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Can your website be #1 in Google?

Whether you already have a website or are thinking about building one, just a little bit of understanding about how search engines work can lead to attaining much higher search rankings. Then, depending on how good (or bad) your competitors' sites are, you might even be listed in the coveted number one position of a search engine's rankings!

Even if you already have a site, read on for a good idea of what you can do to improve your rankings, as well as how to avoid wasting money. If you don't have a site yet, you can be sure to have it built in a way that will intrinsically get better rankings.

A special kind of website – the "search engine"

As I mentioned in last month's TechVille article, "search engines," like www.Yahoo.com and www.Google.com, are really just specialized websites. However, instead of selling books (Amazon.com) or providing a weather report (weather.com), they maintain a huge database containing information about other websites.

Along came a spider

So how do they create their databases? They deploy special programs (called "crawlers," "spiders," or "robots") that crawl across the Internet, visiting sites and recording all that they can easily learn about them.

The spiders then report their findings back to the search engine, which compiles the website addresses, along with what was learned about the sites, in its database. When you perform a search at the search engine, this is the database that is checked.


For search engines, content is still king

How does a spider determine what a site is about? It's quite simple really - it just views the text on the site and, to a much lesser extent, some programming code in the background.

Note: You may have heard that text doesn't matter that much because search engines look at special code, particularly the Description and Keywords meta tags. That was somewhat true at one time, but these days search engines give little, if any, importance to those meta tags.

This emphasis on text is why sites that have a lot of graphics (in lieu of text), unneeded animation (aka "dancing baloney"), or use complicated menu systems (which rely on extensive programming code), inherently get poor search engine rankings.

Conversely, sites that make smart use of descriptive text in all parts of the site will inherently get better rankings.

See your site through a spider's eyes

Want to get a feel for what a spider sees when it reviews a site? Try one of the following methods.

Use a "Search Engine Simulator" tool

There are tools on the web that analyze a site and then show you what kind of information a typical spider will be able to learn about it. Here are a couple Search Engine Simulators to try on your website:

Or use your web browser without graphics

You can also just turn off the display of graphics in your web browser to see what actual text or content is available on your site for a spider to analyze. (Please note that this will not show you the Description and Keywords meta tags.)

For example, follow these steps to turn off graphics in Internet Explorer:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Internet Options.
  2. Click the Advanced tab, and then remove the Show Pictures check mark.

Tip: You might need to click the Refresh button to get rid of any images that were previously loaded into the browser.


If you already have a site

If you already have a site, and want to improve it, there are simple and (usually) cheap things to do. First of all, make sure that code called "ALT Text," which is text in the background of the site (you won't normally see it) is provided for all graphics. Also make sure that the Title and Heading tags are used as well. Any web designer will be familiar with these terms. And if you really need to improve your rankings, consult with a web designer who has experience optimizing sites for search engines.

If you're going to build a site

If you don't have a site yet, be sure to use a web designer who incorporates search engine optimization into the design of the site from day one. Optimizing a site for search engines after the fact is a little like building a house and then hiring a plumber to add plumbing afterward. It would've been far less expensive, and much better implemented, if the plumbing had been added while the house was being built!

What about automatic submission services? 

You've probably seen ads, be it through old-fashioned postal junk mail or spam e-mail, for services that will "automatically submit your site monthly (sometimes even weekly) to thousands of search engines" for an ongoing fee. Can you fix your problems by signing up with one of these services? Nope!

At best, these services are probably wasted money. At worst, your site's ranking might actually end up being penalized, because some search engines treat sites that are frequently resubmitted as spam. Search engines want to list the sites that best match their users' queries, NOT the sites that submit themselves the most frequently.

But can you really get good rankings?

Absolutely! If your website describes something that fits into a niche of any kind, you can optimize your site for that niche. For example, if you sell a service or product within one geographic area (or that service or product is significantly unique across the country), you should be able to get excellent rankings.

And even if your website doesn't occupy a niche, it's surprising how often you can still get good rankings. This is primarily because so many web designers (even the big national firms), treat search engine optimization as an afterthought rather than integrate it into the original design.

Dive in deeper

To find out more, check out these websites. Most of them provide frank and relatively plain-English information about search engine optimization:

 

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