11 May 2010

How to get to number 1 in Google

Posted by kilbot | Filed under: Frequently Asked Questions, News, Web Development FAQ

Firstly, let me make it clear; anyone that guarantees you number 1 position on Google, Yahoo or Bing is either lying or delusional, you should turn and run from such “SEO Consultants”, “Link Building Experts” or “Social Media Gurus” as quickly as possible (OK, social media gurus don’t have much to do with search engine ranking but you should run from them nonetheless). There are no quick fixes for increasing your page ranking and no guarantees you will reach number 1.

That being said, SEO is hot topic among website owners and one of the most frequently asked questions here at the Factory. In this post I will outline some methods which can improve your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking. Note that a lot of the methods listed below do not require a dedicated SEO expert; if you have a good web developer most technical aspects will be taken care of as a matter of course, and more than that, the single best thing you can do to increase search engine traffic to your site is to produce quality content as regularly as possible.

Before we dive into the sections below, if you are serious about improving your search engine ranking you need Google’s (free!) Webmasters Tools, it is your command centre for SEO. If possible also add a submit a sitemap to you webmaster account at Google – this will automatically supply Google with a complete list of the pages on your website. WordPress users can install the Google XML Sitemap plugin which takes care of the sitemap.xml creation and submission. If you need any assistance setting up your webmaster account or sitemap please contact us.

Website code

If you have a good website developer most of the SEO achievable by code should be taken care of during the creation of the site. If you are currently getting your website built, ask your web developer what steps they are taking to ensure your site will have the best chance of ranking highly on search engines. Below is a brief checklist of good SEO practises for web development, ask your web developer and see how your site stacks up!

URL Structure

Your URL structure should contain relevant keywords, separated by dashes and it should be as short as possible (5 words is good!), eg:

  • BAD: http://wot-not-to-do.net/?p=142&variable=876134784372468264
  • GOOD: http://domain.com/short-concise-keywords/

Page Title and Meta

Your page title and meta should be well formed, ie: page title should be concise and contain relevant keywords, the description meta should be helpful and unique on each page, the robots meta and canonical urls should be used where relevant, also location latitude and longitude may be helpful for some sites. WordPress users should download the fantastic SEO all in One plugin which takes care of most of this for you. If you would like to check your page titles and description meta Google site:domain.com (exchange domain.com for your domain), this will give you a list of site pages as Google sees them.

  • BAD: Really, Long, Stupid, Title, Like, A, Thesaurus, Entry, Most, Of, Which, Gets, Cut, Off, Anywa…
  • GOOD: Page Title Containing Keywords – Site Title

Content Structure

Your page content should be well formed with modern, semantic and standards compliant HTML, ie: header tags should be used appropriately, menus should be lists, images should always have alternative text etc. For the untrained eye good quality code can be hard to spot … even then code quality can be subjective, but here is a couple of simple tests you can do for your site which may give you an indication of the quality of the code.

  1. Validate your website pages at http://validator.w3.org/. If your site validates or gets only a few errors it’s a pretty good sign your web developer has taken care when coding.
  2. View your site without stylesheets. Without stylesheets your site should look like a well structured Word document; with the most important headers the largest, sub-headers correctly nested, navigation and sub-navigation should be presented as lists etc. As with the first point, this does not guarantee search engine optimised code but it should indicate whether your web developer is using modern, semantic HTML.

Page Speed

Your site should be optimised for speed. This means your website images should be compressed (there is great programs such as ImageOptim for the mac which squeeze images to the smallest size possible), your icons should be combined into sprites, your stylesheets and javascript should be combined and compressed where appropriate, javascript should also be placed in the footer if possible. Google has recently announced that site speed is a metric in the search page rankings, it is only a very small component of SEO but these are good practises nonetheless and having a snappy website improves the experience for your users.

If you are uncertain your site is using the best practises outlined above you should contact your web developer, or feel free to contact us for a professional opinion of your site.

Website content

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; producing quality content as regularly as possible is the single best thing you can do for your search engine page ranking. In fact, for 99% of sites out there, producing content is the only way to reliably improve page ranking; this means writing articles or uploading photos or creating videos … find a way that you feel comfortable communicating with your audience and go for it. Let’s look at SEO from the reverse angle for a moment, what does Google want to deliver to their users? They want to deliver the most current, relevant and authoritative content on the internet – by adding regular posts about a particular topic you are signalling to Google “Hey! I’m someone who knows a lot about this subject”.

Writing lengthy blog posts can take a lot of time and you may wonder what on earth you would talk about week after week, but producing content does not have to be intimidating, here’s some examples;

  • Post pictures: If you are a designer or a creative this should be a no-brainer. Nearly every mobile phone has a camera and there are multiple ways for you to easily upload and embed photos directly to your website. Every time you see something inspiring, interesting or “challenging” snap a photo, tap out your thoughts in 25 words or less and post it.
  • Microblog: Posts do not have to be long to be worthwhile, for example: “Azaleas must be popular this spring, we’ve sold 16 this week already!” gives potentially useful information (or perhaps a starting point for discussion) and if you’re a flower store you’ve just added ‘azaleas’ as a potential incoming search term.
  • Re-use questions from your clients: If a client or potential client asks a question it’s likely others will find that information useful also, use your answer as a starting point and flesh it out a little for your website. (This post itself is a fleshed out frequently asked question!).
  • Pay someone else to do it: For some businesses it may be worthwhile and appropriate to outsource the copy writing to a freelance writer. The cost will obviously vary depending on the writer and the topic but you should expect to pay around $20-$50 per article.

Google’s Webmaster Tools gives you a way to monitor the keywords on your site. A keyword’s significance is calculated not only on the number of times it is used (keyword density) but also on where it is used, for example, keywords in the url and page title are given greater weight than those used in a blog paragraph. Making use of the alternate text for images is also a great way to boost certain keywords. The anchor text of incoming links also counts towards keyword significance (and can be misused).

You should be aiming to fill the top 5 or 10 Keywords (as calculated by Google) with your most important search terms:

An example of Keyword Significance from Google's Webmaster Tools

Link building

I am not talking about paying some dodgy operator to spam online forums with your website link, black-hat methods like this are counter productive as search engines will penalise your site if they find you engaging in link farming or exchanging links with unreputable sites. However, there are some legit methods you can use to increase the number of links coming to your site which will in turn boost your search engine ranking;

  • Submit your site to online directories, such as DMOZ and Google Local. Also, do a search for other directories that are related to your industry and submit your site. There are some directories, such as the Yellow Pages where you can pay for a website listing… depending on your advertising budget this may be a worthwhile option, however in general I would not advise on paying for a directory listing.
  • Take a look at your business-to-business relationships, if you have close relationship with another business there may be an opportunity to exchange links which in turn helps both parties.
  • Participate in forums and blog discussions. Online forums will usually give you the option of a signature which is placed at the bottom of every post you make, this can be a great way to build incoming links particularly if the forum or blog is related to your business.
  • Write an article for a well known news or blog site. Many blogs will accept articles and give the author a link back to their website, this can be a worthwhile proposition in many cases because the authority of the publishing site will be passed onto the authors site.

Not all links are equal. Search engines use complex algorithms to devise the ‘authority’ of any given website, the most famous is PageRank created by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Essentially it means is that a certain website may have less links than another but if the links it does have are from ‘authoritative’ source then it will likely have a higher PageRank.