Thanks to Tanya for the invite to contribute.
I’m the former CEO of workzoo.com, a vertical search engine, and am the current founder and CEO of Seattle based LineBuzz.com. Running a vertical search engine, I gained some insight into how search engine designers think and the kinds of engineering problems they deal with.
Ironically, one of the things we did successfully as a business with workzoo was our own SEO. We received thousands of new visitors from Google every day. So I’m going to talk a little about what I think small businesses can do to get more traffic from search engines.
First, the glossary:
SEO: Search engine optimization. The act of promoting your website to search engines without spending any money.
SEM: Search engine marketing. Advertising on search engines using something like Google’s AdWords. This costs money.
SERPS: Search Engine Results Pages. The higher you rank the better.
SE: A Search Engine
Rule #1: Think like a search engine software engineer
You don’t have to have a PhD to figure out that Google is in the business of indexing new, unique and useful content in the hope of incorporating that content into a search results page that matches a users query as closely as possible.
If you have a unique and useful page of content on your website that isn’t showing up in Google’s SERPS, then Google isn’t doing their job properly. That is why Google themselves tell you to promote your website by getting other related sites to link to your site. Because that’s the easiest way for them to find and index your site without any additional work on their part.
As another example, if you have a website that has stolen content from another site and republished it, and your sites pages show up in the SERPS alongside the real owners pages, then Google is also not doing their job properly. That’s the reason why there is something called a duplicate content penalty. If Google detects content on your page that has appeared on another page somewhere else on the web, you may get slapped with this penalty and be removed from the SERPS.
The rest of this post is drawn from my personal experience, posts I’ve seen on SEO websites and common sense.
Rule #2: Exploit the long-tail.
Don’t optimize for individual keywords. You’ll never get to page one for “real estate seattle” so don’t bother trying.
Instead, exploit the long-tail.
Publish lots of content that is interesting to your target market. Then instead of getting a few hundred people a month who are googling a single term (like “real estate seattle”) and happen to look at page 7 of the SERPS, you’ll get tens of thousands of people who are Googling a wide range of long-tail terms, like “house with wooden shutters on a lake in seattle” and “brick home on a quiet street near a coffee shop in west seattle”.
Rule #3: Unique Content is key.
Unique content is the most valuable SEO commodity on the Internet today – and it’s how you exploit the long-tail. If you have a large database of textual data that can be formatted into web pages, you are already 80% of the way there. For example, 1 record in your database becomes 1 page. With 10,000 records in a product catalog you have 10,000 unique pages for a search engine to index. Not only that, but each record is different. So if you’re an engineering company, one page might be about a “1 millimeter titanium copper plated washer” and another might be about a “two inch diameter hardened plastic pipe” all of which are very specific long-tail search terms that will bring someone looking for that specific thing to your website.
Rule #4: New Unique Content is 10 times better than old Unique content.
All things being equal, a search engine will rank newer content higher than older content because in all likelihood the newer content supersedes the older content. If you’re a news site or a blog, you’re in business, provided you have constant new and unique content. Don’t forget UNIQUE.
Rule #5: Get backlinks, but Choose your Neighbours.
Links from other websites to your own site are important. But links from “bad neighborhoods” may actually decrease your ranking in the SERPS.
You want a handful of links from high-quality websites to your site. I’ve seen sites with just one high quality link from a highly ranked website shoot up in ranking in the SERPS. And I’ve seen others with thousands of low quality links stagnate for months.
Rule #6: Get the basics right
Now that you’re thinking like a search engine designer, exploiting the long tail by publishing large amounts of unique and useful content, making sure you’ve got a constant stream of new content on your site and you have a few high quality backlinks, you need to make sure you don’t screw up the basics. There are a ton of sites out there that will teach you basic SEO, but here are some tips:
- Make sure your pages validate reasonably well with the w3c page validator. They don’t have to be perfect. Just make sure they’re not riddled with errors.
- Make sure the title tag in the page header is something that describes the page itself and not your website.
- Good: “1 millimeter Titanium copper coated washer”
- Bad: “Mark’s enginnering website”
- Use a descriptive URL the way blog platforms do.
- Good: http://example.com/1_millimeter_titanium_copper_coa.html
- Bad: http://example.com/page432.html
- Build a hierarchical link structure that looks like a tree. Your home page links to 10 parent categories, which link to 10 sub categories and so on.
- Have plenty of cross-linking in your tree structure. So pages in the hierarchy link to other pages that aren’t necessarily above or below them in the hierarchy.
- Make sure each page has less than 100 links to other pages on your or anyone elses website.
- Keep page size under 100k.
- Make sure your pages load fast. That means under 1 second for pure HTML without images or other media.
I think everything I’ve written about so far is probably fact. Here are some items that are opinions of mine that you may find hotly debated in SEO forums:
- I don’t use an XML sitemap. I prefer to see which pages aren’t being indexed by Google because they don’t have enough ‘link-juice’ and then fix my link structure – rather than manually guiding Google in.
- I don’t use meta-tags. I believe SE’s stopped looking at them a long time ago because they figured out webmasters are all liars.
- My approach of going after the long-tail vs optimizing for specific keywords is probably a little controversial, but the data I and others have seen speaks for itself.
A final tip: Use Google’s webmaster tools to check for errors when Google crawls your website. Keep a close lookout for missing pages, page errors and slow page load times.
CEO - LineBuzz.com
Labels: Google, SEO, Web Design