That is a yellow, perhaps gold brick road to the Land of Oz for Companies wanting to gain more business through internet searches: and the caveat is to do this at the lowest possible cost. We will look at this question here and if you are new to this games or even if you have been around it for a while and wondered what goes on, you may be surprised by the simplicity of it all. Some related questions which we will touch on are:
The very first questions to ask are: what is search engine optimisation and what is pay per click? The answers are both simple and also perhaps not exactly what you would expect. When people enter words into Google (or other search engines), Google will list web sites which it feels relevant to the words entered. Clearly there are millions upon millions of sites and they are all different. Google has what are called robots or web crawlers which tirelessly go from web page to web page and read and automatically catalogue the contents for each and every page they find. If you search (for instance on the words 'nursing agency operating software') you get a list (which includes our site www.ava.co.uk). The actual words in that order may not appear on our site. However the www.ava.co.uk site does (in web terms) put its hand up when the Google robot comes along and says: the words "nursing", "agency" and "software" are important for the contents of quite a few pages on our site. It is this electronic equivalent of waving to say "hello" to the Google robot (and if it helps why not metaphorically buy the robot a beer?) This is called Search engine optimisation or S.E.O. for short.
If you have not prettied up your web site in robot terms then PPC or 'pay per click' is a good but possibly expensive way to kick off traffic to your website. There are a few things about PPC that are well known within the industry but will come as a surprise to those entering the arena for the first time. The real advantage of PPC is: the person clicking declared their interest and gone to the trouble of entering words that feature heavily on your site. Of course if you have chosen one (set of) words and the majority of people describe your product in a different way, they will not find your site quickly or possibly at all.
You should always remember that people will visit your site for free if your site has a naturally high page ranking on those self same search terms. They might even visit more so because some people have an aversion to clicking on (paid) Ad links. People with such aversion are generally more knowledgeable about the internet: they may be your best informed prospects as customers. Either way you need to get inside the head of your potential customers and what find what words they will use to search for your product. There is a link at the end of this article which discusses this in more detail. In 'pay per click' (PPC) as a rule, narrow terms are cheap, wide or generic terms expensive. Google runs an auction so your competitors who also use pay per click set the cost of your entry. This is good for the established guys and definitely bad for the start ups. Fortunately, this is not quite the whole story.... If for some reason Google deems your site more interesting than your competitors they can or will (implicitly) offer you a PPC ad at less cost. In drinks terms: by making your site a malt whisky rather than an alcohol free beer, it may be more attractive. Put it another way: your pay per click bid will achieve a higher ranking for the same cost.
The bonus is that if the terms that you think are appropriate are the ones that your potential customer thinks appropriate, they are at least thinking about buying your product or one like it. That is a very good quality lead!
If you'd like to see an example of how small changes in search terms can affect your PPC spend then there is a more detailed examination of this on our site (there are links at the end):
Probably, if you have an internet site, you will on a weekly basis receive an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. I know I do: although I receive less so now that our web site is ranked 1, 2 or 3 on the search terms we want. It currently takes us less than 3 hours a week to keep it there. Of course if we spent our time unwisely then we could easily take all week and have much less success. We provide Temp Agency software or Staff bank software for temping: mostly used by Nursing agencies: our web site is www.ava.co.uk. Please feel free to search on any terms that relate to the temping agency software sector and let me know if we are not on page one, in the top 3 or four entries.
If you have done that, then you know that there is significant substance behind this article.
So back to these unsolicited "cheapo search ranking co" enquires. What will they claim to do for you and how will they (attempt) to do it? Can you do it yourself and do it better? (The answer is probably yes, so please read on.)
The most basic thing is to understand the reason that Google is successful. Google is successful because they rank sites according to three or more strong criteria and one overriding strategy. The criteria are (not necessarily in this order):
Number of inbound links (and the ranking of the inbound site): a so called authoritative ranking. This is why people try to get (for example) links from Wikipedia to their site.
Number of outbound links: How interested are the site web masters in providing a good search experience and so helping Google work. This is a web connectivity ranking. In this case links to "important" sites are of more benefit that unimportant sites.
Content: (active content). This is why you should have a weekly task of providing a new content page. Its why there are 3 (content) or 4 (active content) reasons for Google ranking. For a period last year we did not update our site on a regular basis: we were working flat out on new functionality in our software. Our ranking slid to the 3rd or 4th pages of Google search. It immediately started climbing once we started adding new material again. How do we know? We installed Google analytics which tells us.
Traditionally, every 7 to 10 days, Google will search your site to see if there have been new pages added. If there is, it will update its indexes and (it seems) give you a few extra points for effort.
Google are not standoffish in trying to help you get a good site ranking. However, they are very secretive about how they refine their search algorithm: i.e. give your web site its ranking. There are a number of very good reasons for this.
Making sure what you search for is highly ranked is definitely
not as simple as an: if a then b equation. Google has achieved
constantly improving search over the past fourteen years since
Google first started indexing the web. There is a link to a nice
article about the Google start up at the end.
Google ranking means (amongst other things) a degree of what is technically know as recursion, sometimes also known as feedback. Ok two terms neither of which mean anything to non mathematicians. Let us put it in plain English. The ranking they give a site is (to a degree) dependent on the ranking they have previously given the site.
Now S.E.O. companies are always looking for short cuts: it means they can charge you more for less work. If your site is not what the searcher wants: reason 3 means that Google will work against the "optimisation". If your site is what the searcher wants then reason 3 means that Google will reinforce the "optimisation". If your site is really really what the searcher wants then b and c means that Google will do this for you over a month or two for free. The best result we have had is a page that was published one month and ranked 2nd (on page 1) within 6 weeks. And no it was not exotic content!
On the other hand Google tracks not only how many clicks you get to your site, but when and where they come from. Google is always looking (for example in simple terms) for the same PC clicking on same links to the same sites at similar times of the day or week. This is not a pattern of activity that is consistent with someone searching for stuff. People search for different stuff. A lot of people search for a lot of stuff. Google analyse the pattern of a lot of people searching for a lot of stuff. Clicks that fall outside this pattern are disregarded.
What not to do:
To sum up what not to do: the people at Google are very clever: their mission is to provide links to sites that give value for your search efforts. Make your site a good site. Provide information that is useful to your customers or potential customers for them to read and view. Your customers will thank you by reading or viewing it. Google will notice their spending time on your site and thank you by improving the page rank. Don't try short cuts. Google have been doing this job longer than anyone and refine their search procedures daily (no exaggeration) to detect "suspicious activity or patterns to links". They know each computer that accesses you site and can tell if it is in India (cheapo SEO) or in the UK (potential customer?). Google also know if viewing habits correspond to a real customer or an employee who the boss has asked to browse the site.
What to do:
Google have an unwritten contract, call it a strategy if you
like. It's the basis of their business. If your site provides what
people are searching for then Google must rank it highly. If
your site provides what people are searching for: Google pay per
click must be cheaper or rank you higher for your payment otherwise
it's a disincentive to click on pay per click.
Google will recognise your individual style and not confuse it with mass produced links. Happy DIY S.E.O..
Ian Pettman has a degree in Physics from Oxford University and for (at least) the past ten years has been Managing Director of Added value applications www.ava.co.uk, producing quality software for the temporary staffing and staff bank sector.