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What makes up the search engine ranking for my website?

Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is a real buzzword at the moment. But what is it, and what does it mean for you and your website? This is quite a complex area, so we have broken the answer into a series of topics.

What is SEO?

Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN find and rate websites when you enter a search term and SEO refers to maximising your website ranking for specific searches. Obviously, the point of having a website is to be found on the Internet, drive traffic to your site and generate sales leads if you are a business.

But firstly, all the traffic in the world will nott help your sales if your website is poorly designed, difficult to navigate or your information unclear. This is addressed in some of our other articles. Once you have this right, the next step is to generate traffic to your site.

It used to be enough just to have a website. These days, with the amount of information on the Internet and the way search engines work, that alone is not enough to be found. Each month, over 61 Billion web searches are conducted worldwide (see our “Online Business in Australia” article) why should searchers come to you? You need to make sure people can find your website, or you have basically wasted all your time and money.

Recent studies show 80% of users don’t go past the first three pages of Google, so your ranking is a critical part of your online success.

How do Search Engines work?

There are literally thousands of different search engines and new ones starting every day, so it is virtually impossible to cover every base. Each one calculates the relevance of your website to a particular search term differently, and most of the larger ones, especially Google, change their secret algorithms every month or two to stay one step ahead of those trying to beat the system.

There are however several industry standard and proven methods which Art Attack uses to rate your website higher for search engines terms relevant to your industry, which we will outline shortly. A word of warning though – beware of anyone who guarantees you a certain search engine ranking as there are simply too many external factors involved for anyone to guarantee anything in this field. There are also many ‘illegal’ ways of cheating the system which could land you, the website owner, in a lot of trouble and do a great deal of damage to your business.

The larger sites such as Google are constantly looking for websites which try to beat the queues and ‘black band’ them. And getting your website off Google’s black ban list is harder than making it to their front page in the first place! So be wary of anyone who guarantees you a certain ranking as this is near impossible and you will wear the consequences.

Natural versus Paid Rankings

There are quite simply two types of search engine rankings – one you pay for and one you don’t. For example, the entire right hand column results and the shaded panel at the top under “Sponsored links” in Google and “Sponsor Results” in Yahoo are both examples of paid rankings. “Sponsors” pay anything up to thousands of dollars per month for the top ranking competitive terms in these paid rankings such as Google Adwords, which can be highly effective for the right search terms.

They work on a ‘pay per click’ system where you pay up to a certain amount every time someone clicks on the link to your website. This is ideal if you want fast ranking results, have very specific search terms for your industry, or have the budget to do this for certain search terms. Keep in mind that you will need to pay for each search term you want to rank for, so it can add up very quickly and will be an ongoing cost. This can be a very fast and effective method of advertising if you have the budget and target your terms correctly. Unless you have plenty of time and really know what you are doing, it’s best to leave ‘pay-per-click’ to the experts.

Some users might also choose not to select the sponsored links, knowing that these companies have paid to be there, and prefer to choose from the ‘natural’ rankings. If you are considering the paid option, talk to us to see if it is right for your situation. Art Attack has packages to help you target keywords based on researching specific search terms relevant to you.

‘Natural’ or ‘organic’ rankings are unsponsored results based mainly on the relevance of keywords and content of your website to a search term using complex and secret algorithms which change regularly. In Google and Yahoo these are listed in the unshaded part of the left hand column. Of course the ideal is to be listed in the first few natural rankings of any relevant search terms, whether or not you are paying for sponsored links too. This way you show that you are what the search engine considers the most relevant to a particular search term and are easily found without having to pay ongoing costs for the privilege. There are proven ways to move up the ‘natural’ rankings and Art Attack can work with you to maximise your efforts.

So what makes up a website ranking?

Based on the way Google and the other main search engines calculate natural rankings, there are currently four main factors that make up the result (note there are others also, but these cover the main categories our clients should know about as we see them):

1.Build of the website – the website should be built in such a way that it is ‘search engine friendly’, meaning that the background coding of your site is labeled and structured in a way which allows search engines to easily assess and read it. The more easily the search engines can access the information, the higher your ranking. Art Attack ensures all our websites are built according to current industry best practice regarding search engine friendly coding.
The build also includes the size of the site (generally, sites with more pages are seen as more relevant), how images are labeled, whether you have blogs, forums, newsletters, downloads, etc. and many other ‘technical’ factors that enhance your ranking.

2.Relevant keywords – when a website goes live on the internet, one of the first things search engines look for is the list of ‘keywords’ or search terms entered into the background code to determine relevance. These are critical to the ranking of any website. Although there are no limits to the number of words or phrases entered as keywords, their relevance to your website is important. Note that you should ideally use different keywords for every page, and these words should be repeated in the content on that page between approx. 4-6 times, depending upon the term. You should also note that the search engines are clever enough to know when you are using a phrase or word too many times and this becomes ‘spamming’, putting you at risk of penalising your ranking or black banning you.
In general, short phrases appropriate to each industry or topic are now becoming more popular and effective than single words, as long as they are targeted and well thought out. This is not surprising, as with more information on the Internet, users are becoming more specific with their searches to filter their results.
Much of this part involves much trial and error over time. With a little knowhow and a lot of patience, we have had many small clients achieve a surprising amount of success with their rankings doing it themselves in a short space of time with some very competitive search terms. Of course, you can also pay to have this done for you, but again be wary of any guaranteed rankings!

