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What Google Wants: A Beginner's SEO Guide

GoLocal member Net101 explains why Google matters for business websites.

By: Stormy Knight

July 24, 2012

What Google Wants: A Beginner's SEO Guide

If you want your business website to do well in search engines, and by search engines you probably mean Google, it's important to understand that there are 3 primary ways your business can appear in Google search results:

1. AdWords, where you pay to have your advertisement appear
2. Google+ Local and Google Maps, which I will cover in a future article
3. Regular search engine results, sometimes referred to as SERP's, which stands for Search Engine Result Pages.

Why Does Google Matter?
Well, in case you need to ask, here are some general numbers to give you an idea of the scale of Google's influence in online commerce. Google is the top search engine in the world, with over 80% of all searches on the internet going through it. Google is also the largest ad agency on the internet, with over 60% of all non-Facebook advertising going through their AdWords system. Good or bad, Google wields enormous power over what people find and visit on the internet.

Google collects their information by sending out text-reading robots, called "spiders" that collect the text from a website and add it to the Google databases. Google then takes that data and runs it through an algorithm that uses thousands of bits of information to determine the best quality websites to show for any searched term in their search engine. They never share precisely what their algorithm is looking for because if anyone outside of Google were ever able to "game" what their system is, that person would be able to create websites that were guaranteed to show up for a particular keyword search, effectively controlling the quality of Google's search results. Obviously, Google works hard to keep that from happening.

Showing up #1 for a well-searched term can generate thousands of visitors per day and millions of dollars a year, so everyone who runs a business on the internet is always trying to at least understand what Google wants and provide it to them. This is called search engine optimization or SEO - optimizing web content to do well in Google. Many times people do eventually learn how to show up on the first page (good) or the top 3 (best) for a particular keyword or search term. Because of this, Google must refine the algorithm or rules that they use on a regular basis to keep the control of their search results. This causes websites who had a top position to suddenly disappear or show up on page three, many times wiping out their traffic entirely. Since so much rides on SEO, there is an entire industry devoted to search engine optimization. This industry spends a lot of time testing and worrying about some small detail that will make a small uptick in Google's search results.

The good news for you is that when your potential local customers search for small business keywords, such as plumber, veterinarian or pizza, Google assumes that the searcher is looking for local information and gives preference to those websites that follow some very general SEO best practices and does not force these small business websites to compete against the other 34 million+ websites about plumbers, veterinarians and pizzas. This article is about the things that have been proven time and time again to be what Google wants to see from websites in general, so that you can do well when it matters - when someone is searching for your products and services and are ready to buy!

The first thing to understand is that Google is a business.
Like every other business, it needs to keep it's customers happy or it won't be in business very long. To keep it's customers happy, it tries to present the best possible results to every term that someone enters into it's search engine. They determine the quality of each website in two primary ways:
 
1) The information on the website/webpages themselves and
2) referrals (links) from other websites that, in effect, endorse the quality of the site for a particular keyword. The actual text that are used for the links from their website to another website is called the "anchor text".


Example: If a website mentions your company with "This is a great website for information on tropical fish." and the words "tropical fish" is used as the actual link to your site, then Google assumes that your website is about "tropical fish" because that is the anchor text. Receiving links from other websites is an entire subject unto itself, so let's look at the simpler and much easier to control item #1, which is optimizing the information that appears on your website.



Items you want to consider when optimizing your website:
Be consistent in the information covered on both your website as a whole and on each individual page. If the information is inconsistent, you will confuse Google at best and be seen as a spammer at worst.


Example: On a website about pools if you suddenly have content regarding dog training, why would Google want to consider you an authority on pools? This is important for the search engines but also for your visitors. No matter what goal you have for those who visit your website, its important not to confuse your website visitors. Make it exceedingly clear what your website is about, what it contains and the benefits of looking at the website and working with your company. Being consistent also means being complete. Be willing to create content that covers all aspects of your business in a complete and professional manner. What does your prospective client need to know to buy, use and understand your products and services? That's the best place to start when creating your website content.



Build your site content to match what your ideal customers / visitors are searching for
Type your primary keywords into Google search. As you are typing, the search will show you suggestions of what people have looked for previously. Also look at the bottom of a Google search page, it will show you searches related to what you searched for. Go to the AdWords keyword tool (https://adwords.Google.com/o/KeywordTool) and put in your primary keywords. It will show you other keywords that they suggest for AdWords advertisers. You can export these to spreadsheets and study what people are searching for in your type of business. This will be a great starting place for creating new content for your website.
 
Have proper meta tags in your code. The main ones are title, keywords and description
Keywords are less important than they used to be. The title tag is currently the most important of the meta tags. Use 10 - 15 words with your most important words at the beginning. There is no need to include your site URL, which is a common error I see this all the time on improperly optimized websites. Your description tag is what appears in the description in Google listings, so make it is keywords rich and gives a compelling reason to visit the page. A well-written description tag has been shown in tests to create more click-thrus than a listing higher up on the page.
 
Have a reasonable number of words on the page
200 to 500 words of content (not code) is ideal. Less than that and Google assumes that the page isn't very valuable. More than that and you may consider splitting the content into another page with slightly different keywords highlighted on each page.

If you are a local-only business, weave your city and region names into both your meta tags and your content.
Example: Our customers in Santa Rosa get delivery to their door in less than 30 minutes.
Use the "alt" tag on your image call outs to both tell what the image is and what the page is about. Spiders can't see images but they can see the text in an alt tag so use that space to reinforce the page content. Example: A  picture of a slice of pizza on your page talking about your old world recipes can have an alt tag of "Pizza slice made with Giorgino's old Italian recipe."

Letting Google know clearly and logically what your company does through these simple steps will not only reward you with better search engine positioning, but it will also make it easier for visitors and customers to get the most out of your website.

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