In today’s digital world, getting on to page 1 – and to the top of Google search – is not only important, but it can be the difference in your business thriving or merely surviving.
My website was launched around three years ago, but up until May 2020, I focused on offering Social Media Management services.
Offering that made sense; I was good at it and was recognised nationally as a finalist in four categories at the NI Social Media Awards.
But I didn’t enjoy it.
Managing a 24-hour, seven days a week, social media operation for dozens of clients is challenging.
Imagine the number of notification pings I was getting every single day.
Private Messages, Shares, Mentions, Comments.
And you’ve all had that moment where a social media post goes “a bit viral” – that’s a phrase I’ve just made up on the spot.
But I mean when a post you’ve shared does a lot better than you expected.
In your eyes, it’s gone “a bit viral”.
Your heart races as you wake up to way more comments and shares than you anticipated.
Your first thoughts are, “Aww no, did I make a mistake or cause some kind of controversy?”
Social Media Management is enjoyable for most, but for me, it meant I could never entirely switch off.
As a result, during lockdown #1, I decided to focus on what I’m great at; writing.
Not only am I a decent writer, but it’s something I love doing, and when I’m not writing, I’m reading.
I’m 34 now, and it took me all this time to figure out where my passions lay, even though it screamed out at me every day.
Anyway, I’ve digressed, apologies.
Getting to the top spot on Google Search is the goal of every business.
And if it’s not, it should be.
After doing a bit of research, these were the terms many business owners, marketing managers, and communications officers were searching for when looking for help with content writing for their websites and marketing material.
When I put my mind to something, I know I can get the results I want.
And although my ambition was to get on the first page of Google locally, I managed to be the first result on the first page on Google for Northern Ireland Copywriter and NI Copywriter, and fourth result for Freelance NI Copywriter.
Honestly, it’s been my most significant achievement in 2021 (four weeks in!).
I’m buzzing like a second-hand radio.
I can hear you mumbling, “You’re a bit dramatic there, Paul!”
So, why am I delighted?
There are plenty of SEO experts in Northern Ireland, like Michael Wall from CodeFixer, who I interviewed recently for my Lockdown Legends series.
But in nine months (without a penny spent on Google Ads) I managed to creep on to page 1 and then nestle snugly at the top.
By doing the following nine things consistently over the last year.
But before we get into that, it’s helpful to know why getting on the first page of Google and getting to the top of the search results is essential.
The main reason is that we all use Google every day.
For news, entertainment and education.
And for odd queries that hit you at night like, “Why isn’t 11 pronounced as one-ty one?”
Or, “What would a chair look like if your knees bent the other way?”
Believe it or not, Google returns about 12,000,000 results for that one!
Or what about this one that my clients always ask me?
“How tall is Tall Paul from Tall Paul Marketing?”
21,900,000 results for that!
What kind of sorcery is this?
Thanks, Google, I am 6 foot 6.
Globally, Google has around 90% of the search engine market.
That statistic is pretty mind-blowing.
Nine out of every ten people you know use Google every day.
Even more mind-blowing, people use Google search over 60,000 times every second.
And according to Oberlo, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day.
The population of Northern Ireland is around 1.8 million people.
So, if 90% of people in Northern Ireland use Google every day, that’s around 1.62 million people.
Now, wouldn’t you like to reach every single one of them when they’re searching for a product or service you offer?
As a meme from a few years ago puts it, “The best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google search results.”
Pretty funny, but with a serious message.
The message is: If you do not appear on page 1 of Google, then you’re missing out on significant traffic, and ultimately, sales.
So, without further ado, here are the nine things I did in the last nine months to rank at the top of page one on Google.
Google is a complex company with an even more complex algorithm.
That algorithm is continuously updated and has the power to make or break a business.
But despite all the algorithm tweaks over the last decade, one thing has remained: Google prioritises websites that are up to date.
Let’s take two fake websites as an example.
Number one every single time.
And Google favours it too.
Because things change, situations evolve.
Accountant #2 has no information about the pandemic, Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol, the furlough scheme or all of the Covid-19 funding and grants.
If it’s a straight contest between two similar companies, Google will favour the most up-to-date.
So, what does that mean for your business, or even your marketing and communications departments?
It means a commitment to sharing content regularly on your blog/news page to reap the rewards.
And it means writing content about issues that your ideal customer is probably talking about or worried about.
January was the bane of every business owner – the self-employed tax returns were due on 31 January 2021.
But imagine Accountant #1 created a helpful piece of content that went live between Christmas and the New Year when the dark clouds are hanging over all of us about completing those returns.
A blog title could be, ‘7 Things You Can Claim For in Your Tax Returns’ or ‘5 Top Tips For Completing Your Tax Returns’.
