MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA MINE ALL MINE!!!
See that’s the thing about SEO, it doesn’t matter how doggedly you optimise every element of your site, making it as easy as possible for Google to crawl every page nor does it matter that you’re creating top-notch content on a regular basis, because there will always be competition from someone else trying to ruin your plans for total global SERP domination. Those spoilsports.
Of course in a normal world this is entirely fair. Competition is healthy, users deserve a choice, monopolies are bad. But this isn’t the normal world; this is the world of SEO megalomania gone unchecked, so with that in mind let’s see how a selfish greedy company can take over the first SERP using every channel or tool available.
But first some caveats…
There’s no guarantee that any of this will be successful. Google is trying to make the experience as beneficial to the user as possible, so plastering the SERP with links to your site isn’t going to provide this. Also, if you’re looking to dominate using a specific term (‘chocolate fountain rental’, ‘top 25 slouch rock albums of 2015’) it’s just never going to happen, there are just too many variables at play. In fact the only likely way that total domination is a possibility is with your own branded search term (‘nike’, ‘buzzfeed’) however even these search terms will still reveal results that don’t link to your site.
Go away NY Mag, you’re ruining it.
Then again, pushing down these competitor results as far down the page as they can go is the point, and maybe you don’t need to blast them off the SERP entirely.
This study from Advanced Web Ranking (registration needed) shows that on the first SERP, the top five results account for 67.60% of all clicks and the results from six to 10 account for only 3.73%.
So as long as you’re in the first five results, then you need not worry about anyone else horning in on your racket. But then again, you’ll always have stern competition from your brand’s Wikipedia entry, and Google News won’t necessarily be publishing your news articles but instead news about you, good or bad.
But still, it’s fun to try so let’s see what we can do?
1) Paid Search results
To (almost) guarantee your presence at the top of the SERP you can pay for your website to appear in the Ad sections. These normally appear at the top of a SERP, to the right-hand side, or within a separate ‘Shopping’ section.
You’ll need to set up an AdWords account in order to appear in the paid for listings at the top of the page, and you’ll only appear in the shopping section if you have a product to sell and are using Google Shopping Campaigns.
You’ll probably also have to bid against other companies for your chosen search term. The amount you spend will depend on how much you’re willing to pay Google AdWords every time a searcher clicks on your ad. But it’s not just how much you spend that is taken into account, Google also uses a metric know as a ‘quality score’, looking at how relevant your ad is to the searcher, how many clicks your ad has received previously (click-through rate – CTR) and how relevant your landing page is.
For more in-depth information, here’s our beginner’s guide to paid search and PPC.
Many retailers bid on their own brand name in order to guarantee their presence and to ensure a rival brand isn’t taking advantage of their name.
Nike is dominating PPC here, but Mr Porter is also making itself known.
Go away Mr Porter, you’re ruining it.
Nike is understandably ensuring that as few searchers as possible click through to Mr Porter (possibly accidentally). For a lot more information on the logic of bidding on your own brand name, check out our recent article Should you buy ads for your own brand terms?
2) Google News
News results often occur in the top half of the SERP and have two or three links to stories related to your search term. Here we have News results for ‘search engine watch’.
You have to submit your site specifically to Google News in order for it to be crawled and recognised as containing genuine news items. You can check whether your site is eligible here. Bear in mind that you will have to verify your ownership of your site and make sure your using meta-tags correctly.
Google is also very concerned with not letting News become a marketing service…
“We don’t want to send users to sites created primarily for promoting a product or organization, or to sites that engage in commerce journalism. If your site mixes news content with other types of content, especially paid advertorials or promotional content, we strongly recommend that you separate non-news types of content. Otherwise, if we find non-news content mixed with news content, we may exclude your entire publication from Google News.”
This is obviously much more straightforward for publishers, so retailers will find themselves out of luck here.
You may also wish to be one of those rare companies that manages to do nothing remotely controversial or unethical, otherwise your company will become the news rather than one that merely provides it.
These are the extra links that appear under the main URL when searching for a brand or a publisher.
These can help make branded search results appear more impressive, and helps push tangential results about you (a Wikipedia page, a news item about some terrible controversy) further down the SERP as well as any possible competitor results.
You have very little control over how sitelinks appear in results. According to Google itself, “We only show sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user.”
There are things you can do to increase the chances of your preferred sitelinks appearing in search however, and mainly it’s the kind of things you should be doing anyway if you want to make your site easy to navigate for visitors. Building an XML sitemap and submitting it to Google is a start, as well as making sure your site has a clear and logical hierarchy.
There’s more information in the following article: How do I get sitelinks to appear in my site’s search results?
4) Search box
The search box appears in the results when you search for certain brands or publishers. If the search box appears, you can then search within that site.
Much like the sitelinks above, this helps beef up the size of your branded search results with an extra little tool.
To get your own search box, the only things you need are a website with a search tool of its own and a simple piece of Schema mark-up
For full details, check out How do I get a search box to appear in my site’s search results?
