10 ways to make your business Google friendly: Tips from Google's chief technology advocate
Making your business Google friendly so it gets picked up by Google's search engines is "pretty easy actually", according to Google's chief technology advocate Michael Jones.
Jones was previously chief technologist of Google Maps, Earth, and Local Search, the teams responsible for providing location intelligence and information in global context to users worldwide.
Now as the search engine's chief technology advocate, Jones is constantly travelling the world meeting and speaking with governments, businesses, partners and customers about Google's mission and technology.
Jones spoke to SmartCompany from the United States ahead of his upcoming visit to Australia for the Ci2012 conference.
Here are Jones' 10 tips to make your business Google friendly:
1. Create popular content
Despite all the advice that is out there about search engine optimisation, Jones says "the real advice is to be popular".
According to Jones you need to ask yourself a few simple questions about your business' website.
"Why would somebody come to your website? Why would they spend time there? Why would they recommend it to their friends? Why would they bookmark it?"
"The way you get ranked more highly is to have a genuine interest in other people," he says.
For example, Jones says if a florist wanted to be ranked higher than other florists, the florist should have a section on its website's front page that showed a new floristry tip every day.
"That would certainly cause your relevance to shoot up in Google without any strange or unnecessary activities, you'd just be more popular, and people would come to your site more often," he says.
2. Don't bother so much about using key words.
As Google and other search engines get smarter Jones say they are getting closer and closer to being able to tell what a website is about without being told through key words.
"It seems you can say that this science of trying to optimise the webpage so we'll notice you is less important, we will notice you, so will everybody else that searches websites," he says.
"The question is how good are we at understanding what you're saying?"
Jones admits "we're not perfect" and says, "I do think sometimes there are subtleties in websites that are hard for search engines to understand."
But he says Google is getting better at recognising things like pictures on websites without having to be told what the pictures are about through key words.
"All the ongoing upgrades to Google Panda mean that in designing a website and trying to figure out what we want to see, it has less effect," he says.
"So the truth is it's more important to just make your website a good one."
3. The need for speed
A business website has to be easy to find but it also has to be easy to load, according to Jones.
"We've started punishing websites a little bit on ranking if they're slow to load," he says.
"So if you have an underpowered computer and you own a website, you might want to upgrade your computer server so it responds quickly to users.
4. Use localised cues
With more and more users accessing the internet through mobile devices, Jones says localised information is going to become increasingly important on business websites.
"If you use Google Maps on a smartphone the map not only knows all about Australia, but it also knows about the businesses in Australia where you are," says Jones.
"So you might find that we could give you information you would not otherwise find, or we would not be able to tell you if we weren't there with you."
He gives the example of typing in "Where is the best restaurant?" when you are standing in Darling Harbour and the question could be the best in Australia or in Darling Harbour, but because Google can tell you are in Darling Harbour it can give more guidance.
"There are a lot of things like that, so the use of location to guide searching, the use of patterns or time of day to guide searches are a lot more intelligent in the search process," says Jones.
He says Google is going to continue taking users behaviour into account when searching. So if a user is at the Sydney Opera House walking towards a water taxi, in the future, Google could presume that you are thinking about taking a water taxi and will show you the water taxi schedule.
"Maybe you don't have to search for it," he says.
"Maybe when a person is walking toward the ferry, maybe we should tell them about the ferry schedule.
"If they stop on a street corner maybe we should tell them where the nearest taxi stand is.
"It's reasonable, I think, to have us guess at what you might want to know, and right now we try to guess at the best answer to what you could ask for."
Jones says there is a difference between those two concepts but he thinks the difference will be met through mobile search.
5. Pay attention to what users are saying online about your business
There's an increasing trend by Google to integrate information posted by users online into its listings, evident in Google's acquisition of restaurant listing business Zagat and travel listing business Frommer's.
"The big news in local searching is trying to get information from customers about businesses and guide future customers about those same businesses," says Jones.
This means that when you perform a search on a restaurant you have something to guide your selection criteria. That includes the Google web ranking, which Jones says is not about the pages that Google likes, it's about the pages that Google has found from internet users across the world.
"So a way to get access to that data is a way to help Google Maps users that contribute to that data, and whatever our users discover adds to that, for everybody's convenience," he says.
He gives the example of a user hiking in New Zealand and Google using information from Frommer's to give details of a side trip to go and see a waterfall.
