The Secret to Getting High Search Engine Placement!!!

This is a piece I wrote many years ago, but never posted on this blog… until now.

And it's still true.

There are many folks who will offer to help you "optimize your site" for search engines. There are also many folks who will offer to sell you treatments which claim to melt away the pounds while you sleep.

My advice is to be equally wary of both claims, for exactly the same reason.

Because the truth is harder than that. To lose weight, you really do need to exercise and eat less. To get good search engine placement isn't a technical problem that can be solved by "optimizing your site"... any more than the Beatles achieved phenomenal record sales by optimizing their music.

If you absolutely, positively want your site to show up on Page One of a Google search  there is a shortcut: you can buy advertising space on Google, which means you pay them for each and every click from the ad on their page to your site.  And the price per click is set by bidding against anyone else who wants high placement using the same search words. That can be fierce, but if you have a high conversion rate of site views to sales (or whatever your metric of business success is) it can be well worth it.

But aside from paid advertising, there are a smattering of simple techniques that are mostly along the lines of making sure your site isn't actually getting in the way of the search engines' proper functioning. Having your keywords in your domain name helps. Having your keywords in page titles helps. The fabled META keyword tags used to be important, but with today's sophisticated search engines the actual text in your site is infinitely more important, to the degree that by now META tags are not even of marginal utility.

It wasn't always like this… there used to be a number of ways to "game" the system, fooling search engines into thinking that your site was more relevant for a given set of search terms than the next guy's. People used to put key words at the bottom of their pages, hundreds of times. They used to set up elaborate "feed" pages that contained desirable keyword phrases, which the search engines would see, but actual users would be diverted to another page. There was an aggressive arms race between the search engines and web developers who would resort to byzantine artifices to fool the search engines into giving their sites prominence.

That's ancient history now. Today's search engines have seen it all. They are well clued into the tricks of the trade, and now filter them out. In fact, if your site tries to get too 'cute' with them, they'll actually ban it from their listings. Forever.

A few years back Google brilliantly figured out a reliable method of giving the highest quality results… the key to putting the best sites on top. It was so successful that most of the other search engines followed suit once they figured out how Google had done it. You see, if you do a Google search on the key words "Sonoma real estate" (for example) 11,400,000 matches are found. Every single one of those sites is a special and unique snowflake that wants high search engine placement… and thinks it deserves it.

So how does Google decide which ones are the cream of the crop? Which site should come up first, and which should be relegated to page 1,140,000? First, note that Google itself will live or die entirely by how well it serves the needs of the folks doing the searching… not the folks hawking their own websites.

Google realized that the sites that had the greatest value to visitors invariably pick up links from other websites. If you had a good website about breeding chinchillas, pretty soon other chinchilla websites would link to you. If you had the ultimate chinchilla website, even more would link to you.

Those links from other relevant websites are like votes of confidence: the more links to your site, the more mojo your site must have. Also, sites that have a lot of mojo (like Microsoft or CNN or Disney) have a halo effect: they provide extra mojo to those sites they link to.

So if you want to get to the top of the stack with Google (and the others) you need to have something on your site that stands out, head and shoulders, above everyone else. You need to make sure that anyone who is anyone links to you.

The short answer is that search engines are pretty close to being a meritocracy… so if a site really wants prime placement, it has to actually earn it.

I recommend to my clients that while search engines are helpful, they are ultimately unreliable. So the best and most dependable approach is to have your website be part of a comprehensive marketing plan. Reference your site on your business cards… and in your ads and newsletters. If anybody in your organization writes an article for a magazine or trade publication, make sure your website's URL is there.

You wouldn't invest your retirement savings in the lottery… and you shouldn't base your marketing success upon equally capricious search engines.