Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy used to be: focus on search engine rank and you’ll see more customers. Now things have flipped. Attract customers and, if you do that well, Google will give you the bonus of a higher rank. Optimizing your website for customers is a process that requires time and consistent testing to see long-term results. Paying attention to known online user behavior and making the right decisions to get your facility in front of prospective tenants online is key.
This flip and the many changes in Google search algorithms that precipitated it have created a whole lot of myths, or rather half-truths that intend to stay ahead of the curve. Since SEO is a process aimed at optimizing your website for machine behavior, which is constantly changing, there is bound to be trial and error. The following half-truths are the most likely to hold you back from meeting your digital marketing goals, so we decided they are the most important myths to break down:
- “Ranking first is everything.”
At the core of this myth is a truth: A higher placement on Google will lead to more website visits from potential tenants searching online, and that traffic is valuable because users go to Google when they are in the buying phase of their journey. The lie is that fixating on higher ranking alone will promise you progress toward the goal of more qualified traffic.
Search engine results pages (SERPs) aren’t what they used to be. Your query will not produce a perfectly ordered list of links based purely upon keywords anymore. Instead, you can expect images, videos, maps, featured snippets, and all sorts of other results aimed at providing users with the best result. Rank is also not concrete; it changes based on where you are geographically standing. There is not one rank number/position, it is a spectrum of rank.
If you’re in a position where you think you should rank higher, start paying attention to what Google cares about: the quality of your website content; its relevance to your target audience; the language and tone used; and its presentation matter to the user. Making the online user happy will in turn make Google happy. Change your mindset: the purpose of search engines is to give users personalized and accurate results for their query; this should be your intention as well. Stop obsessing over ranking first on Google, and start obsessing over how users interact with your website. Use data to make thoughtful decisions and watch your site become a useful tool to attract more prospective tenants.
- “Top ranking factors can be boiled down to x, y and z.”
It bears repeating that any marketer who claims to know exactly what Google’s ranking algorithm considers when crawling pages is only 80% sure, 100% of the time. Google has never publicly listed all of its ranking factors. Of the 70 million ranking signals it has published, we know some hold prominence over others like domain age, number of pages with valuable content and indicators for Google to start crawling your website for pertinent information.
Even if you became confident about that long list of factors, not every factor will have equal importance; so you’d have to figure out the weight of each to get one step closer to mastering the ever-changing, machine-learning, ranking algorithm. While Google does drop hints, and patterns have clearly emerged, the best practice is to consistently ask yourself if it is helpful to the user.
A better indicator of your page’s usefulness is how much qualified traffic it’s getting. Pay attention to click through rate (CTR), which measures the amount of users who saw your page listed on their results page and then actually clicked it. You could rank well for your intended keywords, get tons of impressions, but then see a low click through rate, few conversions, and generally not make any money for your efforts. This sort of issue often emerges because you’re trying to rank for keywords that are not the best suited for your business (maybe they are too exact or too general) or your page’s meta description is not appealing to the user. Once again, the goal is to make everything about your page simple, direct, and detailed enough to lure qualified searchers.
- “Keyword optimization is the most important.”
SEO used to be about filling every web page with popular keywords related to your brand, product or service, and doing so at an alarming rate. Now, Google uses RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm that is more topic-based than keyword-based. RankBrain locates keyword topics that are related to each other and, even when it encounters words or phrases that are unfamiliar, the machine can make a guess according to words and phrases with similar meanings.
The rise in newer methods of finding what you need online like voice search (in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated it was 1 in 5 search queries) has opened up a new way to search online. What was once “self storage Tucson” may now be “where is cheap self storage near me,” and all of the sudden fragmented keyword queries become less helpful to the user. Google’s RankBrain is then forced to start reallocating search results for millions of new phrases/terms that users are coming up with. This also means that showing up for a few common queries just won’t cut it for today’s modern user.
Use keywords that will be meaningful for your business, and that make the most sense for prospective tenants searching online. You don’t need to repeat those keywords verbatim to perform better with search engines. Write your content with the intention of informing your user, not informing the search engine.
- “My site needs as much content as possible.”
Copy, as content, can help to improve your ranking on Google, but it does not promise an improvement in rank. When long form content helps a user understand a specific topic like “document storage” or “college storage,” you begin to target a specific audience with a specific purpose. Ask yourself whether the information on your website provides substantial value in comparison to other pages on your website. Do you find value in what you’re reading? Or is it just filler text for Google? If it’s just for Google, then you’re writing it for the wrong reason.
Writing with the intention of just slipping exact keywords into more places does not benefit you. When it comes to self storage, content should be about setting your facility apart with valuable detail, allowing prospective tenants to comfortably choose to rent with you. What does your facility look like? What is access like? What sort of specials do you offer? Which features do you boast over the competition? Shorter sentences, direct speech, and topics that matter to your audience are where it’s at.
- “Local SEO is just like national SEO”
In self storage, users are looking based on location (a facility closest to their home or business) and price. As a local business, optimizing for Google Maps will help you get found by the most qualified traffic — those near you who are interested enough to be price shopping. Automatit has found that more website traffic comes from Google Maps and Local Search than even the most common storage search terms (i.e. “self storage in Tucson, AZ” or “storage units near me”). This insight requires you and your marketing team to strategize for local searches more than generic SEO. Now Google ranks local businesses within its “Local Pack” as it does organic search result pages, knowing full well that searchers will exclusively use the Local Search tool as a local business homepage to find the best fit for their search query. It is key to have a plan in place for ensuring that Local Search information stays accurate, descriptive, and helpful for those qualified users.
The one common feature most of these myths possess is that they put the desire to outsmart the search engine above the desire to help the user. The moving target that you should have your gaze fixed on, if you mean to optimize for search engines, is the ever-changing needs of the user. If the content you provide on your landing pages can give accurate, timely information to the user and support them achieving the goal of their search, you’re optimizing for them and in turn, search engines.