I get this question a lot. Unfortunately there is no way to guarantee that your site will rank #1 with Google, or any of the other big search engines for that matter. That is because search engines use very complex algorithms to determine the placement of a page within their rankings. You can, however, improve your rankings by making your web site Search Engine Optimized. This is a very long and arduous process and there are companies out there that charge hundreds and even thousands of dollars to optimize web sites for search engine placement. Most companies can't afford thousands of dollars for their site rankings, but there are some things that can be done for free that will help.
1 - Page Content - This is the single most important thing to work on to improve your rankings. The more information you have on your site the better it will rank. Rather than have a sentence or two on each page you should work on getting as much pertinent information as possible.
Keywords - Peppering your content with keywords is important, too. If you want your site to appear in the rankings when someone searches for "Computer Repair, Chicago" you'll want to make sure the words "Computer", "Repair", "Chicago" and the phrase "Computer Repair" appear frequently in your page. You'll also want to have other related keywords and phrases appear often in your content, like "Computer Supplies", "Computer Accessories", "Windows", "Macintosh", "Illinois", "Chicagoland", etc. Just be careful that the keywords don't appear too often. Search engines will deduct for having keywords too often compared to other words. So don't just put a string of "Computer Repair, Computer Repair, Computer Repair..." over and over at the bottom of the page. Search engines consider this spamming (spamdexing) and will actually lower your site in the rankings if it thinks your content is not legitimate.
Keyword Placement and Emphasis - In addition to the density of keywords, search engines look at the distribution of keywords. Keywords near the top of your page are given greater weight than those at the bottom of the page. And any emphasis put on the keywords is taken into account as well. Bold, Italic and Underlined words are considered more important than non-emphasized words. And heading text is also weighted more. But again, overuse of these features can actually hurt your site's ranking.
No Advertisements - Unless you are getting paid to have advertising on your site you shouldn't have it at all if possible. Ads for unrelated sites only dilutes the content on your site. It makes the pertinent keywords on your site less obvious. Also, most free web hosts force their ads to appear at the top of the page, making their advertisements appear more important to a search engine than your content. If you do have advertising on your site, either required by your web host or because you receive revenue from it (like Google AdSense, etc.) you should make sure that it is unobtrusive and doesn't overshadow your page's content.
Dynamic Content - Depending on how this is accomplished it can help or hurt your rankings. Dynamic content, where the actual location of the page changes, doesn't help your rankings very much because the page is different all the time. But what does help search engine rankings is content that changes within a set page. As long as that content is related to the main content of your site and doesn't overwhelm the actual content, dynamic content is great for boosting listings. If a search engine sees that a page's content changes often it is more likely to visit the page often and re-index it. This tells the search engine that your page is active and fresh. If a page's content doesn't change for months or years it's rankings may be hurt because the search engine may consider the information out dated and old. A great way to have dynamic content is to post news articles to your page. These can either be articles written specifically for your site or they can be links to an external news feed. Either way, as long as the article content is related to the content of your site, this is a great way to increase the legitimacy of your site and boost rankings.
2 - META Tags TITLE Tag, and robots.txt - There are two elements that are used by search engines to know how to index your site. META Tags are HTML code that contain information about the page. They aren't visible to visitors but search engines read them and use them to get information on your page. They should appear within the <head></head> section of your code. The two most common META tags are Description and Keywords. A Google search for META Tags will provide a ton of information about them and how to use them.
The TITLE tag is similar to the META tags. It should also appear in the <head></head> section of your code and should contain a descriptive title of the page as well as any important keywords. This is the title that most browsers use for the site, both in bookmarks and in the window title bar. It is also the title that search engines will display when your site comes up in a search. Instead of simply having a title of "History" you should have a title of "Your Company, Chicago, Illinois - A History of Your Company"
For both META tags and TITLE tags there are several rules to follow and tricks to making the tags work best for you. There are several different theories, and most likely the effectiveness depends on the search engine, but here are a few things to keep in mind when writing your description, keywords, and title.
robots.txt (note the all lowercase file name) is a file that should be in the same directory as your web site. It contains information about how search engines should index your site and what links it should follow while looking for more pages. Not having a robots.txt file doesn't drastically hurt your rankings, but it is an important file to use correctly. Again, a Google search will provide a lot of information.
