Creating a Google-Friendly Website:
As I do this for a living, I thought I’d offer a simple list for anyone who could derive some benefit from the advice.
Disclaimer: the advice I offer here is based upon a great deal of research and personal and professional experience, but lest you misunderstand my intentions, I’m not inviting debate. There are a great many opinions about how Google works since no one outside the company actually knows, and thus you may feel inclined to disagree with my recommendations. Be my guest. You have a blog of your own, I’m sure.
Late edit: there are some clarifications inline.
Let us begin.
For the record, merely having many visitors to your website isn’t going to help your rankings. Google can’t read your visitor count – nor would you want them to.
To increase your Google ranking, your site needs two things: relevance and importance. In this article I will detail how to achieve both in the eyes of Google.
Step One: decide how you want people to find your site. In other words: if you make flowerpots and want your business to come from Kansas City, then you want people searching on the words “flowerpot” and “kansas city” to find you. If you want flowers in there, too, add “flowers” to your list. People searching for “flowerpot kansas” will also find you.
Note: “flowers” is not the same as “flower”. Google search results will eventually connect those dots, but it will only be after the “flowers” entries are exhausted and so won’t help you. Same goes for “flowerpot” and “flower”. Google doesn’t search in words; not, at least, for results it returns on the first page.
Step Two: make sure your key words are in your TITLE, DESCRIPTION, and CONTENT. Of the three, the last is the most important.
TITLE: A “meta” tag that lives in the head section of your webpage HTML markup. It appears as the text in the bar at the top of your browser, which is also used when someone bookmarks your page. In our example, the title of the homepage should read something like, “Marvin’s Garden, Flowerpots, Kansas City Missouri. Flowerpots, Flowers, Floral”.
DESCRIPTION: A “meta” tag that lives in the head section of your webpage HTML markup. It is not visible to the end user: it describes your page in human readable terms. Google displays the description, if there is one, just below the title of the page in search results. It should also include your key words. Something like:
“Marvin’s Garden is a full service nursery in Kansas City, Missouri. We feature flowers, flowerpots, floral and garden supplies for the amateur and professional gardener. Spring flowers are in bloom, so brighten your home and garden today. We have sales going on right now on flower and vegetable seeds.”
In that description I’ve done several things: I’ve gotten my primary key words in there; I’ve added a few more to broaden my prospects; I’ve managed to put each key word in at least once, sometimes twice, and with variations; it’s gramatically correct and reads like normal text; and I’ve added a call to action to the potential customer.
CONTENT: Not a “meta” tag: this is the most important element of the three: the stuff on the pages that people read. Google rates pages based on relevance to the search terms, and it counts relevance by “key word density”, in other words, the number of times a search term appears in textual content on a given page.
The trick is to not over-do. If you write a paragraph where more than, say, 10% of the words are the same search terms over and over:
“We’ve got flowerpots, and pots of flowers, and more flowerpots, with clay flowerpots, and plastic flowerpots, and even metal flowerpots…”
Google will reject that content as being spammy and penalize your site with a lower ranking. The content can read like sales copy, that’s fine, but it must also be reasonable.
KEYWORDS. There’s a reason I haven’t addressed this, the most popular of methods to drive search traffic. The “keywords” META tag is in the same class as the TITLE and DESCRIPTION tags, with one notable exception: GOOGLE DOESN’T USE THE KEYWORD TAG AND NEVER HAS. Neither does MSN. Yahoo! does, but exactly how is hard to determine. Go ahead and fill the KEYWORD tag, it won’t hurt, but don’t count on it.
If you have a retail site where adding content is tough in context, here’s what you do: add links to your homepage to other pages on your site that have that content. When I had Seamlyne.com, I moved my ranking from the middle of page 2 to the first or second link on the first page with one simple change: I added two links to the homepage, an FAQ and a “Fun with Tights” page. On each page, I made sure my key words (tights, codpiece, renaissance) were used at least twice. I also added “news” to the homepage that changed every other week or so.
So, now we have a handle on relevance in Google: if your site is relevant for a key word, that key word will be in the content about 10% of the words. The content will change every so often, so Google assumes the site is active.
Now, to increase your site’s importance, you need back links, which is to say, links to your site from other sites. Set up reciprocal links with like-minded webmasters.
I never back-linked any other site on Seamlyne, especially for other retailers. Once a customer is on my site why make it easy to leave? That’s what my Seamlyne teaching site was for: that sucker was back-linked on at least a dozen sites, and it, in turn, linked to the retail site. I would write articles in Google groups, and make sure to reference the website.
On the subject of Flash:
Don’t create your entire website in Flash. Just don’t. Google can’t read it except under special circumstances, and if your viewers have Flash turned off (I frequently disable it for speed of browsing), they won’t be able to see your site.
Flash is best used for elements on your website – animated headers and such – to make the page interesting, but it should never, EVER, EVER be the whole site.
If you must create a Flash website, you should also create a traditional HTML version and link to using text from your homepage. You must give Google something to follow. Even the Flash official website doesn’t use Flash. That should tell you something.
By the way, all of this applies for websites comprised entirely of images. Just re-read the last section and substitute “images” for “Flash”, and you’ll get the point.
So, how do I know what my site looks like to Google and other search engines?
Easy. Go here: YellowPipe Lynx Viewer
Enter your URL. You will be presented with a version of your website as a browser called “Lynx” views it: all text based, no images, no multimedia. This is by and large what Google sees.
If you’d like to have Lynx on your Windows PC, the best version you can download is here. It’s the Japanese SourceForge site, but the default language for the package is English.
Some random bullets:
Write articles in flowerpot related groups on Google groups, and link back to your website. Better yet, link back to a page on your website where you write in some detail about your article’s topic.
Finally, stop using “click here” as an enticement to click. Instead of:
To learn more about flowerpots, click here
Extra credit if you can now tell why that’s better 🙂