One of the most common questions I get asked by business owners in my daily work as a digital marketing consultant is “how do I get to the top of Google without paying”.
Many business owners are aware that it’s possible to get a higher position in Google by paying for Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords).
However, many are put off by the fact that you’ve got to pay per click when you do Google Ads.
The costs can quickly add up. Let’s say you’re paying $2 per click and you got 10 clicks a day, that’s $20 a day ... or $600 a month right there.
For many businesses, especially in the current climate of belt-tightening thanks to the impacts of Covid-19, this cost might be too hard to bear.
Without getting into arguments about the value of paid advertising on Google (I.e. what if you could turn that $600 of ad spend into $6000 of sales - would it be expensive then?) what should you do if you want to improve your position in Google without paying?
If you’re sitting there wondering “How do I get to the top of Google without paying” then here’s a quick run down on what you need to know.
Primarily, there are three key factors that you can leverage to increase your chances of getting to the top of Google’s “organic” (I.e. non-paid) listings.
The first is what we call “on-page” Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO for short ... if you’ve been in business more than 5 minutes, then you’ve probably had people trying to pitch you SEO services on a number of occasions).
On-page SEO relates to how you use the content and structure of your own website to make Google understand that you have the best, most relevant result for a particular keyword.
For example, let’s say you run a mobile dog grooming business, and you want to rank for the keyword “Mobile dog grooming Christchurch” (that’s where I live, so using that location as the example) then you’d want to look to use good on-page SEO to improve your chances of ranking highly in Google without paying for ads.
The basics of on-page SEO are:
- Ensuring that your website/page has content that features the keyword(s) you are trying to rank for. There is no point trying to rank organically for the keyword “mobile dog grooming Christchurch” if your content is about cat declawing in Wellington, for example. Google wants its top listings to answer the searchers question or solve their problem, so look to ensure that your content aligns with the keyword.
- Ensure that your website/page has sufficient “depth” of content to increase the chances of ranking. This isn’t so critical as your site grows and gets a stronger domain authority (see comments below about off-page SEO) however as a starting point it’s probably going to help to have more content than less content. A 1000 word page about mobile dog grooming is likely to rank better than a 100 word page.
- Make sure that your page title and page description (sometimes called meta title and meta description) are well optimised for the keyword(s) that you are trying to rank for. Just about every web platform/CMS, from Wordpress to Wix to Shopify will allow you to control the “meta data” that Google can pick up on for additional context about what a website or page is about.
- Have a page and site structure that makes it easy for Google and human readers to find the answer/solution. For example, using structured headings on articles so that it is easier to scan read.
- Having a secure (SSL/HTTPS) website that also loads quickly. Site speed and security are two important factors for SEO success these days. It is also important to have this from a user experience perspective anyway ... and don't forget mobile friendliness either.
There’s obviously a whole lot more to the issue of on-page SEO than above, but those are the basics (I’m working on a simple DIY guide for business owners, so keep an eye out for that). However, if you’re wondering how you get to the top of Google without paying, then this is a good starting point!
Off-Page SEO/Link Building
The second part of getting to the top of Google without paying is what we call “off-page” SEO.
This is basically where you get other websites pointing links back to your site (links you click like this one).
Links act like “votes of confidence” in Google’s eyes. As a rule, the more links your website gets (provided they are from quality sites and not spammy domains) the better.
Link building can be a bit of an arcane process, because the best quality links are the hardest ones to get.
Links that are easily accessible (such as local business directories) are generally much lower value and not necessarily the best quality.
Depending on your industry and competition, you might not need particularly strong links to rank, however.
For example, I set up a test "local business" site for a specific service in a specific area on a brand new domain.
I created a basic homepage and about five blog posts.
I then went to an SEO service marketplace and paid about $50 NZD for someone to do some basic link building. They just created some simple directory links as well as other links that are easily accessible such as forum profile backlinks. I couldn't be bothered doing it myself, to be honest!
Here is the outcome:
Without the link building, this site had been languishing in positions on the 2nd and 3rd page of Google.
Links are definitely an important source of ranking power.
Without them, you're going to take longer to rank and may have to invest a lot more time into content creation and technical SEO.
For many businesses, the fastest way to get quality links (beyond those obvious opportunities like business directories) is to look at things like reaching out to your suppliers, recent projects etc and seeing if they will link to you.
Google My Business
One other way to get to the top of Google without paying - which is most relevant for local business with a physical presence or service area (as opposed to say an eCommerce store that has no real physical presence) is to use Google My Business.
You’re probably familiar with the “map pack” that shows up in Google when you search:
This can be one of the most powerful ways to get to the top of Google for free.
In fact, if you run a local service business or locally-focused retail store, hospitality venue etc, then Google My Business should really be your initial focus over anything else in my opinion.
The process of doing proper SEO for Google My Business is a bit of an art (and science) in itself.
Here are some pointers to get started:
- Register your business for Google My Business and claim your listing if you haven't already done so.
- Fill out fully all of the profile data that is available - it amazes me how many business owners miss out on actually filling in things like description, category etc.
- Get customers to leave you reviews of your business.
- Ensure that you have your business name, address, phone and website link listed on other properties e.g. your social media profiles - this data helps Google to understand the "validity" of your business.
Conclusion - How Do I Get To The Top Of Google Without Paying?
As discussed above, there are three key components to getting to the top of Google without paying.
The first is your “on-page SEO”. This is optimising your website to make it clear to Google what your site is about.
The second is your “off-page SEO”. This is about getting other sites linking to your site. More links (provided from quality sources) act as votes of confidence in the quality and relevance of your site.
The third component (primarily relevant for local business e.g. cafes, retail stores, tradies etc) is Google My Business. This is where you configure and optimise your Google My Business listing to try and rank better in Google Maps and in the local “Map Pack”. Done right, Google My Business is one of the most effective ways to make your business rank better in Google without having to pay for ads.
This article is only the start of your journey - there is so much more to learn about ranking your site in Google.
Send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on +642102781721 to start a conversation about how you can rank your website better in Google without having to pay them for advertising!