According to research by Pew Internet and the American Life Project, 90% of web interactions start with search. Your customers are looking for what you offer, right now, and you want your website to be found.
Remember, we’re all customers too. Imagine you’ve just searched a particular keyword or phrase, and you’re looking at a page of Google results. At the top may be a tint box containing sponsored ads (those companies have paid to appear there). On the right is a column of pay-per-click Adwords (those companies have set a budget to appear there, and it costs them money every time their ad is clicked. When the budget runs out, their ad disappears and someone else’s is shown.) The main part of the page comprises the organic listings, also known as the natural or free listings. These are the results that Google thinks match your search, ranked in priority order, displayed at absolutely no cost.
If you’re anything like me, you probably click the natural links rather than the ads. And so will your customers.
The top three links in this ‘free’ area get by far the most clicks. What’s more, any link on page 1 gets far more clicks than those on pages 2 or 3. And if your site doesn’t appear in the first three pages, you might as well not be there at all.
Note that no-one can guarantee your website top placement in the organic listings on page 1 (so don’t believe them if they claim they can). Google’s algorithm is a well-protected secret, and it changes all the time. But, broadly speaking, there are four things that Google (and other search engines) are looking for. In no particular order:
1. Good, clean code
Websites are written in HTML (hypertext markup language), and getting that right is down to your web designer or developer.
2. Regularly updated content
That’s down to you! If you stick a site online and don’t change it for two or three years, it will gradually slip down the rankings. That’s one reason why including a blog or news archive can be so useful.
3. Inbound links
Each link INTO your site is like a ‘vote’ that moves your site up the rankings, especially if it’s from another highly ranked and relevant site. So if you’re a builder and you get a link from a florist down the road, it might not do any good at all. But if you’re a wedding venue and the florist that links to you is Interflora, it might help a lot!
Note that links that go OUT of your site add no search-engine value at all. And don’t be tempted to swap links with other websites, in case you’re penalised for being a link-farm.
4. Keywords and phrases
It’s more important to write compelling copy for human beings than for search engines, but here’s where your web content is critical. You can include your desired keyword/s in headings, sub-headings, picture captions, body copy and links. You can also include them in the meta tags, that is, the title tag that appears at the top of the web browser, description tag that appears in the search results, and alt tags that are ‘read’ in place of images for blind people.