The Google dance

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Last month, a client called to say he still hadn’t seen his web site appear in Google‘s listings. The web site had been up one week.

This goes to show you how much we all expect instantaneous results from anything Internet-related. But that’s not the way it is, and it won’t be for quite some time.

Now, it’s possible that my client’s web site could have made it into Google within a week. I’ve had it happen, but ONLY with web sites that have a longstanding domain name (in 2008 I redesigned my sister’s web site, Colonial Photography, now Helen’s Place Photography, and she was sitting pretty on page 1 the next day (where she’s remained) — she’d owned her URL for 12 years even though there was not one word of text on it.) Google respects longevity.

Here are some important things to remember about your new web site being found on Google:

1. URL age is still a factor, albeit a lesser one. That doesn’t mean you should buy an old URL. Rather, it means that Google respects age as an SEO factor, especially if that URL has been linked to in the past. In the case of my sister’s web site,, likely she had next-day results in 2008 because her web site, even though it had no words on it, was frequently linked to. It held a single link for her clients to view their photos.

2. Google spiders don’t “crawl” every web site every day, or every week for that matter. Google performs “fresh” crawls periodically looking for brand new stuff. But Google only performs a “deep” crawl every month, on some undetermined date (but one you can make an educated guess about if you watch closely). And, depending on a lot of factors, you may not see the results of even a deep crawl for weeks. Also, Google is under no obligation to deep crawl your site at all. If your site remains unimproved for long periods of time, it’s likely that it will take some energy to get Google’s attention again.

Here are some comments by Matt Cutts, the popular Google software engineer:

There is also not a hard limit on our crawl. The best way to think about it is that the number of pages that we crawl is roughly proportional to your PageRank. So if you have a lot of incoming links on your root page, we’ll definitely crawl that. Then your root page may link to other pages, and those will get PageRank and we’ll crawl those as well. As you get deeper and deeper in your site, however, PageRank tends to decline.

Another way to think about it is that the low PageRank pages on your site are competing against a much larger pool of pages with the same or higher PageRank. There are a large number of pages on the web that have very little or close to zero PageRank. The pages that get linked to a lot tend to get discovered and crawled quite quickly. The lower PageRank pages are likely to be crawled not quite as often. (Matt Cutts interviewed by Eric Enge, 3/14/2010)

Even though Page Rank is not supposed to be a factor any longer, there is a lot of truth to these words still.

So, here are some tips for getting found by Google faster:

1. Keep an “old” URL (but not the web site) even if you’re changing your business name. Ask your webmaster to redirect the old URL to the new. It could pay off.

2. Revise your file names. Make sure they use your keywords, and aren’t too long. Google will overlook file names that appear to be similar. I’ll give you an example. Before I knew any better, I used to add the business name to the keywords for a file name — both so the business name could be better branded and the web file names could be better organized (e.g., businessname_web_site_design.xxxx and businessname_copywriting.xxxx) (“xxxx” being the file extension for the kind of pages you use, such as .html). You may find that Google will bypass any page other than your home (index) page if you do this. Keep your most important key words near the front of the file name, and make sure they’re also used in your body text.

3. Increase the volume of your inbound and outbound links. Two otherwise identical sites will rank differently in Google based on their popularity with the world at large — particularly their peers. You can’t do any better than being linked to by people in your own business. So — make sure you’re listed in online trade directories, blog directories (you do have a blog, don’t you?), and the like. The more the merrier. Just don’t pay a “link farm” to generate random links to your web site. When Google sees that these links are bogus, you’ll be penalized. As for outbound links, these are just as important to Google.

4. Drive traffic to your web site. Blog, answer questions on LinkedIn, even advertise on Google or Facebook. Just get people to your web site. This is harder than it may sound — people want interesting and useful information. Can you provide it?

5. As often as possible, freshen your web site’s content. Particularly the index page. Add new files. Add downloadables. Add a new blog entry.

6. Give your audience incentives to move to another page. Keeping your bounce rate low is much more important than you may think.

7. Lather, rinse, repeat. It sometimes takes perseverance and consistent nurturing to gain a higher ranking on Google, but you can make great strides if you’re persistent and patient.

After about a month, my client’s web site appeared on Google, on page 1 for both of his top key words, and his was a brand-new domain. It will take him longer to reach page 1 for a much more competitive key word, but I have confidence that in his market area we will demonstrate more perseverance than his competition. I’ll let you know how we do.

Oh, what is the Google dance? If you watch search engine results pages (SERPs) rankings daily, as I do, you’ll see that your web pages’ rankings will jockey around quite a bit — up by three points here, and down by one there. That’s the dance to pay attention to.

Other reading:

Timing Google’s crawl

How Google works

Enhanced by Zemanta

"But I can't afford web site design"

Apple iPhone 5C

Apple iPhone 5C, which started at $590

Posh. You can afford a telephone line, right? A cell phone? A vacation once or maybe several times a year? It’s a matter of priorities.

