Search Engine Optimization – How do I rank well in Google?
While it is possible to pay for adverts and be highly visible in Google’s search results, your business would benefit more from ‘organic’ placement in Google and a high listing in relevant Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Obviously, the goal is to have a link to your website as high as possible in Google’s rankings. At the top of the list you get the most exposure at no expense, and there are other payoffs – to get to top of specific rankings you must be the best in your field, or influential in some other fashion, and that sort of perception makes an impact on your bottom line.
But how do you achieve high Google placement?
Since the dawn of the Internet people have tried to manipulate Google to get their listings as high as possible. This has led to the ‘art’ or ‘pseudoscience’ we all know as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
Although very important in the pre-Internet 2.0 days, the last number of years saw a series of high impact Google updates which led many to conclude that SEO is dead.
While it might be the case that it is less likely that you can manipulate your site to the top of the list, there is still a lot you need to do for Google to consider your site for a high (or even mediocre) ranking.
With that in mind, what follows is a meditation on SEO and a few things (in no particular order) that you might consider when building a website.
Nobody is sure what influences Google as far as search rank is concerned, but there does seem to be a few areas that have consistently shown benefits. One area is the content you use.
Many of the more recent Google updates have been designed to recognize quality content that is written well and without errors. Google doesn’t rank pointless content highly, nor do sites with lots of grammatical errors fair well.
Google appears to appreciate more in depth writing which requires more text. More pages than fewer also seems to be important.
It is also important to add keywords in your text so that Google can appreciate that your content is on topic.
Whereas once Google counted the number of keywords on a page, and elevated pages with more keywords, that’s not the case anymore. Stuffing your text with masses of similar keywords is frowned upon these days as it leads to poor content.
These days Google is also likely to consider Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords.
When someone writes about a topic they tend to use vocabulary items that are related to each other.
Someone writing about ‘agriculture’ is likely to use words like ‘farm’ and ‘grow’. Sites that use vocabulary that is tightly related to a central theme seem to rank better.
Copying content from another site is clearly something you should not do, and it will drive your site down the listings. You should also avoid using syndicated content as by definition, this is not unique content.
Having the same content on multiple pages of your site will also be harmful. As many sites are database driven with dynamic pages and content, it is important to ensure your code is correct. Code errors can be responsible for content appearing on more than one page and should be avoided.
The frequency that you add content also impacts SEO. While some sites are ‘evergreen’ – meaning their content always remains relevant with time.
Google seems to have a perspective that good sites add content regularly. You should therefore add content regularly and at a regular frequency (daily, every two days, etc.) for the best SEO results. This might even mean adding completely new sections regularly and removing outdated content on a regular basis.
Organize your content – use numbered lists, etc. Make it easy for a visitor to understand your message.
Using good auxiliary content might also be beneficial. For example, hotel websites with options to convert currencies are likely to be better viewed by Google than sites that do not. Think of what auxiliary content your readers would benefit from.
If you must redirect content pages, use permanent 301 redirects. However, too many 301 redirects are not good for SEO. Google likes pages/content removed and new pages/content added, so keep redirects down to a minimum.
Sites with well-structured architecture allow Google to organize the content of your site and list it more easily.
Good sites also use videos and multimedia – use them and Google is likely to perceive your site as a quality site. As YouTube is a Google site, using YouTube for your videos will have obvious benefits. Using other tools like Google Analytics and Google Tools for Webmasters also seem to have SEO benefits.
Google also appears to favor sites with ‘Terms’ and ‘Privacy’ pages.
At one stage, the domain used for a website was of vital importance to SEO, and many aspects of the domain name you use for your site are still important.
In the past, older domain names were favored, and to some extent, age is still a positive factor as far as ranking is concerned. Obviously then, buying a used name might be an advantage. But the older the domain, the less you know about it.
It might prove that a domain attached to a previous website was involved in shady activity (porn, etc.) and that sort of history means a domain could have been penalized as far as ranking is concerned – perhaps even banned entirely.
Website domain names that include the keywords used in a site’s name are still favored by Google.
A Dutch data center services provider based in Amsterdam is noted for spending $500,000 for the name ‘Datacenter.com’. Obviously, they feel a domain name containing keywords is important – perhaps you should too. However, with the introduction of so many new domain name extensions (.guru, .online, etc.), some suggest unless your website is very well made and has great content, a domain name which is an exact match to a particular search term might be detrimental as far as SEO is concerned.
So, a shabby site and great name means poor SEO. There’s no doubt Datacenter.com is a quality site!
As you probably know, you can pay for domain names for a single year, or for multiple years, and generally it seems that the longer you register your name in advance (5 years, 10 years, etc.) the more Google is impressed. Probably the theory is that if people commit to the domain name by paying for registration in advance, the more committed they are to the site, and the better it is likely to become.
