Page Rank - how high up a website appears in a search query - is the holy grail for web designers (and those who hire them). Page ranking holds the key to new visitors, who translate into profits (or at least attention which is basically the same thing in internet terms). The higher up you are in a set of query results, the more likely someone is to click your link and visit your site.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of improving pagerank. SEO spins the flax of simple Google or Yahoo queries into click-through gold.
This makes Consultants specializing in SEO, in effect, prospectors who know that "there's gold in them thar clicks" and claim to hold the secret to mining those veins of data that will yeild untold riches.
And because of that, there's a lot of of people who work hard to make all that prospecting sound very difficult, specialized, arcane and - most importantly - expensive.
Based on my experience, it's not. In fact, it comes down to 4 key techniques. Everything else is snakeoil. All 4 techniques are things that ANYONE - even the greenest novice - can do. It doesn't take a masters degree in programming. It doesn't require hours of setup or maintenence. Most of it can be done in about 2 hours.
Those 4 simple, easy-to-accomplish techniques are:
- Having a descriptive domain name
- Creating and submitting a sitemap
- Descriptive titles and meaningful content
- Getting other websites to link to you
In the next several posts I'm going to break down each of those items. Meanwhile, I want to answer what is probably going through your head right now:
So what am I paying for?
Aside from the 4 things I've already mentioned, what do typical SEO companies do for you? Well, it's not exactly nothing, but as I mentioned before, the lion's share of SEO improvements are the things I've already given you for free.
They might offer you services - helping you add a widget to retweet articles or to let readers "like" you on Facebook. They might offer you analytics - figuring out what your relative page rank is now and how many clicks you are getting so you know where you stand.
These are all useful features, but are things any good web designer/administrator should be able to provide for you. They are things lots of supposedly "novice" web admins can do too. Caveate Emptor!
The only other thing I've seen is where some SEO companies own and run a series of unrelated websites called link farms. You pay them to add you to all (or some) of their websites, which could improve your page rank based on the last tip I gave you ("Getting Other Websites To Link To You"). The interesting thing is that Google adjusts for this - the "value" of a link is relative to the value of the page that it appears on. So a link coming from a page that is part of a link farm is worth almost nothing. But most customers don't realize that. They just see that their link will appear on 20 other websites and think "I'm going to be sooo popular!".
Stay tuned for the rest of this series where I give details (and in some cases step-by-step instructions) on how to be your own SEO expert.