Way back when the web was small with only a billion web pages or so, it was easy to get a top listing in Google.
Beer was cheap and the sun always shone. Teenagers were polite and taxis obeyed traffic laws.
Then came another ten billion web pages. Facebook, twitter, Mxit, rude teenagers, expensive beer and armed taxi drivers followed. Things got a little complicated. Top listings in Google became very hard work.
We are often asked by clients to "list my site on Google". The implication is that we (or anyone for that matter) have the power to tell Google what to do.
Google, the computer system that is so fast, so accurate and so clever, it is unnatural.
The system that can search several billion pages in a fraction of a second to produce results not only relevant to your search, but also to where you live and sometimes even to your gender and age?
It is unfathomably, gobsmackingly awesome.
So, given the preposterous awesomeness of Google, it begs the question: How one would try to convince the beast to rank one's web site highly - ahead of millions of others?
If you are expecting a clear cut and simple technical answer, I'm afraid you I have to disappoint you:
No one really knows. (Not just because the Google ranking algorithm is a closely held trade secret)
No one: not the guys who wrote the software, nor the people who run it, nor the CEO knows (exactly).
That's making your BS meter tingle, right? Allow me to explain: Even a very simple system becomes exponentially more complex for every variable that is added. Lets use chess as an example: Small number of pieces, small board but extremely complex outcomes. A pool table: simple pieces, almost infinite outcomes.
Now image a game with billions of pieces (web pages) played on a board with billions of squares (web sites).
Now square that complex recipe with the links between pages and web sites, recommendations by people on social networks, sprinkle the information "freshness", dice uniqueness and quality of content and, when almost done, flavor with the user's geographical location, language and even gender and age.
And that is just the hors d'oeuvre.
Information cake al la Google. And we all gorge ourselves on it every day. It is the staple of the information age.
So: how can experts, including this, less than humble author, possibly purport to help our clients get better rankings for their web sites on search engines? Stay tuned...
Search engine optimization
The first thing to mention about Google's ranking algorithm is that it changes constantly.
History taught us that there is no such thing as an untouchable company in an unassailable market position. Ask Ford, IBM, Xerox, Polaroid, Microsoft and many others.
To stop innovating is to die - no matter how big or how small you are.
Google too must innovate to survive.
Their latest innovation is an update to their search ranking algorithm, code named "Panda". It is one of the most dramatic changes Google made to it's ranking algorithm in several years.
While the update is rolling out over the internet, a large percentage of web sites are noticing significant changes in their Google rankings: many who once had first page rankings disappear. Sites that were considered "optimized" for search engine ranking are no longer. No web site is immune.
After this update, about a quarter of all web sites will have to head back to the drawing board to regain a good Google search ranking.
This is what we know about the new algorithm:
1. It rewards original, quality content
This is what we all want, right? This is what we are searching for when we use Google or any other search engine.
Without it, you are wasting your time trying to optimize for better ranking.
We, computer nerds, even as exceptionally clever as we are, know very little about our client's businesses. We cannot write authoratively about chemicals, or aerodynamics, or mind mapping, or photography or any of the myriad of areas our obviously brighter clients specialize in - so search engine optimization has to be a partnership between the search engine optimization expert and their clients.
Original, quality content is the immutable principle to adhere to if you want to have any HOPE of achieving high rankings, - your technical guy/gal needs your input in order to help. You cannot delegate this outside of your organization.
The latest Google ranking algorithm improves the way Google judges whether or not content is original, and it may even downgrade your ranking if it finds low quality content scraped from elsewhere.
2. Global link popularity is important
When evaluating the relative "importance" Google will now place much more emphasis on the global link popularity of your site - in short, the more "high ranking" sites linking to yours, the better.
In effect Google is saying that if other high quality sites endorse yours by linking to it, you probably have quality content.
(Links from low quality sites are largely ignored, but Google will not penalize your for incoming links you have no control over.)
