Let’s be honest right up front: nobody can guarantee your search engine placement, not even the professionals! There are companies out there that will take your money and promise you high or, worse, “Number 1″ placement on the web’s popular search engines, but there is still no guarantee you’ll make more than a small incremental increase in your positioning.
The fact is this: none of the search engines will tell you their “secret” to ranking pages. The reason they are so guarded with their information is that spammers and other shady “ranking” companies take advantage of these loopholes to rank their “junk” sites higher than the legitimate sites that web users want to visit.
To get your site the highest ranking possible: be prepared.
Having your site set up properly is just a single part of the battle. Of equal importance, to gain ranking, is to have good quality incoming links to your site. The more relevant places you have your site listed, the higher the engines will rank your pages.
To use an example: say you own a home improvement company that installs windows and doors. Listing your site at one of the “link farms” that some fly-by-night SEO (search engine optimization) companies use are worthless: few people know where they are to even use them, and most of them are not relevant to your business anyway! Good sites for you to be linked at would be home improvement or building trade organizations, sites for carpenters’ unions, your local chamber of commerce, local shopping and services directories, links on other business sites that complement yours (perhaps a realtor’s website, or the site of an interior designer who refers work to you), or anything else that is relevant to your business. Better yet, get mentioned in online news articles, blogs, press releases, or anywhere else where your site is mentioned in the context of a related article. As a courtesy, you can offer a page of links back to these businesses–the idea of “reciprocal links” has been around since the early days of the web, and helps both parties mutually.
As for getting listed at every search engine out there, consider this: 95% of all search engine traffic comes from only four search engine sites: Google, Yahoo!, MSN and AskJeeves. Spend your time optimizing for where most of your traffic originates, and you’ll be ahead of the battle.
Keyword research is also necessary for good page construction and search engine targeting. Knowing or anticipating what words visitors will use to find your site will make it easier to develop a good SEO strategy, especially when you want to begin paying for advertising or links on other sites. You need to have a good statistics program in place to analyze your incoming traffic, discover which pages visitors are landing on, find the search engine keywords they used to find your site, and research other valuable information to make informed decisions about improving your site, or spending your advertising dollars.
Our company will do our best to prepare your site for the search engines, but if you are seriously looking to build traffic, and have the money to invest, we recommend a company that has a proven track record in optimization and building traffic. If you do decide to use an SEO firm, ask for a lot of references…ask them to prove their results to you. There are too many fly-by-night companies out there that, as mentioned earlier, will simply take your site’s link and dump it on a couple hundred useless link farms in order to inflate your ranking. Good SEO companies will cost you money up front, but they will save you money on advertising, and also help build your traffic.
You may notice we have mentioned advertising above. There is one way to “leapfrog” everyone on the search engines, and that is to pay for a sponsored link. You’ve probably seen them on Google and other sites. What you do is pay a fee to, say, Google to have your link featured in relevant search results. We’ll briefly explain Google’s AdWords program here as an example, but other “pay per click” search sites work similarly.
What you do is select some relevant keywords for your business. If you’re installing windows and doors, you do not simply want to use “Windows” or “Doors”, and “installation”, as your keywords: there are literally thousands of companies out there that appear in the same set of search results! Instead, you would want to be more localized: maybe you serve the western suburbs of Cleveland, or only do work in South Bend, Indiana. Do you have a specific niche? That could also be a relevant keyword for you: “leaded glass”, for example, would narrow things down considerably.
There are two reasons you want relevant keywords. First of all, you do not want to pay for advertising clicks (when a visitor clicks on your sponsored link) if you can not serve that customer. If you do installations in the greater Cleveland area, you don’t need people from Pawtucket, Rhode Island or Oslo, Norway clicking your links. Second, your sponsored link will be more expensive if you are trying to pay to be on top for more generalized keywords such as “window installation”, as you’d be competing nationwide or even worldwide for the highest sponsored link placement.
So, how expensive is it? Google’s AdWords program works on the principle of paying per click. In other words, when a visitor clicks on your sponsored link, you pay for it. How do you get higher placement? You pay more for each click. Let’s use an example to demonstrate…
You’re the first company to get an AdWords link for your services, in your area. At that rate, you can get a dirt-cheap pay-per-click rate of perhaps one cent per click. If you fund your account with $20, you could get 2000 clicks for that $20. Now, your competition comes along, and decides they want a higher placement than yours. They would bid two cents per click, placing their ad above yours. In order to regain your top spot, you would have to bid three cents per click, and your $20 would now be good for only about 660 clicks. As competition heats up, your cost per click can escalate. It will get to a point where you’ll consider paying more for your clicks since it is generating a lot of business, or dropping your sponsored link campaign because it is costing too much, and giving you only marginal results.
In short: being one among a handful of sponsored links can be helpful to you, if you can afford to pay for those click-throughs, and only if they are generating business for you.
You can also advertise on other sites, paying either a monthly fee or a fee based on click-throughs or impressions (ad views). Unless you advertise on a relevant site, though, it is not worth wasting money on. And as mentioned earlier, do your research! Know which keywords are driving visitors to your site.
There is no sure-fire way to get your site listed in Google’s top spot, but being prepared is part of the equation. And be patient: your traffic will not build overnight, and neither will your search engine ranking! When you do get good placement, your business will grow, and you will continue to improve your site to maintain your good ranking. Top search engine placement is not a destination: it is a continuous journey.