Increase your search engine rankings without a budget

Ranking on Google for your chosen keywords and phrases can be tough, especially for businesses with a small or no digital marketing budget. Today, I’ll be covering a tactic you can carry out internally with no cost which will help you rank for competitive phrases.

Getting your keywords and phrases in the top 100 positions of Google’s search engine isn’t that difficult, but as you start to move up the rankings, it becomes much more difficult to climb even higher and reach the top 10 – but it is necessary as 75% of users (91% of searches) never make it past the first page of the results, so to gain organic traffic, customers and sales – you need to be at the top of your game, and above your competitors.

There are hundreds of factors that determine where a website ranks, but today we’ll be focusing on one area (user metrics) that you can focus on internally, which will give you positive results if you follow my recommendations.

Google is looking at your user metrics

Google is the biggest search engine in the world and has a market share of just under 90% in the United Kingdom, and 93% in the United States. It’s therefore crucial that users using their search engine find the results valuable and relevant. One of the ways Google ensures this is by analysing your user metrics from your traffic. What they’re looking at is how many users are clicking on your result within their search engine (your CTR), staying on your website, and not bouncing back to Google to look for another result.

There are of course other user behaviour metrics that they are using to determine ranking positions such as duration spent on website and conversion rates but we won’t be focusing on those in this article.

Let’s say you search for something in Google, click on one the results and don’t find it answers your query. What do you do? You leave the webpage, go back to the search results and click on another link. This is what’s known as a bounce. In Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see and analyse your bounce rate.

Scenario A: Search on Google > Click on result > leave webpage without browsing any other web pages on the website = bounce.

Scenario B: Search on Google > Click on result > visit another webpage on the same website = no bounce.

If scenario A is a repeat occurrence, this tells Google that your webpage doesn’t provide users with what they are looking for. In this scenario, your rankings are not going to go up, though it’s very likely they will eventually drop down the listings.

Why is my bounce rate so high?

This could be down to several reasons from a slow loading speed (On average, a 3 second load time will result in a 38% bounce rate so optimising your website for speed is crucial) to badly optimised meta titles and descriptions, poor design, irrelevant or lack of content etc.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on your meta title and descriptions as this will have an effect on your CTR (Click Through Rate) which is another metric which Google is using to determine your ranking positions.

What is CTR and why does it matter?

When you search for something, you’re presented with a series of results. Let’s say that you search for ‘Digital Marketing Agency’ and the top 3 listings are as follows:

  1. Are Digital Marketing Agencies worth using?
  2. Digital Marketing Agency Awards 2018
  3. Silver Scope Media | Digital Marketing Agency in Hereford

Which do you click on? You might click on the first result, you’re less likely to click on the 2nd position, and you’re very likely to click on the 3rd. Why? Because you’re probably looking for an agency to carry out some digital marketing work for you.

If 100 people search for the above phrase, but only 10 people click on the first result, then that website is going to have a 10% CTR for that particular phrase.

If from those 100 searches, 40% clicked on the 3rd result, eventually this will show Google that the 3rd result was more relevant to the user’s query and the ranking order will change.

The above is a crude example, however the same applies if your title and descriptions are misleading for the sake of ranking, or not closely linked enough to the content that you’re providing, but the above is meant purely as an example to explain how CTR is a ranking factor.

How does click through rate affect my rankings?

For Google, It’s all about the user experience. Did the user have a good experience? Was the result relevant? Was their query answered? A high CTR is fantastic, but if it leads to a high bounce rate, it’s not an ideal situation.

It’s worth noting that your bounce rate is NOT a direct factor in your search engine result positions, but it is an indirect factor. Google has previously stated “we don’t use analytics/bounce rate in search ranking.” but is this 100% true? Several studies have been carried out to measure the impact of bounce rate on rankings, and the findings show that bounce rate is an indirect ranking factor. Unless you work at Google, you’re never going to know 100%. However, what is clear is that improving user engagement metrics will benefit your rankings.

Your CTR is going to be mainly down to your meta title and description. It’s the first thing users see. When writing your title tags, a good rule to follow is your primary keyword, secondary keyword, and if space allows, your brand/company name.

There are scenario’s where this isn’t quite the case but it’s not possible within an article to list all the occasions when this isn’t the case as there are so many variables and every website is different. For most, this is a good approach to follow.

But at the same time, you’re writing your titles for humans first and search engines second. It’s not uncommon to see this happening the other way around, which doesn’t help with your search engine result positions. Your titles and descriptions should be written naturally, rather than an attempt to manipulate the search results. Google’s algorithm is very sophisticated compared to the old days, and as their algorithm changes, so must your strategy. Speaking of algorithm changes, there are hundreds of these per year and unless digital marketing is your job, it’s unlikely you’re going to keep up with these. That’s why even if you don’t focus on any other area, focusing on your CTR will have a positive impact as algorithm changes have always been in favour of the user experience.

If I search for something in Google, and the title is misleading (for the purpose of trying to influence the rankings) I may indeed click on the link, but I’m also very likely to come off the website and continue looking until I find a solution/answer to my query. If I do this alone, it’s not a problem. If many people do this, then the bounce rate is going to be high and eventually Google will use this metric result as the webpage in question doesn’t provide users with a good experience (it’s not what they were looking for after all) and will lower that webpages ranking.

