Unless your prospective customer already knows who you are – think Ford, Vodacom and Coca-Cola – he or she won’t be looking for your company by name. They’ll be typing words into a search engine, like ‘plumber in Johannesburg’ or ‘Rondebosch locksmith’. The search engine will return a page showing the best results it can find – the closest match to the search phrase. The more relevant a website seems, the higher up the results page it’ll appear.
A good part of the effort to get more traffic to a particular website is spent on ‘optimizing’ a site for a particular search phrase, or ‘keyword phrase’. This is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. The search engines are notoriously secretive about the way they rank websites in their results pages. If anyone knew exactly what the search engines were looking for, they could simply do that and get the number one position. But pretty soon, everyone would be providing exactly what was required to be number one – and then what would the search engines do?
So the search engines disguise how their ranking system works. Like the formula for Coke or Kentucky Fried Chicken, everything they do is swathed in secrecy. They evolve elaborate algorithms, and tweak them continuously. They live out a love-hate relationship with SEO experts, a business they effectively created.
There are some ground rules for getting a site highly ranked for a particular search phrase. Even the ground rules are hotly debated, with some experts giving more weight to this aspect or that.
1. The domain name of the site. Where possible, a domain name should contain the primary keywords for the page.
2. On-page optimization – this is anything that you as the website owner can control. This relates to elements such as the page title, the number of times the keyword phrase appears on a page, the number of links to other sites and so on.
3. Off-page optimization – this is an area where you have less control. It basically comes down to backlinks. That is, links from pages on other sites back to your site. There are a number of ways to get good quality backlinks (poor quality backlinks would be from spam sites, porn sites and so on). The easiest way is simply to buy them. Google in particular seems to get upset about this technique, although there are many high-profile sites which sell and buy backlinks.