How To: Get Your Site to Rank Well in Google

by Frank on April 5, 2010

In late July, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison put up a new website for her Texas gubernatorial campaign.  In an attempt to get ranked quickly, her web team loaded up the site with hidden keywords so that the search engines would see that she’d achieved a certain “keyword density,” and thus she could trick them into thinking she was super-relevant for a lot of searches when the visible text on her site didn’t use most of the terms.  Unfortunately for her, the search engines – and Google in particular – are much smarter than that and they didn’t take kindly to her web team’s attempt to game them.  So her site – up for less than 48 hrs – was quickly booted from Google.

There’s obviously a  lot of bad advice out there about how to get a site to rank well.  Much of it comes from honest web guys that just aren’t current, and still think that achieving a certain “keyword density” on a page is good enough to call a site optimized.  For example, our IT guy is no slouch – but he once tried to convince me that all we had to do was stick a YouTube video on our site and we’d go straight to the top of the SERPS.  If only it were that easy.  Others, though, are true snake-oil guys who take their clients’ money and try to trick the search engines, to “game the system.”  Unfortunately for Senator Hutchison, she picked someone from the latter group, and one of her campaign’s first major online headlines was not particularly flattering.

SEO Advice for Beginners and Non-SEOs

You want some love from Google.  As in all relationships (sales, dating, etc.), the first question to ask, then is “What matters to them?”

What Matters to Google?

The short answer?  Links.  You need a lot of them, and you need them from authority sites, so that some of their coolness rubs off on your site.  If Google views your site as an authority site (based on that rubbed-off-coolness from links), odds are pretty good that you’ll rank well.

As the chart from SEOmoz shows, the factors that most correlate to high rankings have changed quite a bit over time – but in the end, there’s no real “secret formula.”  SEO is not about tricking Google into giving you more value than you should have, it’s about actually having value and then making sure Google (and the actual humans you want to attract) can find you.

If you’ve got a website and want it to rank well in Google and the other search engines, here’s a brief checklist:

Do the Basic On-Site SEO stuff.  Then Build Links, especially if you can get them from high authority sites with optimized anchor text.  Here are 5 things that – if you do them consistently – will help your site climb the charts:

  1. Twitter.  Twitter links (the shortened variety) are – for the most part – 301 redirected and so pass PageRank.  So – besides the relatively obvious point that you’re getting your content in front of an audience you probably don’t already have, twitter links can help a site rank.  Bottom line, if you’ve got good stuff on your site, tell people about it on Twitter.
  2. Comment on other blogs.  Other people are probably writing about the same basic thing.  Go interact with them.  Disagree with them, even – but obviously do it tastefully/respectfully.  The point is to be a part of the conversation, not some lone wolf off on your own.  Note that the key is that you’re adding value to the conversation, not just looking for an excuse to drop a link on someone else’s site.  Let me say that again: BE RELEVANT.  You’re going after humans here.  Blog comments are usually no-followed, so unless you have something good enough to say to get readers’ attention, this will likely end up being fairly unimpressive to Google, as well.
  3. Guest post/offer free content to other site owners.  If you can manage to interact well with others in #2, there’s always the chance for a guest blogging gig.  I suggest a “home” and “home” arrangement where you trade guest posts, but one-way arrangements can also be good.  To do this, though, be sure you’ve already demonstrated that you know what you’re talking about by interacting with them.  A variation of this is to write an excellent article that’s relevant and offers value to your potential partner’s audience and that includes good links to your site that use good anchor text.
  4. Create a widget/infographic/other useful thing that other site owners will like and put on their site.  Widgets are obviously best because you can hardcode a link into it (think YouTube or Vimeo); next best is the infographic with your name on it (and a request for a link or at least credit).  A great example is the SEOmoz image above, which is all over the place – but the one weakness is that it’s rarely linked back to the original post.
  5. Discounts for special groups. If you do some looking, you can find some great links on good domains simply by offering an exclusive discount to that site’s audience.  If you can honestly do this with no strings attached or other potential customer service issues, then there’s no real downside.  For example, notice that all these links are followed.  This can obviously be overdone, but it’s a better way to build links than just going out and comment spamming.

In the end, while content is king, it’s not enough to just create great content or to “be remarkable” as Seth Godin might put it.  There are a ton of great blogs out there who only have three people reading them.  They’ll never rank because nobody knows about them.  So after you make sure you’ve got something remarkable to offer, the above steps should help you get it visible.

  • I’d love to know what Kay Bailey Hutchison was opening to get out of a “heavily” optimized site as it relates to running for governor. Is she hoping people stumble in searching for “Texas capital,” plop on her site and decide to vote for her? I think her campaign could’ve benefited from your point: be relevant.

    I’m not saying SEO isn’t important; definitely optimize what you’ve got. But to think it’s essential to a political race seems nuts.

    bd
    @bdunc1

    • Frank

      Yeah – with all the analysis of Obama’s rockstar online effort, it wouldn’t have taken much for someone in her campaign to just copy some of what he did. Your point is key, and bears repeating: in the end, even if it had worked and she had ranked well for “texas capitol,” how would that have actually benefited her? SEO is not just “how do I rank well” but “how do I rank well for the right terms“.

  • I’d love to know what Kay Bailey Hutchison was opening to get out of a “heavily” optimized site as it relates to running for governor. Is she hoping people stumble in searching for “Texas capital,” plop on her site and decide to vote for her? I think her campaign could’ve benefited from your point: be relevant.

    I’m not saying SEO isn’t important; definitely optimize what you’ve got. But to think it’s essential to a political race seems nuts.

    bd
    @bdunc1

    • Frank

      Yeah – with all the analysis of Obama’s rockstar online effort, it wouldn’t have taken much for someone in her campaign to just copy some of what he did. Your point is key, and bears repeating: in the end, even if it had worked and she had ranked well for “texas capitol,” how would that have actually benefited her? SEO is not just “how do I rank well” but “how do I rank well for the right terms“.

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