How to get good search engine rankings

How Search Engines Work
Each search engine, whether it is Google, Yahoo, Bing or some other, use crawlers or robots to visit your website and collect data about it. These robots follow the links found in your web site to move from one page to next collecting all the text, meta tags, links and images they can find. Crawlers generally revisit your site regularly once they know it exists. Once the search engine has the data collected from your site, they use specialized, ever-evolving, programs called algorithms to make sense of the information they found and compare and categorize your web site to others they have already indexed. The specifics of these algorithms are kept highly secret for two reasons, they don't want the competition to have as good as or better search results and they do not want the general public to be able to spoof their results making the search results irrelevant. Search engines are only successful when they can return quality results. There is plenty of fact and fiction about getting good search rankings for your web site and a lot of information is out-of-date. Basically, there are no tricks, at least none that we would recommend. In order to get good results, you need to provide good, relevant and fresh content. Since search engines can only really 'read' the text, meta tags, alt tags and links found in your web site, we can assume that these are the areas that you need to concentrate on to get good results.


Realistic Expectations - Choosing The Right Keywords
Before we get in to the details of making your web site search engine friendly, you should understand the challenges you face:

  1. Search engines do not instantly index and rank your web site. New sites and updates may not show up in search engine rankings for up-to 12 weeks, though this is often much faster.
  2. Getting ranked on the first 3 pages is really difficult and can take a lot of hard work and time to get there. Let's look at an example; Let's say you're a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia and you're hoping to be found on the first 3 pages of Google when someone types in 'Atlanta Photographer'. Well as of today, this search query produces 1,900,000 results. This is your competition and you have decide if this keyword phrase is worth competing with. Your best bet, is to focus in on more defined keyword phrases such as, 'Atlanta Engagement Photographer' which has only 274,000 results. This is at least a good start and will likely lead to wedding day shoots as well. You'd probably do even better if you selected neighboring cities like 'Marietta Engagement Photographer' which only produced 18,700 results.

Meta Tags - Keep It Simple Stupid

Let's start with meta tags as there is a lot of fiction or out-of-date information surrounding them. Though they are important, they are by no means the holy grail of search ranking success. You do not need to over think what needs to happen here. Basically meta tags are blocks of text that reside at the top of a web page and are generally invisible to the viewer. They are meant to help search engine robots understand what a web page is about. Too often, people use meta tags to describe the entire site. While it is ok to include keywords that relate to the site as a whole, meta tags should mostly describe the page they reside on.  Meta tags can be similar between pages but should never be identical. There are many different type of meta tags, but the three most talked about are the the Title, Description and Keywords meta tags.

The Title Meta Tag is the only meta tag that is displayed to the viewer and as such is probably the most important of all the meta tags. It appears on the top of your web browser when a page is loaded.
  • The title meta tag should be a concise description of the page - not the entire site, though it is OK to include the keywords and keyword phrases that you're hoping to be found with
  • Try to minimize the use of words that you do not care to be found with
  • Do not repeat any keyword more than 3 times as this may negatively affect your rankings
  • The title meta tag is optional but highly recommended
  • Cannot exceed 500 characters - 200 to 250 characters is recommended
  • Cannot contain any Javascript, HTML tags, quotation marks, apostrophes or nested meta tags

The Description Meta Tag is not seen by viewers.  Some search engines show the description (or a part of it) when listing your web site, though others like Google, randomly draw text found within the body of the page.
  • The description meta tag should be a concise description of the web site written in a way that makes sense to human readers.
  • You should include the keywords and keyword phrases that you're hoping to be found with in search engines
  •  Use synonyms as well
  • Try to minimize the use of words that you do not care to be found with
  • Do not repeat any keyword more than 5 times as this may negatively affect your rankings
  • The description meta tag is optional but recommended
  • Cannot exceed 2000 characters - 500 to 650 characters is recommended
  • Cannot contain any Javascript, HTML tags, quotation marks, apostrophes or nested meta tags

The Keywords Meta Tag is most likely not going to affect your search engine rankings as this meta tag has been abused over the years but  as we cannot be sure, we have left it in case the search engines use it.
  • The keywords meta tag should include the keywords and keyword phrases that you're hoping to be found with in search engines
  • Use synonyms too
  • Try to minimize the use of words that you do not care to be found with
  • Do not repeat any keyword more than 5 times as this may negatively affect your rankings
  • The keywords tag is optional but recommended
  • Cannot exceed 2000 characters
  • Do not put commas between your keywords as you may be able to make phrases with adjacent words
  • Placing keywords or phrases on a separate line does not matter, but may help you visualize your entries better
  • Cannot contain any Javascript, HTML tags, quotation marks, apostrophes or nested meta tags

Body Copy - Content Is King
Body copy is the text that is actually found within your web pages and is therefore the most important aspect of getting good search engine rankings. It is important to provide good content related to the keywords you want to be found with. In this light, you may want to include pages that are about your area of expertise than just the expected home, contact, about and links pages. It would be advantages to perhaps set up a tutorial section that will not only appeal to your professional peers but will maybe make you seem more credible to your customer.  The more pages you can produce with good content, the more likely one of them will appear in a related search. Adding fresh, new content is also advantages not only to search engines but to your viewers as well, this is why blogs have become so popular.

