Rank first on Google, and you can set your marketing budget to $0. You'll be as busy as a bee without spending a dime. Fail to show up on Google, and you'll be fighting the mother of all headwinds. You don't need me to tell you that Google can make your business, or break it.
As a web designer, I have built more than 3,000 websites. In thousands of search cases, my sites rank on the first page of the Google results. Every day, our reports show us new searches that my clients rank on the front page. I'm among the top 10 in the nation among 600 ranked web design agencies by Sitejabber. So let me help you with 6 bits of advice you can't live without:
ONE: A New Website Rarely Starts Out at #1
A few years ago, I got a crazy phone call from a guy in Ronkonkoma, New York, saying he was going to open an axe-throwing venue. Between his thick Suffolk County accent and the way he shouted his words into the phone, I was sure he was pulling my leg. It took some convincing to make me believe that this loud New Yorker really wanted to open up "Molly Hatchet's Axe Throwing" out by MacArthur Airport.
I had never heard of axe throwing. His description of the "sport" seemed absurd. Who would pay money to throw axes at plywood targets? Who would go to Ronkonkoma to do it? Isn't that dangerous?
Three weeks later, I had his new site built. From the first week, it went live on Google, it was ranked #1 for the search "Axe Throwing Long Island." I put his Google Maps listing together, which means he showed up twice on the SERP (search engine results page).
The place was slammed. Until I taught his assistant how to do it herself, he reached out to me every day to cut off reservations. He was booked solid.
Can I do that for your business, too? Will your new website launch at #1 on Google? Probably not.
To this day, there are fewer than a dozen axe-throwing venues on Long Island. There isn't much competition for their target search terms (keywords). There are thousands of plumbers, electricians, and contractors on Long Island (and a lot more money being spent on those services), but only 10 results showing on the first page of Google results for any one keyword.
I build a lot more websites for contractors and tradesmen than I do for axe-throwing venues. (In fact, Molly Hatchets is the only one I've built.)
There is a lot more competition for most keywords than there is for "axe throwing," but there is a lot more search volume, too. The average person searches for an HVAC repairman a lot more times in their life than they search for axe throwing.
The problem is, if you aren't on the first page of the search results, you're not going to see your phone ringing, no matter how much search traffic there is. But any contractor on the first page knows what a meal ticket is. Being organically ranked on page one means always being busy.
Unlike my near-instant ranking for "axe throwing," ranking for popular, high-competition local keywords (contractor, mobile detailing, electrician, pressure washing, therapist, e.g.) will take 3 to 6 months or longer. But it's worth the effort because those search terms have vast and stable traffic.
If you give up 30 or 60 days after your site goes live (the most common time to cancel a new website), you'll never get to enjoy the benefits of having a front-page website.
TWO: A Website Needs "Good Bones."
A bad website won't rank no matter how long you give it. The website basics have to be in place before any site goes live:
Build one landing page for each target keyword/location.
Include more than 800 to 1,000 words of unique content on each landing page.
Most of your textual content should consist of complete sentences, not sentence fragments or word lists.
Remember your keywords. Use roughly a 2% keyword density (20 repetitions in 1,000 words) with a rich lexicon of related jargon.
Include contextual outlinks to authoritative, related sites (at least 5 on each page). Find relevant .org, .edu, and .gov sites to reference.
Embed a video tagged to match the keyword.
Use clean metatags that list the keyword and location clearly in the <Title> tag.
Employ clean slugs that match the target keyword on each landing page (www.example.com/axe-throwing/long-island-ny).
Discipline your <H> tags, with a single <H1> tag exactly matching the keyword, a couple of <H2> tags containing variations of the keyword, and so on until your <H5> tags are used on unrelated titles (like "Order Now!").
Proof your content for spelling, punctuation, and syntax problems.
In the visible content (not just the metatags), include a single location or address on each page (for local search terms). If Google doesn't know where you're trying to show up for a local search term, you won't show up at all. (You don't need a full address. "Ronkonkoma, NY" or "Long Island" will do.)
Make sure all your links are working.
