Why do we prefer one search engine – Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc. – over another? Because it does the best job of finding what we’re looking for in the least amount of time and with the fewest tries. Search-engine companies know that, of course – their reputations and advertising revenues depend on it – so they invest enormous amounts of time and energy into developing methods – called “algorithms” – to find the most likely candidates to satisfy a user’s search request.
How do they do it? Well, how would YOU do it?
You’d look for keywords – surely if a user is searching for jewelry, you’d expect a candidate site to be laden with references to jewelry or to its subcategories, such as rings, necklaces, broaches, bracelets, wouldn’t you? Or perhaps you’d suss out connections to famous designers: Tiffany, Lynn Vallencourt, Harry Winston, Piaget, to cite but a handful.
And of the gazillion jewelry websites on the web, which are most likely to be of interest? You’d follow the crowd. Which sites get the most hits? Who’s talking about them? Where are they talking about them? How many Tweets, Likes, Pins, back-links? And who’s doing the Tweeting, Liking, Pinning, and back-linking? Friends and relatives? Or reputable third parties?
And what crowds would you follow? If you know anything about the inquirer – and if you’re a big search-engine company, chances are that you do – you’d narrow the search accordingly. A link-back from deviantART may imply something different than one from CafeMom. And if the link-back or “Like” is from Facebook, there’s an excellent chance the search-engine company knows a thing or two about the “Liker” as well.
You’d also look for trends: does a site have a small but growing following, a harbinger of a Next Big Thing, or is it big but with a flat-lining or declining following, indicating a mature or once-was status?
So now that we know a bit about how search engines sift the web, then we also know – or easily can guess – that the secret to getting the most hits and the highest rankings for our web sites is to make it as easy as possible for the search engines to find us and figure out who we are and what we’re about.
But first a word of caution: some of the biggest brains in the world are employed to make search engines ever smarter and more sophisticated, and they’re doing a heck of a job. So if you think you’re going to fool Google by creating a slew of dummy websites and blogs then strewing them with praises for and links back to your main site – the oldest and sleaziest trick in the book – think again. All you’ll get for your trouble is a ticket to the bottom of the heap.
The three best ways to help your website are (1) to carefully think through your site’s structure, organization, content, and links so as to leave no doubt about who you are and what you do, (2) to ensure you have really good content on it, and (3) to establish yourself as a legitimate authority or player in your business or area of expertise.
The first objective, often called “In-Page Optimization,” involves making intelligent use of title tags, headings, labels, images, meta-tags, and so on. Keyword densities are important too – they should neither be too thick nor to thin. If you endlessly repeat your name or products, the search engines can’t find you. If you don’t leave enough of a footprint or aren’t consistent in your keywords, you make yourself too difficult find or decipher.
The second objective – high-quality content – means just what it says. “Content is King,” as the saying goes.
Now, “content” can include a range of objects – articles, blog posts, images, links to great (and relevant!) sites, graphs and graphics, videos, and so on and so on. The main things are that is has to be good, and is has to be fresh. Google, et al, spots lazy copycats a hundred miles away, and frowns. And when you get good content, syndicate it.
The third objective – credibility, in a word – means putting yourself out there in the real, as well as cyber, world. You earn the right to sow the web with links back to your site through regular, informed, serious participation in forums, blogs, seminars, shows, professional societies, civic leagues, artisan guilds, debates, NGOs, volunteer associations, and the like. You have to network the network, so to speak. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular or if everyone agrees with you; what matters is that others take you seriously enough to write, blog, or Tweet about you. (Though being liked doesn’t hurt.)
No doubt about it, Search Engine Optimization takes a lot of effort and time, but what worthwhile thing doesn’t? Just go about it with a dollop of intelligence and a heaping portion of integrity, and you’ll be happily surprised by the results.