Are you tired of seeing your competitors hit #1 on Google, while your website languishes on page 2, 3 or nowhere at all? Or, are you paying for pay-per-click advertising to compensate for this, yet getting none of the desirable traffic you need? Good news: Google isn’t random, nor has it been paid off by your competitors through some sneaky back-room deal.
Google’s methodology for determining website rankings (also known as Google’s “algorithm”) is made up of several factors – factors which are, in fact, constantly being tweaked. Why is this? There are millions of websites trying to rank, and some of the SEO (search engine optimization) firms who are hired to get their clients’ sites ranking don’t hesitate to use sneaky tactics.
For example, a few years ago, Google determined a page’s ranking for a given keyword phrase such as “real estate” based on the number of times that key phrase appeared in the text of the page. Rather than create quality content about the subject of real estate, these SEO firms would add the phrase “real estate”, over and over again, repeated on the page, in a text colour that matched the background so that a human reader wouldn’t notice it, while at the same time, it would fool the search engine’s robotic reader into thinking there was lots of content about real estate on that page. Of course, Google soon got smart, and punished those sites by dropping their rankings when it discovered the trick.
In the SEO world, these are called “Black Hat” techniques, because people know they are wrong, and take advantage of some loophole in Google’s algorithm. The problem is, they are generally temporary, and often result in a website’s being penalized by Google in the end. The good news is, there are also “White Hat” techniques that, while they take a little more work, have lasting, enduring effects on gaining positive rankings. Here are some of the key principles of good white hat techniques.
1. Lots of content in text form. Write regularly about your area of expertise, and add this content in text form to your website, preferably in a blog. Blogs should be 400 – 1000 words, and contain key words and phrases that people are likely to be searching for. This will build you a treasure trove of information, and Google will see that your site knows a great deal about your subject area. (With good research, you can also find out what your competition is ranking on, which will help you choose your content direction.)
2. Label your content. The title and description you use for your content are important. If you use WordPress to create your blog (an open source platform that can be plugged in as a page to an existing website), then the program will ask you for a title for your blog. Now, if your blog’s title exactly or closely matches a commonly used keyword phrase, your blog post may actually rank on that keyword phrase. For example, if your blog is titled “How to Market a Small Business” it will probably generate many more hits than “Strategic Principles of Small Business Marketing.” Google has a keyword search tool that will allow you to input your keywords – and it will shoot back a long list of related variations of your keyword phrase. These variations show the amount of traffic on each phrase and the level of competition for that key phrase. (For accuracy, you may also wish to select which country you are in, to localize for country-specific dialects). Ideally, you want a phrase with lots of traffic, and little competition. You can also use this tool to get ideas for new blog posts!
3. Release your content. Now, imagine you’ve just written a really helpful blog post – wouldn’t it be a shame if nobody ever knew it was there? If you’ve got a good label, people searching for that content WILL find your blog. But, the next step is to take advantage of social media. Write a short post on Facebook and Twitter and use a grabbing headline such as, “Easy marketing tips for your small business.” Then paste in the link to your site. This will let people know the content is there. While on Facebook, this content will only reach your friends or fans, on Twitter there is much more potential. Even if you only have a few fans, you can include a “hashtag” – this means a “#” before your keyword, for example #marketing or #smallbusiness – so that people who are following streams of keywords on a given subject will see your content on that subject, and then check out what you have to say. You can also search for good hashtag ideas; your city hashtag, which generally corresponds to the airport code (calgary is #yyc) may attract the attention of Calgary media who are trolling Twitter for local stories.
4. Build good back links. If people from around the world are checking our your content through Twitter, will they really become clients? Maybe not, but the fact they are visiting, and potentially making a link to your site will help. This is due to “back links” – another important Google metric. When websites first came out, a lot of people put a “links” page on the site, which linked the user out to dozens or hundreds of other places they could go for more information. This really had no positive effect on the site’s ranking. What DOES help the ranking is the number of sites linking BACK to you. These are like “votes” from other sources saying, “This site contains something worth looking at.” The more sites that link back to you, the higher Google will perceive your site’s value, and the higher it will rank you. Now, back links can be generated in many ways. There are thousands of generic “directory” sites where you can list your website for free – and this is usually what SEO companies do – send out an automatic listing to these free directories, which link back to your site. That part is easy, and something any SEO can do for a client’s site within a couple of hours. But to really secure good rankings, you need to get QUALITY back links. For example, did your company appear in the media recently? You many already have a link back from their site. Of if you wrote an article they ran, you should ensure they include the back link as a stipulation of providing the article. Or, do you have an association, or government department? Getting live links from from .gov, .org and .edu websites greatly enhance your Google rankings. Sites such as PRWeb and Canada Newswire will also release your content, and give you ongoing, powerful back links.
5. Your website’s optimization. The structure of your website is very important to its ability to rank. Some sites contain mostly images, lots of flash, and very little pure text. Remember that text is the most important factor, and should not be embedded into images. Ensure the pages within your site are optimized separately according to the content that appears within each page (for example, if you distribute several branded products, give each one a page and label it “BRANDNAME” in “YOURCITY” – matching the key phrases on which people are searching. Finally, content such as video and photographs can also help you if you have them tagged appropriately – label your images with descriptive keywords (for example, an image of an ice cream cone is titled icecreamcone.jpg instead of image1112.jpg), likewise with videos – title, and tag!
The good news is that 1) Google is not random 2) It is not illogical, and 3) It is not expensive to rank well. It just takes knowledge, and persistence. At Tenato, we can assist you in strategizing your decisions on which areas you wish to rank, help you develop excellent content, and drive the right kind of business, helping you rank well on Google in a sustainable, consistent fashion.
Would you like to know more? Contact us to have a chat.