You can install a web site very economically. Most web designers won’t tell you this, but if you’re at all computerish, you can have a simple web site up within a few hours.

Now it may not be fancy, but it can be tasteful and appropriate for your business. And the process of setting one up might help you prepare answers to marketing questions from web designers later down the line.

Mind you, your homemade web site will not be effective. I mean, I don’t know anything about plumbing. How could you know anything about web sites other than you look at them in the evening?

If you’re in business, you DO need a web site. Just like once we all HAD to be in the Yellow Pages if we wanted to be found.

Whether you’re a plumber or a landscaper, a web site often reassures potential customers that you’re “for real.” A web site can also explain how you do business, and it certainly can earn you customers if it’s well designed.

What about Mc-web sites? The web sites that cater to specific businesses — you know the ones. They do all of the plumbing web sites, or all of the homebuilder web sites. These web sites all look the same.

I can’t afford web site design

If you want to look like everyone else, then go for it. And I don’t mean that derogatorily. You might well want to conform to a certain look and feel.

Otherwise, here’s what I recommend if you have a few hundred dollars or less and you need a web site designed:

1. Get your own URL. Don’t go with plumbing.com/williamsburg_va/your_business. For one thing, if you’re on someone else’s web site, you won’t be able to show up well in search engine results. You might not be able to control your own file names, and that can be important.

You can get a one-year license for a URL for 8 to 12 dollars a year. It’s well worth it. Also, I advise against otherwise great services such as Wix.com for the same reason. Your site, SEO-wise, can’t compete. Plus, Wix, although it has changed in 2014 and 2015 to include responsive web sites) is Flash-based or at the very least formulaic. Flash-based means that your site will struggle (read: fail) to compete in search engine results. (And I’ve read plenty of accounts of frustrated users who expected more of SEO, but I do think that Wix is perfect for many users.)

Plus, you’re not allowed to design your site on Wix and take it to another server. I should also say that Wix is brilliant! One day all web design will be this easy. I’m just saying that if you’re a company that might depend on search engine results for business, this is definitely not the place to go.

2. Find a good host. I use bluehost.com. They’re reasonable and super-responsive. If hosting your own site frightens you, consider asking a web design company (ahem) to set it up or manage it for you.

3. Create your web site with blogging software such as WordPress.com. Wordpress is a CMS (content management system) that’s fairly easy for most users to master.

You install it (or gave it installed) on your web site, and then make it look the way you want. I recommend WordPress for ease of use and flexibility, but don’t overlook security issues. WordPress requires some pretty high security because of its popularity.

You can make a very clean and elegant presentation using WordPress, and you can do it with absolutely no HTML skills. You can even start out hosting your WordPress site for free on WordPress, and it won’t hurt your search engine marketability. But doing so will limit some control you might like over your web site (such as adding forms, and other web doodads).

If you do decide to go with WordPress for your first website attempt, try one of these:

There are other trustworthy web vendors. Just know that if you buy from a factory web vendor such as Template Monster, the designs and capabilities are all over the place. You will be frustrated.

By all means, I don’t intend for you to STAY with this little site you’ve started. I expect you to grow it, tend it, and make it work.

And then, when you realize that your web site isn’t doing as much for you as you thought it could, call me. My number is all over the place on this web site.

Otherwise … keep in mind that there’s one truism that really is true: Stagnant web sites will not be found.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Why can’t I do my own SEO?

Architecture of a Web crawler.

Architecture of a Web crawler. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why can’t I do my own SEO?”

You can, of course, do your own search engine optimization (SEO). That’s the beautiful, democratic thing about the web.

Anyone can rank high for his or her chosen keywords, with a little elbow grease.

You just need to: (more…)

How can I blog if I can't write well?

Zemanta

Zemanta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can I blog if I can’t write?

I hear this a lot, especially from people who run their own businesses. They might be plumbers, doctors, or geeks — no matter. They’re usually successful at their work, but don’t feel confident in their writing.

I give these folks a lot of credit. They already recognize the importance of blogging. They know that if they blog, they’ll be adding rich content to their web sites, and that Google “spiders” will like that and increase their ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). Google flat-out likes web sites that continually add new content — in most cases, Google figures you’re  helping people understand your product or service better, and that’s a good thing. Stagnant sites rank low by comparison.

You can still blog if you can’t write. And by doing so, you’ll still add rich content to your web site, and you can do it every single day if you like.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Reblog. A service called Zemanta lets you take someone else’s content and “stick” it to your web site. You’re not violating copyright, either — you are simply creating a link to the story or article or blog. You can write a few words of introduction — or not. This little plug-in also helps you add helpful links and photos to any blog — Zemanta is a free plug-in for browsers such as Firefox and Safari.