3.Relevant and current content – the content on your website is also very important to your ranking success – both the relevance based on the words you use, and how current the information is. It is vital that you use your most important keywords throughout your website where relevant, and in particular on your home page repeated as appropriate. Each page should be different and targeted. Keep in mind there are limits to repeating keywords both from a legibility and a search engine point of view as mentioned above. Search engines are well aware of websites which repeat terms far more than normal usage and use things like ‘ghost text’ to try to improve rankings unfairly. These can again result in penalties such as black bans. It will also annoy your potential customers to the point that they will leave your website in droves, so ensure your content is still easy to read and those visiting can find the information they are after. Search engines are important, but your audience is still more important!
The other important part to the content equation is how current it is. Search engines also assess when the content was last updated, and alter their assessment of your site accordingly. Putting it in very simple terms, when a website goes live, the search engines assess the site. They might then come back a month later and assess how much, if anything has been changed. If the content has been updated, they might for example, come back again in two or three weeks, and if more relevant content has changed, again in one or two weeks, which gradually improves your ranking. If however in the first month nothing has changed, they might not return for two months, and if still nothing has changed, three or four months, which steadily drops your ranking in comparison to everyone else. This is why keeping your content current is so important, and why it can take six months or more to gradually move up the rankings, even if you are doing everything right. Weblogs (or “blogs”), discussion forums and newsletters are fast moving up the scale of importance for a website for the same reasons, as the search engines see them as a way of improving dialogue on the internet, showing a website is current and relevant.

4.Links – Links are also fast becoming a vital part of a website ranking. Links from your site are rated, but ‘quality’ links to your site from other ‘quality’ websites are viewed even more highly and boost your results more quickly. The more numerous, relevant and highly ranked the individual websites that link back from their site to yours, the more positively the search engines view you in relevance and popularity, and your ranking will improve accordingly as your number of links and their search engine rankings improve. Note that good links coming into your site now even outweigh those going out. So it is worth negotiating with suppliers and complimentary products and services to work together using reciprocal links to improve both your rankings.

So how can I improve my website ranking?

With all the above information in mind, there are many ways you can improve your website ranking, with various costs, timeframes and amounts of effort on your part involved. Your strategy may include any combination of these, and Art Attack can help you decide on the most effective option for your situation.

1.Paid rankings – this is the fastest and easiest way to improve your ranking in the ‘sponsored links’, but it also likely to be the most costly and these costs are ongoing. Generally using this option depends upon your expectations, timeframes and budget and is great for specific search terms in specific industries. Note that different terms have different costs, so the most competitive terms will also be the most expensive. So you need to have a good advertising budget, or to do your homework which can lead to ‘niche’ terms that can be very effective for you. Art Attack can research specific search terms, or show you how to do it, to ensure any paid online marketing is targeted to the most effective keywords for your website if you decide on this option.

2.Ensure your website is built correctly – obviously a website built correctly in the first place will save you a lot of trouble and costs in the long run. Generally, as in any industry, you get what you pay for. A site built by a friend’s teenage son for some pocket money might have been fine when you first started out as a backyard business, but at some point you will need to invest in a properly built and supported website if you want to succeed online and be professional. With nearly 20 years in the industry, Art Attack has the knowledge and experience to do it right and be there to support you as technology changes into the future.
Increasing the size of your website by adding pages, and extra features like blogs, forums, downloads, galleries, articles, and the like all help, as do correctly labeling all you images, etc.

3.  Use the right keywords – using the most relevant keywords and phrases for your website is vitally important to your ranking. You know your product/service and industry best, so do your homework on what your customers are looking for and what terms they use to search. This research can be with existing customers initially and with online search reports that give lists of commonly used search terms and alternatives. Use different (relevant) keywords on each page and use them in the content of that page. Keep changing and updating your keywords, as this is a continual process  the web is constantly changing.
For a as little as $A199, Art Attack can generate a full report on your website using specialised software, including a keyword search of nominated terms to see how popular they are and give you a list of suggested terms to help improve your ranking.

4.  Relevant and current content – making sure your website’s content is relevant to what your customers are searching for, reflects your keywords and is kept us to date is also important. Again, you know your product/service and industry best, so the content needs to start with you, although Art Attack has various ways to help you develop your content if you need this service. From sitting down with you in an informal ‘interview’ situation to gather information about your business and write it for you, to ‘massaging’ content you have developed yourself, we have services available to suit you.
Keeping your content up to date and changing it regularly is also important, so consider a ‘content management system’, or CMS, which will allow you to update text and graphics on your website as easily as using Word usually without specialised software or ongoing costs. Most of Art Attack’s web packages now include a CMS so you can update your site as often as you like. We can make changes for you once your site is up, but this will involve an hourly rate or a maintenance agreement, so you need to consider what changes and how often you will make them before we build your site. Consider also adding a blog, newsletter, relevant downloads, handy tips, discussion forum, etc. to your website to keep people coming back to see what’s new (See our “So you have your new website, now what?” article for more ideas on marketing your website).

5.  Get linking – Linking to other relevant websites, and even more importantly, getting them to link to you, can quickly boost your ranking. The more sites that link to you, and the higher their ranking, the more you can benefit each other if the search engine considers your businesses relevant to each other, so it is worth talking to suppliers, business networks, etc. about working together. Art Attack links all our clients to our website automatically, so you have the benefit our ranking immediately!

Want to know more?

Call us on 1300 88 40 14 or email if you would like to talk to us about specific ideas for your new website or optimising your existing site. Our SEO reports on existing websites start from $A199 and our experience and advice – priceless!

Article by Fiona Morsink-Ryan, Communications Director, Art Attack Web & Graphic Design, Sydney, Australia (