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At the Top of Google

Search Engine OptimizationI haven't met two small business owners in a meeting where one doesn't ask how to get his or her site to the top of the Google search results list. There are transparent reasons for wanting to be first: you get more clicks, your business seems important, clicks convert into business, and your Internet traffic can skyrocket. What's the magic formula for getting to the top?

There is no magic formula
Disappointing as it is, there is no single solution to move your site's rank to #1 in Google. Now that you're over that impractical wish, let's find out how you can increase your page rank and stay away from what will get your Web site tossed from consideration.

Optimize your Web site
Sometimes called SEO, Search Engine Optimization (or SEM, Search Engine Marketing are related but not the same), is a marketing tool more than it is a technology process (so put it in your advertising budget). People type queries (search terms) into search engines and Google delivers results. If your site is optimized for your key product or service, then why isn't it at the top of the results? Common problem: your site hasn't been optimized and search engines cannot find it. You want examples?
  • Too many site links: if you link to a hundred other pages, search engines may not follow the links.
  • Too deep links: is your good stuff more than 3 clicks from your site's home page? Those pages might be ignored by search engines.
  • Is your page accessible only by a drop-down list or a search both or from a submit button? They'll probably be ignored.
Text Rules
Use more text. In fact, use content-rich text. If your site is filled with photos or graphics of titles, replace some of that with plain old text. Some old ways of doing things are really better.
  • Use the <h1> tag to include your best keywords near the top of the page above a lot of code.
  • Sure, use those meta tags, but content-rich text is as good or better.
Link to, Link from
Get links from other sites that help you; give links in return. Be selective in giving and getting links and don't give one if you don't get one! Page rank is determined in part by the value of links pointing to the page. All links are not equal. A site that sells high-end wrapping paper might seek a link from because that's where many potential customers browse. Where are your customers visiting online?
  • The more popular sites that link to yours, the higher the value of their links to you and your page rank increases.
  • A link from a site popular within a particular community also adds value to the link (to your site).
  • The content-rich text of the link itself matters more than you know. Be prepared to send the complete link text you want from the linker. "ABC Company sells high quality cigar humidors" is a thousand times better than "Click here."
  • Visit the fan forums of the community you sell to and (a) tell them you're with so-and-so company and then ask if they've seen this new product and come back to answer the questions you invite. Humanize your business, get links, target your customers where they already are visiting. (Then check your stats to see if they clicked your links; you'll be surprised.) Which brings us to:
Stats stats stats - Read your site stats regularly.
  • Find the terms used by searchers to find your site.
  • Make sure to incorporate those terms into your site text – that's part of what makes it content-rich.
  • Hire someone reputable to do a keyword search for your industry.
  • Find out which sites your visitors are coming from and advertise or participate on those sites.
Pay to play
Google AdwordsPaid placement in search engine results may be your fastest result score. There's nothing wrong with advertising online and paid links get clicks (they just cost money per click - read more at Wikipedia).
  • In addition to showing results for a query (called 'organic' results, which get you the biggest number of clicks), search engines also display sponsored links (Google Adwords is one example; Adwords blog is here). Buying a sponsored link can push your site to the front page, in Google's right column (if you pay for it).
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) is a standard method of purchasing ads on search engines. You pay when your ad is clicked. Positioning is based on how much you pay. [PPC article - PDF]
The good news is that there are plenty of SEO firms to help with your site's optimization. The bad news is that there are plenty... How do you choose a quality firm that delivers results? Things to look for:
  1. Are they members of SEMPO, a professional organization for the search engine marketing industry? (+2)
  2. Do they promise that it's easy and they can submit your site to hundreds of search engines in a short time? (-1)
  3. Do they provide a free site analysis with a report of your site's strong and weak points? (+2)
  4. Does their promise "guarantee" that your site will be on Google's first results page? (-3)
  5. Do they offer before and after comparisons of real sites? (+2)
  6. Are they trying to 'partner' with you forever (-3) or for a limited time, say, 6 months to a year? (+4)
  7. Were you asked if you wanted a regional or national campaign? (+2)
(Of course, the points above don't matter.)

Many factors influence what your site's rank will be in any search engine result but one thing is becoming clearer: if you want to be at the top of Google's search results, you're going to have to do some scientific as well as aesthetic work to your Web site with the guidance of experts in the field. If you're the IT Manager, remind the budgeting people that SEO and SEM are marketing expenses!

Tags: advertising, adwords, content, google, links, search-engine-optimization, seo, statistics