Ultimately your rank within Google’s SERPs determine the bulk of your click-through rate and numerous studies have been done to determine just how much traffic you would be getting from a #1 spot versus a #4 spot, but lately with the advent of rel=author tags, schema.org micro-data, and the ever changing Google Local layouts there’s a whole new class of search engine results pages that can drastically change what used to be a fairly straightforward metric.
The “old” SERP CTR landscape was summed up quite nicely in this graphic from Slingshot SEO from a study they did in Spring of 2011:
Even with these seemingly “set in stone” CTRs, there’s still a slew of features that webmasters and business owners can implement to bring more attention to their SERP listing, and ultimately impact their CTR.
- “rel=author” tagging of posts
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Micro-data Reviews (Schema.org)
1. Rel=author Tagging
A fairly new feature Google implemented, tagging certain pages with the “rel=author” tag allows Google to pull in a photo and author information for any article you write.
In the above example you can see how Christopher’s photo, as well as his Google+ profile reach appears next to the search engine result. This information is all pulled in from a Google+ profile the author needs to set up. For more information on setting up this kind of tag Google provides a walk through here.
2. Title Tags
For a while a lot of SEO’s looked at title tags as simply another place to stuff keywords. With Panda and Penguin now shifting Google’s algorithm even further away from keyword stuffing, it’s been important to not go overboard with the keywords you’re focusing your title tags on. For example, if you’re optimizing a page for “Personal Injury Pennsylvania” don’t start making title tags like this:
- Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers – PA Personal Injury Lawyers – Attorneys for Personal Injury in Pennsylvania – PA Injury Law Firm –
- New Jersey, NJ – Amusement Park, Waterpark – Lawyers, Attorneys, Lawyer, Attorneys – Law Firm ABC
- Injured at a New Jersey Amusement Park? Call 1-555-5555 to Speak with an Injury Lawyer
Much like most methods here, the key is testing. There is a fine line between appealing to the human visitor, and appealing to the search engine algorithm. If you’re ranking #55 for your choice set of keywords, chances are having a readable and actionable title tag isn’t going to give you much traffic.
Focus on getting your rankings first, and then making subtle adjustments and tracking the resulting drop/gain in rankings, as well as the changes in incoming traffic for said keywords.
This feature won’t be showing up for every keyword phrase you rank for. More commonly they show up when searching for brand names, or specific products where one company is the obvious market leader for said product or service. As an example below is the result of a google search for “apple computers”. You can see the sitelinks below Apple’s “main” SERP result listed below (Store, Mac, iPad, etc).
Now sitelinks are not just something you can “turn on” and start seeing immediately. Whether or not they appear depends entirely on Google. Most likely you’ll see this solely when performing branded searches for you product. You can set up which pages you’d prefer as your sitelinks in Google Webmaster Tools, but another big part of this feature is getting enough branded traffic, and brand name recognition in order for them to start appearing. A great guide to sitelinks can be found here.
4. Meta Descriptions
This is another section of the SERP page that you have some semblance of control over, and can act as a great location for a call-to-action, or to further engage readers. This is one section of your SERP result that can get a lot out of split testing (again, SERP Turkey is a great tool for this) but you should also keep an idea of what keywords you want to use in the back of your mind.
As with most SEO strategies there is a gentle balance to the amount of keywords you want to focus on with regards to meta descriptions, as well as how much you want to appeal to readers interest. Depending on the subject matter you focus on these can be used as a lead in to an exciting story, or as a location to drop your phone number. Stick to using the one to two main keyword phrases you want the page to target on somewhere in your meta description. Typically want this under 160 characters in length or it’ll get cut off (as you see in the example above).
5. Microdata Reviews
This another feature (similar to rel=author) that can bring some nice elements to your site to help it stand out from the competition. Schema.org contains an over of a relatively new type of microdata tagging style that web designers and developers can use to give Google more information than usual about their product or service. A good example can be seen below with a search for “Philadelphia pizza places”:
Here you can see the third result (yelp.com) has implemented microdata reviews on their site, and because of that they now have the starred rating system appearing below their results. While this could be a bad thing (2.5 out of 5 stars doesn’t impress me for a pizza place) it does provide a level of honest and trust to a website that will share this information, as well as 5 fairly loud stars that will now appear below their search engine ranking results. Here (as always) you’ll want to test to make sure your making improvements to your site, but most of the negative response to implementing a feature like this would come from having negative reviews present in the first place.
6. Post Quality Content on Your Website
This point might be bordering on cliche by now. While Google crawlers may be looking for meta tags and the HTML code behind-the-scenes, your human visitors are not. Your human visitors are looking for websites for one purpose: to read content; plain and simple.
Of course, for maximum success driving traffic via great content, you need to satisfy both bots and your flesh-and-blood audience. How do you do that?
