Guest post by Cara Mico . Before I mastered the subtle art of search engine optimization I thought that meta tags were key. My SEO technique was simple (I didn’t have one), I developed webpages with Frontpage and it was all about WYSIWYG.
They weren’t really sites, just glorified phone book ads on the internet. The purpose of these pages were to teach at-risk youth about site development so that they could build e-commerce websites for local businesses. I identified the organizations (non-profits, restaurants, etc.) and set the owners up with budding designers wet behind the ears with the dew of youth and … you get the idea.
They built simple pages with hours, menus, missions, and the like all registered with a popular hosting service. When the businesses wanted to make changes to the sites, the password, username, and other credentials left with the former manager. Now the hosting service owns the domain names because we couldn’t access the control panel to renew them. Go Figure. On top of all of that, only one website (the one I actively maintain for the non-profit the site was designed for) is still active.
Why is this important? The lesson the young designers came away with is that websites are only as valuable as the content within. Although the background colors were web-friendly and the photos were all arranged neatly with alternate text for visually impaired visitors, the websites themselves became obsolete the moment they were published. Without new content, the pages were instantly buried in the sands of web-time, which we all know is 10,000 times faster than the speed of light!
Increasing a pages relevancy is the core of SEO and yes, you too can master SEO. Can one actually force a site to the top via a trick or fast tip? Yes and no, but you really don’t want to. Keywords might bump you up one slot but only one, and only if the site content matches the keywords AND other sites point to your site for the SAME keywords.
Obviously this system was prone to abuse so they down-weighted it but it still holds true. Keywords can’t take you from page 13 to the top. Content can. I maximized SE placement for my own business website using all the regular bag of tricks: good indexing in standard directories; stayed away from spamming; cleaned up the code; kept proper tags.
Although I could never compete SEO wise with the monster companies that have been around for half a century or more our site is extremely well placed for what we do and we have more than doubled our projects as a result of my work. What the big guys have that I don’t is thousands of backlinks, I only have 50. They have thousands of employees, I have 10. Small businesses trying to make a name for themselves in a field dominated by the big-guys has always been difficult. It is akin to a mom-and-pop automobile manufacturer trying to out-compete Ford. You will never beat Ford cars at SEO no matter how hard you try unless you happen to be Dodge cars.
There is a silver lining. By putting my company out there, completely ignoring 90% of so-called SEO techniques, and focusing on providing good content, our website became more relevant, naturally. This led to a complete restructuring of our business. Using Google Analytics I found that most visitors found our website searching for information regarding invasive weeds in Oregon.
This lead to the development of our data clearinghouse which includes a glossary, free GIS data and maps, and environmental reports. We started a forum where our employees discuss food, agriculture, politics, and other topics. This not only helps potential customers now about us but it helps to recruit awesome partners. It is easier for people to ally with those they understand.
This was easy for our organization which is a small, private, soon-to-be-non-profit, environmental research firm, but these four simple tips can increase any page rank and location on the good-old-google list.
4 Key Components of Modern SEO
Here are the 4 key components of Modern Search Engine Optimization – Build a good index, make your site work, be relevant and stay relevant.
1. Build a good index!
Get yourself out there because nobody will buy your widget if they don’t know you have it (even if it is the best in world). If you don’t put yourself in the right places, the people who need to see you won’t be able to find you.
Example: Bank A has two branches: Branch A focuses on local banking and Branch B is a trust company. Branch A has good visibility because they are a staple of the community and everyone in town uses there website to pay bills => their page is ranked high and comes out when you search “Bank A” in Google. Branch B is invisible because they sell to a niche clientelle and deal mostly with people ‘in the beyond’, it is really hard to sell because they are essentially waiting for the people to come to them => their page is non-existant and but your can learn about Branch B on an obscure sub-page of the Branch A website. How can Branch B ever expand outside of this model if nobody knows they exist until Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandma finally kicks the bucket?
You have to start by building a good index! If you build a good site that has lots of content and is relevant Google will find you. You have to make sure all the phone books have your correct website address (on paper and online). You have to engage in the community and reach out, you can’t just wait for your customer to come to you. When you engage in the community, they will link back to you because they need you.
2. Make your site work!
People can’t buy your widget if your buttons don’t work!!! Tag your goods so that a person wanting to buy a widget is not directed to your widget-cleaner page. Example: Branch A has a page for Branch B but it is static, has missing information, looks like it was designed in 2003, etc. People probably won’t even know it is there until directed to it by a person.
Sales are almost never generated from the website itself because there is a flaw in the page. People use the website for Branch B to get a phone number. They are bereft and maybe even confused. They are looking to develop a trust fund for their children because they are going to die. They are greeted by a maze of confusing, non-intuitive links and the leave with no idea how to talk to the people they need to talk to.
At best they can email their request and wait for a reply. This makes them feel even more hopeless. They now feel bereft, twice as confused as they were, and certain that they will not use Bank A for trust purposes. Your website needs to reach your target audience. Not all webpages need to look one way. In fact, write in code and forget the layout. Google doesn’t care what color your background is.
3. Be relevant
If your widget really is the best in the world, give it to one person and tell them to tell their friends. If it really is that awesome and people can’t live without it, they will buy your widget. Your page rank will increase as a result!
Example: Bank A is relevant in the community for personal banking but not for commercial banking. Bank B is known for commercial banking but not personal. When neighbors Google Banks in My Area they get a return for Bank A over Bank B because Bank A is relevant to the search. Bank B can’t expect to become important to the personal banker unless they restructure their organization.
There isn’t one trick, you just have to put yourself out there actually. This is why it is better to do website design in house, a good website is designed by someone invested in the organization, ideally they are an integral member of the marketing department. You can’t just change a few words, the words have to be backed up by something tangible (i.e. good shipping records or industry leader in sales has to actually mean that, Google is like Santa, it knows when you are bad).
4. Stay relevant
Just because your widget was awesome in 2010 doesn’t mean it will fly in 2011. Make sure you are making and selling widgets because you offer something somebody else doesn’t. If you have 50 widget stores all selling the same widget, it is hard to stand out. Is your widget is hand made by elves of dwarven gold, that will probably stand out. Your page rank will increase as a result!
Example: Bank A was founded in 2000 and Bank B was founded in 1900. Bank B is more relevant because they are older but Bank A has maximized their search-engine placement because Bank A hosts festivals, career fairs, and offers scholarships to local high school students. They are a more integral community member and therefore have stayed relevant online while Bank B only offers free checking.
I recently informed a web client of mine that Google doesn’t care what your webpage looks like and most people don’t either. The Google algorithms are crafty and with clean, white-hat methods, Google can make a major change to that algorithm and the ranking for a relevant site doesn’t change that much. People are behind those algorithms and ultimately we are all the same.
Less is more (I find Google likes a code to content ratio of ~ not greater than 75-25, but it is hard to say for sure), time is money (Google and the People agree, a wait-time of greater than 5 seconds usually means its nearly over), you are what you eat (content, content, content), and timing is everything (content means nothing when taken out of context, and believe me, you can’t trick Googlebot).
Guest author Cara Mico is CEO, Principal, and Marketing Director at Demeter Design, an Oregon Environmental Data Firm. Additionally Demeter Design provides organizational development, marketing, and website design services for non-profits and commercial businesses.