How to Explain Search Engine Rankings to C-Levels
“Competitors are showing up in front of/instead of us!”
“These search results are all negative!”
“The wrong/old pages are ranking!”
“Our customers aren’t finding us!”
Every person that develops and markets websites has either asked these questions themselves or been asked these very questions from a client or C-level executive. It’s important to know what is occurring with each dilemma, how to strategize and resolve it, and then of course how to explain the issue and solution to executives or clients that aren’t coached up well in the search space. Here we’ll break down the four major dilemmas mentioned (yes, there are hundreds of others), what they could mean and how to zero in on a resolution that the boss(es) can understand.
Before we get to answering the questions at hand, it’s important to understand the terms by which a web search produces a website in its results. A web search produces a list of search results through a computerized calculation, otherwise called an algorithm, that’s written to best satisfy the transactional, navigational, or informational-type of query presented for narrowing down the enormous collection of data captured from the web. Google alone reports fulfilling this operation in real-time 40,000 times every second, with a fifth of those search queries having never previously been asked before, making any type of human effort in manual list-building entirely impossible.
What complicates your search results even further now is that after Google has narrowed down a list of suitable results, it then personalizes these top results based upon where exactly your IP is based and what sites you have previously sought out, based on the last 180 days of data stored in a browser cookie. For example, if you’ve been Googling, say, “Trump News” and then clicking on The New York Times website or the CNN news site, chances are your next search for “Trump News” is going to trigger search engines to serve exactly what supports your previous click patterns and deliver you those same offending websites again. So, when it comes time to deliver to your followers one of the greatest doses of irony ever and declare that Google results are rigged, it just so happens that you’re not too terribly off the mark. It just so happens YOU rigged them.
Now to the big concerns at hand…
Competitors are showing up in front of/instead of us!
Longer Answer: This is the competitive nature of trying to rank online. All other entities can create the conditions on their website that will benefit their search relevance and rank appeal. These conditions aren’t created arbitrarily or viewed at random with a computerized process. It’s done by meeting, commonly referred to as “optimizing for,” a series of requirements known in the search industry as “ranking factors.” Ranking factors’ criteria are complex, will vary per the industry you’re in, and can be similarly clouded with rumors, misunderstandings and bogus theories that won’t produce results or can even harm. But many outlets exist like Searchmetrics studies and Google’s Quality Guidelines that disseminate clear insights of safe and rewarded digital marketing practices. These digital marketing practices are often organized into four main areas:
- Content Focus: How much does your message show you as the expert?
- User Engagement: How much is your site explored by users?
- Technical Accessibility: How functional and navigable is your site?
- External Awareness: What reviews, backlinks, citations and social media posts lend you credibility?
Neglecting any one of these areas poses a vulnerability to be exploited and awarded to others. Best to take into consideration what every competing website is doing to qualify it to rank ahead.
Tweetable Quick Answer: When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China, online? Well, just you wait, this next effort is gonna be HUUUUUGE!
These search results are all negative!
Longer Answer: Online reputations are genuine assets that need to be taken advantage of. What can take years to build can be driven face-first into the ground rather quickly when not monitored. There are plenty of monitoring tools that exist to help flag, discern and target statements online for remedying this, so a bad reputation doesn’t become the organization’s undoing. By doing this, better standard practices and behaviors can get implemented for managing customer expectations, building consistency across channels and touchpoints, or improving relationships surrounding your brand or product. Some tools in the wild are even free, like Social Mention.
When managing online sentiment about a brand or product, an ounce of prevention is going to be better than a pound of cure. Planning to be proactive to encourage positive reviews rather than reactive to negative sentiment is key here. That’s why social media influencers and public relations companies have merged in many ways to create unique blends of products and services to study and improve how a site or brand is perceived online. If evidence shows that customer satisfaction is declining, or brand messaging has missed its mark, having some tactics prepared in advance can help mitigate any loss of visibility and returns.
