What it takes to reach the top of Google search
This article was originally published on eLearning Industry
We can all agree about the importance of a website for LMS vendors. In today’s environment, a website acts like a business card – it gives credibility and legitimacy.
Not only that, the appearance of the site is tied to consumers’ perceptions of the quality of the brand itself – is the software up to date with the latest developments (if the website looks outdated)? Is the technology user-friendly (if their website isn’t)? Will the company be easy to work with (if their online communication is poor)? Is the technology worth the investment (if they don’t even invest in their own brand image)?
Yet before those questions can be answered, one must find the website itself.
That’s where Search Engine Optimization or “SEO” comes in. At a basic level, it’s the ‘findability’ of a website at the time of need.
When I’ve taught SEO over the years, I refer to the TV show “Are You Being Served?” In that program, there are floor walkers in a department store, who greet people at the door and ask what the shopper is looking for. If they answer “men’s blue ties,” that floor walker escorts the shopper to the men’s department to a clerk, with the introduction, “this gentleman is looking for a man’s blue tie.” The clerk can then start showing the person the men’s blue ties.
Search engines – and for the purpose of this article we too will be focusing on Google (more on that later) – are doing the same thing as the floor walker. They are the interface between the searcher and the options available. Someone types into the Google Search bar “men’s blue ties” and waits for the results. Sites like Amazon would resemble the clerk in this scenario, as they will start showing a range of men’s blue ties. The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) might also include retailers which show men’s ties (but not necessarily blue) or other websites where you can order custom ties of any color for whichever gender.
In this sample scenario, Amazon will likely show up first on the SERP for two reasons: 1) their results most exactly match the question put into the search bar, and 2) other people reinforced that what was shown on Amazon, when clicked, did in fact take them to men’s blue ties, where they searched for that as well. So with both the computer one-to-one match and the search engine user base confirming and reinforcing the decision of the computer and of previous users, Amazon gains trust.
Thus, future searches for “women’s tennis racquets,” even if a relatively new search, will likely show up higher, as there has been so much confirmation that other searches on the site answered the question asked, so it probably will again in the future.
Note, this top result is not the result of paid advertising. There is programming in the website so that there is alignment between how a site is evaluated by the search engine and how the website is built (in this example, getting down to matching how people searched: men/ blue/ tie). In addition, there is massive and ongoing curation so that people, not just computers, are validating which websites best answer the questions people are asking.
This people curation piece is very important to remember. At the heart of SEO, what the various search engines are after, is to provide the best answer to question asked. That means humans, not computer robots, spiders, or algorithms, are the final judge… and humans are the primary audience. Writing to benefit and serve the reader are the real purposes, values, and keys to success with search engine optimization.
SEO Evolves … So Must Your Website
Not surprisingly, people have tried to scam the system over the years. Remember having the date, visitor counters, or event countdowns on websites? There was a time when keyword stuffing or putting a bunch of keywords in the HTML code was tried in an effort to rank higher in the search results. Myriad efforts have been tried over the years… with the programmers of the search engines recognizing them and adjusting the algorithms to filter those tricks out… and sometimes to punish offenders.
The real product that Google sells, and hopefully the other search engines do too, is trust. People use Google’s search engine significantly more than any other because Google has built and continues to earn that trust, and people agree that the results provided will efficiently and accurately answer the question posed. On the contrary, any effort by a web designer that violates that trust will not fare well, at least not in the long term.
Thus, the search algorithms regularly change… as people try to outsmart the algorithms, new ones need to be made. In addition, behaviors are introduced and reinforced, which further requires adjustments to keep relevant with expectations and demands.
Therefore a website is never done, but rather requires regular updating. To continue to rank highly and be competitive – to be found and thus in the running for the community curation – a website will need to meet certain technical standards and certain user standards. Because of the vast amount of data collected, Google “sees” a comprehensive picture of behavior that extends beyond what an individual company or website could gather.
For example, mobile.
The Rise And Priority Of Mobile-First Websites
In 2015, Google made having a mobile-friendly (as they defined it) website a requirement in order to show up in mobile search results. For 2018, Google has announced that “our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.” (Google webmasters blog as quoted at Mobile-first indexing in 2018: 3 things SEO professionals should do right now). Why would they do this? It was predicted that mobile search would take over desktop search in 2014 (which seems to have been accurate), with mobile US digital media time now reported as 51% compared to 42% desktop.
What this means is that, although technology solutions – for example, Learning Management Systems, Learning Experience Platforms, Learning Content Management Systems, or Content Libraries – might be searched on a desktop computer, the sites won’t appear in search results unless the mobile sites are optimized. The mobile search results are what matters now; there is no distinction between desktop and mobile. So even if the SEO is for a B2B solution where the searches and reviews occur on desktop, the site must be mobile optimized for a chance to be seen on desktops.
