April 7, 2010
Google lists results of all searches in order of relevance to the search words. How do you become relevant? It’s no use being number nine hundred in order of relevance if people searching Google only look at the first ten or twenty listed. It’s no use having the best looking website if nobody sees it.
Never mind, you say, I can pay to be at the top of Google. Yes you can pay a lot to be a sponsored or pay per click website. Google makes a fortune from just that. However Google itself admits that its surveys show 72% of searchers ignore the paid listings and click on the natural listings, the listings that earn their position by being relevant.
Okay, you say, I’ll pay an SEO expert a lot of money to get me to the top. Yes, you can pay a Search Engine Optimization company, but the only guarantee is that you will pay a lot of money.
Let’s cut through all the spin. Search Engine Optimization is not a science. Websites really need to be designed for relevance to search engines using some common sense.
How do you define Relevance?
In a bookstore, how do you select a book about e.g. motorbike maintenance? You check:
- Front covers,
- Descriptions on the back covers,
- Size of each book,
- Tables of chapters,
- Samples of paragraphs, and
- Which of the books are more popular.
If the title of the book does not include the words “motorbike maintenance” there is every chance that you won’t find a lot of information about motorbike maintenance in the book.
There is usually a description of the book on the back cover. If that doesn’t mention “motorbike maintenance” either, you are looking at the wrong book.
But of the books with “motorbike maintenance” in their titles, some are larger than others. Some have more chapters and pages than others. You expect that the larger ones will have more information than the smaller ones. You also question the bookstore on which of the books are selling more. That is how you decide which book has the most information and is most relevant to your search. Is that science or common sense?
How does Google define Relevance?
On the internet, if you search for “motorbike maintenance” Google will list ten million results in the order of relevance to your search. To sort websites in order of relevance to a search, Google has used its secret algorithm to weigh up:
- Domain names,
- Titles of the websites (meta-titles),
- Page headings and sub headings,
- Menu and navigation bar (links to inside pages),
- Quantity of information, and
- Popularity of each website based on the number of other relevant websites that link to it (same as in popularity of books).
We know those factors which are similar to those you used to find a book. We only guess the weighting Google gives to each factor.
You want a website for your business or activity to be easily found by the audience that your website is targeting. So take into account the same factors that you use in selecting a book on that subject.
If your URL (web address) includes some part of the expression “motorbike maintenance”, e.g. motorbikemaintenance.com, Google will rank it ahead of those names that don’t, (if everything else is equal).
The website title meta-tag, that shows at very top left of the browser, is a very important item to Google, just as the book title is to you when selecting a book to buy. Amazingly, some web masters have simply put the words “Home page” into the title tag. That makes a web page very relevant to people searching the internet for a “home” but, not relevant to search for “motorbike maintenance”.
Also include other words that people might search for, e.g. “motorcycle repairs”. If you are targeting a particular region, e.g. Australia, that word is needed in the title meta-tag to capture searchers who qualify their search for the subject in Australia only.
The description meta-tag is also an aid to relevance, just as the description of a book is there to tell you what the book is about. However the words in the title meta-tag and description meta-tag should also show on the web page itself, otherwise they might be ignored.
The headings of each web page take the same importance as the chapter names in a book. Page headings are more effective if they are succinct, leaving out words like “and” “the” “of” and “a”.
Size of Website
The volume of information counts towards the relevance of the website to a search, just the same as the size of a book. We are amazed at people who put up a one-page website and expect Google to rank it high for relevancy in front of a 50-page website. Look at page one of Google for any search. Are any one-page websites listed there?
Google believes that if other relevant websites link to yours, then your website must be more relevant than those that don’t have such incoming links. However the test is relevance. A link from a motorbike club is relevant for a motorbike maintenance website. A link from a casino is not relevant.
Are You Relevant?
To be relevant to a search for any words, your web page needs to contain those words in its title, heading, hyperlinks and body text. Links from other relevant websites add to your relevance. Search engines use the same process that you use if you search a bookstore for a book on motorbike maintenance.
This article was not written to discourage readers from paying for SEO. However, it’s hoped that readers now understand more about what’s behind SEO. It’s not magic or science, but really common sense.
Ken McKay is an Australian web designer at platypus websites – http://www.platywebs.com.au.