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August 19, 2012

Obsessed with Google: SERPs are Ruling My Life — A SPN Exclusive Article

I’m seeing stars before my eyes. Right on the Google SERPs! Golden 5-star ratings on certain search results have me in a tizzy. You’d think I’d be content to know that those star ratings belong only on rating sites. Never. Why can’t my website be a rated site as well, I wonder? Voilà. My newest obsession with Google.

How did this happen? I used to have a normal life. At least, what I consider normal. Get up. Go to work. Go to sleep. Repeat.

Now, I can’t even sleep without worrying about how my SERPs will perform tomorrow. It seems that the more I look into SEO and tinker with what affects my ranking, the more I obsess about striving for perfection. Not that perfection even seems likely since a change in the smallest nuance of every search turns up a different result.

But with all this analysis, I have noticed that some of my competitors always seem to be at the top of the list. Not that I don’t “own” certain keywords myself. I’ll explain.

Secrets to SEO Dominance

In my region of New York’s Hudson Valley, if you search one of the services I offer within regional limits and include the word “agency,” I come out on top. Without it, I’m nowhere. I also seem to own the words “advertising” and “marketing.” I think this may be because of seniority in the region. After all, having been in business for 36 years with a website since 1990, that should count for something.

However, I would like to emphasize my web design services more, since the perceived need is moving in that direction. Searches for that service (absent any of my trusted keywords) return my competition on page one with my site languishing in the shadows of page 2 or more. This is where obsession takes over. On my Google Webmaster Tools analysis of my site’s keywords, the word “website” as well as “web” are never mentioned. Yet, I have used those terms no less than hundreds of times within my content, most recently enlarged into headline-sized html text on my home page as a way to attract spider attention, the obviously blind search crawlers that currently hold my professional status hostage.

But wait. Google addresses why some keywords may be missing from the list: “The Keywords list will sometimes exclude words that Google has determined to be boilerplate text or common words.” Okay. So even if they see the word, that cannot be the only reason I’m considered a secondary player.

I look into the coding of a college-aged competitor’s website who is always at the head of the class. I see something fishy. He admits to being a coding genius and I can see why. His home page is one giant slider, probably jquery, which shifts horizontally as you follow any links. This results in enormously rich content included on his home page, with text references and links to websites he has done for many different clients. The word website is repeated countless times on his home page (as are many other key terms for my industry) by virtue of the fact that his entire website is essentially on his home page.

Have I confirmed that this is the reason? Not yet. But it certainly could be, given the shrewdness of his setup and the ripeness of his age!

Controlling Your SERP Appeal

If only that were the extent of my obsession with Google. Hardly! My anxiety knows no limits especially when it comes to appearances. Yes. One SERP can look better than another. How? If you are an author, your photo can appear with your listing. Google tells you what you must do which involves setting up a Google+ page, following their convoluted directions and then waiting at the edge of your seat for what seems to be an eternity. If you do it correctly, your photo will finally appear. However, they have since realized that redundancy of the same photo over and over on a whole page of results for one author gets to be a bit much, so they now only publish one photo of a particular author per search page, leaving all the rest of the applicable listings in their unadorned textual state. For me, this afterthought has left me with an ongoing problem of trying to differentiate myself from someone on the Internet who has hijacked my name, but that is another story for another time.

And let us not forget those yellow star ratings that appear on some SERPs! After days of research, reading, and trial and error, I managed to add microdata coding for star ratings on my homepage and, to my delight, confirmed its correctness with a glamorous preview using Google’s Webmaster Rich Snippet Testing Tool. While I am still waiting to see those coveted stars with my listing in actual SERPs, I have already experienced the downside of having a rating system on my website: someone panned my site. With so many competitors out there, I suspect one is the culprit. Luckily, the system will only accept one vote per IP address. (Believe me, with 3 separate computers and a psychopathic desire to cast votes in my favor, I admit to being defeated in an attempt to “cheat” the system.) This is still a work in progress so I’ll let you know what happens.

In a recent article where I accused Google’s Instant Preview of jeopardizing my professional reputation with a rendering of my home page as a blank white slate, I was able to convert that state of nothingness to an acceptably artistic representation with the mere addition of an “image alt” value on one of the components of my slideshow to agree with my main business service: marketing. So simple a fix – and such a huge relief!

Google Can Make You a Star!

One of the reasons Google has such significance in my life can be appreciated by something one of my clients told me on the phone yesterday. When he went to his Gmail account to send me an email, as he typed in my email address, up popped my picture, my contact information and a link to my website. Having worked with this real estate mogul for more than two decades, I immediately realized what an impression this made on him, since he had never experienced it before. Suddenly, thanks to a probable bonus of my Google+ page, I was someone very special! That event alone probably sealed the next deal I’ll make with him: a huge website makeover, a monthly e-newsletter and continual web updates.

Google Can Derail Your Life!

But with Google, it’s often one step forward, two steps back. If you haven’t heard, Google announced this week that it would soon be experimenting with the inclusion of Gmail content within SERPs to bolster the applicable results to a more personal level. This set my anxiety into panic mode since I consider emails entirely off-limits, as highly confidential documents, with no place within public search results. If even the government has to respect our HIPAA privacy, as just one example, where is Google going to draw the line? Although I carefully scrutinized every security preference available within my Google account, I could not find anything clearly saying that my email account is protected from Google’s use and that I deny them the right to publish its content. The only consolation for me was a statement I read within the Google announcement that indicated that you must sign up for this trial to be a participant:

It’s a good thing Google seems to recognize the sensitivity of this issue. At least, I hope they do!

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon, and others. View her work at Connect with Marilyn Bontempo on Google+