Some tactics are:
- Set up Google Alerts
- Use a social monitoring tool
- Push out meaningful press releases
- Dominate brand search results by keeping social media sites up to date and engaging
- Respond with positivity in kind to positive feedback in forums, social media, and on your own website
- Be prompt, gracious and understanding when direct customer feedback proves negative and have a way to remedy with a line for support or a replacement offering
- Explore terms in the search analytics area of Google Search Console to find any negative queries producing your site, and then strategize optimizing new content that can give you rank priority in negative keyword result pages
Tweetable Quick Answer: It’s FAKE NEWS! There is going to be consequences for them. Believe me…believe me.
The wrong/old pages are ranking!
Longer Answer: Unfortunately, things can live forever online. Unless you have the right technical expertise on your web team, informed and standing by to remedy this, the dilemma won’t get resolved. The technical process for fixing this can be dependent upon what some of your recent objectives might have been such as: Was a new landing page created to replace the old one? Does newer content generally need a boost in rankings? Was a migration performed?
If a new page was created to phase out an old one, then the process is very straight-forward. Implement a rule on the web server to permanently redirect (also called a 301) any older URL to the new location to consolidate the authority of each into one and pass the user and search engine bots to the desired location when older versions are reached.
If new content is published now that doesn’t replace but is at least more meaningful then the older pages, some general optimization techniques need deploying, like:
- Linking the older locations to the new locations
- Ensuring the new content is organizationally nested closer to the homepage
- Amending the XML and HTML sitemaps to have links aimed to any new pages
- Validating the new locations with Schema markup and the recent publishing dates
- Acquiring some backlink credibility for the new locations
- Evaluating the content of your published pages to determine if similar information exists on multiple URLs and whether it can be restated or repurposed differently
- Updating the global navigation to carry a link to your newest pages or their parent directory
If a migration was performed recently, this shows that there were steps missed in the overall process and there was a lack of coordination to aid in the discovery of your latest content. Many steps are going to need to be revisited to answer important questions such as:
- Were all old URLs and sitemaps crawled and documented pre-migration?
- Was each old URL being redirected or retained in the new site version?
- Was someone assigned ownership to apply the new redirections to the server?
- Were both the older and new URLs validated to respond appropriately at their new locations post-migration?
- Post-migration, were any locations blocked from robots, or any pages removed?
- Has Google Search Console tracking been setup properly?
- Has the latest sitemap version been submitted to Google?
- Can the new locations be fetched and rendered?
- Are any internal crawl errors persisting?
- Does Google show the most recent version and date in the cache of the Search Results?
Getting to the bottom of your indexation and search engine-rendering woes will involve some considerable digging and URL analysis to ensure that the right pages are indeed found, and other legacy and less-valued pages aren’t competing directly for the same topics.
Tweetable Quick Answer: Who knew websites were so complicated. We are making this website Great Again.
Our customers aren’t finding us!
Longer Answer: Presuming no webmaster has blocked access to the website by accident and you haven’t experienced manual penalizations from being malware-infected or from other illicit online behaviors, then the solution here should be an easy one to get the ball rolling for at least the brand query. The key areas of emphasis to get some online exposure involve ramping up content focus and external awareness.
To get started, first have at least one live and well-articulated webpage (although it should most likely be many more) with general information about what you offer, and a means of contacting the business owners via phone, email and physical address, preferably. Then submit your site information to the locations online that serve as databases and directories to many of the engines, apps, and online tools millions take advantage of daily. A few to get started with are:
- Google My Business
- Apply Maps
- Bing Maps
- Facebook Business Page
- Yahoo Listing/Yext
- ExpressUpdate via InfoGroup
For even bigger rewards, supplement your site HTML with Schema markup specifically for your organization or local business to build additional relevance and help your brand stand out in the brand search results. With this foundation, you’re now more capable to track referred visitors and other data points, implement customer-targeted promotions, accumulate reviews and expand awareness in multiple platforms.
Tweetable Quick Answer: We need to let everyone know we too have a website, but it’s a much bigger and more powerful one and our website works.
In conclusion, search engines want to provide the best results possible. With 40,000 search queries every second, Google is getting exceptionally good at predicting what sites users are going to engage with and share rather than playing favorites. If your site user metrics and overall clicks are starting to take a downturn, it’s often because of search engines reacting to what is stagnant or problematic with your site rather than search engines programmatically trying to steer you into obscurity. So, take notice of what trends you see and then adjust and evolve.