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How Do I Increase My Search Engine Rankings?

Increasing Search Engine Rankings

by Holly Russo
>>Also see list of important search engines

I am often asked how one can be found at the top of search results. For this reason, I wrote up some text on the latest methods. (Please feel free to distribute but if you do, please include a credit and link back to this page.)

There are two things which influence rankings. One is internal and one is external.

External influences on your website's ranking

The external influences you have no control over. It consists of outside links to you. That tells search engines (specifically Google) that your page is considered worthy by other people -- the people have voted! Links from highly-ranked sources will rate better than links from obscure pages. For this reason, I recommend below listing your site within directories like dmoz and Wikipedia.

You might be wondering, is there anything I can do to increase how many people link to me? Yes, there are two things you can do:

1. Provide content. Provide info that is good enough that people will
*want* to link to it. Everyone is an expert in something. A roofing company can have info on signs of roof wear; a dog trainer can talk about how to deal with a puppy's first week home; a personal trainer can discuss how to avoid repetitive stress injuries caused by a poor computer setup.

What do your customers ask you when they call? Pay attention to frequent questions, write them down and assemble them into a list. These are all potential topics for content.

It's time-consuming, but write up your info and put it online. Regularly. Establish a blog if you want an easy way to continually update your site yourself. (Blogger.com is a great free tool that makes it super easy to post online -- you don't need to know anything special. If you can send an email, you can operate a blog.)

The format of a blog is more like a newspaper than a static website because posts are listed by date with the most current one right up front. Some blogging tools only archive by date (Blogger.com), others allow topics (like Wordpress) -- an extremely useful feature.

A blog is a good supplement to a website but not a good replacement. However, if you want to get new content online, it can be a great way to draw new visitors to your site for free yourself.

Search engines like it when they see a site being updated often. The more you update your pages with good content, the more your rankings will increase. Search engines increase the frequency of visitation and ranking when they see updates are made often.

2. Apply to be listed in directories like dmoz.com and yahoo.com (and others - there are many directories in the 'deep web') - and hope they will list you. Good directories usually will if your site isn't misleading or trying to scam search engines into giving falsely-high rankings. (None of the strategies listed in this article are false.) View list of directories.

You can also ask for links, but make sure you are NOT targeting "link farms" - sites that consist of nothing but links - this can get you kicked off of Google. Instead find people with related content where you can both benefit from having eachother's link, and write a personal email (not a mass-generated one) asking for a reciprocal link.

Internal influences on your website's ranking

Internal methods are what you can do to your website to increase rankings. You will have to be web-savvy to implement these. All are honest techniques and will not backfire.

You can learn how to make your own web pages, it's not that difficult. Making a page *look* sophisticated is a little more complicated but anyone can do it if they have the time to learn. Good books for beginning do-it-yourselfers include the "Teach Yourself Visually" series.

Buy the version for your web software. I recommend Dreamweaver, other people have enjoyed Frontpage or Adobe GoLive. There is no hard and fast rule - whatever you like using. There are also tutorials online that can help you learn how to make your own site.

The first thing you'll want is to research what keywords people are using. There's a good tool on Overture's website called the "Keyword Selector Tool." You type in a keyword and it will show you not only how many people used that keyword in a search, but how many variations of it were used.

The searches are not completely accurate - it will only use keywords that people searched for on Overture - NOT Google, Yahoo or any other search engine. But it's still useful to see what keywords you should target.

For example, I was reading that many airlines were using the keyword "discount air fares," not realizing that people were searching for "cheap tickets". Changing the keyword brought in many more people.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it can take 6 months to a year to achieve good results with Google. This is so common that "being sandboxed" by Google is an actual slang term used by those enduring this frustrating time period. Google will index you quickly once you submit your site (or once they find your link) but it will take a while before these techniques start working. Have patience.

The age of a website matters too; those that have been around a while will often fare better than newcomers (at least at first) unless you are lucky enough to have a huge attention draw for visitors or if you have the time to implement all of these recommendations.

Once you do your keyword research, you should:

1. Use keywords in HTML heading tags.

Search engines can tell that if text is physically large, then it's a title, "so it must be important" they say. If you're putting "Wolf Dogs" at the top of the page, instead of making it "+1", make it an "H3" heading. It doesn't matter if it's actually large or not, just that it's a heading tag. This may or may not be possible though depending on your design and layout. If you can't do this, the others are more important (namely, #6 - content).

2. Use keywords in links.

A link saying "click here" isn't as good as a link saying "learn more
about wolf dogs" because the latter has a keyword in the text. It's also more readable to your visitors this way, so you're improving how your site is read by people as well as search robots!

