Most people know by now that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. And with that the general idea that when people “search for you” they should be able to find you easily – mainly in reference to Google (as it is the most popular search engine in use today, at least in North America). Ultimately the Holy Grail is to be the very first item on the page, and failing that to at least be on the first page of results.
How do you become #1?
If you’ve tried you already know it’s not that easy. The good news is that it’s not rocket science either. But, before we can get into the how, we need to look at what Google (or any other search engine) is really trying to do. Their main purpose is RELEVANCE.
What do you mean by RELEVANCE?
When a user types in “best fishing spots in Ontario”, or “how to rate LED TVs” Google should probably present you with the best fishing locations in Ontario, and maybe some articles reviewing LED TVs respectively. Now given the diversity of what people look for, combined with the number of websites online (now into the trillions) you can imagine this is quite difficult. And the point is, if Google came back with fishing spots in Nunavut, or reviews about Plasma TVs you probably wouldn’t use Google much after that. So relevance is key.
How is relevance determined?
That’s a really tough question. You see all search engines keep the way they process information and their search algorithms under secret wrap. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t understand the guiding principles these algorithms are built on, and no, we don’t have to visit the matrix. These principles are actually quite simple, and once you understand them you can instantly be #1! Well, OK, it’s a bit more work, but the principles are the foundation to your approach, without them you can’t go anywhere. The top 3 principles are: content, current-ness, and popularity.
What about content?
Well it’s simple enough. And it’s the step that most people know how to do. Basically Google can’t tell if your page is about the best fishing spots in Ontario unless the actual words “fishing”, “spots” and “Ontario” are within your page. It’s also more likely that your page is more relevant if the words or phrase in it’s entirety appears a number of times on your page (and nowadays not as important that they appear in your meta-tags). Not too many though, since then Google will think that you are just trying to dupe people to come to your site based on those words. For example if “fishing spots Ontario” appears over 30 times, clearly it can’t be real, or it’s just really bad writing. Either way, not relevant!
Current-ness? Is that a word?
What I mean by that is how “up-to-date” your article is. Continuing from our example the best fishing spots could change over time. So someone writing about the best fishing spots in 2010 is surely more relevant than someone writing about the same topic in 1950. It’s not as simple as that though. Suppose you have only 1 article on your entire site about fishing, while the other site from 1950 (someone traveled back through time and set it up) has over 500 articles about fishing, the 1950 site will likely win out. So you have to be contemporary about a topic, and the more contemporary you are (i.e. on multiple pages) the better.
How can pages be popular?
The best for last. Popularity is likely at the very core of how your page rank is determined. In my estimation it represents at least 50% of the calculation. So how does it work? Well much like in social circles if someone popular says you are cool, you become more popular. If two popular people vouch for you, again your ratings go up. This interconnected web of recommendations determines your overall popularity and how people perceive you. On the web this works through links. The more sites link to you, the more it means you must be popular. And if those sites themselves are popular, your ranking can only go higher. For example if CNN linked to your site tomorrow, from all their pages for the phrase “best fishing spots Ontario” you will very likely get to top spot within a couple of days. Popularity is very important!
Where do I go from here?
Although knowing the top three principles is a good start, there’s a lot more work that goes into getting your ranking up. For one, you have to pick the right key words and phrases to make it all work – a topic in itself. Bottom line is that if you pick something that everyone is after like “LCD TVs” it’s very difficult to gain top spot, especially if you’re new. Also be careful of shortcuts. Search engines are wise to schemes that try to fool them and you can get blacklisted – meaning your domain and anything in it will never show up in results! Usually a well thought out process is required, and takes months, maybe even years to come to full fruition.