‘Become number one on Google' - The dream of every website owner and titles like that grab people's attention. What can you do to help achieve that dream without resorting to black hat techniques?
We have spoken before about the dangers of using black hat techniques to improve your sites ranking. But, what legitimate techniques can you use?
There is a lot you and your team can do to improve your placement on search engines. These fall into three broad categories:
- Improving your site's build
- Improving your site's content
- Encourage quality links
Improving your site's build
I have written before about how accessibility can also improve search engine placement. By avoiding content types that search engines find hard to access (like Adobe Flash), marking up content semantically and using appropriate ALT and title attributes, we make our sites easier to index. However, although these techniques ensure content is indexable, it does not mean search engines will discover that content in the first place.
The following will ensure Google (or other search engines) discover your content.
- Create a clear hierarchy - Every page should be reachable from at least one other page of your site.
- Use text links - Links between pages should be textual rather than use images, Flash or other unaccessible technologies.
- Use short URLs - Some web addresses created by dynamically driven websites (such as those built using content management systems) cause problems for search engines. Shorter web addresses with less parameters (characters after the ? in the address), the more likely to be found.
- Add a site map - Add a site map that includes links to the important content. However, try not to exceed 100 links on a page as this can cause problems.
- Submit your site - A search engine will find your site through those who link to you. However, speed up the process by submitting your site for indexing. You can submit a site to Google here. You can also submit a site map using Googles Webmasters tools. This helps Google learn the structure of your site and increases the number of pages indexed.
Once search engines can access your website, you need to address the content.
Improving your site's content
The most important consideration when writing copy for search engines is the inclusion of search terms. Before writing a page have a clear idea of what it is about and what search terms might use when searching for that subject. Next, incorporate them naturally into copy, headings, image alt attributes and the page title.
Be careful not to use too many search terms. Two or three per page is adequate. If you use more, copy may become hard to read and the ranking of each individual term will be reduced.
Do not stuff a page with search terms as you may be penalized. They should be incorporated naturally into your copy. Try reading your copy out loud. If it sounds like you are forcing the use of keywords it will require some rewriting.
Ultimately all you need to do is write good copy. If it is well written and engaging it will also attract links.
Encourage quality links
If you already run a website, you will have probably received an email from somebody wanting to ‘exchange links'. The email may have explained that Google ranks pages by the number of incoming links.
There is some truth in this claim. Google does partially rank pages based on the number of sites who link to you. However, this is not the whole story.
In reality nobody but Google knows how they rank sites. Links are a factor but it is not just the quantity that matter. Google states that:
The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating.
Google looks at a number of factors:
- The subject matter of the site linking,
- The copy that appears in the link,
- The popularity of the site linking,
- The reputation of the site linking.
It is rarely worthwhile responding to link requests, unless they come from a high profile website with appropriate content.
It is however worth seeking links from relevant sites. Which sites would you like to appear on irrespective of the benefits to your ranking? Which sites do your target audience frequent? Getting featured on such sites provide benefits of their own, independent of the benefit to ranking.
Will the above techniques get you to number one on Google? Possibly. It will certainly do your site no harm unlike many of the other techniques out there.