Geek News

So you want your Web site to rank No.1 on Google, eh? Well, get in line.

Oh, you want to do it for $50 a month? You say you’ve seen e-mails claiming you can do that? Sure, and I’m selling some seaside property in Glenwood Springs.

I’ve been helping people rank well on Google for a number of years – I’ve written three editions of Search Engine Optimization for Dummies since 2003 – and in response to a special request, I’m going to see how far I can get explaining search engine optimization, or SEO, in around 800 words – a mere sketch.

First, “No. 1 on Google” has no meaning unless you tell me for what keywords. I can get a No. 1 rank within days if you let me pick the keywords. Search for “rodent engineering” on Google, Yahoo and MSN, and the No. 1 entry will be a page I placed in the search results, with a few minutes work and a few days wait. Of course not many people want to rank well for that term, which is why it was so easy.

Keywords are the foundation of SEO. Pick the keywords you think are the right ones, rather than the ones your prospects are really using, and you might as well give up now. The academics at a major online university once banned the phrase “online degree” from the site. A shame, because all their prospective students searched using terms that included the words “online degree.”

Now, who’s going to manage your SEO for you? Oh, your Web designer? Sure, and next time you need some dental work come over to my place. Your chance of finding a Web-design firm that understands how to do SEO is about as high as your chance of getting good investment advice from your supermarket cashier – it could happen, but should you risk it?

I’ve never met a Web designer who really understood SEO, though I’ve trained a few. Even if your design firm says it can handle SEO for you – and most will – it almost certainly cannot.

Now, there are essentially two aspects to SEO: things you do to your Web site, and things you do to other people’s Web sites (in other words, links you create on other peoples’ sites pointing back to your site).

We’ll start with the former.

It’s easy to create Web sites that have no chance of ranking well in the search engines, and many Web designers do so every day. To rank well, though, you’ll want to ensure that you have plenty of text _ and that the text includes your keywords – scattered throughout the site. Thus graphic-heavy sites often don’t rank well. I’ve seen sites that are almost purely images – even the text in the site is created as an image. It may look great, but the search engines won’t have anything to index, so you probably won’t rank well.

Another way to hurt a site is with navigation structures that can’t be read by the search engines _ some forms of JavaScript navigation, for instance. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use such things, just that if you do, you need to make sure you also have plenty of plain text links at the bottom and scattered throughout the pages.

You’ll need the keyworded text in your “title” tags, in your “description” meta tags, in “H1” tags, and in links between pages. That’s right, forget those “click here” links; they just tell Google that the referenced page is about “click here.” Put actual keywords into the links; doing so tells Google, and the others, what the referenced page is about.

Working on your pages is not enough. You have to have links pointing from other sites back to yours. If nobody links to you, why should Google think your site is important? You need links – plenty of them – with keywords in the link text to tell the search engines what your site is all about. The ideal situation is that your site is so cool, interesting or useful that millions of people will link to it without you even asking.

That’s the essence of SEO. Create optimized pages, and get links to them. Then create more pages and more links. Then do it again. Of course the devil’s in the details.

Peter Kent is an SEO consultant, and the author of “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies.” For more information, visit www.PeterKentConsulting.com, or e-mail GeekNews@PeterKentConsulting.com.