If you have a website, no doubt you’ve gone online to try and figure out the “magic trick” that will help your website rank higher on Google. And if you’re like most people, you’re overwhelmed at all the ranking factors that are taken into consideration when Google determines which sites show up on the first page of search results.

Google (and the other search engines) literally use thousands of ranking “signals” to rank web pages. Unfortunately, no one really knows what all those factors are – even the people that work at Google don’t know them. And with machine learning on the rise, the lines are getting even blurrier. It’s becoming more and more difficult to tell what strategies truly influence rankings and how they all connect to one another to achieve high search ranking results.

Luckily, there are people in the SEO profession that do testing – trial and error – and we can identify some key factors that positively impact search results. And Google is even kind enough to share some of those factors with us (occasionally) — if you pay attention.

With competition for the top spots fierce, here are three SEO strategies you should add to your search engine optimization arsenal.

Google My Business

First, if you have a local business and haven’t claimed your Google My Business (GMB) listing, what are you waiting for?! Google My Business plays an important role in which sites appear in the coveted Google Local 3-Pack and can positively impact your overall local rankings:

Additionally, your GMB listing appears as a Knowledge Panel when someone searches for your business’ name:

It’s on the Knowledge Panel that your business really shines! Here you can provide additional information to potential customers – and chances are your competitors aren’ttaking advantage of all these features. (NOTE: Depending on your industry, some additional features may be available on your Google My Business listing. For instance, if you schedule appointments and use a scheduling tool that has partnered with Google, you may have the Booking option available on your listing. This feature lets people book an appointment with your business directly from your Google My Business listing!)

At a minimum, here are the things you should include to optimize your Google My Business Listing:

  • Business Name
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Website
  • Business Category
  • Business Description
  • Hours
  • Photos
  • Videos (30-seconds long)
  • Answer Questions that people ask you (Q&A)
  • Make Frequent ‘Posts’ (mini-social media posts)

To really help your rankings, you want to work to optimize your Google My Business listingto its fullest – and keep optimizing it by updating your company’s information with current posts, adding new photos and videos, answering questions people ask your business in the Q&A section and asking your happy customers for reviews. Google looks at all the interactions going on with your Google My Business listing – and you can bet that matters when it comes to showing relevant businesses when someone does a search.

Also, Google is constantly testing new features – and is adding new features all the time. Make sure you log in to your Google My Business listing frequently to check out what’s new.

Be Informative and Relevant: Write Content that Answers the Questions People Are Asking

Google’s main goal (besides making a profit for their shareholders) is to provide searchers with the best answers to what people are searching for. That means not only selecting the best keywords to target, but it also means writing engaging content that meets not only Google’s quality standards but also the people that are doing the searching.

For those of you naysayers that preach, “Content doesn’t matter,” you’re wrong. Think about it. The internet is ALL about content – text, images, videos. Content counts. And content matters when it comes to how your website’s pages rank.

To get started writing great content, you need to first know what types of questions your customers are asking about your business, products or services. To find out, talk to your customer support team, salespeople or anyone else that encounters your customers – and start making a list! Keep track of every question people in your company have been asked and be sure to write the answers down. These are the most important things to write content around because these are the topics your customers want to learn about.

Still not sure what content you should write about? Just go to Answer the Public, type in a keyword relevant to your business (let’s say you’re an accountant, so you enter the keyword “accounting” – just for fun!) and see what happens.