As with meta tags, your copy should include the keywords and keyword phrases you're hoping to be found within your pages. Some say that it is best to get these keywords and phrases positioned closer to the top of the page for more recognition, though we cannot say for sure if this true or true in all cases. It is OK to repeat the keywords and phrases as well, in fact it is a good idea to do so as long as you do not over do it. This is known as Keyword Density. SEO experts say that you should aim for between 1 and 3% density for a particular keyword or phrase in comparison to all the other words found within the page. There are some online tools which can help you calculate your keyword density, such as at http://www.seobay.com/tools/keyword-density-checker/.


Inbound Links - Your New B.F.F.
On top of having good content, search engines employ a popularity aspect within their algorithm. How exactly do search engines determine if your site is popular? One way is to determine how many other related web sites link to yours. They assume that if others are linking to your web pages, then they must be considered relevant. So how do you make this happen? The simplest way is to produce good, compelling content that will lead others to follow also know as 'Link Bait'. You can try some of these strategies:
  • Freemiums - Give away an e-book or a tutorial
  • Review products in your industry
  • Write about news in your industry
  • Develop a tool and share it
  • Interview someone famous in your industry and publish the article
  • Create a contest or award program
  • Create a resource: lists of the best the books in your industry or a glossary of terms for your program
  • Report on statistical or financial trends in your industry
  • Become active in related discussion-based web sites and encourage others to view your site by leaving a link to it with every post you participate in
Here's a popular resource for link bait ideas: http://www.copyblogger.com/increase-web-traffic/ that you may find helpful.

We cannot be certain, but many SEO experts advise steering clear of link exchange sites which pair web site owners to exchange links. These reciprocal links are not as relevant as one way inbound links and may even get your site penalized.


Outbound Links - Worth Mentioning
Though not as important, linking to other related web sites may help bolster your site's rankings as search engines will see that your site is promoting more information for your viewers. If you're going to link to other sites then we recommend setting the new page to load in a new browser window so the viewer will not lose your web site. We do not want to redirect potential clients away from your site!


BigBlackBag Architecture And Search
Now that you understand how search engines work, now is a good time to discuss BigBlackBag's site architecture and how it relates to the nav links, abstract and site map features, which should not be confused with Google's site map feature which we'll discuss later. In order to obtain a slick but flexible architecture where web page scrolling is kept to a minimum, BigBlackBag templates are really comprised of 2 pages in one. There is the main container page which houses your web page and template backgrounds, your links, your slogan and perhaps your logo. All the secondary pages are displayed within the Content Window which is really called an iFrame in HTML. And yes, for those of you who have heard that using frames is bad for search engines, the iFrame is supported and is in fact the only way frames will be supported in the new HTML 5 spec. Our web sites have consistently used this approach for over 5 years without any negative side effects.

We made sure to place all the links to all your pages and galleries within the main container page so search robots would have no problem following them to index all of your pages.

One thing the main containing page does not have a lot of room for is copy. This is, of course, for aesthetic reasons, we are after all trying to appeal to humans and not robots. Certainly the slogan is one place you can add relevant copy, but we think it may be just as important to use it for your phone number so your visitors can call you quickly if they like what they see - first impressions can go a long way. So how can you get relevant copy onto the container page, you ask? By adding a site map abstract. Adding a site map abstract, which is nothing more than a description of the web site and your services (similar to your description meta tag but not the same!), you will activate a small icon or link (you can decide how this is shown) on your web site. When the link is clicked a semi-transparent window appears and displays all the relevant copy as well as a visual breakdown of your site's navigation layout. We will be adding more features to the site map feature as time goes on so we highly recommend using it. To activate your sitemap, go here:
Website Controls > Manage Site & SEO Settings > Search Engine Settings > Website Sitemap


Google Sitemap - The Fast(er) Track
Google provides tools to help you manage your web site's search success. In order to activate these tools you will need to sign up for a free Webmaster Account on their site. Once you do so you will be asked to verify your domain name. Please read the following article to help you with this. One tool in particular that may help improve your rankings is letting Google have a fast track to your file changes. To do this you will simply show Google where they can find the sitemap.xml file which we automatically update every time you make a change to your site. The link to your sitemap.xml file can be found here:
Website Controls > Manage Site & SEO Settings> Search Engine Settings> Sitemap XML File For Search Engines


Stats - Measure Your Success
Having stats is an excellent way to really gauge your web site's success. You will fully understand, who's visiting your site, where they are coming from, what keywords and links they are using to find you and what pages they are leaving from. None of the above information is very useful if you cannot measure your success. We offer a highly detailed graphical stats package for only $15 per year if it's not already included in your package.


Why Am I Not Listed?
First of make sure that you're really not listed. To do so type in site:yourdomain.com to see what pages, if any have been indexed.
If you find that your site is listed then it is likely that it is not listed very high up in the rankings. We then encourage you to follow the steps outlined above.

If you find that you are not listed, then you may have to wait longer. Generally 12 weeks is the outer limit.

If you've gone beyond the 12 week mark, then you will want to make sure that:
  1. your domain name has been properly pointed to us as per this article. Using your registrar's domain forwarding will not allow your site to be indexed as the content will actually be considered to be coming from the bigblackbag.net domain to which you're forwarding to.
  2. you have not made any of your fonts the same or close to the background color on which they reside. Difficult to read copy, may be considered a spamming technique which has barred your site from indexing.

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