The past week, I’ve heard some collegues talking about tweaking websites so that they will show up in Google search results. A lot of people actually try to figure out how to “fool” the Google search engine, and actually make a living writing books about it. The strange thing is, that a lot of people want to be the “I feel lucky” link in Google even when the search query hasn’t got anything to do with the content they’re providing.
It’s actually a funny discussion, because this behaviour which “makes use” of the system, actually breaks it. Suppose a lot of people figure out how to get this done. Now, whenever you use Google, your first page of search results will actually contain stuff you’re not looking for. After a few tries, you’ll get tired of this and start using a different search engine.
It’s almost like today’s monetary and financial systems, where somebody figures out a way to make money in a dubious way and knowing it. In the end, we know what will happen, but that’s a whole different subject (keep posted 😉 ).
For some search terms, this site (yes, rolfje.com) is actually on the first page, and sometimes even the “I feel lucky” (I wonder for how long). Why? Well, because the good news is that at Google, there are a lot of smart people working on tweaking the search algorithms each day, to prevent people from succesfully creating Google bombs.
The other very important reason is that when Google “crawls” or “spiders” this site, the content it’s going to find is real, readable and honest. There are no “hidden fields” in the article which act as spider magnets. When somebody finds this site and likes it, chances are very high that they’re going to link to the content. For Google, that’s bonus points.
So how do I do that? By doing the following 4 important things:
1) Do not try to influence Google
By adding false content like hidden search terms, malicious spider food, and paying people to link to your site, you may end up high on any search. The trouble with that is that you are not reaching your intended audience (they were looking for something else). By showing up again and again on the first page, people will develop “ad blindness” for your site name. This means they will never, ever click on anything which looks like your URL because you’ve “betrayed” them before.
2) Educate people, educate Google
Did you ever have that problem that you were searching for an answer on Google, but all you found were other people with the same question you had? And when you found the answer, did you blog about it? No? Too bad, that was the absolute chance of getting an “I feel lucky”.
3) Put some effort in your posts
I can’t count the number of times when I found what seemed to be the answer to my question, but the page was hard to read, incomplete or plain wrong. If you want to be the “go-to site” for answers, write them as clear, consise, and complete as possible without using to much “fluff” or intelligent words. People will love you for it, and link to your posts. You can even re-use your own material by pointing to it when somebody asks you a question which you know your blog has the answer to.
The attention span of surfers is short. It’s often measured in seconds, or in mouse clicks. To keep somebody on your site, you’d better come up with an easy to read article which contains at least a hint of providing a solution in the first sentence of the post. Having too much blinking ads, colorful layout or a small font will distract from the content, and people will leave early. This is caused by “banner-blindness”.
Here’s a good example. I’ve made a screen shot of an “askdavetaylor” article. Dave writes nice articles with answers to simple everyday Mac OSX related questions. Every now and then, Dave shows up in my Google searches, but not nearly as much as he could. Why? He violates rule 1 and 4. The page contains all kinds of words and links which have nothing to do with the actual content, and the layout is terrible. On the right, you see a screenshot of Dave’s site, where I marked the actual content with a green color. Do you see how hard this must be to read? The article actually squeezes between some unrelated links and a very large Google ad.
As a comparison, I did the same with this blog. See the difference? The actual content is much closer to the top of the browser, and most of the time the answer can be found in the first few sentences. There is less distraction and less scrolling. Even if there is some scrolling involved, there are no terrible “next page” links to read further. “next page” links mean the article can not be printed, and it takes an extra amount of time reloading all the ads when I want to continue reading. Half of your audience is gone at the second mouseclick, and will never return (including their first click on the “I feel lucky” button).
If you’re still reading at this point, your attention span is longer than the average reader. Congratulations. It also means that you care enough about this stuff to apply to your own site. So I’ll stop typing and let you to it. Remember: Focus, and try to be honest and to the point. Less is more.