Magically, you’ll be presented with a variety of questions people are literally asking about accounting! (You can see the lists visually or in list form):

From this list alone, I EASILY found at least 26 GREAT blog post ideas (and there were many, many more ideas):

  • are accounting fees deductible
  • are accounting jobs in demand
  • are accounting classes hard
  • are accounting fees deductible in 2018
  • are accounting standards mandatory
  • are accounting expenses tax deductible
  • can accounting fees be deducted
  • can accounting be self-taught
  • can accounting ratios be negative
  • can accounting rate of return be negative
  • how accounting helps in decision making
  • how accounting works
  • how accounting standards are enforced
  • how accounting helps in business
  • which accounting method should i use
  • who governs accounting
  • who regulates accounting firms
  • why accounting is important
  • why accounting is important in business
  • accounting vs economics
  • accounting vs bookkeeping
  • accounting vs finance
  • accounting vs economic profit
  • accounting vs auditing
  • accounting ethics
  • accounting exemptions

Once you know the types of questions your customers want to know, you can then start your keyword research. There are a lot of resources online about keyword research, so I’m not going to delve into that subject here. (My friend Brian Dean at Backlinko has a GREAT keyword research guide that is a must-read.) Just know that doing your due diligence with your keyword research is crucial. You want to try to rank for keywords that are highly searched but aren’t very competitive. (It’s a fine balance.)

You will also find some great content information in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Here you’ll find some important content marketing and writing tips that will help guide you. (And since it’s coming directly from Google, you should pay attention. It’s worth downloading this handy-dandy PDF and keeping it close by as you write content for your website.)

When you’re writing, make sure to only use your target keyword a few times (i.e. no more than two times) and then sprinkle in some synonyms or other ways of saying the keyword “idea” in other ways. Do NOT keyword stuff. (It looks bad to the reader and Google won’t give you any bonus points – they may even penalize you for it.)

Above all, know your limits. If writing isn’t your strength (and, let’s face it, not everybody can write well), it’s WORTH IT to hire a professional to write the blog post or web page content for you. (And don’t just revert to Fiverr. No matter what they say, no one can write a great, SEO-worthy piece of content on the cheap.) If you’re going to cut costs and corners, content is NOT the place to do it.

Make Your Site a Secure Site

Facebook has recently had very public issues with security and privacy, and people are more aware than ever of the importance of internet security. People are concerned about their personal information being abused and worry about identify theft – and Google cares about security, too. In fact, internet security is one of Google’s top priorities.

Google has been talking about “HTTPS everywhere” on the web for several years now. Google’s Chrome browser even “red flags” sites that aren’t secure (http://) with a warning to visitors that lets them know that the website they are on is “Not Secure.”

This means that if your website isn’t secure and doesn’t have the secure https:// in front of the URL, they will see a scary warning that essentially says your website isn’t secure and their information isn’t safe. If your website isn’t secure, potential customers will probably get scared and leave your site (and possibly go one of your competitors’ sites that is secure.)

If you haven’t made the switch to a secure site yet, you need to make the switch soon. Google has stated that having a secure site is not only good for visitors but it’s also good for search rankings, too.

To start, purchase an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate from a reliable company (your website hosting company probably sells SSL certificates) and then migrate your site to HTTPS.

After you purchase your SSL certificate you’ll need to install the SSL certificate on your website. Now, your web host might volunteer to install your certificate for you, but often they only install the certificate, but don’t take the extra steps needed to make sure your website’s move from http:// to https:// goes effortlessly.

Many people don’t realize that switching from a non-secure site (http://) to a secure site (https://) is just like moving a website because all of your site’s URLs are now different. (All the URLs used to be http://mygreatwebsite.com and now they’re https://mygreatwebsite.com.) This means that any pages with the http:// URL that were indexed by Google and found by searchers will result in an error – because those pages no longer exist (they are now https:// URLs.) To make sure you cover all your site migration bases, you have to do some special things so the site move goes well. I’ve found that many website host companies don’t take the time to go through these extra steps that are crucialto the long-term SEO health of your site.

Google feels so strongly about making your site secure that they give you a guide to making the switch easier on their Webmaster Support site. If you’re not sure whether or not your hosting company (or the company where you purchased your SSL certificate) knows what they’re doing – or will do a thorough job — hire a professional to help with this portion of the upgrade. By the end of the process you not only want no errors, but you want your visitors to see a security safe zone signal from Google. Not only will it put their minds at ease, it can also one-up you against your non-secure website competitors.