Search Engine Optimization used to be largely about “tricks.” When I started my business, all I needed to do was to place my keywords in the right places within the pages of a client’s website to get a good ranking from the search engines for that website. At the time, the “experts” sometimes placed those search phrases in places where they could not be seen, or on pages that immediately redirected to other pages of the website.
No more. Today, the search engines have more sophisticated ways to evaluate a company and its website. Quality companies with quality websites are rewarded with good search engine rankings.
Granted, the ways Google and Bing and the lesser search engines evaluate “quality” are sometimes indirect, and therefore flawed.
What is a “Quality Company?”
For example, Google is looking to give higher rankings to more tenured companies. Google recognizes that today it is easy for a business to set up an on-line store with little capital, and that many of these businesses will not survive.
So, Google has what the SEO community has termed the “sandbox,” whereby a new domain’s website often won’t even be indexed until 6 months to 1 year following launch. Remember, the search engines have to get that kind of domain information from a database of registered domains.
One indirect way that Google rates the quality of a company is by evaluating the number and quality of incoming links to your website. Google treats an incoming link as if it were a recommendation from that site. A website with many incoming links from quality sites is seen as authoritative itself, and deserving of good rankings in the search results.
Google also uses links and citations in social media review sites to evaluate a company’s quality. A well-reviewed business is often rewarded with higher placements both in “natural” search results and among the Local Business listings.
What is a “Quality Website?”
The quality of a website is based primarily on factors that Google has identified as reflecting a “good user experience.” For example, the speed of page download can be measured, and is now believed to be part of Google’s algorithm. Google understands that Web surfers are impatient, so they reward a site that downloads quickly. This is why I recommend using a webhost for your site that is tenured and reputable. It is worth it even if it costs a little more.
There are many other variables that indirectly reflect the user experience. You can evaluate some of these through your Google analytics account. Use Analytics to run a competitive analysis of how your website stacks up against other sites in your industry. That will help you identify where you can make changes that could improve your rankings.
Google does not use Analytics to get this kind of information, however. Google uses information from Analytics only in the aggregate. But, with the new Google Toolbar that is being included in the download of many standard web browsers, Google can get data on individual websites and user behavior which can be used to improve the search engine’s results. As of February of this year, this information seems to be being used to rank websites.
What are some other variables that Google can measure that would reflect user experience?
• Click-thru Rate—Of those who see your website listed in results for a particular search phrase, what percentage are attracted by your listing enough to click through to your website.
• Bounce Rate—Of those who click through to your website, what percentage return to the search listings before visiting a second page of your site.
• Time on Site—How much time are visitors spending on your website, on average.
• Page Visits—How many pages of your website are visitors viewing, on average.
Within the pages of a website, there are many things that a search engine marketing pro like me can do to positively impact the user experience, including improvements to website navigation and content, and adding offers and interactive elements that encourage visitors to view pages deep within the website. I also can improve a website’s authority with the search engines through a link-building campaign.
SEO in 2011 is no longer about “tricks.” A website that loads quickly, is easy to navigate, and which provides solutions to customers’ most common problems (or answers to common questions) will outpace the rankings of most of its competitors. If a website also demonstrates authority through links from and citations on related websites and social media sites, it will do well in the rankings even in competitive online environments.