SEO is a huge mystery to many, many people. What is this black magic that causes one site to be ranked as the very first selection on Google while others are ranking on the second, third, or even fifth page? What makes the difference between the SEO “winners” and those taking up the other spots?
Those are fairly common SEO questions. Perhaps one of the best ways to look at this is to actually take a look at two sites that are ranking in Google – one on the first page and one on the second page.
What makes these sites different? What makes them unique? Those are the questions we hope to answer here.
First off, let’s take the sites. In order to do this, I’m going to pick a particular industry in a particular location. For this example, we’ll look for Plumbers based in Fort Collins, CO.
When you search for “Plumbers in Fort Collins” (at the time of writing), there is a clear winner in the number one spot. It belongs to Allen Service.
Under that are several sites in following positions, but to do a real comparison, let’s take a look at one on the second page. For the sake of this example, we’re going to be looking at Lind’s Plumbing and Heating.
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I have no affiliation with either of these companies. I cannot recommend them as I have not done business with either of them. I simply picked two companies at random to evaluate their SEO. All the analysis is based on publicly available information.
These are the two sites we’re going to look at in our example. There are dozens of things we could look at for SEO, but we’re going to highlight a few of the most important ones.
One of the first things we look at when doing a full SEO audit is the number of pages on the site. You don’t necessarily need hundreds or thousands of pages, but you do want pages for each of the major keywords that you are targeting.
Allen Service does this very well. The currently have 87 pages of content on their site, many of them highly geographically targeted to the Fort Collins and surrounding areas. Some examples of these include:
There are dozens of other pages like these that are targeted around particular search terms. Each of these pages has 300-400 words of content to ensure that the content isn’t too “thin”.
Compare this with Lind’s plumbing and heating. In total they have eight pages indexed by Google. Their chances of ranking are far, far lower simply because they have fewer pages to rank.
Keywords in URL:
An important ranking factor for pages is also the URL. Your URL should contain the keywords you are targeting. This tells Google what the page is about and is a major factor in ranking well.
Again, Allen Services does this extremely well. Their URLs include the exact keywords they are targeting. Take the three pages we just listed above:
Compare this to the Linds Plumbing site:
Linds only has one word URLs. And the words aren’t incredibly descriptive. What are they trying to communicate? They don’t contain a location, and they don’t even contain the services (plumbing and heating) offered by the company! This is a huge opportunity.
Titles for SEO:
Titles are a great way to inform Google what the page is about. Your titles should match the keywords you’re trying to rank for and should also match the keywords you put in your URL. Afterall, Google is trying to determine what the page is really about and using proper titles and keywords is a great place to start.
At Allen Service, their titles are descriptive of what the page is about.
Titles for Allen Service include things such as:
- Heating Repair & Plumbing Fort Collins Colorado | Best Furnace Repair & Plumbers in Fort Collins, CO
- Wellington Colorado Same Day Plumbing | Colorado Emergency Plumber | Allen Service
- AC Repair in Wellington CO | Air Conditioner Repair Company Wellington
These titles in fact may be a little too optimized, but they are effective. Now compare this to Lind’s Plumbing and Heating. Their titles include:
- Lind’s Plumbing & Heating, Inc.
- Lind’s Plumbing & Heating, Inc.
- Lind’s Plumbing & Heating, Inc.
And no, that isn’t a typo. All of their web pages have exactly the same title. This is a huge missed opportunity. Each page should have a unique title describing what it is about. This is good for both the user and for search engines.
A link allows you to visit a specific page without typing the URL in the browser. Links are powerful tools in any SEO strategy. Often, many SEO guides compare them to “votes of confidence” in our website. The more votes the have, the more credibility your site has.
Often SEOs focus heavily on inbound links (links from other sites to your site). While this certainly matters, we don’t want to forget about our own internal linking structure. Internal linking is a way for Google to determine what pages are important on our own site. It’s how we tell Google what the main pages are and which should be treated as most important.
Comparing the two sites, we see vastly different internal linking structures.
In the website footer, Allen Service has a full bank of links out to all of their relevant pages. Just check out all of the internal linking that’s going on here:
Each of those bullet points is a link to a specific page targeted as a specific industry need. That’s powerful internal linking.
Now, compare that to the Lind’s site:
Besides the main navigation on the site, there are virtually no additional internal links on the page (part of this is likely because there are not that many pages anyway).
The nice thing about your internal linking, is that you have complete control over it from start to finish. You don’t need someone to give you the links, you can change them up yourself.
In this case Allen Services wins by a landslide. Solid internal linking structure. Lind’s doesn’t have very good internal linking – likely because the site contains so few pages.
Now let’s look at External Linking. In this case, we’re looking at links into the site from other high authority sites. We’re going to be using the Moz Open Site Explorer to pull link data on these two domains. Unfortunately, measuring external links often requires a paid tool. If you don’t want to pay for a tool, you can get access to many of your links via Google Search Console. However Search Console doesn’t allow you to analyze your competitors’ sites – only your own.
