Everyone who has a website wants it to rank high in the search engines
like Google and Yahoo.
A higher rank means more visitors, and
more visitors mean more sales, or more advertising revenue.
If the phrase(s) you’re trying to rank well for aren’t
competitive (that is, few other sites are using the same phrase) then
getting good placement is pretty easy: Just put the phrase(s) you
want to rank well for in the <title></title> tag and in at
least one other area on the page. For some reason this isn’t obvious to
everyone: I can’t remember how many times someone has sought my advice
about how to rank well for some phrase, and I check out their page and
that phrase is nowhere to be found! A while back a friend asked me how
to get her homepage to rank well for her name, which was unusual enough
that she should have been at the top of Google with no problems. After
I checked out her page I felt like asking her, “And it didn’t occur to
you to put your name somewhere on that page?!” Actually, her
name was on her page, but in a graphic. Google can’t
read that, they have no idea what words are contained in an image. And
her <title> tag just said “Home”. How is Google supposed to know
that her page was about Sally Thunderpizza? (Not her real name.)
So anyway, for non-competitive phrases, just put the phrases
you want to rank for in the <title> and in the body copy of your
page. For example, you should be able to get to #1 in Google within a
month for the phrase martian pudding headache. Go ahead, try it.
Okay, but what if your phrase is competitive?
Then you’re going to need to make your site worthy
of ranking well. Think about it: When you search Google,
don’t the best sites for your search phrase usually come up
first? Do you think that’s an accident, or coincidence?
Hell no. Google wants to list the best sites first, because if
Google returns bad sites then people will start using Yahoo or Bing instead.
Getting to the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages) means earning it.
Getting to the top is not about trying to trick the search
engines. The engines are constantly tweaking their formulas, so
today’s trick won’t work tomorrow anyway. And trying to stay on
top of the tricks takes more time than simply making your site worthy
of a good ranking well in the first place.
Most sites are either “stores” (selling something) or “magazines” (offering free articles, and making their money from ads). Let’s take these one at a time. If you’re running a store, think about what would make your store outstanding:
- Low prices, or super-high-quality products (depending on the audience you’re targeting)
- Large selection
- Friendly, responsive customer service
- Easy ordering process
- Tons of information about the products you sell (answering every question a would-be shopper could have about the products)
- Customer reviews of the products
- Doing something better than your competitors. After all, if you don’t do anything better than your competitors, then why should you rank higher than them?
For “magazine” sites that offer articles:
- Try to create two new articles every week. If you can’t do
that, try to do one page each week. At a bare minimum, create a new article each month.
- As much as possible, your new articles should be unique,
interesting, authoritative, and compelling. If you want to rank well for
the phrase electric widgets, then make your site the best
resource about electric widgets available.
And for both flavors of sites:
- Write a <TITLE></TITLE> tag for each page that
accurately describes that page (no more than about 64 characters).
- Make sure all of your pages are accessible through normal
- Link to quality relevant sites. After you do so, ask those
sites to link to you, but don’t make your link to them contingent on
whether they link back.
- Follow standard website design tips
and avoid the problems listed on Problem Websites. Your site should be not only
attractive, but super-easy to use, and completely free of annoyances.
- Most importantly, purge your mind of trying to think of
ways you can “trick” your way to the top of the results. Do NOT
think about the specific nuts and bolts of how a search engine will
rank your pages. Instead, build good, quality pages for your
visitors, and trust that the rankings will follow.
But many webmasters don’t get this. They write to me
asking such things as:
- How many times should my keywords appear on my pages?
- What’s the optimum ratio of keywords to non-keywords?
- Should I seek links from several PR4 sites or one PR6 site?
- Will doing [insert some trick here] cause me to rank higher?
Such webmasters are missing the point. You get good
rankings by building a quality site, not by trying to figure out
exactly how the search engines rank pages. It’s counter-intuitive, but
you get good rankings by ignoring rankings and focusing on quality.
Focus on quality and the rankings will follow. It works the same way in
business: If you focus on the money you’ll probably make less money.
