Top search engine positions are the prime real estate of the digital world. Design studios with top organic (non-paid) Google search positions get the digital equivalent of the foot traffic that one secures from having a Park Avenue retail space.

The big question for businesses is what can be done to get one of these top positions?

The only way to precisely know what it takes is to be able to look at Google’s well-hidden secret- its search algorithm. This complicated mathematical formula includes over 200 ranking factors and weighs them based on what they deem to be most important.

Essentially, Google and other search engines want to refer the best pages to their users. To achieve this, they look for the most reputable and useful content. One such way that this is signaled is by how many links the site/page has from reputable sources. Thus, a mention in Interior Design Magazine will be of more value than if your neighbor mentions you in her low-traffic design blog.

Google is continuously changing its algorithm, averaging one change every day or two, and thus Search Engine Optimizers are always watching fluctuations in search results and attempting to find correlations. SEO tools help us determine this, as well as surveys shared amongst SEOs.

In addition to finding correlations between specific ranking factors and positions, we also carefully watch the patents that Google files. These public documents often reveal some of their most recent additions to determining the worth of web pages.

Finally, we listen to the words of Google. They have a front-facing team that is active on webinars, Google Hangouts, public speaking, and blogging, and all of these contain clarifying information. They answer our questions and dispel myths that arise from correlative relationships.

Now that we understand how many ranking factors there are in Google’s search algorithm (200+), the frequency of change (almost daily), and how us pro SEOs attempt to track and understand these changes, we can bring our attention to the actual ranking factors.

According to Backlinko, these are the major categories of ranking factors (with links to the categories within their list of 210 tracked factors):

According to the SEO authorities at Moz, these are the most important ranking factors by category:

1. Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.) 27.94%
2. On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.) 26.03%
3. Behavioral Signals (Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.) 11.5%
4. Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.) 8.85%
5. Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.) 8.41%
6. Personalization 7.32%
7. Review Signals (Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) 6.47%
8. Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.) 3.47%

Note how this shows that SEO has to be holistic. SEO is no longer just about tags and backlinks- although both are still immensely important.

According to Search Engine Journal, these are some takeaways on what actions to take based on analysis of ranking factors:

1. Publish High-Quality Content
2. Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly
3. Create a Secure Website (HTTPS)
4. Improve Your User Experience
5. Optimize Your Page Speed
6. Master Your On-Page Optimization
7. Earn Relevant & Authoritative Backlinks

SEO has become a complex specialty with many sub-specialties within it. Expecting your web designer to support you in SEO would be as unreasonable as an interior design client of yours expecting you to also do structural engineering calculations.

Rather than thinking of SEO as an action, it makes more sense to see it as a lens through which you view your marketing activities. With the properly lens (and technical knowledge), one can understand how to optimize their website, their blogs, their copywriting, their images, and more.

When we onboard new SEO clients at my agency Client Expander, we go through over 55 steps in our 1-3 month long onboarding process to ensure that their design studio websites are optimized. That is just the beginning. To get strong search positions, especially in competitive markets, a site needs regular optimization activities- this could be fresh on-site content (like blogs) or off-site content (like mentions and backlinks).

Therefore, in competitive markets, one should expect that the path to attaining SEO success is to hire a pro SEO/marketing agency and that the investment will be a long-term one.

Keep in mind that SEO is a big undertaking. Major US cities will have several thousand active designers and just ten results on the first page of Google search. Half of those slots are probably taken by major websites such as Houzz, Yelp, and HomeAdvisor- which is why we also value optimizing within those sites, such as with Houzz optimization.

Being a zero-sum game, you’ll need to overpower someone above you in search position to claim that spot for yourself. There is only room for one site at the top, and that site gets the lion’s share of traffic. (Often Houzz- which is why the first position within Houzz’ pro directory is a fruitful position to hold).

For SEO success, step forward fully and allocate enough time and resources to achieve your aims. Avoid the inclination to hire that “SEO company” that sent you an email promising you the world for $500/month. Don’t get confused that the “SEO friendly” website that you invested in is a substitute for a complete SEO effort. Don’t expect that your design assistant can take care of all of your marketing needs in her downtime. Understand that even an in-house marketing assistant would benefit from regular support from an SEO agency or consultant.

EDUCATION

If you don’t have the resources for a marketing investment or if you want to be a better-informed buyer of SEO services, this is a great place to gain basic SEO knowledge:
The Beginner's Guide to SEO (by Moz)

PROVIDERS

If you are looking to hire a reputable SEO agency to lead the process for you, there are several approaches:

Design Industry SEO

You can look for one, such as my agency Client Expander, that specializes in your industry. By sticking with an agency in your industry, you’ll get the benefits of us understanding your business, clientele, and the unique landscape of design marketing. You’ll get the benefit of having your agency already understand the landscape- Houzz, Dering Hall, Elle Decor, design blogs, etc.- and thus you’ll get off to a quicker start based on the successes of past and current design studio marketing campaigns. Just don’t get tricked by some of the marketing factory companies that pretend to be specialized in the design industry while they serve everyone.

Local SEO

A leading SEO agency in your city is another option. If you pursue this option, make sure to ask them how they can leverage their local presence to secure you more backlinks (links from other sites to yours). Being local, you can meet them in person, they can coach your team in your office, and they can help connect you to local content creators (bloggers, photographers, etc.). Just make sure they aren’t just located near you, but that they specialize in local businesses. (A local agency that mainly deals with national brands might not have the local business specialization that you need).

General SEO Providers

Finally, you can turn to national SEO agencies. Moz has carefully curated a list of reputable providers here. While many of these providers have monthly campaign minimums of $25k+, a few offer lower minimums. Just make sure that you find one that can provide you with all that you need while staying on your budget. They should be sensitive to your ROI.

Any sophisticated provider should be able to help you find a strategy that will deliver a solid return on your investment. Marketing shouldn’t cost you money; it should make you money.

If search engine success is not a reasonable goal for you, you might consider Google Search Ads and/or Houzz Optimization. A chat with a knowledgeable design industry marketing consultant should be able to help you identify where to invest your time and money best.


Ken Lewis | Managing Partner, Client Expander

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About the Author

This blog was written by Ken Lewis | Managing Partner, Client Expander, a marketing agency exclusively focused on the design industry.

Ken and his team have been marketing providers for Studio Designer since 2013.

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