3 - HTML Code Formatting and Page Design - Believe it or not, a good web page design and clean HTML code can actually improve your site rankings. Google (and other big search engines, like Yahoo and MSN) have the ability to parse out HTML code (the language that a web site is written in) and determine if a site is well designed. If the search engine sees things like lots of meaningless graphics, hard to read text (like light gray text on a white background), and other elements of poor design, it can actually hurt your rankings.
The formatting of the actual code matters as well. Pages that conform to coding standards may have improved rankings. This is an aspect in which many sites are lacking. Pages should have all the necessary parts:
<!DOCTYPE...> <html> <head> <title>Your Page Title</title> <META name="description" content="Your Site Description"> <META name="keywords" content="Your Site Keywords"> Other header code... </head> <body> Page content... </body> </html>Some things that I notice on many sites are missing DOCTYPE tags, code outside of the <html> and </html> tags, display code outside of the <body> and </body> tags, and non-standard or deprecated code.
In a web page all code should be between <html> and </html> tags except for the DOCTYPE tag (which tells the browser what standard the code following will be using). Many sites have several or even hundreds of lines of code before the <html> start tag and/or after the end </html> tag.
Often this code is automatically added to the page by the web host (this is a big problem with using free web hosts for anything other than a personal site - they add a whole bunch of junk that actually hurts how your site is perceived by both visitors and search engines). Most professional hosting services (like Web 2 Market) do not force their paying customers to include advertising. Web hosts can be found for as little as $5 a month or as much as several hundred or thousands of dollars a month, depending on the amount and type of service required. Many cheaper hosting plans still include required advertising, but it is often much less obtrusive than the free services. And domain names can cost as little as $6 a year. A dedicated domain name (www.yoursite.com instead of www.genericwebhost.com/acct1234/yoursite/ or yoursite.genericwebhost.com) gives a site a professional appearance and improves search engine rankings, especially if the domain name contains relevant keywords or your company name (www.yourfullcompanyname.com instead of www.yfcn.com)
Another common error is placing display code (code that outputs information meant to be seen by the visitor) outside of the <body> and </body> tags. The only code that should be outside of the <body></body> tags is code that belongs in the <head></head> section of the page (TITLE, META, SCRIPT, STYLE and LINK tags and occasionally a few other bits of code).
Non-standard or deprecated code can also hurt your page rank. Bad code is usually caused by one of four things:
4 - Images, Links, etc. - All images should make use of ALT tags. This is a bit of short descriptive text that is read in place of the image by search engines (and text based browsers). An example would be like this:
<img src="/images/storefront.jpg" alt="Your Company - Serving all of Chicagoland since 1977 - Storefront">
Not only is the text in the ALT tag given extra weight by the SE, but it provides a description of the image for image searches, like Google Image Search or Yahoo Image Search.
All links should make use of the TITLE tag. This is similar to the ALT tag used by images, but it provides a description of the link. This should be used for both internal links and links to other sites. An example would be:
<a href="history.html" title="A brief history of Your Company in Chicago, Illinois.">
Notice how both the ALT tag and the TITLE tag in the examples above contain important keywords.
5 - External Links - Linking to other web sites is important and can help your search engine rankings if done carefully. Search engines like Google not only look at your site and the content on your site to determine its rank, but they look at other sites that you link to AND sites that link to yours. Links to a few other sites that are related to yours are important (links to similar companies, industry resources and publications, local resources, etc.). If you link to sites that are completely unrelated it can actually hurt your rankings. It is also important to get other sites to link to yours also. If you have a lot of sites that link to your site search engines will consider your site with more regard, kind of like a contractor providing references - references related to the project at hand are good, unrelated references don't help much. Just like the sites that you link to, you want sites that link to yours to contain related information. Posting your site randomly to a bunch of free directories won't help your rankings and could potentially hurt them.
