In the past 3 weeks, I have had several clients come up to me asking several variances of a very universal question:  “My web site is not ranking in search engines, and I am having trouble generating positive traffic in my site.  How can you help my business fix that?”  And after a deeper look into their respective situations, I realized several missing key factors that would have generated better ROI for them if these were placed before the site build.  It’s interesting because a great portion of these are really “basic” things (and I use that term loosely), or at least they should have been basic.

Basic Fundamentals

Some basic on-site fundamentals for ranking higher in search engines:

  • Content Development

    First and foremost, I feel the need to define what the “content” means in layman’s terms. “Content development” is 1) the research, development and implementation of text (paragraphs, verbiage, keywords, phrases, and headers, to name a few) on your site; and 2) the placement of text-based and graphic-based marketing elements such as register buttons and links, in-page text links, and so forth. While some can argue that there are more to content development than what I have suggested, I’ll keep this definition to a minimum, for argument’s sake 🙂

    “What does my site’s content have to do with getting ranked,” they ask?  The answer: it has a lot to do with the rankings. The content’s relevancy to the subject matter and the words used on search engines have a surprising factor in determining the value of your site when searched online. If specific keywords being searched online are not found anywhere in your site — within the code or text — then the likelihood of the site being ranked to the targeted keywords is as great as country music surviving in Seattle… unless there are signs of black hatting that is giving them great rankings without being relevant.

    Furthermore, the content should be able to have rich keywords within call-to-action elements that are targeted and visibly accessible to the user and to spiders/robots. Granted that the content should have targeted keywords and phrases anyway, it’s amazing to see that a lot of the web sites out there still do not have that luxury. One of the reasons I believe that these web sites lack such content is because they were written by someone who lacks online marketing knowledge and online content development. While traditional marketing and online marketing share similar theories and foundation, practicality and execution of these theories are handled very differently. Search engine marketing, both organic and pay-per-click, play a vital role in how marketing is conducted online. Case in point: a potential client that I am trying to help right now is having issues with his lack of rankings online. I found out that he wrote the content himself with limited knowledge of how to generate exposure, traffic and revenue online, which evidently has resulted in lack of positive site performance and business revenue. His search engine rankings are dismal, and he’s wondering why he’s not getting any bites on his hook.

  • Design

    In today’s online culture, I have seen a lot of sites with purely great designs and effective usability. And, after spending some time in those sites, I found that these sites had one thing in common: they JUST looked pretty. Some web designers are just that — designers who, unfortunately, have no knowledge of the fact that web design can now be considered under the online marketing umbrella. While they are rightly to be just web designers, they should also have basic fundamentals on search engine optimization and online marketing techniques to help market their site effectively, not just design them. Similar to keyword text and phrase placements, design elements should be structured around marketing fundamentals based on the site’s online business strategy and strategic marketing efforts. A design element whose specific purpose is to create call-to-action should be visibly placed and, when placed with text, should be relevant to that specific text that it is tied to. When multiple design elements are needed to create call-to-action from its users, a hierarchy and/or priority should be enforced and implemented based on strategic marketing initiatives.

  • Meta Tags

    While meta tags do not impact search rankings the way that they’re used to, it would still be feasible to implement tags on your code as part of an overall site development and online marketing best practices. Results of keywords and keyword phrases research should dictate your content development but also your meta tag development. The reason being is that you want to have as much ammunition in getting ranked as possible. Pretend viewing your site as a meat lovers or ultimate pizza, and meta tags are one of the toppings to make your pizza.

  • Images

    As an online marketing best practice, images should be relevant to the contents of the site, containing tags and descriptions derived from the keyword and keyword phrase research.  Image placement should be conducted in the same manner as call-to-action elements are placed in design.

Other Methods

Search engines rank pages differently from each other, and to illustrate this matter more effectively, I will use Aaron Wall, author and owner of and his research on the differences between search engines.

The Short Versions

  • Yahoo!

    • been in the search game for many years.
    • is better than MSN but nowhere near as good as Google at determining if a link is a natural citation or not.
    • has a ton of internal content and a paid inclusion program. both of which give them incentive to bias search results toward commercial results
    • things like cheesy off topic reciprocal links still work great in Yahoo!
  • MSN Search

    • new to the search game
    • is bad at determining if a link is natural or artificial in nature
    • due to sucking at link analysis they place too much weight on the page content
    • their poor relevancy algorithms cause a heavy bias toward commercial results
    • likes bursty recent links
    • new sites that are generally untrusted in other systems can rank quickly in MSN Search
    • things like cheesy off topic reciprocal links still work great in MSN Search
  • Google

    • has been in the search game a long time, and saw the web graph when it is much cleaner than the current web graph
    • is much better than the other engines at determining if a link is a true editorial citation or an artificial link
    • looks for natural link growth over time
    • heavily biases search results toward informational resources
    • trusts old sites way too much
    • a page on a site or subdomain of a site with significant age or link related trust can rank much better than it should, even with no external citations
    • they have aggressive duplicate content filters that filter out many pages with similar content
    • if a page is obviously focused on a term they may filter the document out for that term. on page variation and link anchor text variation are important. a page with a single reference or a few references of a modifier will frequently outrank pages that are heavily focused on a search phrase containing that modifier
    • crawl depth determined not only by link quantity, but also link quality. Excessive low quality links may make your site less likely to be crawled deep or even included in the index.
    • things like cheesy off topic reciprocal links are generally ineffective in Google when you consider the associated opportunity cost

    • looks at topical communities
    • due to their heavy emphasis on topical communities they are slow to rank sites until they are heavily cited from within their topical community
    • due to their limited market share they probably are not worth paying much attention to unless you are in a vertical where they have a strong brand that drives significant search traffic

Aaron’s explanation of search engine ranking and search engine relevancy will highlight certain aspects and factors behind your site’s lack of performance, and hopefully will educate those in charge of strategic online marketing initiatives for the site(s) in question.

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