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Achieving High Search Engine Rankings

by Russ Jackman, InternetAdvisor.ca
February 27, 2006
Originally written for the St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce

I received an email recently from a long-time client, Kateryna, who was excited to find her site on the first page of most major search engines for her primary keywords. The natural result of her improved rankings has been an increase in calls from prospective customers as well as media inquiries for interviews.

I thought this would be a good time to review the facts and myths surrounding search engine rankings. With the increasing importance of “local search” functionality offered by the major search engines, this information is just as important to business owners and professionals offering a product or service around the neighbourhood as it is for an internet marketer selling around the world.

What's The Secret to Top Search Engine Rankings?

Over the past two years, dozens of “tips and techniques” have been offered by the search engine optimization (SEO) industry as a short-cut to top rankings on Google, Yahoo and MSN Search. To be honest, since we originally designed Kateryna's site in early 2004, any search engine optimization of her site was based solely on the foundations of good web design. So, we did a little research to identify why she achieved top-10 rankings without using any of the current “secret” SEO techniques.

First, it is important to understand that there are SEO firms out there that market aggressively and charge high prices for questionable practices. In fact, some firms that “guarantee” top-ten rankings on search engines have themselves been banned by Google and others for using techniques considered to be “spam” by the search engines.

Back to Kateryna's recent success. Through our research, we discovered that her site was recently listed in the Open Directory Project (ODP) ... one of the more important, and difficult, directories to be listed in. As a high quality, human-edited directory, links to your site from the Open Directory Project (dmoz.org) can significantly help your search rankings. Thanks to the high quality articles and useful content for visitors on Kateryna's site, the editors of the ODP added a listing for her website to their directory, contributing to her first page listing on the major search engines.

Quality, Not Quantity

While SEO firms tell us that inbound links are important to achieve high rankings, and that their service will guarantee listings in “thousands of directories”, the fact is that the quality of links to your site is as important, if not more so, than the sheer number of links. According to Google's FAQ, the PageRank (quality) and relevance of sites linking to yours are important contributors to your own site's ranking. However, links from low-quality sites or sites identified as trying to “spam” the search engines (such as many Free-For-All or FFA link directories) can have no effect, or even worse, a negative impact on your rankings.

While the listing in the Open Directory was largely responsible for Kateryna's high rankings, the bottom line is her success was due to original content. As I've written in this space before, “content is king” is the single key phrase to remember in order to achieve high search engine rankings. Without valuable content, there would be no reason for the editors at dmoz.org to have listed her website.

“Original content” is one of the reasons blogs have become so popular among internet marketers, and is the primary reason we have become so busy providing content management systems (CMS) to our customers. The ability to write a blog entry or add a page to your website as easily as writing an email, means that adding articles - or any information that would give visitors a reason to visit and return to your site - is no longer a time consuming or expensive proposition. This past February, we were invited to participate in the first Web Content Awareness Day, a recognition of the importance of web content to the success of your website.

Content Is Still King

In addition to helping your search rankings, quality content helps build a community of loyal visitors for your site. By designing your website from the perspective of an existing or prospective customer, you can determine the type of information that would appeal to them, keep them coming back, and encourage them to share your website with friends and associates (a concept called 'viral marketing').

While original content is ideal, not everyone has the ability or time to write articles for their website. To fill this need, many writers offer free or low-cost articles that you can reproduce on your site in exchange for including a link back to the page of the original author. Many trade organizations can also provide information of interest to your customers that can be reprinted with permission.

Summary to Achieve High Search Engine Rankings:

  • Content is King – While original content is best, there are many free or low-cost sources of articles relevant to visitors to your site.
  • Regular Updates – In addition to content, the frequency with which your site is updated or maintained is a consideration in many search engine algorithms. Having your site built around a content management system, or adding a blog script to your current website, allows you to maintain and expand your site's content as easily as writing an email.
  • Patience and Persistence – It can take several months of well-planned, persistent effort to build the inbound links and content required to jump ahead of your competition, whether locally or worldwide, in the search engine rankings. However, considering that over 70% of internet users will seek out information, products and services through the major search engines each and every day, the benefits certainly make having a well-planned, well-promoted web site an important part of your marketing efforts.

Marketing


Russ Jackman, Internet Advisor
Russ Jackman is the principal of Internet Advisor, a web design and internet marketing firm located in St. Thomas, Ontario.

The concept of the "Internet Advisor" is that the designer becomes a partner or trusted consultant, who can simply provide advice and direction, completely implement a solution from start to end, or any degree in between. This insures that the strengths of a client are utilized, to minimize the investment required and maximize the benefits to their organization.

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