2. Link to news or trade content. You can simply link to a website that offers news that you think your audience might find helpful. For instance, if you’re a landscaper, you could link to stories that get customers interested in their yards. You might offer stories from your local cooperative extension service, or a gardening club, or someone who blogs about lawns and gardens. It’s helpful if you add an introductory sentence or two, but not absolutely necessary.

3. Pay or barter with someone to blog for you. You’d be surprised at how well this will work for you — sit down with a writer and tell him or her what kinds of things you think your audience will be interested in, and perhaps your writer will have some ideas as well. What will sell your products or services? Consider a long-term arrangement, which will probably make more financial sense to you both.

4. Make lists and publish them. Making lists isn’t so scary, is it? If you’re a plumber, you can make a list of 10 things homeowners should check every year — or have checked (hint, hint), or 10 tools every homeowner should have on hand in case of a drip, or a flood. The important thing is to be useful. If people see that you’re concerned about houses and your community, and not just $65 an hour, they’ll respond. You’ve become human to them, and people would rather deal with humans than with web sites.

5. Be sure to set up tracking for your web site. This is the only way you’ll be able to measure the results of your blogging. If you’ve never used a web analytics program before, now’s the time to begin. You can measure the success of your key words, links, and other marketing efforts. The web makes ROI not only possible, but fairly accurate.

The important thing is to get started. Your business world is only going to become more competitive. It would be nice to start understanding now how to make progress in it, yes?

Let me know how you do!

Write how your (web) audience writes

a chart to describe the search engine market

Image via Wikipedia

No, I don’t mean sloppily or with bad grammar. For pity’s sake.

I do mean that you want to infuse your web site with the kind of verbiage your potential customers use when they look for your services. If you think they enter “great motel within walking distance of downtown,” then that’s the copy you need to put on your web page(s). “Near downtown” or “close to the mall” won’t do it if that’s not what your audience is searching for.

This news always seems to come as a surprise to my clients. I tell them, if you want to be found, write how your audience writes.

A couple of months ago one of my clients sent me a heated email. “You don’t write a headline as a sentence!” he snipped. Well, maybe not. But maybe you do if it helps you get customers. And in Google‘s (the 600-pound gorilla) world, writing the sentence “I need help with my taxes” in a headline counts for more than the same exact phrase in body copy.

And, note that this copy is written in the first person. People don’t search for phrases such as “Do you need help with your taxes?” Their searches are about THEM. So if you want to come up high in the search engine results pages (SERPs), pay some attention to THEM and their concerns.

In the copy I’d written for my client, I had said something like:

*****

“I need help with my taxes.” (headline)

Is this something you say every year around April 15?

*****

You get the idea.

But don’t overdo it.

You wouldn’t want to write something like this: “Every year, people say to themselves, “I need help with my taxes.” If I needed help with my taxes, I’d call a professional. Because when I need help with my taxes … (etc.).

Your copy has to sound natural, or you’ll lose your audience.

How do you determine your best search phrases? A good place to start is with your (successful) competition. If you have software that checks on key word placement, use it. The results may surprise you, and in a good way.

Happy keywording!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Your web site is alive

Your web site is aliveYour web site responds to attention and nurturing just like any living being. The more attention you give it, the better your search engine rankings.

You see, Google (and this is the 400-pound gorilla to pay attention to) figures that the more attention you give your web site, the fresher your information and the more useful your web site will be to people.

So, if you do nothing else to your web site other than spruce it up once a week, you’ll rank higher in search engine results than your (similar) competitor who hasn’t tweaked a page all year.

Here are some easy things you can do to freshen up your existing web site:

  1. Revise wording. Trim wording and make sure the important content is within the first couple of sentences. Use subheads with your keywords. Pick a blog and make sure it’s up to date. Things change, and maybe your understanding of a subject changes. Maybe keyword popularity changes. I have a client who’s a landscaper and hardscaper. There’s always something new we can tweak re: technology or plants. Or something else.
  2. Add SEO-friendly wording. A look at your competitors’ web sites may give you an idea of words and phrases that work. Or go to Google AdWords and run your own test. If you have questions, call me. I can make this process easy for you. 410.404.5559.
  3. Upload pictures. Pictures will also help to keep people on your web site (we also call this “stickiness”).
  4. Include additional downloadable information. Google looks very favorably upon .pdfs, for instance. When it sees you offering .pdfs, Google figures you want to help educate people, and education is tops on Google’s list.
  5. Start a blog. If you have a wordsmith on your staff, this is a no-brainer toward higher search engine results. Just address industry topics in simple, understandable terms. If you don’t have a wordsmith, you can still blog. Quote industry publications (giving credit, of course). Upload photographs of your products. Take questions from your public, and answer them.

There is plenty more that you can do to continually freshen your site. For now, aim to do a little something every week. And watch your stats go up. Oh, you do have a free Google Analytics account, don’t you? And a Google Business page?

Pin It on Pinterest