This article is part three of a four part series on optimizing your website for the the three major search engines. Part one, titled "SEO For MSN" covered optimizing your website to rank highly on MSN, while part two, titled "SEO For Yahoo!" covered optimizing your website to rank on Yahoo!. In this article we will cover optimizing your website for Google.
I likely don’t even need to mention that Google is currently the largest of all the search engines with ComScore Media estimating this giant to be responsible for 42.7% of all online searches in March of 2006. For this reason people tend to view Google as the engine to rank on. While this point is debatable (let’s remember that there’s still 57.3% of searches that aren’t done on Google) it’s definitely an important engine to rank on. So how is it done?
To optimize and rank highly on Google, as with any of the major engines, specific areas need to be addressed. On Google the most important of these factors are:
- How it fares in the results
More than on either Yahoo! or MSN backlinks are key to attaining top rankings on Google. More importantly, Google’s methods for calculating the weight of backlinks is very different than either of the other two engines. Once upon a time backlink acquisition was mainly a numbers game. If you had more links you had higher rankings, it was basically as simple as that. Today however Google has an algorithm inside their algorithm for determining which links are more valuable than others. This algorithm has a number of factors itself, however there are some that are more important than others. They key factors that determine the value of a link in regards to its contributions to the ranking of your site are:
- The age of the links – Like domains, links gain weight with age. The longer your links have been on a web page the higher their value. Basically this means that your link building efforts today aren’t going to pay off for a number of months. The weight seems to age gradually. In a month your link will hold partial weight, in two months it’ll hold a bit more and so on. Links hold the majority of their weight after about 5 to 6 months.
- The location of the link – The physical location of your link on the page is an indicator to Google of it’s value. A link buried in the footer of a page will hold virtually no weight whereas a link near the top (i.e. where a visitor is likely to see it) will hold much more. Another location factor is how this link is situated relative to the content around it. A link that is located within content holds more weight than a link in a typical link-page or directory format with a title and description. The inline nature of the aforementioned location indicates that the link itself is more natural.
- The anchor text and formatting – The linking text used is obviously important. If you are targeting a phrase such as "seo firms" then using these two keywords in the anchor text is going to attach relevancy between your site and these keywords. Be careful though, building a thousand links using all the same anchor text is going to look suspicious. Vary your anchor text, perhaps include other keywords and you’ll find your efforts rewarded. The formatting of the link is also relevant. A link that uses bold, italics, etc. is obviously meant to be seen by a visitor and is thus more highly regarded by Google.
- Relevancy – The relevancy of the site linking to you is of key importance. Getting a link on a health site if you’re an SEO firm is going to hold little weight whereas a link from an SEO resource site will be much more valuable.
- PageRank – While the value of PageRank is arguably dropping when one is considering it’s importance in link building it is still a factor. A link from a PageRank 5 page is worth substantially more than a link from a PageRank 2 page.
In a patent application from back in 2004 Google told SEO firms (and anyone else for that matter) that age was an important factor. Google has since become a domain name registrar which gives them access to whois data and thus they can clearly see the age of a domain, who it is registered to, where it is hosted, etc. The older your domain is the more legitimate Google sees it and thus the more likely they are to rank it. Additionally, domains that are registered for longer periods of time are also seen as more legitimate and thus will tend to rank higher.
Google is more picky than either Yahoo! or MSN when it comes to content. While the phrase, "content is king," may be overused it is still relevant. The more content you have on your site the more likely someone is to find what they’re looking for when they get there. Thus, the more content you have on your site the more likely Google is to believe a searcher will find what they’re looking for there. This does not mean that you should grab every bit of content you can find and build a 500,000 page site about potatoes. The content needs to be relevant and preferably well written. While a search engine spider may not be able to tell if your content is truly well written it must appeal to a human visitor. The reason for this will be made more clear below.
A blog is a good option for the easy addition of relevant content provided that you can dedicate the time (generally only a few minutes per day) to post some new and interesting information on your industry.
Keyword density is not as large a factor on Google as on Yahoo! or MSN however it is a factor and in the SEO "game" any factor that holds weight needs to be taken into consideration in all but the least competitive areas. While a site targeting a phrase such as "bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere" can afford weakness in some of the areas most of us cannot. As noted in the articles on MSN and Yahoo! it would be unwise for me to specify an optimal keyword density here as the optimal levels vary by site type, topic, and fluctuate with the algorithm updates. Keyword densities need to be reanalyzed approximately monthly or any time an update is noted.
How it fares in the results
How your website fares in the results is a growing factor and will only continue to gain importance as time passes. If your website appears in the results for a specific phrase yet no one click on is your website will drop out of the rankings. Arguably worse, if your website is clicked however after a few seconds Google detects that the searcher has returned to the results to find a new site your site will drop. It is for this reason that it is important to insure that the titles you write for your website are both search engine and human friendly. You want Google to rank it highly and you also need humans to click it or Google won’t rank it highly (circular logic I know but valid nonetheless).
You also need to make sure that what people see when they first land on your page either is the information they are looking for or alternatively, clearly indicates where that information can be found. This point may seem obvious simply from a usability standpoint however the number of sites out there that violate this basic principle is vast. As part of your SEO efforts you will want to take a look at your site from a user’s standpoint or better yet, watch real users navigate it to see if they can find what they’re looking for quickly. You have about 3 seconds to get a visitor’s attention so make sure that your visitor can find what they want in that time. You may need to hire experienced web designers to bring your website up to speed however the cost of this is lower than the cost of losing rankings and business due to poor design and the falling rankings that will follow.
Google has the most sophisticated algorithm of the three major engines and must be treated as such. Tricks rarely work and when they do they tend to work only for a short period of time. Build a strong site with lots of quality content that is easily navigated and will appeal to your human visitors and you’re off to a good start. Optimize your keyword densities and secure quality links to your site and while it may take a bit of time to get past the aging delays, you will succeed on Google.
Total Optimizer Pro – A keyword density and backlink analysis tool. This tool breaks down a variety of onsite and offsite factors giving you a full snapshot of how the top 10 got their positions.
Google Press Releases – Read the latest press releases from Google. This may not give you the algorithm but it will tell you the direction they’re going. Understand this and you’ll be better equipped to deal with changes down the road.
Matt Cutts Blog – Read this blog from Google software engineer Matt Cutts. Obviously he’s not about to give you the algorithm (or he wouldn’t be a Google engineer would he?) but he does give great advice and the occasional head’s up on updates. He allows comments on his blog and many of them are useful as well.