It’s highly relevant content, and it’s targeting a specific segment of the population; business owners.
If you look through the blog section of my website, you’ll notice a couple of things.
Firstly, I’m pretty consistent with publishing blog content.
Secondly, the blog content that I write focuses on helping Northern Ireland business owners, Marketing Managers and Communications Officers.
After all; they’re my target audience and ideal clients.
Each piece of content aims to do a couple of things for those guys: inform, educate, inspire and entertain.
8 Top Class Northern Ireland Freelancers You Need To Know In 2021 | Tall Paul Marketing [Inform]
£577.88 Per Year: How These 4 Incredible Low-Cost Marketing Tools Will Turbo-Charge Your Online Marketing [Educate]
Lockdown Legends: “I always showed up. Even on the crap days.” – Belfast entrepreneur Michael Wall [Inspire]
Northern Ireland Digital Marketing: 5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career [Entertain]
I also add in some great local business success stories, like these:
Warrenpoint Company Deli Lites Secures Major NI Supply Deal With Boots
Bodyshop Training Academy: CRASH services aims to “plug Northern Ireland skills gap” with new Newry centre
Now, here’s where the importance of regularly updated content shows.
In the last nine months, the Tall Paul Marketing website had nearly 22,000 page views.
They’re reading my regularly updated blog and news content.
And they’re not just reading it.
They’re sharing it on Social Media too, extending the reach of my business.
The knock-on effect of that is those nearly 22,000 now know about Tall Paul Marketing.
It’s not uncommon for website visitors to read one of my blog posts and then click on ‘About’ or ‘Services’ – I’m now on their radar.
Pretty simple, right?
To sum up, every business owner, Marketing Manager, and Communications Officer should prioritise updating their blog or news page regularly.
The take-home message: What Google wants, Google gets.
So, you’re either feeding their algorithm with what it wants or… you can hide a dead body on Page 2 with the rest.
Updating your website isn’t just about publishing a blog article or news story once a week.
It involves making tweaks too.
For example, my whole website has gone under a couple of big revamps in the last nine months.
It wasn’t a “tear it down and start again” kind of thing.
Instead, it involved adding new pages to my website.
Pages that I knew my prospective clients wanted.
How did I know what they wanted?
Because they emailed me and asked me specifically for this information.
The above two pages are particular to my line of work as a freelance copywriter.
I regularly update my portfolio, mainly as it’s an excellent indicator to clients about who I’ve worked with and the type of content I write.
So, is there something you can add/remove or tweak on your website?
Other things to consider updating are the images on your website.
Are they all relevant and up to date?
Have a look on my homepage (or any page on my website), and you’ll notice that all of my images are relatively recent.
Most importantly, they’re images of me.
Not some dodgy-looking stock photos of happy business people smiling and shaking hands.
We’re in a pandemic; we can’t even shake hands any more!
See, relevancy and recent updates are essential.
It’s a constant, ever-evolving marketing tool that should grow along with you.
Other tweaks I made were smaller things like adding a WhatsApp button on my contact page.
Because most people use WhatsApp every day so let’s make it as easy for prospective customers to contact me as possible.
The take-home message: A relevant, up-to-date website is more attractive to Google’s algorithms than an old out-of-date website.
As a Northern Ireland business owner – I own Newry Times and Tall Paul Marketing – I genuinely like to read about other successful NI entrepreneurs.
And what’s more, I enjoy reading about the quirky lives of local business people.
If I enjoy reading about like-minded people in the business community that are doing well, chances are most other business owners like to read about it too.
That’s why I started a new series recently on my blog, aptly titled ‘Lockdown Legends’.
I’ve hit the ‘publish’ button on three articles, and several more are in the pipeline.
The first article went live on 8 January 2021 and just look at the spike in website activity.
Not only that day, but for days and weeks later, it drove people to my website.
The above image perfectly illustrates the power of creating engaging, relatable content.
Another glance at my Google Analytics for the last month tells me what people are reading on my website.
All of my blog and news content.
Because it’s relevant to them.
I’m guessing there aren’t many freelancers in the world who get a few thousand website visitors per month.
Or even better, a website that keeps people on it for an average of a couple of minutes.
The interesting question is, if I hadn’t shared all of that content that people enjoyed reading, how many website visits would I have had in the last month?
Probably 10% of the 6,000 visitors.
The take-home message: Create quality, engaging, informative, personalised content that your potential customer wants to read.
If they like it, they’ll come back for more.
And they’ll share it on social media and your name will be on their radar.
If you get engagement with your content, Google will know quite quickly and bump you up in the rankings.
We live in the era of Google.
Like it or not, they make the rules.
And we either try our best to adapt to their recommendations and updates.
Or we risk the visibility of our businesses in their search results.