Remember, when someone searches for something – they’re looking for a solution of some form. If you don’t provide that solution, you need to analyse the data you have and optimise your web pages so that you do provide a solution to their query. The aim of the game is to reduce your bounce rate and increase your click through rate. Doing so will slowly see your rankings rise. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

How to improve your CTR and gain more traffic?

There are various ways of improving your CTR. Some can be done for free, whilst others will require premium tools (more on this below). Below are 5 areas you can use to either improve your CTR or lower your bounce rate.

1. Optimise your titles and descriptions

This is going to tell your users, what to expect on the webpage they’re clicking through to. This is your ‘first impression’ – use it wisely and monitor the CTR (more on this below).

2. Utilise Long Tail Keywords

Using premium tools, such as SEMRush, you can carry out keyword research to discover long tail keywords. Long tail keywords have less competition and a lower keyword difficult score. Therefore, it’s easier to rank for these phrases, and the benefit is, you’re going to get a higher CTR.

3. Use Schema Markup

Search results are changing. Smart devices are evolving. It’s time you started using Schema Markup if you’re not already doing so. Implementing this structured data can have a positive effect on your CTR due to the use of rich cards, snippets, etc. You can read more about Schema Markup here.

4. Use A/B Testing

You might be familiar with this if you manage your own email marketing campaigns, however, you should be using A/B (AKA Split) testing on your website as well. Colours, layouts, position of buttons etc all have an impact on how users engage with your website. Using A/B testing on metadata and analysing the CTR data is as useful as using A/B testing on your content with an attempt to reduce your bounce rate and increase your time spent on site.

5. Optimise Your Website’s Loading Speed

Ok, so this is going to be more useful for lowering your bounce rate, rather than increasing your CTR. However, it’s worth mentioning and definitely worth carrying out. Do you run a WordPress website? Read our 10 Tips on how to speed up your WordPress website.

There’s a lot more you can do to improve your CTR, but the above is going to be a good start.

Analysing user metrics, and optimise metadata and content to increase ranking positions

When it comes to search engine optimisation, you need to use tools that will give you invaluable data. Whilst there are various premium tools you can use, there are two free tools you should certainly be using to analyse the above data and optimise your web pages.

The first is Google Search Console, and the second is Google Analytics. Both are free, and both are invaluable.

Google Search Console

In Google Search Console, there are various things you can do, but we’re going to use this tool to focus on our click through rate.

Once you’ve logged into Google Search Console, in the menu on the left-hand side, click on ‘performance’ – Here you will see your total clicks and the impressions for various queries.

You’ll be presented with 3 columns. Query, Clicks and Impressions.

When comparing your click count to your impressions, we want this to be high. If your CTR is low, then you need to look at your titles and descriptions first, and then your content on your web pages. Now obviously the lower your rankings, the lower your CTR is going to be. If you’re at the bottom of page one, it’s unlikely you’re going to have a higher CTR than the website at the very top of the results. However, it is possible you’ll get a higher CTR than the 9th position, and eventually, Google will use this as a signal to swap 9th and 10th round, and so forth. Hence, it’s a marathon.

Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, you want to be analysing your bounce rate data. Do you have a high bounce rate on the whole website or just certain pages? If it’s the website in general, then there are bigger issues at play. If it’s only on certain pages, then you’ll want to look at those pages in more depth. Was the meta title and description relevant? Was it the content on the page? If you’re running an e-commerce platform, and you have a high bounce rate on your cart page, (for example) then maybe the checkout process isn’t as simplified as it can be etc.

Within Google Analytics you can drill down into the data to see bounce rate by gender, age, interests, country, individual pages and the list goes on. But this is for another article on another day.

You’ve got people to land on your webpage, but if they’re leaving straight away, then the webpage in question didn’t provide them with a solution. Is it because the title and description were misleading? Was it because there wasn’t relevant content on the webpage? Maybe it wasn’t anything bad but didn’t have a call to action or led them anywhere else. For example, a blog post (such as this) though once they finished reading, they left. Maybe the information was useful to the user, but if they landed on a webpage, and then left, that will mean it was a bounce and ideally, we don’t want that. There are situations when we shouldn’t focus on bounce rates. For example, landing pages meant for advertising, but as before there are so many variables and I’ll probably cover Google Analytics in more depth in a separate article.

This is where you’ll want to start optimising your web pages. A CTA (Call to Action) is always a good idea as if the information was relevant and useful, the user is likely to click on your CTA. For example, linking to relevant/useful information elsewhere on your site, the contact form, etc.

The solution is going to be different for every web owner, and there’s no way of answering that generically within an article.

Once you start to use both of the above tools and find solutions to lowering your bounce rate and increasing your CTR, your rankings will slowly improve. For competitive phrases, this can take months if not longer, but it will happen.

Premium Tools

Premium tools such as SEMRush, can give you an advantage over your competitors as you’re able to carry out keyword / organic research, as well as competitor analysis. This can help you improve your titles and descriptions by discovering untapped keywords and phrases. Give it a go below, enter a domain or phrase.

As mentioned previously, there are hundreds of factors when it comes to determining where a webpage will rank for a particular phrase but improving your CTR and lowering your bounce rate is one you can carry out internally without a digital marketing budget.

If you require any assistance with your search engine optimisation strategy, we can help. We help businesses increase their exposure in the digital marketplace through a range of managed and consultancy based services.