What is the secret to a well ranked web page?

In my 10 + years of search engine optimization one thing has remained abundantly clear. The secret is ... there is no secret. There is no sure fire way to the top for any topic on any search engine. There are however a bunch of things you can do to ensure you have the best shot at the top. Here are some of the most important points to keep in mind.

The Most Important Part - Content

What are you trying to say?

If you want a page to be found on a search for 'widgets' you need a page about 'widgets'. It needs to reflect that in the title, the description, the page heading, the image tags and descriptions and most importantly, in the body or content.

A search engine is just a computer. All it can do is cache the page and catalog the text in order to determine the subject matter. If your page does not say 'widgets' anywhere, you're not even in the game.

It's not enough to just use the term once or twice. At the same time, you can easily overdo it. The key is to think of your web page as a speech or a letter. Good writing and speaking both follow a time tested formula where you introduce your topic, "widgets", you talk about your "widgets", then at the end, you review and summarize what you just said about "widgets".

The key is to keep it flowing and reading well. If it sounds awkward, you are probably guilty of keyword stuffing. Try to target 250 to 400 words.

Biggest Search Sin - Page Titles

Is your next customer looking for you, or your products?

The single most important part of any page when it comes to a Search Engine is the page title. Not only do the Search Engines use the Page Title to determine the subject but they also display it in their results. Once you achieve that elusive Top 10 ranking you still need to have the viewer click through to see your site so it needs to be descriptive and enticing.

The biggest and most repeated mistake I see in web design is using page titles that fail to recognize this. Some sites use the company name as the title of every page, or they use  generic 'about us', 'products' or 'contact us' titles.

"Welcome to our website" has to be the absolute worst, it's probably even worse than no page title at all since a search engine will catalog the page as being about the words "welcome" and "website". Where are the widgets? ... they're on your competitors site!

Every page title needs to reflect the product or service on that page. Use the company name on your Contact page or maybe your About Us page but do not waste the title tag of your main page on your company name unless you have brand recognition comparable to Dodge, Nike or Google.

If you have a website that is search friendly, you WILL be found on your company name. More importantly, no matter what your advertising medium or business, there are more people who do not know your name than there are people who do. You need to find the ones who do not know you yet.

When the Graphics Department has the Last Word ...

Search engines cannot read images or Flash. Search engines read text.

It's a fact that you have only about 7 seconds to capture a viewers interest when they get to your website so it absolutely has to convey what you have to offer as quickly as possible. It also needs to be professional and attractive, but it still needs to appeal to a search engine first and foremost. 

Designers will forever struggle with the way different browsers, operating systems and graphics cards will render the same word in the same font and font size in slightly different ways. The fix is to type the content and create an image of it rather than typing it onto the page.

It looks great, but, because it is just another picture, it cannot be read by a search engine.

If it's worth saying, it needs to be in plain text.

Sometimes though the need for the latest in slick graphics and flash is critically important to your market segment. If you are a graphics shop, you'd better have lots of images. If you are a gaming website, you'd better have a flashy website that will appeal to a gamer and make use of their 1024 meg video card. If it's all text and static images, they are gone!

In these cases there are things you can do to keep it search friendly but this is definitely where you are going to need the help of a professional who can give the search engines what they want while protecting the look and feel that you need.


Do you know your most important keywords - Are you sure?

Volumes have been written on keywords and there are many, many programs and services available online (both free and otherwise) that purport to help you find the keywords most important to your line of business - they are not worth your time. They will all lead you down a path of irrelevancy based on what people are typing into engines. They completely ignore the reality of your business.

If you sell used cars, your list of keywords is pretty obvious. Pick any keyword generator out there and you will get a list back that includes terms like 'used cars texas' or ' new york used cars' If your market area is Toronto, these are NOT your keywords!. You'll also get some good stuff like used trucks, pre-owned vehicles and the like but really, how tough is that? A good brainstorming session where common sense prevails is all you need to come up with your list. At the very least, don't pay for this service.

When the simple product keyword is not enough for you - perhaps it is too competitive or generic, or perhaps it's brand new, hard to describe and no-one knows it exists - the keyword search gets tougher! In this case you still just need to do some brain storming but instead of trying to come up with new and clever ways to say "widget" what you need to do is identify the 'pain'.

What problem or need does your target client have that your product will fill? Suppose that you invented the indelible ink marker. It's brand new and the word 'indelible' hasn't been invented yet. What are your keywords now? Marker? Ink? - sure, but how about 'how can I keep my ink from fading', 'stronger ink' or 'ink that won't fade'? These queries would be made by someone who specifically needs your product but does not know if it exists.

Don't forget the qualifiers! You don't just have 'widgets', you have blue widgets, red widgets, green widgets and maybe even twisted widgets. The person who wants a red widget above all else is quite likely going to type exactly that into a search engine. A picture in your catalog of a red widget won't cut it. You need a page about red widgets.

Another important qualifier is geography. If the reality of your business is that you only service a specific geographic area then your site needs to reflect this.

Take used cars as an example. Type it into any search engine and you will see results for companies all over North America. Many, if not nearly all of your potential customers are going to narrow their search by adding their city to the search. Here is where you want to be #1.


Keep it simple, keep it accurate and never, ever forget that a search engine can only read text and you are on your way towards search engine success. 

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