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Tactics Can Increase Web Search Ranking

If a tree falls in the forest and no one can Google it, does it make a sound?

The tree might not care, but lots of companies do.

A great Web site or page doesn’t do much for a business unless potential customers can find it with a keyword search through Google (GOOG) and other online search engines. And the site must not be just anywhere in the results — which often run for pages and pages — but near the top.

Scott Wilson faced that problem in 2002 with his fledgling video-production house, eMotion Picture Studios.

After blowing out a big chunk of the marketing budget on a flashy Web site, the site still attracted scant visitors. Investigating and solving this problem led to a new business, It’s one of the many firms that have emerged that try to help Web sites rank high in search results — an art/science known as search engine optimization.

Wilson recently spoke with IBD about winning the SEO game.

IBD: Starting with the basics, how do search engines rank things?

Wilson: Let’s primarily speak about Google.

The original logarithm (Google co-founder) Larry Page came up with (measured) two things. How many links does (the page)

have, and what are the quality of those links? And then of course there’s the content on the page. You’re reading the content and trying to find a match on the page with the searcher’s intent.

We study how Google measures Web sites, and we try to create the best page on the planet for a specific search term.

We promote that page so it gets ranked on the first page (of Google search results).

IBD: What is the “quality” of the links?

Wilson: For example, a link from CNN would have more value and trust than a link from somebody’s blog or some small-business Web site.

IBD: If you’re talking about a small business that wouldn’t typically get a link from CNN, how do you help it boost its ranking?

Wilson: The first thing we try to do is build trust. We have (our clients) try to create content that people will want to link to.

And our clients will contact their network — companies they do business with, companies they have a positive relationship with — and request links from those companies. All these links bring trust toward their Web site.

IBD: What’s the role of a third party such as yourself in this process?

Wilson: What we’ve just talked about is just one factor in search. There’s several hundred factors we actively watch and measure.

Knowing one or two tips absolutely can help your Web site (ranking). But to really do well, you need to do a lot of things.

One of the things is that each individual page on a Web site has certain levels of trust.

So if there’s a company that has agreed to link to (a client), then we’d look for the best page on that Web site, the one that’s the most relevant, and put the link on that specific page.

Internal linking on the Web site also is important. We want to make sure we utilize the trust on our home page intelligently and promote the right pages for the correct keywords.

It’s important to data-mine the keywords properly.

I’ll give you an example. We have a client that is a discount brokerage. What we found by doing data-mining is that nobody Googles the term “discount brokerage.”

What people are Googling is “online trading,” and this client did not rank even in the top 100 results for “online trading.”

The next step was to change the marketing message to talk about online trading. You can still have discount brokerage information on the page, but that page needs to be well optimized.

So it should discuss, in detail, online trading.

No. 1, your Web site must earn Google’s trust.

No. 2, you must make your text readable. For Web sites done in Flash (a common standard for creating animation) and some older content management systems, it’s very difficult for Google to read the texts.

A simple way (to fix that) for small Web sites is to build it in HTML (the common Web document authoring language). Google can very easily read HTML. There’s some newer content management systems Google can read very easily.

No. 3 is a laser-beam focus. A company brochure will talk about a wide variety of products or services the company offers.

That’s fine in a brochure. But if you write a Web page and talk about your 15 or 20 products and services, it’s too diluted. Because it’s not focused on one specific thing, you don’t stand as good a chance of getting ranked on the first (search results) page.

So instead of having a page about investment and stocks and bonds and index funds and mutual funds and a whole pile of things like that, you want one page that’s all about online trading, then a different page that’s all about mutual funds, then a different page about stock analysis.

Anything you can do to support that page — like having photos on the same topic, or PDF or Excel files, or any type of supporting materials that people can download from the page — is very helpful. For a page that only has a little bit of text, it’s harder to win rankings. We recommend at least 300 words.

IBD: Can you give an example of the newer content-management systems that Google can read?

Wilson: Our first choice is called Drupal. We feel that’s the best. There’s a second one called Joomla, and this one is getting better. The good thing is they’re free, because they’re open source.

IBD: Obviously getting a high ranking on Google is important, but are other ways of navigating the Internet getting more important, like Wikipedia?

Wilson: One of the things we do for clients is write valuable content and submit it to Wikipedia. Quite often it gets published.

There’s ways to do it where the company gets some promotion value. The key is not to make a sell page, but more of a valuable information page.

Present yourself as a leader in a topic, and present really valuable information.

And Google’s got some new tools, such as its Local Business Center (so that a business will appear on Google Maps). It’s a great way to get some exposure online.