To Drive Traffic to Your Site, You Need to Give Good Directions
By Jefferson Graham
You have a website and can’t figure out why it’s not showing up at the top of Google’s search rankings. You go to Google.com for some guidance but get lost trying to find answers.
Certainly, achieving visibility in Google’s search rankings can be a mystery. To help solve the riddle, USA TODAY sat down with Google’s Matt Cutts, an engineer and active blogger, who has five easy tips on how to “optimize” your site so Google and the rest of the world can find it.
More and more businesses are turning to the Web to find customers: $5.8 billion was spent on advertising in the first quarter alone, up 18.2% from the prior year, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Google’s share of Internet searches continues to rise as well — to a record 61.8% in May, according to measurement service ComScore Media Metrix.
If you haven’t “optimized” your site, here’s how:
1. Spotlight your search term on the page.
“Think about what people are going to type in to try and find you,” Cutts says. He tells of meeting a chiropractor from San Diego who complained that his site couldn’t be found easily using Google search. The words “San Diego chiropractor” were listed nowhere on his site. “You have to make sure the keywords are on the page,” Cutts says. If you’re a San Diego doctor, Des Moines architect or Portland ad agency, best to let people know so immediately, at the top of your page.
2. Fill in your “tags.”
When creating websites, Internet coding language includes two key tags: title and description. Even if you don’t know code, which is used to create pages, software programs such as Adobe’s Dreamweaver have tools that let you fill them in in plain English (rather than “
“). Tags are crucial, Cutts says, because what’s shown in search results most often are the title and description tags.
If Cutts’ chiropractor had properly tagged his Web page, a search would have returned something like this: “San Diego chiropractor. Local doctor serves San Diego community.”
There’s also a third tag, to add keywords, or search terms, but Cutts says Google doesn’t put much weight in its rankings on that one.
3. Get other sites to “link” back to you.
Google says it looks at more than 100 pieces of data to determine a site’s ranking. But links are where it’s at, once your search terms are clearly visible on your site and the title and description tags correctly marked.
In a nutshell: Google ranks sites based on popularity. If authoritative sites link to you, you must be good, and therefore you get to the top of the list. If you can’t get top sites such as USATODAY.com or The New York Times to link to you, try your friends. And what if they don’t have a site? They probably do. Read on.
4. Create a blog and post often.
Cutts says blogging is a great way to add links and start a conversation with customers and friends. It will cost you only time: Google’s Blogger, WordPress and others offer free blogging tools. With a blog, you can link back to your site and offer links to others. It’s also a great way to start building content, Cutts says.
5. Register for free tools. Google’s google.com/webmaster offers freebies to help get your site found. You can upload a text-based site map, which shows Google the pages of your site (create it at www.xml-sitemaps.com). Once that’s done, you’ll be registered with Google, where you can learn vital statistics — including who is linking to your site and how often Google “crawls” your site for updates.
Google’s Local Business center (google.com/local/add) is the place for business owners to submit a site so it shows up in local searches, with a map attached. Savvy consumers who use Google for searches know that the first 10 non-advertising results often are from Google Maps, so if you have a business and haven’t submitted it, you’re losing out on potential customers.
Don’t overdo it
When weaving keywords into a main page, Cutts says, some zealous Web publishers will use the term over and over again. That’s called “keyword stuffing.” It’s a big Google no-no that can have your site removed from the index.
“After you’ve said it two or three times, Google has a pretty good idea — ‘OK, this page has something to do with this keyword,’” he says. “Just think about the two or three phrases you want to be known for and weave that in naturally.”
For blogger newbies, Cutts knows that writing (for example, posting new material) doesn’t always come easy. He suggests finding ideas by visiting social news sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon, to see what people are saying about your particular topic.
Aside from that, Cutts says, new material falls into the common-sense category: It’s all about your business. “If I’m a plumber in Iowa, I may want to write about some of the strange things that happen to me on the job, or the five most common ways to fix a toilet,” he says. “That kind of content can get really popular, and it’s a great way to get links.” Folks will post your piece on one of the social media sites. And with links comes higher Google rankings.
Finally, Cutts says, there is one big misconception about getting Google visibility that he wants to clear up: In order to be found at the top of Google’s rankings, you do not also have to advertise.
“One thing doesn’t have to do with the other,” he says.
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