- Post blogs regularly. Blogs are the mainstay of web writing. Product descriptions and “Contact Us” pages can only be so engaging. Well-written (perhaps even controversial) blog posts give you an opportunity to be creative, interact with your readers, and share interesting links.
- Send out guest posts. One of the best ways to attract traffic to your site is by submitting guest posts to other sites. Ideally, you can get your article or blog post featured on a site that is well-traveled. The more often you’re able to guest post on popular sites, the more opportunities will come inbound without you having to go out and find them.
- Proofread. This one goes without saying; right? Writing that reads like a C- middle school essay is an instant red flag to both human readers and Google. Not only will content like this fail to rank well – even if someone does land on your site – your visitors are more likely to bounce.
- Be original. You’ve been warned about the dangers of plagiarism your whole life. Not only is plagiarism an academic killer, it can also kill any blog post. Google’s bots scan for plagiarized and seemingly rewritten content, and if they find it, your new blog post will be shuttled into obscurity.
7. Write About What People Want to Read
Give the people what they want. Only play the hits. I suppose this one might go without saying, but, there are some interesting ways that you can find out exactly what people are interested in reading.
- Use Google’s auto-complete feature to dig for topics. Open an incognito window and start typing in a conversational phrase related to the topic you want to write on. If there is a phrase or question that Google suggests using its auto-complete, that means people are searching for it. It’s important to stress that you need to use an incognito window – or else Google will suggest phrases you have used in the past.
- Check your own inbound longtail search phrases in Google Analytics. Another good source of topics is what people have Googled to find your site in the past. Look for conversational-style search phrases or phrases that have a topic in common. If people were coming inbound for those phrases previously, that means that Google (for some amount of time) viewed your site as an authority on the topic and that people were searching for it. If you haven’t already covered the topic in its own blog post, it might be a good topic to write a new post for. If you have covered it but the traffic was from a long time ago, it might a good time for a follow-up post. The title for this article came from this exact strategy.
- Use Google’s Trends Tool. Check out www.google.com/trends/explore to compare the popularity of several different search terms within the same subject. Using the most popular keywords in your title gives you the best chance of attracting the most traffic.
8. Build Up Mentions
In this example: get by with a little help from your virtual friends.
A mention is any link to your site that gets featured on someone else’s site or social media feed. If you run a gardening business, and HypotheticalGardeningWebsite.com links to your page, that’s a backlink. If the website runs a well-followed Twitter feed, connect with it. The Tweet may mention your username as attached to the website’s article. If you can pull this off, you’ve just double-dipped on social and the web for a mention. Instant boost in human-perceived-authority.
Why are backlinks valuable? In the simplest form, Google Webmaster Tools explains:
Links help our crawlers find your site and can give your site greater visibility in our search results. […] Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B.
A word of caution: not all backlinks are created equal. The more clout a website has, the more clout your backlink has.
Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
Getting a backlink from The Wall Street Journal is always going to be better for boosting traffic than getting a backlink from a magazine no one’s heard of. This goes for both the human traffic benefit as well as the Google algorithmic benefit. Aim high, settle lower (if necessary). As you build authority on a subject that you can tout, better writing and quote opportunities will present themselves. Websites like Klout can help you connect with other influencers in a niche and monitor your own authority within a niche.
9. Cross Media Formats
This can be said for media formats both digital and non-digital. If your website is primarily text- and article-based, branch out to places like Pinterest and Instagram. If people you think might be interested in your site listen to podcasts, volunteer yourself for some or create your own. Make your content engaging regardless of what format people prefer it in. You can even open the windows, get out of your basement, and promote your site in the real world.
All of your marketing should already include your website, but there there are some things people miss. For instance, putting a mention of your website in your voicemail or hold music can drive traffic. Feature it prominently on the reverse side of your business card. Include it in everything you touch. Always keep it in the back of your head. There are quite literally a million ways to skin this cat.
As an example, and this might sound crazy, I once met someone whose viral marketing campaign was based around strings of words that Youtube would not return a set of search results for. I don’t think it works anymore, but think something like “Have-a-seat-next-to-roy-in-philly” or something specific like that. He would then have stickers and flyers made up with that phrase and pay people to plaster them all over target cities. Then when confused people got home and Googled it, it would return his YouTube video with the same title as the only search result. He swore it worked well. The point is that being creative and crossing media and delivery formats can help drive a whole new audience of people to your website.
This aritlce is running long, so I am going to cut it. I hope some of these tips helped. As always, happy hunting.
Now the examples I provided above weren’t necessarily within the legal industry, these are all features we’ve had success implementing with various legal clients we’ve worked with in the past. SEO for lawyers and law firms can carry the stigma of being a “dry” industry, but if you understand your practice’s focus and stay updated on the latest trends within your legal field there are many opportunities to use these kinds of features to help improve your click through rate from Google, and ultimately land more clients through your internet marketing efforts.