Getting to the top of search engine results seems to be something most every website owner wants. However, doing so is a difficult challenge that rarely happens overnight. There are many factors to consider, and search engine algorithms (the top-secret formulas that determine how to rank websites in a search results page) are changing all the time. And a few missteps can penalize or drop your website altogether.
So what does a website owner do?
In the good old days of the internet, say the mid-to-late 1990s, using keywords that you think people would use to search for your website was all that it took. Today, it’s just not enough (but it is still very important). There are so many other factors involved. As of 2010, keywords and phrases, along with the age of your domain, the number and quality of links coming to your website, the amount of traffic your website has, the size of your website, and the frequency of site updates all play an important part in where your website shows up in search engines.
If your website’s search engine rank is important to you (and it should be if you want your site to attract new business), you need a comprehensive plan for search engine optimization and search engine marketing. A question that I hear often is, “Can I do it myself, or should I hire an expert?” Let’s take a look at the options.
Do it yourself
Sometimes, you have a limited budget because you’re just starting out or you’re a nonprofit. You may not have the luxury to afford an SEO expert right now. Doing it yourself may be your best option. If you’re unsure of where to begin, you may consider reading Search Engine Optimization, An Hour a Day, second edition, by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin. This book is one of the best resources out there for the do-it-yourselfer. It’s written in plain, non-technical language, and it helps you plan the best course for your SEO plan. Although the program takes a few months, it will position your site well for the future.
Hopefully, your web designer knows something about SEO and can help you get a head start. Reputable web designers will know how to code your site for accessibility and standards-compliance, which will help search engines “read” your site better. Also, good web designers will make sure that they have used your keywords and phrases in the appropriate places, and have coded your site with proper titles, headings, and image text.
Hire an SEO expert or search engine marketer
You may also consider hiring an expert to devise and implement a plan for your website. This is especially appealing if you don’t have the luxury to commit a chunk of time each day or at least weekly to keep your SEO plan running smoothly. These experts are usually different people than web designers because this job requires a different set of skills. Try to find an expert who will take the time to get to know your business and develop a strategy to improve your website’s performance. This often means keeping an ongoing relationship. Good, functional SEO is a continuing process.
Pay for search engine submission or high ranks
Another option if you plan to outsource your SEO is to pay online services to submit your website to hundreds or thousands of search engines or to use special software or techniques to get your site on the first page of search results in a week or two. As tempting as this sounds, you should always use caution, however, when outsourcing your SEO.
In general, stay away from services that guarantee a top ranking, who don’t develop a long-term plan for your website, or who get you top of Google’s results in a week or two. These are usually signs of “black hat” or unethical techniques that can deliver fast, one-time results but get you penalized or even dropped by search engines when it’s revealed that your website is “cheating.” These services often tout specialized software, which is rarely a good idea because of the techniques they use or because they treat all websites the same…and each website has different needs. Additionally, paying for search engine submission is generally a waste of money because Google, Yahoo!, and Bing are the only ones to worry about anyway; they have the greatest market share (over 99%), and the other search engines will find you in the long run.
If you’re not sure if a particular SEO professional is truly a professional—or just another scammer—you may be able to get recommendations from your web designer. Also, by reading up on authentic SEO in books and online articles from reputable sources can help you have an informed discussion with a potential SEO expert so that you can be an educated consumer.
Be a smart website owner
Regardless of the path you take, realize that it takes time, patience, and hard work to move your way up the search engine rankings. Jennifer Grappone recently published an excellent article that mentions how challenging SEO is becoming for do-it-yourselfer and expert alike. But you too can have a high ranking, easy-to-find website with some planning and patience.