Don’t forget the community curation element from above, though. This still plays an important part, so ensure there is a good user experience on mobile.
Key takeaway: Mobile is foundational for Search Engine Optimization in 2019.
Some Important Notes About Google
As referenced above, the reason I’m focused on Google here is because of the dominance they hold in the search market. Reports vary, but as of October 2018, Net Market Share’s numbers are Google with 72% of desktop traffic, Bing with 8%, and Yahoo! with 4% are relatively consistent with other reports. Mobile is even more dramatic, with Google managing 80% of mobile search, Bing and Yahoo! each with 1%.
(Baidu is a Chinese search engine and is not considered here.)
It is estimated that over 3.5 billion searches are handled by Google every day around the world. To ignore their dominance or their influence on getting your business’ website in front of potential clients is at your own risk.
Evaluation For This Report
I’ve tried to lay out above an easy-to-understand framework for SEO – what it is, how it works, and fundamental considerations. The truth is, there are many, many details that play into all this, especially as we are dealing with both search engines running confidential, proprietary algorithms that are constantly updated, as well as complex human beings who influence and are influenced by the very searches and clicks they make.
Rather than rely on personal opinion, I have run our list of over 300 websites for vendors in this Learning Technology space through three recognized expert tools to measure the sites.
Google Mobile Speed Test
As they state on the home page, “Most sites lose half their visitors while loading.” So while you may have done all other things right, people won’t wait. You have competition, and people will go there if your site doesn’t load quickly. Especially for a technology solution, if your site won’t load quickly, the implied message is that your technology won’t work efficiently. You’ve just lost a potential customer. As explained above, Google is using your mobile search qualifications to determine the desktop qualifications. This is a most critical consideration for your website. Google has segmented this into:
• Loading time on 3G networks, in seconds
• Loading time on 3G (comparative Poor/ Fair/ Good/ Excellent)
• Estimated visitor loss due to slow loading time
In 2004, SEOmoz “started as a blog and an online community where some of the world’s first SEO experts shared their research and ideas.” Now known as “Moz,” it continues to be one of the authoritative voices around SEO and evaluating website authority. I have prioritized MozRank, as it encapsulates the impact of many individual elements that work together to create “authority” on the web.
MozRank: “Pages earn MozRank based on the other pages on the web that link to them and the MozRank of those linking pages.” So, for example, if multiple researchers all reference the same research study, that research study would rank highly as being authoritative. A higher number is better. Note: the score is averaged over the entire site, so underperforming pages can bring an average down. [This is why more pages can be helpful from Google’s perspective, if they contain valuable content and inbound links.]
Alexa rankings estimates unique visitors and page views over a 3 month period to determine “popularity.” While there are shortcomings with the ratings, as we are consistently using this as a recognized, standardized, and relative measure among the over 300 sites evaluated, it remains, I suggest, a good source for our rankings here.
• Unique Visitors: This measures how well the site is attracting new visitors each day. Multiple visits to a page on the same day by the same person do not count as “unique.” SEO in general is trying to attract new people to the site based on quality content. Unique Visitors here can include repeat visitors and traffic from paid or direct sources, meaning, ads, links, and someone typing in the full URL into the search bar.
• Page Views: If people look at multiple pages on a website, it suggests that there is quality content there – part of that community curation – and so visitors will look at more pages. In Google Analytics, a key metric is time on site. Here, that number, time, seems to be subsumed into the number of pages viewed.
For the SEO portion, we are weighting Alexa rank most, as that reflects actual rankings and traffic. After that the Moz rank, then Google Webmaster Tools -Mobile ranking.
Thus, we bring to you the top 10 LMS websites for SEO 2019.
7. ProProfs LMS
11. Litmos LMS
13. iSpring Learn
17. 360Learning LMS
These reviews were conducted in April 2018. With website changes and algorithm changes during the intervening months, sites may be primed to appear at the top of our list next year. Because of the time involved in preparing these analyses, we can only commit to complete them once a year. If this chapter got you thinking, well, there’s still time to improve your site for next year’s consideration!
For the complete list of the top LMS Websites and many more tips and tricks for building great websites, download the ebook now.
About the Author
Lynne McNamee is the president of Lone Armadillo Marketing Agency. She has managed marketing campaigns for companies such as Avis, HP, and Bank of America, and has been the Marketing Director for service and software solutions in the Learning, Talent, and Human Capital Management fields. Lone Armadillo focuses on helping companies solve business problems leveraging digital and strategic marketing. This includes business KPIs, such as increased leads, decreased CPA and improved LVC, as well as supporting internal L&D departments to address performance gaps, improve engagement and support data reporting. She has been a HubSpot partner since 2011. She was cited by the New York Times for innovations in marketing.