But if you focus on creating a great customer experience then the money
But many of you came here hoping to find tricks, so before
you dismiss that, consider this: Your site doesn’t rank as well as
mine, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You want your site to rank
better, which is why you went looking for this article. And my site
does rank well, which is why you found it. In other words, I know what
I’m talking about. My sites are all over Google and Yahoo for a variety
of popular terms. When I tell you the best way to get good rankings is
to ignore rankings and focus on building your site, it’s not just
theoretical, and it’s not a cop-out: It works, and it works well.
But maybe you figure that you don’t have time to build a
quality site, so that’s why you want some easy tricks. In that
case, your site doesn’t deserve to rank well. And don’t be
surprised when it doesn’t. If you want better rankings, you must make
your site worthy of those rankings. Look at the sites that are beating
you. Assuming you already have good <title> tags, is your site
truly better than the ones which are beating you? If yes, then you’ll
probably outrank them eventually. If not, then why are you even trying
to get the search engines to give preferential treatment to an inferior
site? Make your site better than the rest, and the rankings will follow.
Algorithm — The
One problem with using tricks is that the effects are
temporary. Put yourself in Google’s shoes: Do you want to list the
very best sites or do you want to list the ones that are most
adept at employing tricks? Obviously you hate tricksters because when
you return a list of crappy sites instead of the very best ones then
that reflects poorly on you. So you do everything in your power to weed
out the tricksters. As soon as webmasters start using some trick, you
change your calculations to ignore that trick. The algorthims are
secret, and they’re always changing to boot. (About six changes a
week, according to the NY Times.) As a webmaster, obviously your time is
better spent making your site better than screwing around playing
cat-and-mouse games with the search engines.
Many webmasters also can’t see the forest for the trees. Google
wants them to create quality pages which have certain attributes. Many
webmasters mistakenly focus on those attributes rather than the quality
of the page. Here’s a good analogy: Years ago scientists found that
people who ate more fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy were
much healthier and lived longer, and noted that fruits and vegetables
are low in fat. The proper response then would be to eat more fruits
and vegetables. But instead Americans started eating processed low-fat
junk food instead, which didn’t do them any good. Google doesn’t want
you to fill your pages with crap in hopes of impressing them, nor do
they want you to get links from any and everybody. Google wants you to
build a high quality website. Why would they want anything else?
Jill Whalen has a good article about the “stages of
As Google says on its philosophy
page, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” Google wants
webmasters to feel the same way — that if you build the best site
possible, your good rankings will follow. This isn’t the answer that
most webmasters want to hear. They want a few simple “tricks” that will
rocket them to the top of the SERPs. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that
way. Even if that were possible, twenty sites all employing the same
tricks couldn’t all fit on the front page of Google.
People seek out my advice about search rankings because they
know my sites rank well for a whole host of search phrases. And I
promise you I didn’t do anything special beyond what’s listed above. I
certainly didn’t worry about keyword density, META tags, submitting my
site to the engines, reciprocal link requests, or any other nonsense. I
simply tried to build quality sites. In fact, early on I didn’t
even consider my search rankings. I just built good sites and then
noticed that they ranked well. Really well.
So what attributes does a page need to be considered
“quality” by a search engine? The same things it would need to
impress most of us, such as:
- The page is relevant to the terms being searched for
- The page is considered an authority about its topic
How well a page matches a user’s query (more…)
The page has good, useful content
- The page has been around for a while
- The page is part of a site with lots of information
Search terms that a webmaster wants to rank well for. A “keyword” is
usually actually a short 2- to 4-word phrase.
The page loads quickly
- The page doesn’t have a bunch of broken links
- The page isn’t filled with a cheap list of keywords
So ranking well generally means:
- Creating many fast-loading, content-rich pages, with the
words you want to rank for on the page and in the <TITLE> tag, and
- Getting links to your pages from other sites, especially
from pages similar in content
Truth be told, that is 90% of it right there. Of
course there are more details, and that’s why there’s thirteen pages of
explanation that follow, but the summary above is SEO in a nutshell.
Here’s more about what the engines consider high quality vs.
low quality, according to what they recommend in their guidelines.
Notice what they do NOT say:
- Make sure to “submit” your site, even though the search
engines will almost certainly find it anyway.
- Waste your time META tags for every page.
- Obssess over keyword density.
- Annoy other webmasters with requests for reciprocal links
Now proceed to Part 2 for more.