A Crash course in Getting Your Web Site
to the Top of Google and Yahoo Search Results
by Jonathan Ginsberg
Six Point Advertising and Marketing Company, LLC
When you type in a search term into Google or Yahoo, do you ever wonder how it is that the search engine decides which result will display first? If you own a business with a web site, your curiosity may have more urgency - since it would seem obvious that the business or company that comes up on the first page of the search results is getting business that could be coming to you.
Companies whose results appear on the first page of Google and Yahoo are not relying on luck - there is a method to their success. The good news here is that in most cases, you, too can realize first page search engine results...if you are willing to put the time and effort into doing so.
What follows in this article is an overview of how to optimize your web site for first page search engine results placement. Most of what you will read is non-technical and it all makes common sense. Yet only a small percentage of web sites in most industries take the time to optimize their sites. Whether you choose to undertake task of page optimization yourself, or whether you choose to out source the work, you need to understand the basic concepts.
What Does it Mean to “Optimize for a Search Engine?”
Here is an example. Let’s say you did a search on Google for “polka dot pansies.” Let us further assume that there were 30 polka dot pansy distributors out there looking for your business, each with equally compelling web sites. Why is it that three of these thirty sites always come up at the top of the results page every time?
It’s a pretty safe bet that these the web site coming in first has numerous other web sites linking to it. The site that comes in second also probably has incoming links, but not as many. The third place site has a few, but not as many, and so on.
Link Popularity is Vital
Link popularity appears to be a primary factor used by Google and by Yahoo to determine where you place in the free search engine results. As an aside, you can purchase a paid or sponsored listing in both Google and Yahoo to get to the top, but those listings are identified as paid listings and appear to have less credibility with web searchers and shoppers.
If you have not done so already, go to Google and Yahoo and enter a search term. See if you can identify the “free” results as opposed to the “sponsored” or paid results. Paid search results - also known as “pay per click” advertising is an entirely different topic from reciprocal linking. Pay per click advertising can be effective, but it can also get slightly to very expensive.
What is a Reciprocal Link and How do You Enter Into One?
Reciprocal linking is exactly what it appears to be - you agree to post a link to another web site on your site, and that site agrees to post a link back to you. Most web sites have a “links” or “resources” page and that is where the exchanged links are posted.
There are several keys to properly engaging in a reciprocal link exchange so that you (and the other guy) will derive the most benefit.
Start With Posting Your Own Links Page
First of all, you have to have a “links page” on your web site. You may title it “links page” or “resources page” but the main purpose of the page is to offer site visitors hyperlinks to other web sites.
Keep the following in mind about your links page - the purpose of your links page is not to direct visitors away from your site; instead, the purpose of your links page is to cast a vote for another web site. Another analogy to consider is the way a lawyer might use precedent to argue an opinion. A well reasoned case with 150 “followed” cites has more precedential value than another case with 2 cites. Why? Presumably the case with 150 cites was particularly well reasoned and has more votes from other case law.
Do not be persuaded by the argument that a links page is harmful because it takes visitors away from your web site. Firstly, you have to have outgoing links if you want to build a high position in the search engines. Second, you are not going to control your visitors actions anyway. There is a very good chance that your site visitor is using the web for research and he is going to look at other web sites. The combination of valuable and compelling content and a high place in the main search engines will drive visitors to your site.
You can also use some simple code on your web site to cause links to open in a separate window, thereby not causing your web site to close. You should also take care not to bury your Links page deep within your site. A good webmaster or SEO consultant can explain how to position your Links pages.
Pay Attention to Your Link Text
Secondly, you have to pay attention to your link text. The link text is the underlined word or words that someone would click to perform a hyperlink. Many website owners make the mistake of using “click here” as their link text. Why is “click here” useless to you? It is useless because Google is associating the words “click here” with your site.
Let’s return to our example:
Example 1: Click here to buy beautiful polka dot pansies.
Example 2: Click here to buy beautiful polka dot pansies.
