One of the questions I hear most frequently is: “How do I get my website listed at the top of Google?”
The value of top search engine rankings is a no-brainer for any company which benefits from search traffic. I hope by addressing some fundamental principles you’ll have a better understanding of how to make your site perform better in search results. This process is referred to as search engine optimization, or SEO.
All of the elements included below are things you should be able to modify yourself with a basic website editing program (I like Adobe Contribute), without having to get a web developer or programmer involved. It’s important to remember, too, that this article is titled “The Basics” for good reason; there are many other known elements that contribute to search engine rankings which are more complex and technical to approach (I’ll address them in future articles), so be sure you keep realistic expectations.
How Search Engines Work
All search engines have their own mathematical algorithm which defines a value for each element of your site to arrive at how closely your website matches any given search that someone runs. For example, one search engine may give a higher value to the heading of the page, while another will give a higher value to the page title. Unfortunately, we don’t know all of the elements that search engines consider in their algorithm or what value they place on each element; these are closely guarded trade secrets.
Search engines use computer programs referred to as “spiders” which constantly “crawl” through your website and across the Internet. The more “spider food” you can offer to the spiders, the more they’ll like your site and the more information they’ll have to accurately index and rank your website.
A Word of Caution
Two things are very important to consider before you go too nuts trying to achieve a top ranking:
1) Search engines are smart. Don’t attempt to fool them by trying to exploit a known ranking element. Search engines catch wise in a hurry and abuse will lead to your site being dropped like a bad habit. I’ve literally seen companies ruined overnight this way.
2) Remember that websites are designed for people, not for search engines. It’s easy to get zealous in your attempts to better your ranking, only to decrease your sales conversions because your website is so user-unfriendly.
It’s All About Keywords
As you’ll read below, the common elements of basic search engine optimization are keyword consistency and prevalence throughout your site and individual pages. Choosing your keywords and phrases is very important, and should not be approached haphazardly. The SEO-conscious entrepreneur should start each project with keyword research, which will guide the rest of the site development process.
As search engines have gotten better and better at reading websites to decide how to index them in the search results, content elements of the site have become very important to the overall optimization success of the site (content=extra tasty spider food). That’s why identifying and utilizing your top keywords throughout your content and other SEO elements is so important.
Keyword research is an extensive subject, and will be approached in greater depth in future articles.
Search Engine Optimization Basics
Alright, let’s look at some basic elements that will impact your search ranking, in no particular order.
Your domain name is your www.whatever.com. Search engines have gotten good at reading these, so it’s important that they contain keywords pertaining to your product or service. For example, www.DMCS.com means nothing to a search engine, whereas www.PrivateScubaLessons.com is illustrative of a well-chosen domain name. (Rock on, @ScubaDivaLaura!)
The page name is the actual file name of each webpage of your site, which trails the domain name. On a static site, it might be www.domain-name.com/this-is-your-page-name.htm. This is another place to be sure the name contains keywords that pertain to your page. A bad example would be “products.htm”, whereas a good example would be “cheap-golf-swing-training-products.htm”.
The page title is what shows up at the very top of your Internet browser window, above the address bar. It should be unique on each page, pertain to the content of each page, and try to pull-in some keywords to match the other elements of your site/page. Something nondescript like”About Us” won’t help your ranking.
It’s important to understand that a “headline” to a person is not necessarily a “heading” to the search engines. Just because it’s big and bold and at the top of your page doesn’t mean the search engines will recognize it as a true heading. Search engines look for the content contained between heading tags in the code, such as <h1> or <h2>, to determine which chunk of content is the primary heading, the secondary heading, and so on. Most website editors will automatically insert the correct code tag when you use the text formatting options in the editor, often found in a drop-down menu.
Headlines currently seem to be given considerable value in primary search engine algorithms and should be chosen carefully. Imagine for a moment, that the only element you could assess a webpage with is the headline: “Welcome To Our Website” wouldn’t tell you anything, but “5 Tips for Reading Faster” would tell you exactly what you’d expect to find on that site.
Sub-headlines give you another opportunity to tell a person or search engine what they’ll find on that page. You can be a little bit more lengthy with your sub-headlines, but don’t go overboard writing a full paragraph in Heading 2 or Heading 3 format thinking you’re doing yourself a favor.
As I mentioned above, search engines have gotten very good at reading content and assessing for themselves what the page is offering. Be direct about what you offer and sprinkle keywords (tasty spider food) throughout, but remember that it must read well to a person, not just to a search engine.
This is easier said than done. One of the most common failures I see online now, is someone who tried to “keyword pack” their website content to the point that it reads like a broken record, usually something like:
“Welcome to Cheap Tropical Cruises, your source for cheap tropical cruises. Are you looking for a cheap tropical cruise? You’re in luck, we offer cheap tropical cruises, so call us to book your cheap tropical cruise today so you can go take a cheap tropical cruise!”
Yeah, you get the idea. Don’t be that person.
Anchor text is the term given to written content that is also a link. For example, these linked words in blue are anchor text: Elegant Website Design Portfolio. Understandably, when a search engine reads anchor text, it expects to find what the words are describing on the page being linked to. Wouldn’t you? Be sure you’re linking the keywords in the phrase for the benefit of the search engine, even if the user might be perfectly capable of clicking something less prominent. If you say “Click here to learn more about our water rights mediation services” and only link the “click here” you’re missing a golden opportunity; linking the keyword phrase “water rights mediation services” will be seen much more favorably by the search engines.
Image File Names
Keeping with our theme of treating each element of your website as a description of the content represented by keywords, image names should not be overlooked. While a person will see and understand what an image is showing, all the search engine sees is an image file named “DSC13285.jpg”, which doesn’t tell it anything. Name your images thoughtfully, like “remote-car-starter.jpg” or “junior-golf-swing-coach.jpg” instead.
Image Alt Tags
Any decent website editing program should allow you to add an alternate tag to the image when you insert or edit it. The “alt” tag is the text that displays if the image is not available. This tag facilitates visually-impaired people to use your website (which by itself should help your ranking), and it also adds another element that the search engines understand. The tag should be descriptive of the image as well as incorporating your keywords. For example, “The x-model small day hiking backpack for women”.
I hope this gives you some tangible tips as well as some philosophical insight for search engine optimization. Please leave comments and questions below!!!