The early age of the search engine optimization trade (think 1996) was a simple time. The number of Web sites on the Internet was much smaller (meaning less competition for search results) and the rules of the game were pretty straight-forward: put up a page, insert a few relevant keywords, submit your site to the engines, and watch your position rocket to the top! This is perhaps an oversimplification of the process and the expected result, but a fairly accurate description no less.
Somewhere along the way, however, the game changed. Some started to manipulate the system unfairly and search results became slanted toward those who were the most manipulative–not necessarily the most relevant. All the while, the number of Web sites vying for prime positioning skyrocketed–naturally making search even more competitive.
But perhaps the biggest game-changer was the birth of Google in 1998 and its rise to prominence in the few years that immediately followed. Among other reasons, Google began to dominate because its search results were more relevant than other search engines. Why? Because Google’s system disqualified (not rewarded) would-be manipulators and boosted the search positioning of those sites with the most sites linking to them. Google started classifying a site’s inbound links as votes of endorsement from others (it can be a revealing exercise to actually skim through Google’s patent awards). While some still try, theirs is a very difficult system to manipulate. And while no one knows for sure, there a number of other factors that Google is thought to reward in its search results: how often a Web page is updated, how long a Web page has been on the Internet, and a host of other items.
Most of the above is common knowledge. But it sets the stage for sound thinking when it comes to attractive positioning. Unfortunately, though, getting attractive search engine positioning isn’t as easy as it used to be. And while most companies want to have a quick and easy solution (an undertaking that begins and ends within a few weeks), the truth in today’s environment is that there is no such thing. Good search results require some research, a plan, and an ongoing commitment to the cause.
While there is no cookie-cutter process for all sites to follow, here are a few simple steps that represent a sound methodology for gaining search engine momentum:
- Perform sound keyword research to determine what word searches might represent those looking for your company. It is not wise to rely solely on your “hunches” in this area.
- Filter keyword research according to the competitiveness of the terms; it may not be wise to pursue ultra-competitive terms.
- Structure content, page names, and tags according to the terms you wish to pursue.
- Develop a linking strategy to trade links with other sites that may have overlapping relevance with yours; this can be tedious and time-consuming, but well worth the effort.
- Use sites like www.backlinkwatch.com to monitor your progress.
- Keep your site’s content fresh. Consider adding a blog to your site to facilitate this.
Most importantly, recognize that search engine success is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing journey that requires much in the way of time and effort. If you have dabbled with a few activities to try and improve your search ranking, try broadening (and lengthening) your perspective first. While the road may certainly be long, the benefits are considerable.