Altogether, these elements are called "on-page SEO," and they mean more than anything else you can do in getting your website to #1 on Google.
A winning race car driver may tell you his skill on the track won him the race, and no doubt it's important. But he would not have had a shot at all unless his car was built right, to begin with. Races are won or lost long before the starter pistol fires.
THREE: In 30-60 Days, See Where You're At.
Within a couple of weeks, new clients are usually wondering why their phone isn't ringing yet. They may do a search for their keywords to figure out where they are in the search results. This is where frustration can start. Let me tell you when it's time to start worrying, though:
When I finish up a site, I use Google Console to connect it to the Google search results. It's called "indexing" the site. In my experience, for 30 to 60 days after submitting the site, Google pretends they still don't know anything about it. During this time, the site won't rank for anything, even the client's own name. (If you are using an existing domain, of course, it will rank already.)
When is it time to worry about where you rank for your target keywords? About the time you show up first for a search for yourself by name. (Of course, if your business is called "Glendale Electrician" and you're trying to rank for the keyword "electrician" in Glendale, California, this does not apply. Your name is your keyword. Not a bad thing, but it spoils this test.)
If your business is called "Mary Jane's Excavators" or "Happy Harry's Mobile Bartending" (or something else unique), then you'll know when your site has been truly indexed by Google when a search of your specific name shows you at the top of the results. But may also notice that a search for "Excavators Overland Park KS" or "Mobile Bartending Chicago IL" does not show your site at the top...yet. And that's okay for the moment.
If the site was built correctly, at this point your site should rank somewhere between #21 and #100 in the search results (page 3 to page 10 on Google). This won't get you much traffic, and your phone won't be ringing yet. But it's a great starting point for building a durable front-page ranking. You're in the race, and it's time to start passing the other cars.
FOUR: Focus on Fixing the Easy Stuff.
When my site is indexed and I'm somewhere in the top 100 spots on Google, we can start to make changes to creep up in the rankings. If I make tons of changes, the website might actually fall downward in the rankings. And if I changed many things at one time, I won't be sure how I messed it up. So I am looking to change just two or three things at a time.
I go back through my "Good Bones" checklist and make sure there aren't basic issues with the site.
I glance at the top three organic results for the keyword search I am targeting and see what I'm up against. To win the search, I don't have to build the best website in the world (which would take thousands of hours). I just have to build a landing page better than the ones that hold my target keywords currently. You'll get ideas from checking out your competition's tagging and content.
Then, I use "Ubersuggest" (free in the Google Chrome store) to run an analysis on the site. Even if the site is perfect, the SEO Analyzer will produce an action list of ways you can improve the site. We're just looking to implement the top 3, since making too many changes at once can effectively see us starting the process over from the beginning.
Once you fix the top 3 issues Ubersuggest points out to you, you can run a new analysis and, of course, it will give you a new top 3. Don't get ahead of yourself. Just do the top 3 for now. They are arranged by impact.
FIVE: Make 1 to 3 Adjustments Every 30 Days to 60 Days.
Revisiting the SEO results every month or two (and repeating the Fixing the Easy Stuff steps) will result in a gradual improvement in your search results. Too-frequent changes would keep you from knowing which changes are helping or hurting your results. Never changing anything will keep you stuck where you are or will see you start to drop in the rankings. Set a date every month or two to focus on your search ranking. Come up with an action plan, execute on it, and then leave it alone for another month or so.
Ubersuggest recommendations start out easy and can get harder the deeper you are forced to dig. Ideally, you want to achieve a ranking without doing tons of time-consuming, expensive, off-page SEO. Since 99% of my clients are local service providers (or they operate nationally in very specific niches), I am typically able to get their sites to rank without a single off-page SEO tactic. (Even statewide searches can be captured with only simple SEO techniques by creating multiple location pages.)
SIX: What happens when you get to #1 on Google?
You stop changing things. You can adjust your promotional messages (offers, expiration dates, etc.) and continue to deepen your blog content, but you don't want to alter the metatags, keyword density, or slugs on a site that is ranked first. You can only do harm.