term into Google, the Google search will look to identify the most relevant content available within the index, and this concept of “relevancy” must be approached in quite specific ways as you build your website. Unsurprisingly, once again, Google is looking for certain things but won’t be fooled by others. For example “keyword stuffing” is frowned upon; if you are selling fluffy hats and you write “fluffy hat” over and over again on your web page, this will hurt your ranking rather than help it.
Google will however look for not only the specific search term, but text related to the topic and synonyms for those terms too. Google will assess the relevancy of your website on three different levels. Firstly it will assess the relevance of your website as a whole and the relevancy of your domain. If the Google user has searched for glow in the dark products and your website is a glow in the dark product shop that will mean your relevance is very high. If your shop sells a wide variety of things but has a glow in the dark product section, your relevancy is diluted so you may not appear quite so high on that specific search, although this depends on your competition and other factors effecting your ranking.
Next we need to zoom in on topical relevancy, which makes that glow in the dark product section valid. Concisely structured product listings are the goal here, so similar products need to be grouped together in logical, easy to use categories and sub-categories. Have a good look at the structure of your product categories and make sure they are laid out in a way that will be most natural for viewers to navigate. If your products have category crossovers, make sure the default category for each product is the most logical choice. Don’t overcomplicate your product listing structure. Make sure to divide your products as simply and clearly as you possibly can.
Lastly we’re going to zoom in even further to your individual pages, as ultimately Google will present a web page as a search result. Make sure your product title perfectly captures what you are selling. This and the product description must be clear and informative, going for that quality content we discussed earlier. This is where your due care over duplication comes in too, as Google wants to have an easy and obvious choice of which page is most relevant to the search term.
If you feel that an overly diverse product offering may be hurting your e-Commerce store’s ranking, investigate whether your e-Commerce platform offers a multi-store solution so you can break up your offering into more relevant niche groups. In the opposite direction, proceed with caution if you are considering increasing your product range after success with what you are offering so far. Always back up your site before making any big changes, as this will allow you to experiment with as little risk as possible.
Build Authority With Reputable Inbound Links
- Create content that will attract high quality inbound links
- Link out to other relevant websites
- Take an honest approach to building authority
- Allow yourself time to reach your potential in this area
In the world of search engine optimisation we frequently see the term “Authority”. Authority is affected by the external or inbound links that appear on other websites, pointing to your own website, and to some extent mentions of your brand elsewhere on the web.
When it comes to building your Authority, you need to go for quality over quantity. The more established and trustworthy a website providing an inbound link is; the better we score. On the other hand, websites that are not established, or authoritative in their own right, will have little effect on our ranking. Do keep in mind that the low authority websites of today might blossom into fantastic authority inbound links in the future!
In the past many website owners experimented with manipulating this calculation by manufacturing fake authoritative websites to falsely boost website rankings. Of course Google caught up with this trend and continues to improve its assessment capabilities to thwart those trying to side step Google’s search engines. Ultimately, trying to cheat Google may result in major damage to your Google ranking and is simply not worth it.
The best approach is to create some energy around what you are doing. We have all heard of the concept “viral content” and this idea is worth engaging with. Hook interest from other websites by gaining media attention or running contests through your social networking platforms. Try to create stimulating content, be it informative, emotive or comedic. Be creative and keep things interesting by taking diverse approaches. Create a brand that people enjoy interacting with and it is much more likely that your effort will result in others wanting to link to your content.
Also keep in mind that as well as the general authority of the source of the external link, the more topically relevant that source is – the better. If you’re still selling fluffy hats and a link to your website appears on a website all about the hottest hat trends of this winter then in terms of relevance the connection is ideal. An incoming link from a totally irrelevant website will not benefit you as much. This relationship with other websites can be reciprocated by adding outbound links in your own pages to established websites hitting on the same topic. These links will offer additional interest for your viewers, boost your content and might even create the possibility of a link back in return. Building the Authority of your e-Commerce store is something to look at as a long term project. Results will not be achieved overnight but your efforts will soon pay off.
Beat The Bounce
- Use Google tools to track your bounce rate and site engagement
- Investigate potential issues and address problem pages
In Google’s effort to ensure their search results are exactly what their users are looking for, they will also monitor how the users who click through to your website behave. There are two aspects of this performance that will affect your ranking and ultimately your success. The first is your “Bounce Rate”. If someone clicks on a search result that takes them to one of your website’s pages but then quickly hit “back” and return to their search we call that a bounce and as far as Google is concerned, if your bounce rate is too high your website ranking might suffer as it is not holding their users’ interest sufficiently. The second aspect of this equation is “Site Engagement” which is assessed by how long users spend viewing your page. If a Google user only visits one page on your website but spends a longer time viewing it they might have found exactly what they were looking for, even if they do return to their search afterwards and keep on browsing. Google takes both of these factors into account in combination when determining how useful your website is.
Google provides tools to look at these two elements of how your website is performing which can be a big help as you tweak your site to create as much interest as possible. Google Analytics allows you to monitor both your bounce rate and time on page separately, whilst Google Tag Manager will monitor page scrolling and click activity and adjust your website’s bounce rate by factoring in site engagement automatically. Both tools offer a host of other website analysis resources to help you optimise your website, so it’s a great idea to get to know your way around them and figure out which tools work best for you. If your rates are not favourable, investigate what might be letting you down, then monitor for changes as you make improvements to your site.