I set out with that realisation in the last nine months to make the Tall Paul Marketing website as mobile-friendly as possible.
Sure, there’ll be web developers or designers reading through this blog post and then checking every page to critique (which I welcome!).
There will always be things I can improve on my website to make it even better, faster and more polished for mobile.
But right now, I’m happy that it’s at least as good as it can be for the investment of time and finance.
You may have read over the last year or two about Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).
If you’re confused, Digital 24 answers the question: “What is Google AMP pages?”
Google actively encourages all businesses to have an AMP version of their website.
Their rationale is that it is then perfectly optimised for mobile; fast-loading and structured correctly.
Since the Tall Paul Marketing website went AMP over the last nine months, I have noticed a lot more engagement with my website.
And even more importantly, when I open one of my pages or blog posts on AMP, it looks great and loads in lightning speed.
The vast majority of us now use our phones to go online.
And your website needs to be mobile-optimised as a bare minimum.
The take-home message: Google favours a mobile-friendly website. Implement it, and you’ll notice more traffic to your website.
I can’t stress enough to clients how important it is to make your website clean, uncluttered and easy-to-navigate.
I’m sure you’ve visited websites on your phone or laptop, and suddenly you’re met with 50 different page categories and another five million subcategories.
Keep your pages to the bare minimum.
Regardless of your industry, most business websites should have:
Sure, if you’re selling products, you can have a page titled ‘Shop’ or something similar.
And, of course, if you’re a service business like me, you’ll want to add in a portfolio and testimonials page.
Get rid of unnecessary pages and irrelevant content.
We live in a world of instant gratification.
Just because you think it’s important, doesn’t mean your customer will.
I’m guessing the answer is: never.
Because nobody cares enough.
Everyone values their time.
And just as vital, Google has gone on record; they want all business websites to have a clear layout.
You’re starting to see a pattern emerging here: when Google specify what they expect, it’s up to you and me to get it implemented to stay relevant and visible.
Look at examples from the world’s biggest companies for inspiration on how to create a clean, uncluttered website:
The take-home message: Google favours a well-designed and laid out website that visitors can navigate easily.
Throughout my career, I’ve written and contributed to renowned websites around the world.
The list includes The Guardian, CNBC, The Sunday Business Post and The Press-Gazette.
Locally too, I’ve written and contributed to a lot of websites like Startacus, Slugger O’Toole and Newry.ie.
And at different times throughout my career, all of these articles have helped me professionally.
You see, guest posts on another website provide a backlink – that is a link that directs back to your website.
For example, you’re a Northern Ireland startup business.
You guest post on high-quality, huge-traffic websites like Entrepreneur.
Google recognises that authoritative websites like Entrepreneur are linking to your business website, and as a result, Google recognises you as an authority in your industry.
Local examples are encouraged too.
You might be a Belfast business owner, and you could contribute to high-traffic websites like BBC NI, UTV, Belfast Live etc.
The take-home message: Guest posting, when done correctly, can help improve your Google ranking and ultimately lead to more people visiting your website.
Northern Ireland SEO specialists might read this blog post and probably face-palm.
And they could be right; I don’t claim to understand SEO to their level, but I have implemented basic SEO strategies.
I believe those strategies have all helped get me to the top of page 1 on Google.
Experts might reasonably exclaim, “But Paul, you’re a freelance copywriter, there aren’t thousands of competitors like more popular or mainstream businesses face in different industries!”
Those SEO experts would be right, to an extent.
However, there are probably thousands of solicitors, coffee shops, car shops all vying for the first page.
Despite this, no matter how many rivals are competing in your space, all nine points here will still help you and give you a fighting chance for success on Google.
In my recent article – £577.88 Per Year: How These 4 Incredible Low-Cost Marketing Tools Will Turbo-Charge Your Online Marketing – I spoke about some low-cost marketing tools every Northern Ireland business should use.
One of those was Yoast SEO.
I highlighted the premium version of Yoast in my previous article, but the free version can still get you great results.
For SEO virgins like me, Yoast has been a handy tool.
In other words, I believe Yoast contributed to my Google ranking success.
I’m going to make an assumption that most of you use WordPress for your website.
I make that assumption as it’s the most popular Content Management System on the internet; WordPress enjoys a 50-60% share of the global market.
If so, Yoast SEO’s WordPress plug-in should be as much a friend to you as it has been for me.
Without getting into all the technical SEO mumbo jumbo (because I don’t have the time or inclination to learn the complexities of SEO), Yoast essentially makes SEO simple.
“The Yoast SEO plugin makes it easy for your site to meet the highest technical SEO standards.”
After you’ve created content on your WordPress dashboard, Yoast will optimise your content for keywords, keyphrases, synonyms, and similar keywords.
