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Raising Your Site’s Rank: You Don’t Always Have to Pay for Search Engine Results

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Ever wonder how or why your competitors get better search-engine rankings than you do? Do they know something you don’t? Well, maybe. But you too can use the tricks of the trade that may be giving your competitors that much-needed edge, and you can improve your position without skipping a beat or spending an arm and a leg.

It is not that difficult. There are two main criteria for getting good rankings:

    • content (which is king)
    • linking (which is queen)

Creating Better Content

Content is easily viewable and just as easy to measure. It essentially includes what you see on a site–that is, the text. If your competitors’ sites have more text than yours, consider adding text. If they have more keywords, consider adding keywords. If they have bigger headers, think about enlarging yours.

I am not suggesting that you make a carbon copy of any competitor’s site, but do compare on-site factors and evaluate the benefits of changes.

A note of caution: Be sure that any changes you make improve your site and increase its value for your customers. In other words, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Additions and changes must improve the site’s overall look, feel, and quality.

Ways to increase quality and/or quantity of content include:

    • Post a monthly article about your topic.
    • Add a page about the key phrase you use to define your product or service.
    • Add your key phrase to your headers if it’s not already there.
    • Make sure the titles on each page relate to the content of the page.
    • Write, write, write (and then write some more) to keep providing new content your visitors will value.

Strength Through Links

There used to be simple ways to get good rankings: metatags, titles, keyword density, and so forth. Today things are more complex; search engines use a complicated algorithm that involves:

    • number of links to your site
    • the words in those links
    • who is linking to each site that links to yours
    • what key phrases appear in those links
    • the quality of each site that links to yours
    • how many other links each of those sites has
    • how many links out your site has, and to what sites
    • and more

In other words, search engines now look very carefully and critically at who is linking to you, and what it is that they are saying about you. A link from a leader in your industry carries a lot of weight and means that your site is important. Two links from your industry’s leaders means your site is even more important. On the other hand, 100 links from random Web sites related to industries that have nothing to do with you means almost nothing.

Thus getting links is only the start; the important thing is getting good links from quality sites. Stay away from link farms and low-quality links. Link farms are sites that have nothing but links. Low-quality links are those on sites with little to no content. These sites will often try to exchange links with you: don’t do it! Link to a site only if it will enhance the experience of your users.

Start by finding your competitors’ sites through Google. Type “link: http://www.competitorsdomain.com” (without the quotes) into the search box (replacing “competitorsdomain.com” with the URL of each selected competitor, of course). The results page will list all the sites that link to that competitor. Go through that list, and figure out how the competitor got each link. Some links might be paid; some might be exchanges; some might come from directories like dmoz.org or Yahoo!; and others might be references or testimonials.

Make a spreadsheet showing each site that links to your competition, and jot down how the link happened. Then try to get each appropriate site to link to you.

Also, research sites that would benefit from your site’s information. For example, one of our clients sells real estate in the Laurentians area of Quebec. Its site has content about activities in Quebec and the nearby Laurentian mountains, so we will solicit links from sites for the nearby towns, water parks, ski hills, lake and boating associations, and construction companies, to name just a few of our targets. Linking to the real estate company’s site will not only make its customers happier; it’s in also in the company’s best interests to boost a site that sells real estate, because more real estate buyers will bring in more business for the company.

How to Ask for Links

To solicit sites, you have to use a lot of elbow grease. Send personalized emails. Don’t send mass emails or spam. Be friendly, and point out the benefits of linking to your site. Remember: It all starts with content. No one will link to you unless you offer quality information about a particular subject.

If you are lucky, maybe a third of your emails will get a response. It is frustrating and discouraging, but keep your spirits up. Many times a site is perfect, but you won’t get the link because the owner never updates. Don’t waste too much time on sites that haven’t been updated in years.

Follow-up is important, of course. Until you get a flat-out denial, keep saying “Hi” and keep your messages personal. Maintain records of people contacted and what you wrote or said, because you have to make each prospect feel like the only person you are contacting. If prospects sniff that you are sending mass email or using the exact same approach with other sites, you will probably lose their respect–and their business.

It’s also important to submit your site to directories, such as the Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.org), because getting listed here counts for a lot with all the big search engines. You can find a short list of directories at www.redcarpetweb.com/advanced14.html. Take your time; choose the right category to submit to; read the submission guidelines to find out how each directory wants descriptions and titles presented, and present them that way.

Getting links takes time and patience, and so does creating new content. Then, once those projects are done, you have to wait for the search engines to discover and reevaluate your site. But if you make both your links campaign and your writing projects regular activities rather than one-shots, your site will gradually climb toward the top. And getting your first link is like getting your first sale–just as hard and just as satisfying.

Shawn Campbell is the co-founder and chief search engine optimizer at Red Carpet Web Promotion, Inc. To learn more, visit www.redcarpetweb.com.

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