Create A User Friendly Experience
- Carefully assess the usability of your website over the entire customer experience
- Recruit others to test your site and catch issues you might have missed
- Ensure that technical issues and site speed are not impacting your search position negatively
Your website needs to be user friendly for site users and for Google too. Making every effort to maximise your site traffic will prove utterly useless if your website is too slow or has technical issues that negatively impact your visitor’s experience.
In e-Commerce terms, the “User Experience” or “UX” is an important buzz-term to wrap our heads around. The concept defines the success of the user’s experience from the beginning to end, which in our case means from when they first click onto your website through to when they complete a purchase, are happy with it and even give it a great review. The health of your UX can ultimately be monitored by the conversion rate of visitors who become buyers, and buyers who become repeat customers.
As you optimised your shop categories for user friendliness, consider the way your whole website performs as a user might move through it. When first loading a page is the content eye-catching and easy to process? Is it easy to add products to the basket? Is the navigation system obvious? Does the search function work perfectly? Is your check out and payment process smooth? Click through every step of each process imagining what a first time user might experience to identify any obvious issues.
We can assess the UX of our own website up to a certain point but inevitably a level of familiarity related blindness will set in, especially after hours of working on something that we know back to front. The best way to address this problem is to enlist help. An expert isn’t what you need, but rather any old person who is willing to spend a few minutes clicking through your website in return for a mug of freshly brewed tea or a chocolate muffin!
Recruit someone who has never seen your website before and ask them to seek out one product of their own choosing plus a product that you specify, and then ask them to go right on through to purchase. Ask them to talk you through each step of their experience to give you live action feedback of any stumbling blocks they come across. Ask for their first impression of each page, and find out what they find useful or annoying. Can they find the products easily? Does the basket perform as they’d like? How easy are the customer information forms to complete? Make notes on every detail and don’t underestimate the power of a small annoyance – the attention span of web browsers is fairly ruthless and a small UX issue will mean lost sales. The more times you are able to repeat this bribery-by-beverage experience the better insight you will have into weak points to work on. See if you can enlist a handful of friends or colleagues to perform a brief trial of your website. Performing these tests on different devices is worth exploring too as a glitch may only manifest on a mobile device but not on a desktop computer.
Technical problems might be small issues which go easily un-spotted or big problems which halt navigation through your site all together. From the Google perspective, these problems will impact how easily Google search software crawls and indexes your website which is crucial for your ranking. Poor load speeds will reduce your ranking directly. Check out this great guide from Google, which provides insight into how the crawling and indexing process works, to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. Google’s analytical tools may help you to identify pages that are causing problems but it’s worth getting a technical audit of your website or if you can afford it, consider recruiting a digital marketing expert to make sure your website is optimised.
Cultivate A Great Relationship With Your Customer Base
- Master Social Networking to demonstrate your connection to your customers
- Solicit reviews to build your brand’s reputation with Google and the public
- Never ignore bad reviews!
- Become a trusted expert in your product field
Getting back to our metaphor, when you are getting to know someone new in the real world you will be observing how they interact with others as part of the process of figuring out what kind of person they are. Google is no different, and Google is a meticulous critic! A great relationship with your customer base will tick these boxes and makes for a sound marketing strategy. Putting effort into constructive and positive interaction with your customers is a choice that will only increase the strength of your business and at the same time will positively influence your position in the Google search results.
Decide which social networking sites are going to be the best platform for you to promote your business. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are obvious choices. You might choose only one or you may opt to promote across several. There are some great cross-platform tools to reduce your workload in this pursuit; for example you can connect a Facebook page to an Instagram account and share on both platforms simultaneously. Whichever sites you opt for, be sure to clearly link to your website on your Social Networking pages and vice versa. Your Social Networking presence needs to be an active one so post regular and relevant content.
Social Networking sites will bring an opportunity for customer reviews, and reviews are a great way to demonstrate your trustworthiness to both Google and potential future clients. You can prompt customers by sending emails asking them to submit a review after a sale or even incentivise shoppers by offering them a discount code or entry into a competition in return for their feedback. Your customers may give reviews directly to you, on one of your Social Networking sites or on Google itself. Google’s own review system, Google Customer Reviews is interesting, as if you use those services your rating as a seller will appear on Search Ads and in Google Shopping, not to mention you can even utilise Google’s free rating badge which you can add to your website.
Reacting to reviews is an important part of building your brand. Actively respond to the reviews you receive, good and bad, as a part of your ongoing customer interaction efforts. If you receive bad reviews make sure your responses are professional, courteous and constructive. Demonstrate steps you take in resolving issues and politely explain problems that may have occurred. If issues are highlighted then address them quickly to avoid a repeat of a negative customer experience. An unaddressed bad review can put a buyer off making a purchase, but addressed negative feedback is much less damaging.
In building your customer relationship you don’t have to stop at the boundaries of your own pages. Blatant self promoting all over the web will not do you any favours, but offering helpful advice to others in forums that are relevant to your market area can be a great tool for fostering trust. Become a reliable expert in your field to rate higher with Google and your target audience.
So there you have it. Consider Google as a very thorough and meticulous friend who will rate your upstanding performance as an online business, and when you earn it, recommend your business to others. Carefully targeting all of the areas we have explored will contribute greatly to making sure your e-Commerce store pops up when Google’s users are hunting for exactly what you offer. Now is the time to get started and work on improving your Google ranking.