In addition, the new wealth of extensions has an impact on SEO. These include ‘Country TLDs’ (.co.za, .africa, etc.).
You need to think about your audience – is it a global or regional audience? If local a Country TLD has some SEO advantages, but the domain won’t have a much pull on a global basis.
Domain names that are phrases used to be good for SEO, but these days not so much. Thus, a domain name such as www.how-do-you-teach-science.com might be insightful for a potential visitor, but Google is less likely to appreciate it.
Meta Tags, HTML
Meta tags are small amounts of text that are placed inside a website page that are usually not visible on the page itself. For instance, if you have a picture of a red flower in a vase on your site, you might add a description – ‘red flower in a vase’. This is seen by Google and impacts SEO.
There are several rules as far as meta tags are concerned. For instance, every site should have a title and it should be shown within the title tag. This makes the title visible to a visitor, but Google will see it something like this:
<title>This is the title</title>
If the title has a keyword relevant to the topic of your site, this seems to be important as far as SEO is concerned. Likewise, keywords in descriptions also seem to help – particularly if the keyword is at the beginning, rather than the end of a tag. ‘H1’, ‘H2’, and ‘H3’ tags also need to be completed, relevant, and if possible contain a keyword.
Google can pick up on this type of information and sites with good amounts of meta tags seem to fair better. Duplicating meta tags should though be carefully avoided.
Probably equally as important as having meta tags, is their absence.
Absence might suggest a poorly designed or maintained site that doesn’t adhere to proper design standards. Why would Google elevate such as site?
Sitemaps (a sitemap.xml file) have always been important to allow Google to pick up and classify a site, and they still are. Add a sitemap!
In the good old days, html pages – particularly home pages – just got longer and longer as content was added. These days how long a page takes to load has a direct impact on where your site is listed in Google.
Well, Google’s updates had ‘user experience’ in mind – someone using a lightning fast site who can get to the information he or she needs quickly and efficiently is going to have a better user experience than someone using a slow, lumbering site.
Beyond just the speed of the site, Google has become a bit territorial, and now considers elements like how fast a site loads in the Chrome browser.
Chrome is the most popular browser on phones, tablets and PCs, and its also a Google creation. Make sure your site is optimized for Chrome.
Again, in the halcyon days of the internet, links to a site meant everything – the more links a site had, the higher it went in Google. These days inbound links are important, but not as much as they were.
Inbound links from quality sources that cover the same topics as your site do will impact SEO, but millions of links from sites on different topics has the opposite effect.
Likewise, who you link to is important – link to a ‘bad neighborhood’ full of spam or poor content and this will have a negative impact on your site.
There is also debate about ‘do follow’ and ‘no follow’ outbound links. Do follow links are default in their nature. A do follow link is intentionally driving your audience’s and Google’s attention towards a site, and by adding such a link you are attaching the influence of your own site to that site. For example, the NASA website linking to someone’s science blog will offer that blog a high level of relevance and authority – and this would push it up the ranking.
No follow links are not followed by Google in the same way – they just direct a user to a site.
Some people suggest too many do follow links from a site as detrimental to its SEO. As a rule of thumb, avoid too many outbound links. As with everything else, keep outbound links relevant and useful. It is though important to reference any sources of your material with a link.
The number of internal links that lead to your site’s content is also important – too many is bad for SEO.
Ensure internal links are necessary and useful to a visitor.
Do not have multiple links to the same page. As a rule of thumb, each section should be accessible using one link – it’s not necessary to have a link to everything from your home page.
It hardly needs to be said – don’t sell links or otherwise have ‘sponsored’ links.
Google prefers links to come from sites with different IP addresses. Linking from lots of sites that are on the same server as your own and have the same IP address as your site is not beneficial for SEO.
Patches and Updates
If you are using one of the leading open source Content Management Systems (CMSs) like WordPress or Joomla, hacks and cyberattacks are always a threat.
The various open source communities do an excellent job creating patches and updates when threats exist. Keeping your software at the most recent version shows Google there is less chance of your site being compromised, and as a result, this has SEO benefits.
SSL certificates are programs that encrypt a site’s data when its is shown through a browser. They help protect a site and its content from third party intrusion.
They were originally devised to indicate the security of sites that hold sensitive data like credit card data, but Google now prefers all sites to have SSL certificates, and those sites with them rank better.
Maintenance and Uptime
Sites that are offline for prolonged periods of time for maintenance or because of issues like hacking do not enjoy good ranking.
Responsive Design and Mobile Optimization
Sites that have responsive designs and look good on mobile phones and tablets rank better than those that don’t. Sites that cannot be navigated easily both on PCs and mobile devices do not get ranked as highly as those that do.