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Aug
03

Search Engine Rankings

As published on Hybrid Mom.

Search Engine Rankings (SEO) are a big mystery to a lot of people, and rightfully so–good rankings are hard to get and even harder to keep. Thankfully, how to achieve them is not necessarily something that you need to know how to implement yourself; a good customer oriented web developer will happily assist you with these things. So that you can keep up with the lingo when discussing it, though, I will detail the basics of what it is all about.

In the dynamic world of the global internet, it turns out you’ve got a lot of competition out there. Search engines, although similar in function, tend to work differently from each other. Even though there are dozens of search engines, the two that most people immediately know are Yahoo and Google.

Yahoo determines your page rank (how high up in the results you appear) by a number of methods. They examine your site (index it), they search out your keywords, they examine your meta-description and your meta keywords (these are located in the “header” of your first page of your website) and compare these to the actual content on your site. Your meta-description should be concise and to the point. My example is “Pages by Nancy creates custom websites, marketing materials for affordable prices and specializes in serving small businesses.” See, I just put in relevant search words “custom websites, marketing materials, affordable,” etc., so that people searching for “prices for custom websites” or someone searching for “small business custom website” may find me.

You should try to keep your relevant meta-keywords down to around 20 (these are also contained within the hidden area of your website known as “the header”). Keep in mind you do not need to reuse keywords…. for instance I wouldn’t say “affordable websites, custom websites, websites for small business.” Instead, I would say “affordable, websites, custom, small business.” These words are read by a computer, so they don’t have to be in any order or make sense when not placed together. They are what the search engine will use to try to find the most relevant words used by someone’s search criteria.

Search engines also look at page names/titles. Each page on your site should be uniquely named with pertinent information as to what the page contains. Your Services page shouldn’t just say “Pages by Nancy,” it should say “Custom business cards, websites, marketing materials, blog installation and I.T. Support”. These are all things that are relevant to the page and contain important keywords describing what you offer.  Adding appropriate page titles is a crucial step in making your website visible on the internet.

Google is a bit different, and I caution people to tread lightly with them. They have the lion’s share of internet search views, and if you do something that breaks their rules or their trust in your site, you can get blacklisted from their search engines. Google checks for practices that they feel are an attempt to trick them or web searchers; we’ve all clicked on that link that takes you to a spam or inappropriate page that seemed okay from the search results. The only way that I know of to get past being “blacklisted” is to get a new domain name and start over.

The Google ranking algorithm is a well kept secret, and many people are making their living attempting to decipher it. Here are a few things that I think I know to be true (I don’t make my living deciphering them). Google will look at your unique page names and your meta description, but they’ll ignore your meta-keywords. Instead, they will look at the first 100 words on your front page and determine their own list of keywords. They keep track of all sites linking back to yours and decide your popularity based on the amount of legitimate sites that link back to you. This could be in the form of a Mom blogger doing a review, a button ad on a legitimate site… or you leaving your web address in the comment section of a reputable blog.

From Google’s perspective, link buying is a big no no. Trading links with companies that you don’t know or have a relationship with is also something to avoid. You do not want your site associated with a company with a suspect or unknown reputation. You want what is called “Natural or Organic” rankings…. don’t buy your rankings, you need to work for them.

As for the companies out there that promise to guarantee you front page rankings–well, the nicest thing to say is don’t believe them all. I can’t say that all of them are not legit, but I can say that many of them make me pause and wonder how they can make such a promise while keeping you in the good graces of Google. They may very well be doing things that can get you banned from Google, and in fact I know some folks who had that happen to them as a result of using an aggressive “we’ll get you number one rankings” service. There ARE some legitimate Search Ranking Experts out there that can help, but none of the highly reputable ones that I know of are inexpensive. They’re good at what they do and they can support their fees by being true experts in their field.

All of the search engines, will look to your site to include a sitemap and a robot text file. These should be created and uploaded by your designer at the time of your site launch on the internet. These files tell search engines what they’re allowed to look at and what they should expect to find when cataloging your site.

Finally, you’ll have plenty of time to exercise your patience. Good page rankings will not happen overnight and require some persistence to both achieve and maintain. When you first launch, it can take as long as two weeks for the search engines to crawl (search) your site and index it in their catalog. By performing a little research, you can improve your page rankings yourself, but if it feels overwhelming don’t forget that your web designer should be able to help. Your designer will have tools available to them to monitor what the search engines find on your site, when it was crawled, and can provide useful feedback to assist you with adjusting your keywords before the next scan. After all, a website isn’t complete unless it can be found on the internet.

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