When I’m developing a website, I get the same question almost every time:
Can you make me number one on Google?
The simple answer is no. The more nuanced answer is yes, sort of.
Let’s say that you have an Italian restaurant. It would be just great to type “italian restaurant” into Google and have your place come right up at the top. But I think you and I can agree that there are a few other Italian restaurants in the world besides yours, and some of them might be more famous than yours, or even possibly better! (I know, that’s a stretch, but work with me).
I’m not a full-time SEO person. Some of what they do is figuring out how to game the system with technical tricks. Yet it is important to have some awareness of how search engines work – it has become a necessary evil, as everyone uses them. In addition, Google and the others keep revising their systems so that meaningful content is increasingly given priority, as opposed to SEO exclusively relying on technical tricks. The good news is that some of the basic practices can be understood by non-geeks, and if you think about them while planning your site, you could end up with a better ranking.
Get People to Link To You
The simplest concept goes right back to the origins of Google. In its earliest incarnation, if memory serves, most of the emphasis was ranking things based on how many sites were linking to your page, the idea being that if people are linking to something, it must be significant. Following that reasoning, if you have a great site, people will link to it. Nowadays Google algorithms are looking at infinitely more than links from other sites, yet links from others are still important. So apart from being popular and having sites link to you, one idea is to ask people to link to your site from their own. To sweeten the deal, you can offer to link to them in return. That would most likely work best with sites that have a topic related to yours, as long as they’re not directly competing with you.
I remember being in a meeting one time with some physicians who wanted to have a collective informational site. The alpha male doctor in the group was going on and on in his authoritative doctor-ish fashion, and he brought up the need to ask permission to link to other sites. I suppressed a laugh before explaining that no, you don’t need any permission to do that. He was incredulous. But still wrong. How dare I question his authority!
That reminds me of an unrelated doctor story. One time a plastic surgeon gave me a photo of himself to put on his site, but when he saw it up there, he was not happy with how he looked. I ended up Photoshopping the picture until he liked it. I reduced and smoothed out his wrinkles, and the result was pretty nice. I probably took off about ten years. Physician could not heal thyself. It would have been even better if I had made his hourly rate for doing so.
What Search Terms will people use?
Before you write all your site copy, another good idea is to try to figure out what search terms people are using to find a site like yours. Your web developer can help you with this, but with your expertise in your field, you may have the inside track on that. The reason for doing that first is that these keywords can be strategically placed for best impact, and there will be less re-writing needed if you work this out in advance. You may be surprised to find that your carefully crafted (we hope!) text may need some editing for SEO. This isn’t like the old days of stuffing loads of keywords into a page, the search engines work more subtly now. As long as he/she has a decent sense of SEO, your web developer will do some arranging so that your chosen search terms will be in important spots on your pages, and will watch out for things like too much repetition, which can get you downgraded on Google as a spammer.
Going back to our Italian restaurant example, for certain search word combinations, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be number one, or even on page one of Google. Search is very competitive, zillions of businesses have come before you, and everybody wants to be number one. That’s not necessarily bad. If your town is not enormous, you may easily be able to be on page one, or even be right at the top, in a search such as “italian restaurant poughkeepsie new york”. Something pretty specific. If you have a really unique product or niche, all the better.
Make Meta Descriptions
When you look at results of a Google search, you’ll see a bolded link, and right under that, a short summary of what’s on the page. You can put this short summary to work! If you fill in a Meta Description, you will have control over what appears in this short summary. If there’s no Meta Description, Google just grabs some text from the top of your page. Why not think of a nice, concise description? Just keep these things in mind:
- Google gives you 160 characters or less for this. Any longer, and it will be cut off. Not the end of the world, but a complete sentence is surely better than one that’s cut off.
- Use it to make a good summary of the page, or elaborate on your link title phrase. Something that makes the viewer curious enough to click your link instead of the bland descriptions above and below yours.
- Easy on the Pimping. Strong advertising come-on language will turn visitors off. They’ll laugh at you. Alpha males like to ignore this advice, so they get the biggest unintentional laughs.
- Delegate to someone who is good at this if you can. Most clients I’ve seen, even ones that write pretty well, aren’t necessarily that good at writing copy.
- Meta Keywords are largely a waste of time now – Google barely notices them anymore. So you can put them in, but they won’t do much.
Yes, this is slightly technical, maybe not easy for some, but your web developer can help with this.
Add New Content Frequently
Sometimes this is tricky – not everyone has budgeted for, or has time for, doing this. But if you’re able, this news-like (or blog-like) aspect is valuable. Think about it – if you have listed your business’ purpose, described your products, given your contact information, and showed maybe a couple key people in the company, that’s great, but if someone has seen that once, they may not come back to the site. If they often see something new, there’s more chance of them becoming fans of your site. Having customer feedback, reviews, and comments can also be good, although it might take a strong stomach to read it.
All the stuff above takes at least a little work. I know, I know, work is just SO awful, isn’t it? We were all hoping it would happen automagically! Take heart, there are things you can do with little work.
You can buy Google Ad Words to get your site to come up very early in a Google search. This is simply paying for a good placement rather than doing lots of fancy SEO work. You choose your key words, and then set limits on what you’re willing to pay. You might pay, say, 5 cents for a click on your ad, and set a daily limit. You can experiment with this – if the search terms you’re using are very popular, others may be paying more per click than you are, and they will come out ahead. So you could up the ante, or maybe try different search terms.
Many site owners just have a link to their Facebook page, and do all their “publishing” and customer interaction there. It doesn’t help your site SEO, but could help with publicizing your operation and taking advantage of the interactive features to communicate with the public. Twitter is also a good way to interact with the public.
I wrote this because many of the clients I work with have lots of good intentions but really no clue what to put on their site or how to publicize it. That’s understandable, as their business is auto parts or whatever. And some site owners will have no interest in doing any of the above themselves, as again, it’s work, and they just don’t want to, or don’t have time. But they can hire someone to do it, web developer or not.
I hope this has given you some ideas you can use, and that you get a good ranking. Good luck!