If your goal is to rank at the top of Google’s search results, an even better goal is to build a robust digital presence. Search results have morphed from ten links to multi-faceted displays that can tell a lot about your business; the picture presented by all that data sets the stage for contacting you.
Surprisingly, Google provides tools so that business owners and organizations can be active participants in the search results. This doesn’t mean that Google wants you to game its algorithm; on the contrary, Google’s tools are intended to deliver trustworthy results.
This article takes you through the process to uncover gaps between what you see in the search results and what you want to see, and what you can do to improve your digital presence.
Get a read on your digital presence
There are tools to do website audits, and they’re necessary for uncovering issues, but it’s far better to begin by looking time search results. What do people see when they search for your business and its services or products? As we explore these questions you might find it helpful to take notes on what you find on this quick evaluation worksheet.
The Knowledge Panel
Tip: First, clear the history in your browser and in your computer; otherwise, your prior searches influence what you see in the search results. Clearing the history gives you a less biased picture. (You can see instructions to do that in the Resources at the end of this post.)
When you google the name of your organization, what do you see? The SEO (search engine optimization) industry calls this a “branded search.”
Ideally, you want to see an accurate Knowledge Panel about your organization, and sitelinks for your website. For example, here’s the search engine results page (SERP) for a counseling practice when searching for it by name:
The Knowledge Panel clearly plays a huge role – it’s designed to grab the user’s attention and answer, “what is this business about, where is it, what kind of reputation does it have?” Google pulls this data from your Google My Business (GMB) account, when you have one, and from data it has found around the Web. This means you can often determine what the Knowledge Panel displays by getting and maintaining a GMB account.
As you scrutinize the Knowledge Panel, look for:
- The proper name of your business or nonprofit: It should be the same name used in your website, social media profiles, directory listings, etc. Whenever there are lots of variations search engines often can’t discern that they’re for the same company. Be consistent.
- The category: Imagine the Web as a massive file cabinet, and the category is where to find your business. In GMB you get to choose the category; otherwise, search engines use data from around the Web and probably won’t get it right. A commercial builder I worked with appeared in the Knowledge Panel as a residential home builder, and that might have influenced the non-branded searches and explain why the company didn’t appear alongside his competitors.
- Reviews: Have your clients left reviews, are they appropriate, and did you acknowledge them? Rants from disgruntled customers could undermine your marketing efforts. Google will display the number of reviews found on Facebook and other places on the Web, if customers haven’t submitted reviews through Google.
- The listings in “People also search for” at the bottom of the Knowledge Panel: Do they offer the same products or services as yours? If not, search engines might be confused about your business.
Improving the SERP for your company name starts by creating or updating the GMB account; those changes in the Knowledge Panel often occur quickly (maybe conditionally until Google reviews the changes). Here’s more info about optimizing GMB.
Sitelinks help your organization stand out in the SERP, and they let people quickly access the areas of interest in your website.
When sitelinks are absent, perhaps Google detected some inconsistencies or data that it distrusts. Some of the issues that could have negative consequences include:
- Inconsistent or conflicting information, e.g. variations of the organization’s name, multiple domains, or the name and address don’t match up.
- A large number of inbound links from sources that are completely unrelated to the website content, links from low-quality sources (porn and spammers), or links that were purchased (a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines).
- A large pop-up or digital ads that get in the way of seeing the main content.
- Technical issues, such as a website that cannot be crawled and indexed.
Sometimes, by verifying the name and address with a proper Google My Business account the sitelinks will be displayed. Other times, an in-depth website evaluation is needed to identify and resolve issues that could impact search results.
These are just a couple of SERP features that might help your organization’s visibility. The SERP features change continually, but here are several more to consider.
When you google the service or product you provide, do you see your organization listed in the local 3-pack?
Here’s an example SERP with the local 3-pack for “business consultant services”:
Google automatically displays the local 3-pack based on where you are right now. To see the 3-pack for another city, add the city name to your search, e.g. “business consultant services McLean,” or use this excellent tool from BrightLocal.
Like the sitelinks and Knowledge Panel, the local 3-pack grabs attention, but now you’re competing with everybody. Unlike the Knowledge Panel, you can’t influence getting in the 3-pack; however, a business is more likely to appear in the 3-pack when the NAP (name, address, phone number), along with content relevant to the search query are published on the website. It’s much more likely to appear in the search results for a city where your business is physically located.
As the above screenshot shows, the local 3-pack is often displayed for professional services. Even when you can provide services remotely or nation-wide, search engines first look for local businesses; underscoring the need for full and correct NAP (name, address, phone) on the website and throughout the Web.
How does your digital presence look so far? Perhaps you’ve got these bases covered – Google displays a correct Knowledge Panel, sitelinks, and your business is listed in the 3-pack for your target locations. Awesome! But wait, there’s more!
By the numbers: Search Console data
Search Console is a marvelous resource for learning how Google has processed your website. It provides a wealth of data, specifically about your website in Google’s SERPs. You can’t afford to ignore it.
For the purposes of this quick assessment let’s assume you verified your website in Search Console. You’ll focus on looking at the search queries report, which is a list of search terms that Google associates with your website.
Begin by opening the Performance report you see at the top of the Overview.
By default, the data shown is from the last 28 days. I prefer to use a longer time frame, e.g. 3 months or 6 months. At the top, choose the time period you want.
The Performance report opens with a list of queries – these are search terms for which Google displayed a page or resource (image, PDF, etc.) from your website.
The number of impressions is the number of times that your website appeared in the Google SERPs for the search query.
CTR is click-through rate, i.e. clicks/impressions. Position is an average of where your content appeared in the search results.
By default, the data is sorted by Clicks, i.e. how often people clicked on the search result. For most websites, the most clicks are on branded search queries, e.g. for the business name – or for the names of the business owners or principals.
When branded searches are absent, it’s likely that Google hasn’t been able to identify the name of your business. The problem is often fixed by ensuring that the full business name appears – in text – on every page. This will make the website easier for Google to identify and for people to find it.
Beneath the branded searches there should be hundreds, or thousands, of keywords that Google associates with your website. The data can be sorted by clicking on any column; for example, by clicking on Queries the list will appear in alphabetical order, thereby letting you see variations of a keyword.
Investigate the data with these questions in mind:
- Do the search terms make sense to you, e.g. are they relevant to your organization and to the website? If you see loads of irrelevant queries, perhaps the website content is not focused on what the company does, or there are blog posts about random topics.
- Are keywords that you target missing from the Queries report? Does your website actually use your target keywords where search engines can detect them? (See my post about using keywords.)
- Are there only a few queries listed rather than hundreds? Perhaps Google hasn’t processed the website because it can’t crawl the site or another technical issue.
- Downloading the data lets you sort it any way you wish. I find it helpful to focus on the queries with the most impressions and smallest position; those are the keywords I would like to incorporate into the website with quality content.
While Search Console provides a great deal more data the Queries report lets you see what Google thinks your business is about.
Your website, whether it generates leads or simply showcases your work, is your platform to communicate and engage with the individuals who matter. A snapshot of its online presence provides insights into how well Google has processed all the data about it. Google wants to get it right, and encourages your participation through its tools for business owners and webmasters. Knowing how to see your digital presence enables you to strategize improvements.
Updated Aug. 13, 2019 for clarity.
How to clear browsing history
Google’s Knowledge Panel – article by Yoast