So you want to be top in Google

We all do. That’s why it can be difficult – the competition is very high for many search terms.

You will be found by people looking for your particular site – if you have unique business name or site title that people know and search for your site will appear near the top of Google’s result list, that’s easy.

But getting people searching for general terms like ‘plumber’ or ‘restaurants’ to visit your site can be much more difficult, simply because there are so many plumbers’ and restaurants’ websites competing for those top ten Google listings.

So what can we do? It helps to understand how Google works…

What does Google like?

Good quality sites for starters. It’s important the pages in your site are well made so they’re easy for Google to find and index, and your page names and headings are informative and relevant. This is yours and my job, and it’s relatively easy.

But Google mainly likes sites we like. Google’s success is largely thanks to all of us, because Google scrutinises what sites we visit and link to and recommended on social networks.

Google also considers the popularity and relevance of any sites linking to ours – a link from your Auntie’s tapestry site isn’t going to help much.

Our three main options

1. Try to be listed high up in Google’s ‘organic’ results for your particular subject and search terms

This is often the most difficult option, due to high competition. To rise to the top your site has to be better than your competitors’ in the eyes of your visitors – they have to ‘recommend’ your site to Google by visiting it more and linking to it more.

So you have to give your visitors a reason to like your site better. You have to offer them something they can’t get elsewhere – give them the answers the other sites don’t, offer them services the others don’t, or simply do it better or cheaper than they do – anything to set your site apart.

Which means you have to have great content, which can take time and effort.

And it can take time for your site’s credibility to grow – it may take months or years for your site to climb to the top of Google’s rankings.

2. Find a subject that has search keywords with low competition AND people actually searching for them

This is really the most effective way to get lots of people to visit your site, but unfortunately it’s not how most of us work – usually we start with an interest or a business and then decide to create a website about that, not the other way around.

Many people do try to find and exploit popular search terms with low competition, but unfortunately these people usually aren’t passionate about their subject and it tends to show in the quality of the sites produced. I’m often disappointed when I land on another rapidly patched together blog polluting the net with poor quality information, just because the owners are trying to cash in on their visitors.

But if your site’s subject does happen to be something people are actively looking for and there’s not many other quality sites presenting the same info or services, that’s excellent, you should get lots of visitors from Google for free!

How do we know? By doing keyword research, outlined below.

3. Pay for Google ads

If however you’re not one of the lucky ones with a popular and uncompetitive niche, and you don’t have the time or resources to devote to creating high quality content, there is still a way to be found on Google – buy ads. Google sell ads above and next to their ‘organic’ or free listings, and on other websites if you’d like.

You pick the search terms you want to target and google will show your ad when people do relevant searches or visit relevant sites. You pay Google every time someone clicks on that ad and visits your site. The amount you pay depends on the popularity of the search keywords you’ve chosen, and ranges from a few cents to many dollars.

A few dollars may seem like a lot to pay for one visitor, but remember the quality of visitors from these ads is usually high because they are people actively seeking out your product or service.

Some form of advertising is the only way to guarantee immediate traffic to your site.

What’s best?

It really depends on your timeframe and resources and budget.

I favour the creation of high quality sites that help people in some way, but that’s the business I’m in and I’m biased. It could well be more cost effective for you to create a quick site outlining your services and bring people to it via ads. After all your site is one big ad anyway – even if you’re not selling something tangible you’re probably promoting an idea.

Keyword research

It’s always good to know how popular and competitive your relevant words and phrases are. There’s no point optimising your site for certain phrases if people aren’t actually searching for them. And a few small changes to target better keywords could bring more visitors.

Google have keyword and traffic estimation tools that anyone can access to generate and assess hundreds of associated keywords and their combinations. I use a handy program that helps sift through all this data looking for terms that both a) have some people actually searching for them, and b) don't have too many high quality sites competing for them. It takes me anywhere from a few hours to days to properly investigate the options for a given site.

This is a worthwhile investment for most sites, even simple ones relying on advertising as choosing the right keywords to target in ads is vital too.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

This refers to all efforts to obtain listings closer to the top of the ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ results. SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is a similar term that generally refers to the paid listings.

The first part of any SEO endeavour is to ensure the onsite factors that we have direct control over, like structure, page names, headings and content, all comply with Google’s guidelines and make the site better for your visitors. Getting these right takes time and planning, but as I said at the top, this step is relatively easy.

The second part of SEO involves offsite factors, the most important one being obtaining high quality incoming links. If your site provides interesting and valuable content these incoming links will start building up naturally. You can help by actively requesting links from relevant sites.

That takes time though – if you’re in a hurry or if you’re competing with sites that also have excellent content you could consider the services of a dedicated SEO company (I don’t do this as it’s outside my area of expertise), but they’re not cheap – reputable companies’ services can range between $1000 to $10000 per month, with links costing between $100 to $200 each.

But be warned, there are SEO companies that use ‘black hat’ methods try to trick Google to obtain quick results. These people realise their methods will be thwarted eventually and their sites permanently blacklisted from Google, and they don’t care, but it’s not what you want.

And as of mid-2012 Google even started penalising sites that have employed methods used by ‘white hat’ SEO companies who have tried to play fair – Google can now tell the difference between genuine incoming links and those obtained through previously thought to be legit link building systems.

So the moral of the story: stop trying to trick Google and instead focus on creating good content or put your resources into some form of advertising for your site.

Other search engines

I’ve only mentioned Google so far, and there are lots of other ones, but over 95% of people still just use Google, so it’s reasonable for us to focus our efforts on it for now. The other search engines value similar things to Google anyway.

next step

Check out some other sites I've done…