What is the difference between these two links? In example 1, Google is associating the term “click here” with your Polka Dot Pansy web site. In example 2, Google is associating the term “beautiful polka dot pansies” with your web site.
When someone goes to Google to search for Polka Dot Pansies, what do you think they enter into the search box? “Click here” or “beautiful polka dot pansies?”
Thus, if you can convince 30 other web sites to post a link to your Polka Dot Pansy web site using link text of “beautiful polka dot pansy” there is a good chance that your site will come up on the first page of the search results.
Many capable web site designers do not understand this point about creating web site links. A recent search on Google revealed almost 17 million results on a search for “click here” and over 19 million results for “home page.” None of these “click here” or “home page” links help their web site owners get more traffic. Don’t you make this same mistake.
How Do You Actually Get Reciprocal Links
Now we understand the theory behind linking - you want other web sites to link to you, with the blue underlined link text containing the search term most relevant to your business. How do you actually put this into place?
First, you need to identify the terms you want associated with your web site. For example, if you practice estate planning law in Boston, you might want the term “Boston estate planning lawyer” associated with you. Or, you might want “writing a last will and testament in Boston.” Or you might want “Massachusetts wills.” How do you know?
Believe it or not, there are tools you can use to identify the terms people are searching under and approximately how many searches were entered for a particular term. One free tool is at http://inventory.overture.com. Another free tool is the Google toolbar, which only works in Internet Explorer but will give you essential information about a web page’s backward links as well as the “page rank” for a particular web page. Knowledgeable webmasters and SEO consultants use these and numerous other pay tools to create high ranking sites on search engines.
Also, type in a proposed search term into Google or Overture. See how many results come back. Sometimes it makes more sense to go for an association with a more niche term because the most popular term is too competitive. For example, the term “Massachusetts estate planning lawyer” appears to get about 150 searches per month, while the term gets over 3,000 searches. If your practice is limited to estate planning, you may decide that the more narrow term makes the most sense for you.
If there are four or five “niche” terms that you want to associate with pages on your web site, you can pursue multiple reciprocal linking campaigns. A good SEO consultant can advise you how to engage in multiple reciprocal linking campaigns.
Persuading Others to Link to You
Once you have created your links page, and decided on a niche link term that you want others to associate with your site, how do you get other web site owners to link to you? Simple. You ask them in an e-mail, fax or phone call.
As a rule, you first want to post a link to your proposed link partner first, then make the request for a reciprocal link. How do you find good link partners? Look for sites that have “link to us” pages. Webmasters who post “link to us” pages understand how the linking system works and will not have to be educated about the value of linking. An example “link to us” page is at http://www.disabilityforms.com/html/link_to_us.html (this is a live page - feel free to exchange links with my site).
Don’t Stress About Who Your Link Partners Are
Be aware that currently, it does not appear to matter to Google or Yahoo whether your link partners are topically related to your site. Thus, a good link from an orange juice site is just as valuable to you as a good link from a law related site. It is possible that Google or Yahoo will change their algorithms to give more weight to “topically related” links in the future, but it is hard to see how this might work.
Make It Easy for Others to Link to You
You should also make it easy for other sites to link to you. At a minimum, give potential linking partners your preferred link text (i.e. “beautiful polka dot pansies”) and a two or three sentence description for the link. Even better - provide potential link partners with code they can cut and paste into their Links page. See http://www.disabilityforms.com/html/link_to_us.html - which is a live example you can use.
Now you know why reciprocal linking can boost your placements in major search engines like Google and Overture and you understand that the “link exchange club” has open membership and awaits your participation. If your web site does not have a links page and if you are not looking for potential links partners, grab a pencil and get started.
Jonathan Ginsberg is a co-founder of Six Point Advertising and Marketing Company, LLC, a search engine optimization (SEO) consulting firm. You can contact Jonathan by phone at 770-393-4985 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article ©2004 by Jonathan Ginsberg. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved. For information about reprint rights, please contact the author.