Since I have no affiliation with either of these, I’ll be using Open Site Explorer.
- Linking Root Domains: 25
- Total Links: 57
The types of links here are varied, but include:
- Directory listings
- Review Sites
- A sponsorship they did for a local radio station around 2013
- Article directories
- Miscellaneous spun article content
Overall none of these links are very difficult to acquire (with the potential exception of the sponsorship). And we don’t necessarily recommend directory linking, but it can be a small part of a well rounded SEO strategy.
- Linking Root Domains: 5
- Total Links: 8
The types of links here include:
- Articles about plumbing (seem to be legitimate news articles)
- One review site
- An event sponsorship
All of the links to Lind’s appear completely natural and it doesn’t appear they’ve done any link building in the past.
One of the metrics we can use to show authority of sites is domain authority. This is calculated by Moz and is designed to reflect Google’s listing of domain authority.
In our case, Allen Services has a domain authority of 26 while Lind’s has a domain authority of 15 – a difference of 11 points. It’s also important to note that the score is logarithmic, not linear (click here to read more on how Moz calculates their metrics).
Allen Service wins here.
In addition to looking at the number of pages, it’s also helpful for us to look at the number of words on each page. There is a good bit of research that suggests have as much as 2,500(!) words per page is typically where the top pages rank on Google. For our two examples, we took an average of the total word count for all live pages.
Allen Service Average Word Count: 512
Linds Plumbing Average Word Count: 848
On a strict average, Linds wins this example. That said, because they have so few pages, the content they do have is still fairly sparse compared with Allen Service. Plus, the content isn’t keyword optimized. Their case studies are useful to potential customers, but they aren’t structured to capture traffic from search.
In strict numbers, Lind’s wins this round. That said, as part of an overall content strategy. Allen Service does far better.
Although this isn’t easy to measure quantitatively, it’s still an important factor. What is the experience for the user when he or she arrives on the page? Is it easy to find what they are looking for? Is the site easy to navigate?
These questions are important. If they were sites under our control, we could use a handful of tools to measure engagement and see how people are interacting with these sites. Since we don’t have those tools available, we’ll have to do a more qualitative assessment.
The first category we can look at is website mobile friendliness. We want to ensure that we can get the information we need (as a customer) as quickly as possible on a mobile device.
Both of these sites are mobile friendly. The Lind’s Plumbing site is responsive, meaning they automatically adjust their sizes and layouts to fit on a cell phone or other mobile device screen. Allen Service uses a separate mobile site. In this case, we’ll call it a tie.
User Needs/Calls to Action
Our next question is whether the site solves the needs of the visitor. A typical visitor to one of these websites is looking to answer three questions:
- What do you do?
- Do I trust you?
- How do I get ahold of you?
How do each of these sites answer this question?
Allen Services does this well. They have very clear call to actions on the website. The phone number is placed clearly in the top right hand corner of the website. The user is immediately presented with three buttons. Two of them lead to schedule services pages while one leads to a general contact us page.
Their call-to-action is clear. Further down the page they also have buttons highlighting other calls to action visitors may be interested in – careers and financing options.
Now let’s take a look at Lind’s Plumbing and Heating.
The only call to action visible “above the fold” is the employment application button. There is no call-to-action for the general user. There is no phone number listed on the top half of the page. In order to get in touch with them, you need to either click on the “Contact” button on the menu or scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.
All of these tasks create friction for the end user and reduce the overall conversion rate for the site.
On Page SEO Factors:
Looking more deeply into the pages, we see that Allen Service has H1 and H2 tags (these are the headings on the pages) that match closely with the topic of the page. For example, take this page. The Title is focused on Johnstown AC repair. The H1 tags throughout the page have similar information that revolve around “Johnstown AC Repair”.
Compare this to the unfocused tags on Lind’s site. The H1 title is “educational”. But educational what? A much better H1 may be something like “Plumbing and Heating Services for Educational Facilities”. It’s much more descriptive. It allows us to really understand what the page is about. And it tells the search engine what the page is about.
There are dozens of other on-page SEO factors we can investigate – from keyword density to links out to authority sites. We won’t break them all down here, but this at least shows us where we can start making improvements.
As you can see, building a website isn’t enough. It takes a tight, focused effort to improve a site’s SEO. Everything from internal linking, external linking, and on-page factors play a role in ensuring that the site is optimized to rank and drive real conversions.
After reviewing this article, you also have a checklist you can use to look at your own website. How well are you ranking for major keywords in your industry? What are your competitors doing differently than you are doing? Why are they so much better at SEO?
If you’d like us to sit down and do a basic SEO audit for free, please reach out to us. We’re passionate about helping companies capture the maximum number of leads and traffic possible.
Interesting in Finding Out More? Let’s talk!