3. Use keywords in your title.

(The title is at the verrry top of the page, above your "File" and "Edit" and "Bookmarks" buttons.) It's also what you see when you bookmark a page. Keywords there are good.

4. Use keywords in your alt text.

Alt text stands for alternative text - this is what shows up when a picture isn't finished downloading, or what, say, a visually-impaired person might hear when their browser is reading aloud to them. The keywords you place here help tell the search engine bot what your page is about.

5. Insert keywords in meta tags.

Even though most search engines (like Google) do not use meta tags, some still do. It couldn't hurt to use meta description & keyword tags so there's no reason not to.

6. Have keyword-rich content.

A keyword should appear at least 4 times in your text.

7. Avoid frames.

Frames confuse search engine robots and they can't navigate through your site or index it well. Usability studies also show that people hate frames.

8. Avoid Flash (or at least avoid Flash-only sites)

Not only do usability studies show that people consistently HATE Flash-based sites because it slows them down, but search engines have no way of recognizing any of the text in a Flash file.

There are very specific audiences that can benefit from Flash (for example, educational applications and movie previews). To determine if your site falls in this category, ask yourself if you would be willing to watch a short video before being allowed to buy something. For example, would you be willing to stand in the milk aisle while the carton rotates slowly as a cow dances across the cover before you were allowed to buy it? Choose your animation wisely.

Another reason to avoid Flash is because people are increasingly using their PDAs, Blackberries, and cell phones to access the web. Many of these do not support Flash. The iPhone, growing in popularity, is part of a trend of phones & mobile devices that do not support flash:

The iPhone Threat: "In any case, the iPhone is Apple's best shot at killing Flash, and Apple appears happy to be using it as such. The company just recently removed all remains of Flash from its corporate website, implementing everything that had been Flash-based using standards-based Ajax techniques instead."

9. Line up your navigation along the left side.

Search engine bots can navigate pages more easily when they follow traditional standard page layout, which is usually a navigation bar along the left and a heading along the top. To see your site as the spiders see them, use the text-only browser Lynx (on a Unix system) when testing.

10. Have navigation links as text (somewhere on site)

If your navigation is made of images, it's a good idea to have text links somewhere on your site because search engines sometimes have difficulty viewing images. (I do this here with a footer of text links on each page repeating the regular navigation.).

   Bottom line - have good content and update your well-designed keyword-rich page frequently with more good (keyword-rich) content, and you'll be set!

Holly Russo

Search Engine Resources


  • The Lycos 50 daily report - find weekly top keywords:
  • Keyword research: How to pick effective keywords that will work for marketing your web site. From Market Position.
  • Keyword Selector Tool: One of my favorite tools. Type in a keyword and find relevant keywords that people are actually using. It's flawed - this shows keywords only used for Overture, not Google, but still a good tool nonetheless.

Search Engine Links:

  • Search Engine Watch - Very comprehensive website on search engines, which are out there, how to rank, and more.
  • Excellent article on how to get better rankings. Discusses steps to take for better rankings.
  • How to choose a search engine (Very comprehensive list by the University of Albany Library; makes a good research tool.)
  • If you want to hire someone besides us to work on rankings,
    Planet Ocean and Coastal Sites are repudiated to be the best.
  • For a true course on search engine positioning, go with the Academy of Web Specialists' Advanced Web Positioning Course. This is what companies look for if they are hiring you to be the search engine positioning person, so it must be good.

Keeping track of links IN your site, and links TO your site:

Some search engines, like Google, rank you more highly if you have many other sites linking to you - this is link popularity.

  • Link checking software - Check for broken links in your website. If your site isn't maintained well with good-quality links, you'll be penalized. Running a link-checking program regularly is a must.
  • How popular is your site? - Query Google, Altavista, and Hotbot to see who's linking to you. You can also find out directly using Google, Yahoo, or Altavista. (Yahoo & Altavista are better at this than Google for some reason.) Type in the search box: link:http://URL
    (e.g.: link:http://www.wavian.com )

Best search engine books:

Search Engine Positioning (With CD-ROM) by Mr. Marckini

UnFair Advantage in Winning the Search Engine Wars
from Planet Ocean

The Step by Step Guide to Successfully Promoting a Web Site

Copyright © Holly Russo, Wavian Web Design (www.wavian.com), please do not distribute without including author credit and link to www.wavian.com.

If you would like a free website improvement analysis from both a usability and search engine ranking perspective, please e-mail me at russo@wavian.com. Please note that my schedule fills up quickly so availability for consultation may vary, although I respond to most requests within 24 hours. Thank you for stopping by!

Wavian Web Design
Phone: 240-475-3693

Fax: 207-470-3693

Response time is generally within 24 hours.

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