Fishing for Google

More and more often I’m getting calls and emails from clients who have a new web site project that, as an afterthought, they want good Google placement on. A typical exchange is:

“Joe, I need you to drive traffic to my site and have it show up on Google.”

The problem is that this assumes the web designer has a magic button that steers people to the website. Sure there are things we can do to help make the content more clear, and there are mistakes we can make that can hide it, but many clients are surprised to learn that’s really all a web designer can contribute to a site’s search rankings.

“Aren’t there ‘Keyword’ meta-tags or something?” Once upon a time, some crafty meta-tags could cue the early search engines in as to what was on a page. This was handy back in the “Lycos” days. Not anymore. Google largely ignores this information. Why? This changed because Google has had to adapt to a growing Internet.

There are 500 times more web pages than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

Yet when you put a word into Google, it surprisingly often gives you a list that contains just the page you are looking for. This is amazing and it’s due to Google’s constantly evolving methodology for serving you pages that are relevant to the words you put in. This means it’s getting smarter at learning which pages are relevant to a term and which aren’t. This is largely good news for you, the site owner.

So if the meta-tag thing is out, then what DOES drive good search ranking? Google assumes that people on the Internet are there for a reason, like people at a market – they are in a hurry and their senses are overloaded. They are trying to find you and want to do business with you but you are in the world’s most crowded market place and you’ve only just opened. So how do we let the world know you are here? The website, like a merchant on a crowded market street, must lure visitors to it by its own charms or through generating buzz. However Google only reads text, and flashing neon signs aren’t going to work. Google ignores your graphics, fancy animations, flash, -everything but good ol’ HTML text. This is a good thing since our crowded market isn’t a crowded visual space, but a place crowded with information. In such a crowd, the most relevant information is like a flashing neon sign.

If you are a search engine, which site would you go to: The one with a sign reading – “Come to our store!”, or the one reading “Cheese Gift Baskets”. The more relevant and targeted message gets through the noise of irrelevant stuff that makes up the Internet.

So then how do we attract visitors with only our words in this busy market place? The explanation is best served by a new metaphor…

Fishing for hits.

Know what you are fishing for.

Is it Trout, Bass or Tuna? In order to get good rankings you have to define your goals clearly. “Good search placement” could mean anything. Top-listing for “Seattle Window Cleaning” on the other hand is a clear objective. Build a list of the terms you want good placement for. Put them into Google and see how competitive it is. Are you trying to catch tuna with a 20$ pole in the Arkansas River? Unrealistic objectives for your search engine placement will leave you empty handed. It’s better to find out what terms you CAN go for and develop a strategy to corner them before expanding into very competitive search terms.

Use lots of hooks.

Offer a lot of relevant content. Consider it like a trout-line, where the more hooks you have in the water with your bait on them, the better your odds of snaring a fish who is after your brand of bait. Your content is the line, and the words you use are the hooks. You must author lots of content with many hooks to draw visitors in.

So what are some concrete ways get more lines in the water with more hooks on them? There are limitless strategies to get more relevant content on your site, use your imagination and have fun with it. Here’s a list of some commonly used methods:

1. Include customer testimonials.

2. Put up a blog and answer questions there.

3. Make series of pages that constitute a pitch for your product or service. Be detailed.

4. Put up case studies or client profiles.

5. Frequently feature new aspects of your business or service and build an archive of features over time.

Fish the right streams.

To get your lines of content and their hooks to catch hits, you need to get those hooks into the right streams where the fish you want are swimming. Imagine that you have really great bait on a ton of hooks in an isolated puddle with two fish in it. You might catch two fish. But imagine that this fishing hole is connected to a river, or a lake, or an ocean. In order to get fish into your stream, you need water coming in, bringing in the fish. On the web, that’s going to be links from other sites.

Google does more than just look at your content; it looks at how your page relates to the rest of the Internet. Does anyone go there? How much traffic does it get? How often is it updated? Does anyone link to it? What words are in the links when the do?

These criteria characterize the water that flows into the stream you are fishing with your keywords. Are they rich waters? If not, then you must stock them by going out on the web and building paths back to your site for visitors, including Google, to find.

The more that reputable sites link to you the more reputable Google sees you.

The more times people link to you as “A great place to get crapes”, the more Google will associate you with “crapes”.

The more traffic you get, the more seriously Google takes you.

So what are some concrete ways to enrich your waters with more fish? There are limitless strategies to get mentioned on the web and all you need is a browser and some imagination. Here are a few common methods people use to increase their website’s relationship with the Internet.

1. Use social networking. Put up a company myspace or facebook page and link back to your company site. Update this page often, make “friends” with your customers and related businesses. This works with any other social networking service too. Do you have a linked-in account? Update your profile to include to your new website’s url. Be sure to describe what the company offers in the link.

2. Find customers who are looking for you. Often, online forums, blogs, and other online discussions have people looking for your exact service. For example, I can Google for “What is a good alternative to buying a steam cleaner”, and find dozens of places where people ask this question. The answer could be “Hire us to come over. Here’s our site.” You should be careful not to spam or to violate a website’s terms of service. Only recommend yourself where appropriate and link to yourself if it’s allowed. If a person is asking online what the best local cleaning service is, there’s nothing at all wrong about recommending yourself and stating your case, along with a link. I think that’s what makes the internet great! It opens up channels of communication.

3. Find review sites for your product or service and be sure you are listed.

4. Try to be listed by your local chamber of commerce.

5. Try to be listed by friends and associates.

6. Form strategic partnerships with related companies and services who will link to one another. Be sure they are reputable. Only link to reputable organizations.

Keep your waters fresh and circulating.

Still stagnant water kills fish – just as still stagnant web sites kill your search ranking. Google figures that if your page hasn’t been updated in 5 years, it’s just an artifact. A vibrant, relevant company should have a vibrant relevant page.

When all else fails, go to the store and buy some fish.

The above 3 methods improve your “organic” search placement. Organic placement is what you get naturally from Google’s indexing of your site. However sometimes this isn’t enough and there’s a real incentive to spend money to get more traffic to the site. For this, there is Google Adwords. Google’s Adwords offer pay-per click top-listings. If a user follows a Google Adword to your site, you pay a set amount (depending on competition over the term you bought, it’s anywhere from a few cents to fifty bucks per click).

SEO Optimization Breakdown:

In summary, the best way to gain great search rankings is to build upon the following strategic goals:

1. Set your goals. Define the terms you want to have good placement for.

2. Content is king. Author lots of content that is rich in the words and phrases that a customer looking for you would put into a search engine. The more hooks, the more fish.

3. Get linked. Let Google know what kind of site you have by the links coming into it. Get out there and start building context for your website by getting links to your site in the appropriate context flowing back to your company page.

4. Keep it fresh. Always think of new ways to get your site updated. Blogs, features, specials, testimonials…whatever you do, keep it circulating and give Google a reason to keep coming back.

5. Adwords. Can either provide a boost to jump start an isolated site or augment organic search placement.

NEXT: I plan to include a case-study of a client who currently doesn’t show up at all for a specific, highly relevant, desired search term. First, they had me modify their “keyword” tags and I obliged, but now after months of no results, they are ready to give the methods above a try. We’ll see how it has worked for them in an upcoming post.

Do you have any questions about Google placement? Thoughts on my observations so far? Feel free to comment below.


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