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Better Google Rank: Tip #1

A lot of people have built themselves websites for personal or small-business use, but they don't understand how to get users there.

Have you ever Googled yourself and tried to figure out why some old webpage shows up high in the search results? Are search engines a mystery to you?

(Side note: I am concentrating on Google, but the same principles apply to other major search engines. Although people do use Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Ask, and ISP search tools, Google covers the overwhelming share of online searches. Bing is moving up a little, and sadly, Yahoo is dwindling away. I say "sadly" because Yahoo was a pioneer of all things web, but they have been dying a slow death for at least a couple of years. Their obsolescence is just a matter of time.)

When I develop a site, search-engine optimization (SEO) is one of my primary concerns, and I apply my practices even at the coming-soon-page stage. You can have a crappy-looking site and still reach prospects who'll connect with you, simply by having good SEO.

There are still consultants and companies that try to sell SEO as a complicated job that requires everyday tweaking--and it is, for highly competitive fields--but for everyday people with small businesses, niche markets, local clientele, and/or a distinction from others, there's no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for this. You can mostly do it yourself if you're tech-savvy, or have your web designer/developer roll it into their work. (You should pay for this work, and you should appreciate its value.)

What I mean is: The days of "submit your site to over 5,000 search engines every month! Pay us $99/month for a year, and you'll be enrolled in every search engine" are over.

If you're currently contracted with someone for SEO--and you're not a Fortune 500 company or have lots of online competition--you need to stop, take a breath, and get with the program. Take a little time to learn about how search engines work today (and not ten years ago). Consider that the consultant or company charging you for "site submission" is either a) taking you for a ride, or b) behind the times.

In upcoming entries, I'll share some quick tips you can apply to your site to help it show up faster and more prominently in the few search engines that matter.

To start with:

1. Create a strong index page title.

What is the primary service, feature, or product you are hoping to convey at your site? That should be your index page's page title.

At my home page, the title is "Los Angeles Designer April Carter Grant | Sugarsock." I start with "Los Angeles Designer" because it's most likely that someone would use that phrase in a search engine. After three weeks with this title, I'm on page four of Google results--with only two independent designers appearing before me. (With quotes around the phrase, I'm #12, with no independent designers appearing before me.) In the page title, the phrase is followed by my name and the site/company name. Either of those phrases as search terms will bring up my site as the #1 result.

Of course, my goal is to be on the first page for all kinds of design-related searches, so I have to monitor it and play with it as necessary. This is just to give a preliminary idea of what we will talk about in this series.

Stay tuned for more.