The one comment I hear routinely from prospective clients is, “I don’t care what you do, just make me No. 1 on Google.”
There are a few things driving that simple statement. One is that the person doesn’t know why they want a website; someone just told them they needed one, or several customers have asked where the website is on the net, or they are desperate for business and want to try this new web “thing.” Another is that they know being No. 1 on Google is a “good” thing, and they hope that it will improve their business.
Being No. 1 on Google’s listing is a good thing because your business’ name is very prominent. However it won’t transform your business. You may get more phone calls about your business, but more calls is rarely desirable. Which would you rather have: more calls or higher quality calls?
The Real Secret to Top Listings
Being at the very top of Google’s listing is insanely easy. Buy the ticket and take the ride. It’s a paid spot and a legitimate business expense. The first four spots are actually available for a fee as well as the ones at the top of the sidebar on the results page. If being at the top of Google is that important to you, then pay for it out of your advertising budget. Problem solved. We can all go home now.
And I see there are still some people left. The folks who want to do this for free. I didn’t think I’d get out of here that easily. Well, if you really want to know the real trade secret, I’ll share it with you. Read on.
Let’s consider what Google does so well and what Google is supposed to do. Lucky for us, they are the exact same thing. Google helps people find "stuff." All sorts of "stuff." Their main page has one of the most beautiful user interfaces in the world. It’s very zen, and it’s dead simple to use. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t use Google somewhere over 50 times, and every time I pause to marvel at the simplicity of the page.
Finding “stuff” on the web, however, is anything but simple, unless you want to settle for garbage. There’s a lot of garbage on the web actually, and it gets in the way of Google finding the quality stuff. So Google tinkers with its algorithm. In March of 2012 they made 50 changes to their search algorithm. Google expects to make more than 500 changes to their algorithm this year. This tinkering drives some people in the search engine optimization business batty, because they are trying to game the system. They’re part of the reason that the web has so much garbage.
There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute
SEO (search engine optimization) has become a huge business and, for some, an art. To be sure, there are legitimate people practicing SEO, but there are more Carpetbaggers in that field than legitimate folks. So, all you have to do is go find one of the Carpetbaggers, and you’ll be at the top of the search listings for a few months. Then you’ll fall off and have to pay your guy again for the “new secrets."
The Hidden and Ultra-Secret Way to Rank Higher
How does Rolls Royce turn out a high quality product year after year after year? Did you know you can stand next to a 50-year-old Rolls Royce that’s running and the engine is quiet and doesn’t vibrate? It’s remarkable.
The garbage clogging the web is as serious a problem as the Chevrolet Corvair, deemed “unsafe at any speed.” So what did Google do lately to improve your search results? The partial list of changes below are from March 2012.
- Pages with ads above the fold will be penalized because people don’t want to scroll past a bunch of ads to get to the content they searched for. One or two ads are not a big deal. Loading up the page at the top with ads simply to monitize your blog will lower your Google ranking.
- Freshness is now measured more effectively. “Freshness” has to do with the age of a page. Businesses that put up a few pages and then never change them will see themselves penalized for it.
- Relevance of content — Is the content relevant to the keywords in the document head, relevant to the description in the head and relevant to the headings used in the page? Here, care needs to be taken in sites powered by programs like WordPress because the keywords and the description tend to be set globally and won’t apply to each individual page.
- Site Quality — sites that contain quality content that is relevant and timely will rank higher. It means your content is concise, grammatically correct, spelled properly, and well-written. Notice how I separated “well-written” from “grammatically correct” and from “spelled properly?” It’s an important distinction.
- Page Layout — Semantic layouts are rewarded, while non-semantic layouts are penalized. If your designer used tables to layout the pages, you do not have a semantic layout. It’s really that cut and dried.
- Classification of images has been enhanced. All images have “alt” and “title” tags and a good designer uses them religiously to help people with accessibility issues. We do that because it is the right thing to do. Google uses those tags to help categorize the site’s images and to help measure quality and relevance. If your designer didn’t care about people who can’t use a mouse or need a screen reader, figuring they weren’t important, your site will be penalized. Filler images will lower your score. A table-based layout depends on filler images.
The Top-Secret, Fool-Proof Way to Google Success
Avoid fads, Daddy-o. Think long-term. The days of improving your ranking by buying keywords are long gone. Put your efforts into creating high-quality content that actually makes a difference for your visitors. Content that actually provides value to them. And if you have to tell them you’re providing value…you aren’t.
Matt Curtis, head of Google’s spam team, calls the changes, “leveling the playing field.” All search engines are going to crack down with a vengeance on poorly written, irrelevant content this year. Instead of paying a designer to play games in the code, start offering well-written, timely, and unique content consistently. If you can’t write, hire someone who can.
Matt Malone over at Gravitate has come up with five simple questions to gauge your site.
- Do you have an attractive site?
- Is your site easy to navigate?
- Is each page on your site specific to only one or two topics?
- Is your copy grammatically correct, completely original and at least 250 words per page?
- Do you have a blog hosted on your domain that you update at least twice a month?
To his five questions I would add a couple of things. Your site needs to be attractive on all modern devices. Pay your designer to make your site responsive, rather than making it look good in Internet Explorer 6 and 7. Never pay a designer to make you a mobile site. People hate mobile sites.
Layout is the other important focus point. How is your site laid out? If it’s a table-based design you need to start thinking about spending the money it’s going to take to change it to a semantic layout. The search engines are not going to reverse their stance of penalizing table-based sites, because, quite simply, we haven’t needed to use tables for design purposes since 1998.