3. It listens to social media mentions
With it's latest update Google is attaching more importance to links from social sites than ever before. As with link popularity, the rationale is that if more people like a site (on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and others), chances are better that it is a high quality of the site.
Essentially Google is using millions of social media users to help rate web sites.
(If you are a Cozahost client, and you need help to make your own Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn company page, just like our page on Facebook, and ask!)
4. The age of web site and it's content is a factor
Google also considers the age of a web site - older sites are deemed to be established, and it follows they are more likely to have high quality content. So, all other things being equal, when comparing two sites, the older one will have a better ranking.
Conversely, newer content is considered more "fresh" and therefore more relevant than older content. So, you'd want an old site with new content...like a 40 something divorcee. :-)
If your web site or business is new, and you need to generate visitors to your site quickly, the answer is Google ads. You have to spend a little money to make more.
Remember: The fastest way to save yourself into bankruptcy is to stop spending money on marketing.
5. The relative importance of page is calculated
When determining the rank of any specific web page, Google will consider how important you, the owner of the site, think the page is. If the page is buried miles deep in your site, you're signaling to Google that you do not think the page is that important.
The "importance" of a page is calculated by the number of links to it and how high up in the hierarchy (from the landing page) it is.
6. Web server speed is measured
A very slow web site is almost worse than very bad content. If a search engine kept on sending you to very slow web sites, you'd stop using that search engine, right?
This is one of the reasons we host our clients in one of the largest datacenters on the planet - close to the proverbial center of the internet and virtually rubbing shoulders with Google.
Note: Very large media files (pictures, flash files, etc) may severely impact your site's loading speed as perceived by the visitor on the other end of a possibly slow connection - regardless of server speed. Google considers this to.
7. Outbound links affect your ranking
An outbound link is like a vote of confidence: If you "endorse" a low quality site, the inference is that you are not a reliable source of information. Too many outbound links from your site to other low quality sites will cause your own ranking to fall.
8. The page title keywords are important
Google (and most other search engines) attach a high significance to the title of your page. For instance, if you are aiming for a high rank for: "accounting services", then the titles of your pages - especially home page - should reflect that.
For instance, don't call your web site's home page "Joe's accounting company" after the name of your company or brand.
By doing a little keyword research you will quickly learn that more people search for "bookkeepers" and "tax consultant" than for "accountants" or "auditor".
You will also know virtually no-one searches for "Joe's accounting company".
So, using high value, low competition keywords your home page title could be: "Bookkeepers and tax consultants for small businesses at Joe's company" - and almost instantly receive more hits.
9. Keyword density and frequency is counted
The keywords you use in your heading tags, that is the lines of text marked as headings in HTML, as well as the keywords used to describe images in img tags are considered more important (to the Google ranking engine) than keywords in the rest of the body text.
Be careful not to keyword-stuff though, because Google is pretty good at spotting attempts to artificially increase keyword density.
10. Page readability is computed
Google assigns a high importance to the first line of body text in a page as well as the overall readability of a page. It calculates a readability score by assigning a Flesch Reading Ease Score which looks at the general grammar, use of technical terms, length of sentences and so on.
There are several hundred other factors also included in the Google search ranking, but the above 10 is some of the most important. Here is some advice on how to improve your site's ranking:
3 Steps to improve your web site's search engine ranking:
1. Gain a better understanding about search engines and how they work. Reading the "Proven methods for search engine marketing" e-book is a good start. Keeping up to date with the Google and other engine's algorithms is of course also necessary.
2. Research your keywords and pick high traffic, low competition phrases. (Contact us for help)
3. Use tools like IBP (Internet Business Promoter) and SEO power suite to help you optimize your site.
After reading this article I hope you understand that search engine optimization is a continuous process that may at times be tedious and frustrating, but unless ongoing attention is devoted to it, your web site will never be as effective as it could be. There is no silver bullet or quick fix to trump know-how, hard work and determination.
If you do not have the time or inclination to do it yourself, delegate or hire a professional (see more about the Cozahost web designer service) - As the master of war said: "opportunities multiply as they are seized".