Helpfully, the plug-in will gently prompt you to tailor your content, structure your web content, and ensure the likes of Google find your content.
After you’ve written your first draft, the Yoast software intuitively offers recommendations.
In the last year, I have grown from being just a great writer to adding a wee dash of SEO knowledge, and that’s thanks to Yoast.
Have you ever went upstairs to head to bed and looked at your FitBit and realised you’ve only another hundred or so steps to hit 10,000 steps?
Yoast is the same premise; it’ll advise you on what to add, remove, change, update, and once all those have been fixed, you’ll see a smiley green ‘Good’.
That means you’ve set up your website content as much as possible to help Google rank it.
Here’s an example of what this particular blog post looks like before implementing Yoast’s suggested changes.
I’ve just chosen a random key phrase for this example: Google ranking.
And here’s what it looks like once I have applied the changes.
The excellent software will help you structure your content so that readers can enjoy it.
And you’ll quickly learn about the importance of <H1> and <H2> tags in your content.
You’ll also understand how to include hyperlinks in your text and why they’re essential.
The take-home message: Structure your content with SEO in mind, and you’ll enjoy a considerable advantage over your business rivals in Google rankings.
The years 2020 and 2021 will go down in history as the years when everything moved online.
Yes, the global pandemic has increased the pace, but it was inevitable.
And every single business in Northern Ireland – no matter what industry they’re in – needs to understand their target customer.
Understanding your customer might involve knowing where they are, their age, gender, or even their profession.
Thankfully, Google Analytics will be able to point you in the right direction here with interesting insights.
But for this blog post, what was important to me in my quest to get on the first page of Google was understanding what customers might type into Google search when they were looking for help from a professional copywriter.
Potential customers of mine weren’t typing:
Using various websites like Moz and Ahrefs, I was able to get some ideas on what keywords I should aim to rank for on search engines.
Those are three terms many people type in when looking for someone like me to help them out.
As a result, nine months ago, I built my business website and branding around those words.
They might also search for keywords like a commercial writer, blog writer, website writer, content writer; you get the gist.
Of course, there’s about 50 more keywords and phrases I would love to rank for, but I’m pretty happy with these three.
All three of mine, as you will no doubt notice, are regional and hyper-local.
Trying to rank for ‘Copywriter’ or ‘Freelance Copywriter’ for the whole of the UK or globally wasn’t an option for me.
Because I’d be competing with companies with vast marketing budgets, bags of SEO experience and websites a lot older than mine (which means they’ll have a lot more content that can be ranked!).
And besides, when you visit a new city and want a coffee, you’re more likely to enter the area, for example, ‘Belfast coffee’ or ‘Dublin café’.
Unless you’re a global eCommerce business, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on and mastering local search results.
Continuing on the hyper-local theme, I’m genuinely surprised more people aren’t singing from the rooftops about Google My Business.
It’s a real hidden gem in the Northern Ireland digital marketing landscape with an easy set-up and simple navigation.
And I think it has contributed to my Google ranking improvements over the last year.
Updating it regularly.
Pretty simple, right?
“With a Google My Business Account, you get more than a business listing. Your free Business Profile lets you easily connect with customers across Google Search and Maps.”
And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Firstly, I created a Google My Business account, completed all the fields, and uploaded my business logo.
Secondly, I regularly checked in on my listing and posted updates.
Updates include my latest blog posts, recent images of me and a handful of videos and status updates.
You can view my Google My Business listing here.
Firstly, let’s look at insights from the App and how that translates into driving people to my website.
Secondly, let’s look at some of the keywords and phrases that have triggered people visiting my website.
An extra thousand visitors to my website every month or two for free?
Count me in!
Interestingly, that’s not the only good news.
Search Engine Journal does an excellent job of explaining the Google ranking benefits:
“Regular posting can earn you a coveted spot in the local 3-pack, which is the top 3 business listings for relevant search terms, and this placement alone is a valid reason to add a new post at least every seven days.”
And they go on to explain:
“Your posts on Google My Business signals to Google indicating your business is the right one to display for related searches locally.”
And they agree it can help boost your Google ranking too:
“Not only does a verified and optimised Google My Business profile stand a better chance of being in the local 3-pack, putting your presence at the top of search results, it can also indirectly help your website rank.”
Anyways, those nine steps are what I did in the last nine months – and continue to do – to help me achieve outstanding search results.
Will they work for everyone?
Success ultimately depends on your industry, your time commitment and a whole host of other variables.
Will they give you a basic idea of how to improve your website’s visibility overall for Google?
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how you get on.
PS: If you like my content and find it useful, you’ll LOVE my new weekly newsletter, Paul of Duty: Modern Marketing. It’ll be delivered right to your inbox every Friday afternoon.