People build a lot of mystique into search engine rankings. They like to pretend that there is a big secret to how this works. There is only one secret: search engines don’t tell us all criteria they use to rank websites. They don’t reveal all of the details involved because they don’t want people gaming the system. (And people already try using what they do tell us.) Anyone claiming to know these secrets is either a liar or has committed a felony called industrial espionage. So you’ll want to avoid those people.
However, when search engines do share information, they tell us a great deal. For that part, there is no big secret. While there are a great many technical details that can go into making a site rank better in search engines, there are a few basics you should know about as a site owner. I’ve got 3 things you should know.
1. If it’s not on the Site, It’s not in the Results
If you want your site to appear when someone types in the phrase “wedding photography” you MUST have these words on a page in your site. If those words do not exist at all on your site, then you have zero chance of turning up in search engines with that phrase.
Remember this when writing content for your site: search engines can only look for words that actually appear on your site. If its not on your site, search engines won’t see it.
2. Links to Your Site Are the Keys
If you want to go up in search engine rankings, you need other sites linking to yours. The single best thing you can do when trying to promote your site is to give people a reason to link to you. Post something interesting, useful, funny, or free. If you just have pages talking only about your business, odds are good few care enough to link to you. So write in a blog, or offer a free download, or give SOMETHING so people have a reason to link to you.
3. All Links Are Not Created Equal
There was a time when people would swap links to sites unrelated to theirs or join sites called link farms. Today, these can hurt your rankings. You don’t want to run out and get yourself added to every single directory anymore. There are websites that are in what we call “bad neighborhoods”. Their search engine rankings are so poor due to what we call “black hat SEO” (as opposed to “white hat”…think: black and white hats in Westerns). Linking to sites like that can hurt you.
Conversely, getting links from high-quality sites can boost your ranking immensely. Think of search engine rankings like a high school popularity contest. The more sites linking to you, the higher your ranking (more popular you are). And when the most popular sites out there link to you, your rankings go up even higher.
You may need to spend money on ad campaigns, or for directory listings, or join organizations that have a higher Page Rank than you do. This is something to bear in mind when budgeting for website promotion and when writing a business plan and/or marketing plan. There are still some free things you can do such as make a Facebook Fan page, which is indexed by search engines.
In a nutshell…
These 3 things are the most crucial things to know when planning your site. There are a great many other things we can do to help, from changing the names of your files to adding a site description in your META tags (code search engines see). But you can do all the technical things right and if you ignore these 3 things, you still won’t amount to much in the search engine rankings.
If you’d like to get ahead even more, read over my last post 10 Steps for Improving Google Ranking. You can also visit Google’s SEO Starter Guide. Yes, I tend to focus a lot on Google, but most search engines have followed their lead and use similar methods.