5) Google’s Knowledge Graph
The Knowledge Graph is Google’s system for organizing and merging information about millions of well-known people, places, and organizations from many data sources, including Wikidata.
This results in fairly prominent information cards like the one below, featuring links, images and other info pulled in from Wikipedia.
So how do you appear in the SERP in one of these fancy ‘about us’ boxes?
Well it will help if you’re a reasonably famous brand or publisher. And by ‘reasonably’ I mean famous enough to have your own Wikipedia page. There’s no guarantee that Google will show an ‘about us’ box for you, but these boxes are increasing for small business models. In fact according to Search Engine Land, Google now shows Knowledge Graph responses for one out of five searches.
You can control how your information is presented in the ‘about us’ boxes to a certain extent by using Schema markup, Here’s more information on how to change your logo, contact information and social links.
6) Answer box
Similar to the above, Google scrapes third party websites to answer searchers’ straightforward questions in their own answer boxes. This technically means a searcher barely even needs to leave Google. Which is certainly the point. However this is even more of a reason to be the one answering a particular question, as Google will place what it perceives to be the best answer at the top. This isn’t necessarily taken from Wikipedia either.
I normally find these completely by chance when ego-surfing. Here’s my own article appearing as the answer to the question “what is micro UX?”
Again there’s no guarantee that your site will be scraped for this information, but there are things you can do to increase the chances, all of which are to do with being a decent authority website with regularly updated quality content that offers genuinely helpful, accurate, clearly laid-out information on your relevant topic.
7) Google My Business and Map results
For businesses and retailers in particular, it’s vital to have accurate and up-to-date information, as Google will increasingly serve local results based on a user’s location.
Google Maps search results are based on a combination of relevance, distance, and prominence. It’s entirely possible that Google give prominence to a business that’s farther away from a user’s location because it is more likely to have what their looking for.
Therefore it’s important that your business information is complete and that the stock listed on your website is up-to-date and as detailed as possible.
In order for any of this to happen though, you will have to register with Google My Business. This will help your map listings as well as your overall local web presence.
Among many others things, you’ll need to make sure you have the following features…
- A long and unique description of your business.
- Choose the right categories.
- Key information on opening times.
- Lots of imagery.
- Regular updates.
- A local phone number and business address.
- Reviews from customers (more on that next…)
I’m going to largely paraphrase from a recent article my boss Graham Charlton wrote about the importance of local reviews here.
Reviews are absolutely essential for online retailers. They’re also vital for local businesses, whether or not they sell online, thanks to their sheer prominence in local search results.
If you look at this mobile search for restaurants in Chicago, the best organic listings are taken by the restaurants with good reviews…
After this the next organic listings are mainly from review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Time Out and Zagat. Therefore if you want a prominent position in local SERPs, you need user reviews.
To get these to appear you’ll need to register your business with Google My Business (see the Google My Business and Map section above) and also follow the advice of Graham here.
9) Twitter feed
Real-time tweets now appear in search results for brands, personalities as well as certain phrases if you use a hashtag.
All you need to do to appear here is simply have a Twitter account. It probably helps if you tweet regularly and have a fairly substantial following, although it’s likely that Google hasn’t indexed the whole of Twitter (or ever be able to) so there’s no guarantee.
Also watch out for those tweets you send that you immediately regret and delete, Google caches them and therefore will hang around longer in search results then they do one Twitter.
10) Other social profiles
You’ll notice that on a lot of branded searches the bottom few results tend to be that of the brand’s social channels.
Although these may not lead directly to your website, they are still officially ‘your results’ and therefore another good way for your brand to dominate the page. Make sure you have regularly updated Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube Google+ and Pinterest accounts.
Google gives a great deal of prominence to videos, especially ones on its YouTube platform. Therefore if you have video content it’s important that you have a regularly updated YouTube channel with great quality videos and loads of happy subscribers. Another thing that many people forget is that it’s vital to tag your videos accurately in order for Google to discover and crawl your content properly.
Here’s a handy video that explains how to tag your videos better than I can…
If you’re using images (which you should be, it’s not fun reading 2,000 word articles without images) there are a number of things you should definitely be doing to increase the chances of your pictures appearing in Google Image search results.
- Make sure the file name is clear and accurate
- Make sure the image title is similarly clear and accurate
- Reduce the image so it’s an appropriate size and doesn’t increase your page load speed substantially
- For goodness sake, don’t forget your alt tags
Alt tags are necessary to describe the image’s content. This is important for visitors with accessibility problems, and will also to help search engines index your content accurately.
Here’s a lot more information omn image optimisation from Yoast.
13) Organic search results
And finally, in among the paid search listings, the map, the knowledge graph, the images, the social channels, the sitelinks, the News results, there may even be some room for a couple of organic search results too.
Therefore of course, you should still be doing the same badass on-page SEO and audience delighting content marketing that you’ve been doing this whole time.
All that leaves me to say is good luck and may your first branded SERP be entirely yours and controversy free.