Have you recently launched a new business website, and want to get the necessary search engine traffic to make it a profitable investment? If you're new to online business, odds are that you're almost certainly new to setting up your website so that it can perform well in the rankings of the major search engines.
There is a lot you can do to rank well in the search engines, although it requires a long term strategy, and you need to continually monitor your positioning. Search engine marketing is a specialist field but a good internet consultant or marketing specialist with experience with internet promotion should be able to get you well ranked within a reasonable amount of time.
There are a number of prerequisites that need to be in place in order for your website to rank well in the major search engines, and a lot of factors affect your rankings. Search engine algorithms are proprietary and therefore secret, but being mathematical calculations they can be analysed and understood with time. Google, for example, is thought to utilise well over 200 criteria when ranking sites. Here are some high level guidelines, although best results will come from working with an internet marketing expert:
- Standards-based coding - Your site should be well coded, and utilise current best practice coding standards. Latest standards lead to a high content-to-code ratio, and these standards are also designed to make it easier for automated systems (such as websites and search engines) to communicate with each other (a concept known as the semantic web ).
- Page content optimisation - Ideally each page on your website should be optimised for at least one key search term (try to stick to only one per page) that you believe your target audience will be searching for. The most important factors here are the text in your title, the content of the first and last paragraph, the density ratio of your chosen keywords to other words on the page, the usage of synonyms of your optimised term, the value of the content to your target audience, which words are bolded and italicised, the use of text in subheadings, usage of meta tagis (yes, these do still play a role, even if it's not the same as what it used to be), links to other pages and the text used for these links.
- Links from reputable websites - A major factor in ranking algorithms, especially with Google and Yahoo, is the number of links to your pages from sites that have a high reputation already, and the context of these links. Think of this as a voting system, where respected members of the community get more votes than the average Joe. There are strategies that can be employed to acquire these, as long as you are able to provide valuable content as an incentive.
- The big three - The three major search engines to focus on are, in order of market share: Google, Yahoo and MSN, with others making up the rest, although other search engines very often licence one of these three. With effective internet promotion strategies in place, combined with an optimised site, you should be able to see first page results fairly quickly on MSN (1-2 months), less so for Yahoo (3-5 months), and Google (6 or more). These are very rough guidelines, since uncompetitive search terms will rank almost immediately on all search engines. More competitive terms can take a really long time, and a lot of work to rank well. The above describes my experience with average to above-average search terms.
- Link baiting - Link-baiting, or providing valuable content and/or online services, tools, etc that are in demand, is a very effective method of getting people to link to your site. This has a dual benefit in that you get more people visiting from followed links, and search engines see your popularity as growing (which it is).
- Link structure - The link structure of your site is also quite important. The reason for this is quite mathematical in basis, but it relates to telling search engines which pages in your site you see as most important, as well as explaining to search engines what the site is about.
- Site map - Ensure that you have a site map (a list of links to all the pages on your site, with optimised link text) that is easily accessible from your front page, listing all pages on your site, and ensure that this is kept up to date.
- Page URLs - Regularly check for broken links, and try not to change page URLs if you can help it. If you do, there is a method you can use to tell search engines that the page has moved, so that the "value" of the page can transfered to the new page.
- Duplicate content - Avoid duplicate content, i.e exactly the same page under different URLs, or substantially copied text from another website. Search engines tend to penalise this. Try and create as much of your site content yourself, and avoid using more than one domain name for exactly the same site e.g. www.widgets.com and www.qualitywidgets.com, unless you use the method mentioned above to tell search engines that one is a new site, and the other an old one.
- Search engine spamming - Be careful to avoid intentionally or unintentionally spamming search engines. As a general rule, search engines these days are able to pick up when you're trying to be deceptive by, for example, hiding text not intended for your visitors, in the hope of achieving a higher ranking. Your primary goal should always be to provide a really good site that is designed primarily for your site visitors, but in such a way that search engines also understand the value and subject matter. Never try and display one thing to a site visitor and another to a search engine, you will very likely suffer a ranking penalty for this.
- Google Sitemap - Have your web developer place a Google Sitemap on your server, that gets automatically updated whenever new content is added. This tells Google about the importance and existence of pages on your site, and the relative weighting you would like them to have. An added advantage is that by doing so you get access to stats provided by Google itself relating to which pages have been indexed, which search terms you're being picked up for, and which search terms people are following to your site, as well as errors encountered, and the like.
- Domain name - Your domain name should reflect your market. If you have a .com domain name, you may miss out on searches where people select "Pages from Australia" when searching. There are things you can do about this in your page code and elsewhere, to tell search engines whether you serve a global, a more specific market, or both.
- Content - The bottom line is always to provide really high quality, valuable content, relevant to your target market, preferably on a relatively niched subject matter.
The list goes on, but these are some of the most important factors when working to rank your site well in the "organic", or unpaid rankings, which are also the ones people place the most trust in. Paid rankings (paying the search engine to be placed in a prominent position for particular search term) can be effective as a short term strategy, but is less effective the more competitive your product or service, and ends immediately you stop paying for it.
Launching a new business website is a major undertaking, and it is easy to forget the vital search engine optimisationi required to make your newly launched site achieve the levels of targetted traffic you'll need to pay for the costs you have put in in terms of time and money. With the right methodologies and preferably the help of a qualified internet consultant, however, you can and should start to see reasonable growth in the popularity and success of your online business.