"Those aren't always things that Google has any way to find out, other than to have Google users tell us so that we can tell you," Jones says.
6. Think about how your website looks on the screen
Jones says the advice Google gives to every advertiser and every web designer is to really understand how users look at screens on computers.
He recommends using Google Analytics to see where people are coming to your website from and what size screen they are using.
"If most of your people come from an Android or iPhone phones to your website, but your website design is for a huge desktop monitor, there's a pretty good chance that you're not serving those people, are you?", Jones says.
"Some part of what you're telling them is off-screen all the time."
7. Make the most important information the most prominent
Sometimes the most important information on a website is hidden away off-screen instead of being in a prominent position, according to Jones.
He gives the analogy of selling medical supplies to customers in wheelchairs or with crutches and putting the store at the top of a long flight of stairs.
"It'd be obvious to not do that and it'd be cruel to do that," says Jones.
"But on websites, people have huge webpages where the place to click to buy is at the bottom of the page and people can't even see that when they go to your website because their screen isn't big enough.
"That seems crazy to me."
Jones has a particular recommendation for restaurants with websites - include the menu on your website in an easy to find spot.
"If a restaurant puts their menus on the pavement, that certainly brings them more business as people can see what they're getting into, so they go inside.
"You should do that on your website. You should have the reason why people would come inside on the front page."
8. Engage in some online public relations
Public relations and reputation management are not usually areas small businesses need to concern themselves with, as they usually have direct relationships with their customers. But Jones says these are both issues thanks to the rise of the internet.
"Small companies that deal with the public haven't really ever had a particularly good way to manage their customer relationships, and that's something you can do on your website as well," he says.
"I think, for example, when a restaurant gets a bad review, then usually the restaurant is very eager to correct people's opinions, 'I'm really sorry about that, but we're really regarded well and I've never seen a problem'.
"That sort of dialogue is a new dynamic in small business."
Jones warns reputation management is becoming an issue for even the smallest businesses as consumers rate them, comment on them, and give them scores or like them on Facebook.
"Whatever that process is, it's not all positive, and that's something that the business owners, as a group, are starting to think about," he says.
"You might imagine a restaurant that unfairly gets complained about for something, the owner might say, 'Look, I think our pizza is still good, everyone come out here and I'll give you a free slice of pizza, you'll see how great it is'.
"I think that adds to your business."
Jones says it is about businesses making the most of the opportunity to be active in managing their own reputations.
9. Be Timely
In the past, businesses have tended to think about offers or benefits on their website in a very abstract way. But Jones says the increasing use of mobile devices means online options are most successful if they are timely.
"If I have a restaurant, I might say to the reader of my website " our food is very good, please come see us," says Jones.
Jones says this is a timeless message which applies whatever the time of day or season but mobile users actually respond to timely messages.
"If I know my user is on a mobile phone, there's a very good chance they wouldn't be looking at my website unless they were hungry, and close to my restaurant," says Jones.
"There's a certain location aspect to mobile phone searching."
Jones advises saying to mobile users "we have two tables free right now, come over and we'll give you a free dessert", as he says the user is probably right on the corner next to your business.
"You don't know who they are, but they're probably right there, and that notion of timeliness is generally not present on the web or websites," he says.
"If you have a little mobile website for your restaurant, it could say, 'The bread in the oven smells great, it'll be coming out in seven minutes, get here in time.'"
"And I could already be walking to your restaurant for the first bread.
"You wouldn't think to do that in general, but on a mobile device it's probably more often practical than not practical."
10. At the very least, do the minimum
A lot of businesses still don't have any online presence and Jones acknowledges for some businesses it may not be worth the hassle.
"There must be some who shouldn't bother, you should do things that work for your business," he says.
But Jones says it's possible to build an online presence without building a website.
"If I search for you on Google, or if I search for you somewhere else " we want to know your business is there," he says.
"I would urge those companies to do at least enough to still be found so that their listing will show up in Google Maps."
Jones recommends business owners go to Google Maps and include their business on the map with some contact details.
"Fifteen minutes doing that will make sure that your map pin shows up every time someone does a search say for hairstyling in the middle of Sydney," he says.
"It's free. I would think that's something you'd want to do.
"It's not about building the next Amazon.com, it's just about acknowledging that you exist so people can find you."