I’m often told by clients that they want me to make sure their website pops up at the top of the search results.
One client had a group of investors in San Francisco and their sole criterion for whether the site was any good or not was whether it was returned in the first position on page 1.
They weren’t concerned with the design, the content or the layout: just that it popped up at number 1.
So let me clear up this one right away: no one can ever guarantee to make a website pop up at number 1, or even on the first page, of the natural (organic) search results.
Anyone who tells you they can is misleading you, and here’s why:
Google alone makes around 500 changes a year to its search algorithms. The big ones, like Panda and Penguin, we get to hear about, but most of them we don’t.
In order to guarantee to get a website to pop up at number 1 you’d have to understand all of those algorithms and be able to adjust the site in real time to meet them – i.e. nearly twice a day, every day of the year.
And then you’d have to do the same for Yahoo, Bing, Ask and all the rest.
But even then you couldn’t guarantee a search results position because one of the strongest signals the search engines use to decide where to place a page is based on the number of links to a site. And, increasingly, they are using the number of shares your content gets on social media.
So you would also have to find ways of getting people to link to your site and share it on the social networks.
But, given that this is common knowledge among webmasters, the search engines also know that people will try to get extra links and shares by foul means, rather than fair, and they’ve developed ways of spotting these attempts and demoting the sites concerned.
So, as I said earlier, it is not possible to guarantee a number 1 position in the organic search results.
Paid search results, meaning the ads that appear across the top of the natural search results and down the right hand side of the page, are different.
You can pretty much guarantee a first position result there but you would have to pay – a lot! And you would still need to have a page that’s well structured and conforms to the Adwords guidelines.
On-site and off-site search engine optimisation
So, focusing now on the natural search results, there are two broad areas that you have to work on:
- On-site optimisation
- Off-site optimisation
On-site optimisation is where you make sure each page in your site is correctly structured, that you make correct use of the various tags available to you and that you keep each page focused on a single topic.
You can do some keyword research to see what terms people are using to search for the information your page covers, but keywords are becoming less important each month as the search engines get better at understanding the content of a page.
Google is also now experimenting with, and developing the ability to understand, the context (or intent) of a searcher’s query and adjust the pages it returns based on that.
This is why I’ve said many times that if you’re writing pages for a website you should ignore the search engines and write purely for people.
None-the-less, on-site optimisation is the foundation of a good search results performance and it is directly within your control.
Further, once it’s done it’s basically done. You should review it occasionally and it may need a couple of tweaks, but that’s it.
Off-site optimisation is what the Internet generally thinks about your site and you have less direct control over this.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s about the number of links to your site and the number of times your content is shared on the social networks.
Building up both of these elements requires that you become active in the social media, so that people come to know you and share your content. You also need to look for relationships you can grow with other bloggers and webmasters who may link back to your site.
In both cases your content is the deciding factor: good content will get linked to and shared, poor quality content will not.
At all costs you should avoid trying to take shortcuts, such as paying for links or joining link networking schemes. These tactics were invalidated by the search engines some time ago!
Off-site optimisation takes time and work, and even then you can’t guarantee a search results position for your site.
So next time someone tells you they can guarantee a number 1 position in the search results for your website walk away and talk to someone who will be straight with you.
For more information on search engine optimisation take a look at this article and also follow the link at the bottom of it.