Friday, August 04, 2006

Ask Girl Geek: Getting High Rankings in Search Engines

Hi Girl Geek,

We have several big competitors in our primary market, and we are looking to make our website hit higher on google searches and generate more business. Can you help? How do we get started?

Name withheld

Getting your website ranked well in search engines is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short. When people ask me how to get a #1 ranking in search engines I have a list of questions I ask them.

1. What search engines do you want to be ranked well in?
2. What keywords are you wanting high rankings on?
3. Who's linking to your site already?
4. Are you using a Pay Per Click advertising program?
5. What sites do you consider your main competitors?

The first step I would take is a thorough review of your site to see:
1. Is is search engine compatible and browser friendly?
2. What keywords are already on your site?
3. What incoming links are driving traffic to your site?
4. Where does your rank in the desired search engines already?

Then depending on your goals and budget I would make recommendations that could be implemented in stages.

Whole books and conferences are held on this topic, so I'm just going to give the briefest of overviews. My goal is to give you enough information for you to know what's involved and so that you can ask intelligent questions when discussing this with an SEO company or even with your web designer who will need to know whether or not you plan to promote your site via search engines.

So here goes...

SEO is a complicated and ongoing art/science and needs to be reviewed at a bare minimum of every 3-6 months because the ranking formulas/algorithms used by the major search engines are changed frequently. Do not be mistaken: this is NOT an easy project, but it is do-able. To really do the job right you need an ongoing effort. It's almost a full time job, if you're serious about doing it right. And, there's no magic bullet, at least, not one I've heard of or tried.

SEO is also different depending on which search engine you're wanting to get ranked well in. If you're covered by the top 3, Google, Yahoo, and MSN, you've reached at least 90% of internet users. Each of these search engines attract different demographics and have different requirements for the site construction and keyword placement, so that's something to consider when trying to figure out where to put most of your effort.

Similarly, when you ask for better rankings it all depends on what search terms you're wanting good rankings on. SEO strategies also change over time, so your site needs to be reviewed for those periodically. Also, since the internet reindexes itself once a month, changes made today in your site might not result in changes in ranking for up to 30 days.

The two main strategies in SEO are keyword selection and placement and link strategies. Of course, the site has to be designed in such a way that it is not only compatible with the search engines, but that it loads quickly and displays correctly in all browsers. If your site takes longer than 8 seconds to load, it is estimated that you lose up to 80% of potential visitors.

Selection of appropriate keywords is essential. I use a 4 step process to determine appropriate keywords. 1) brainstorming all the keyword phrases that potential site visitor in your niche might us in a natural search 2) checking to see if those terms are being searched monthly at a high rate 3) checking the number of websites competing for that search term and 4) determining the relative cost for that keyword in the 3 major Pay Per Click programs. (You have to go through the same steps for PPC programs, so why not do them all at the same time?) Then you need to follow the guidelines of the search engines as to where to place the keywords within your site and at what frequency. These rules change over time, as people try to "fool" the search engines.

Link strategies are important for 2 reasons. Having outside sites link into your site drives targeted traffic to your site. Having multiple incoming links into your site also alerts the search engines that your site must be "important," so it is awarded a higher ranking if it is busy. So think, strategic alliance.

The best incoming links are natural links, which are unsolicited. You obtain these by having really useful content on your site, so that people will naturally want to link to your site.

The other strategy is to request links to your site from "relevant" websites. Determining "relevant" links is time consuming. The quality of the incoming link is more important that the quantity of links. You have to request links to your site, follow up and often give reciprocal links from your site as a "courtesy" to the linking site.

It seems now that a lot of sites are requesting payment for providing links to your site. That can run into some money. So I generally start out with the free links, then scrutinize the quality and traffic on the paid sites. Some of the ones I've looked at for my other client appear just to be people whose site exists for the sole purpose of bilking money out of naive site owners, who don't know a quality link from a hole in the ground.

About 6 years ago, I got a bid for SEO on my Geek website, and with the designers discount it was $1200 for 3 months. I didn't get specifics because that was outside of my budget at the time, but I've learned what questions to ask since then, because too many people have gotten ripped off because of fantastic claims by SEO companies. So beware of SEO companies that "guarantee a #1 ranking in search engines." What they might mean is they can get you a #1 ranking on an obscure search engine on 1 keyword for about a month. When you get a bid, get a detailed explanation of what you're getting for the money.

Thanks for asking!

Annette Vaillancourt
Girl Geek Web Designs: Custom Web Design and SEO for Small Businesses on a Budget
Call for a Free Initial Consultation

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