As you read this blog post, the internet’s one billionth website is projected to come online. Yes, you read that correctly: the internet’s 1,000,000,000th or one thousand millionth website. That’s approximately one website for every seven people currently alive on the planet. It is also important to keep in mind we are talking about sites here, and not individual pages. If we try and break out the number webpages that currently exist, the figure quickly jumps into the trillions…
So, it should be of no great surprise that a concern of anyone who regularly works with websites is, “How does anyone ever find your site without knowing your exact domain name?” Admittedly, most everyone already knows the answer to this question. Search engines! – and most specifically Alphabet, Inc.’s ubiquitous Google.com. (Or just Google as most people know it.)
The point of this post is not to discount the importance or usefulness of Bing or Yahoo (both of which use algorithms developed by Microsoft) or the myriad of other search engine options out there. But considering Google dominates an overwhelming 70% of the market when it comes to search queries online, it is safe to say they are still very much the market leader. Because the odds-on favorite is Google, the question becomes how to make sure Google not only sees your site out of the one billion sites out there, but that it also feels that it’s the most relevant when an individual performs a search for a keyword for which you want to show up.
Enter the wide, sometimes bewildering, inevitably convoluted world of search engine optimization, or SEO.
While this post will not delve into every nuance, tip, or trick of SEO (that could fill volumes), it will give you a basic foundational understanding of what it takes to make your site “Google Friendly” from the ground up.
Before we get too far into this subject, I feel it is important to note: SEO is not a quick fix to get your site to the top of a search results page. It takes planning, strategy, a little work, and some patience. Think of it not as a sprint (if it’s speed you’re looking for, try exploring pay-per-click marketing), but rather a long distance marathon with the top of Google’s organic results being the finish line.
The end goal here is to ensure your website has a high quality score. A quality score is a figure Google assigns to every website in order to index how relevant it is to certain keyword searches. The higher your quality score, the more likely your site will be to appear on the first page of relevant search results. Which, of course, you want because as I have heard it stated before, “the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google’s search results”. In other words, few people venture past the first page when they perform a keyword search on Google (or any other search engine for that matter).
So, how does one ensure their website is as google friendly as possible? Here are a few basic tips:
It all starts with a well thought out, purposefully built site.
When designing your site, make sure that your sitemap is logically laid out and flows in such a way that is easy to navigate. You also want to ensure that every page of your site is reachable by at least one static link. If any of your pages are not accessible from the front end by a user, Google will consider such links or pages invalid and may ignore your site. This is especially important because Google can see such pages as an attempt to cheat their system, and blacklist a website as a result (more on this later).
Layout and navigation aren’t everything anymore when it comes to website architecture, however. As of last year, 51% of search traffic is from mobile devices. (You know: phones, tablets, car “infotaiment” screens, smart watches… Really I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.) If your website isn’t built to be responsive (or conform) to all of these different sizes and shapes of screens, users will have a hard time navigating and digesting content. Google recognized this tectonic shift in the way people access the internet, and in April of 2015 they made a significant change to their search algorithm in response. Now, if a mobile user searches for a keyword relevant to your website, and that website isn’t responsive, your site will be pushed down the list of results in favor of mobile friendly sites.
Next Up: Content!
Content absolutely matters, not only to a potential visitor, but to Google. Because the end goal of all search engine companies is to garner the most users (therefore the most eyes on their online real estate), they go to great lengths to provide their users with relevant results to search queries. Search engine companies, like Google, monitor the number of visitors to a site, the length of time spent on the site, and the number of pages navigated to whilst on said site. If a visitor arrives at your website only to find your content uninteresting, irrelevant, or hard to digest, they will quickly move on, this is called a “bounce”. Over time, as this happens more and more, your bounce rate will begin to increase, impacting your overall quality score and pushing your website further down the list of relevant search results.
So, now you have yourself a well thought out, relevant website. What’s next?
Backlinks are simply inbound links to your website from other trusted websites that have similar information to your site. For example, if you happen to be the owner of a local restaurant, a quality backlink might come from a story about your grand opening on your local news website, or from your local chamber of commerce in which your website is linked. Or, maybe you have a blog devoted to architecture. A good backlink might come from an architectural firm’s site after you blogged about one of their projects. Google interprets a link from one quality page to another as a vote for said page from another. It is important to note: these should be natural links, not links placed specifically in an attempt to boost your quality score. Google has algorithms that can distinguish a natural link from an unnatural one. Natural links develop over time as part of the dynamic nature of the internet, as other sites find your content relevant to that of their own. You can read more about natural vs. unnatural links in Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Now that you have some idea of what a Google friendly website should look like,
here are a few things to avoid:
- As alluded to earlier, do not put up hidden pages filled with keywords or phrases specifically for the purpose of attracting the attention of Google’s search algorithms or “crawlers”. These “crawler pages” are pages not accessible through normal navigation and are sometimes set up by people in an attempt trick Google into promoting their website to a higher position. Needless to say, Google doesn’t enjoy being tricked. Their algorithms will distinguish these pages from normal navigation pages and your quality score will definitely take a hit. For habitual offenders, Google has a habit of completely ignoring such sites, leaving them out of their results altogether.
- Secondly, do not use images to display important content or titles on your site. Because Google sees your site as HTML code, it does not “read” media. If you must display some portion of pertinent content via an embedded image, be sure to use ALT attributes so that Google’s crawlers can understand what the media is.
- Lastly, do not feel that you need to go out and purchase SEO tools or services. There are companies that “guarantee” a high ranking for your site, if you use their (sometimes quite expensive) services. It is certainly true that working with a trusted, legitimate firm can help improve your quality score by assisting you in developing an overall SEO strategy. Such a strategy would include working with you to develop clear, relevant content, a well thought out site map, and other techniques discussed in this post. However, firms that promise a quick turnaround for your site’s quality score often use deceptive tactics in an effort to fool search engines. The danger in this is that Google and other search engine companies recognize these tactics, as well. They very often ban these deceptive services, and any domains associated with them, from their indexes. Trying to cheat Google using one of these quick and dirty methods will result in having the domain for the website you have worked so hard to plan and build permanently blacklisted by Google and other search engines. Such action will result in your site being skipped over whenever a relevant keyword query is performed.
Need a new Google friendly website or want to review and update your SEO strategy? Red Sage would love to look at your current site and talk over options with you! Give us a call today.