6 - Other Tips - There are countless other things you can do to improve your rankings, too. This is why some companies charge so much for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services. It really can be a full time job. Here are a few other items to look into:
Domain Names and Page Names - Search engines also look at the URL of the page they are indexing. So www.yoursite.com/history.html will look better than something like www.genericwebhost.com/acct1234/yoursite/page1.html
Sitemaps - Having a single page that has links to all the other pages within your site gives search engines a great one-stop place to connect to your entire site. Also, search engines like Google can make use of specially created XML files that contain information about all of your pages. Visit Google Sitemaps to get started. Often submitting a sitemap, or even just manually registering your site with a search engine can decrease the time it takes your site to climb the results page, but this doesn't always help.
Time - A page won't be indexed immediately. It takes time for a search engine to find and index your entire site. And after it does find your site, it takes a while before the search engine determines that the site is permanent. If a site is up and down and up and down its rankings will suffer. But if a site is consistently accessible by the search engine its rankings will gradually increase. A site may be the best source of information on a topic, but until a search engine finds the site, evaluates the content, and determines that the site is here to stay, its ranking will be pretty low. Over time a site with good content and good code will climb the ranks. Sometimes you can speed up the time it takes your site to get indexed by submitting it to several search engines manually (see sitemaps above).
Tools - There are lots of tools and web sites out there that can help you with SEO for your site. My favorite tool is WebCEO (www.webceo.com). They have a few paid versions, but I've found the free version is very useful. Also check out some of the many websites out there about SEO. You can start here: www.searchengineguide.com and here: www.entireweb.com/newsletter/archive/
Paid Listings - If you really want to ensure that your site is found, many search engines offer paid listings. Most search engines display paid listings separate from the other listings. Google places paid listings at the top, left, and bottom of its results pages. Depending on your competition these listings can cost just pennies or hundreds and thousands of dollars. Usually you pay-per-click but the payment methods vary depending on the SE. Often the amount you pay depends on the competition. For example, Google ranks your site within the paid listings based on how much you pay. If someone wants a higher ranking, they can outbid you. For keywords with a lot of competition these payments can get pretty hefty. In areas with less competition they payments can remain pretty modest.
SEO Companies - Unless you have a great need to boost your rankings there is no need to hire a professional company. If you do want to hire a professional company to optimize your site for search engines make sure you research them extremely well. There are a lot of companies that border on scams. No one can guarantee a specific ranking. If a company says they can guarantee a listing in the Top 3 they are flat out lying.
Each search engine uses a proprietary algorithm to rank pages and this secret algorithm is their livelihood. Good search engines keep this algorithm very secret and will often change it for several reasons. First, they want to continually tweak their methods to get the most relevant results for a keyword. Second, they want to ensure that spamming is kept to a minimum. If their algorithm changes it make it that much harder to fool the search engine consistently. Third, keeping the algorithm secret makes it harder for spamdexers to fool the SE. No one wants a site for mail order brides to pop up when they search for wedding flowers.
The best a SEO company can do for you is:
Undoubtedly there are a bunch of other methods for boosting your page rank that I haven't covered here. But these topics should give you enough to get your site ranked fairly well. I've relied on these simple techniques, especially having well thought out page content, and have had great success with my page ranks. I've seen sites climb from 50th to 2nd in Google search results simply by applying the techniques here. Sites may not be #1, but they do very well and get the exposure they deserve. If you are still looking for more ways to improve your page rank, do a Google search. You'll find hundreds of pages, tips, forums, and discussions.
Pages by George Jaros
© 2007 George Jaros and Web 2 Market
May 31, 2007