SEO. Do yourself a Google favour

Getting your site ranked high on Google has become an obsession.

Although there are plenty of people around who do understand the principles behind achieving this, there are lots more who don’t. The problem is that some who don’t are people who actually claim to be Search Engine Optimisation specialists.

This is an area in which, if you’re running your own business and have even cursory web skills, you can give your marketing a real boost by yourself, without spending a penny. It’s a good investment of an evening of your time, and on top of boosting your ranking on Google, you’ll learn useful stuff that will put you in the camp of those who have at least some idea of what they’re talking about.

The best possible start you can make is to read Google’s own advice for Webmasters. As I’ve just revisited this myself, I’ll save you an hour and summarise the key points.

1) By far the most important principle is to devote your time and energy to creating original, valuable content. In the end, this will serve you far better than trying to trick the Google crawlers.

2) Google’s much discussed ‘algorithm’ rewards a balance of 2 factors: the first is the ‘importance’ of your site on the web, which is assessed largely by who and how many sites link to you; the second is the relevance of your site to the specific query being searched by the user. You have to have them both.

3) You need as many inward links from other, relevant sites as you can get. You can check how many you have by typing into Google. Try to direct inward links to different places within your site, rather than only to your homepage.

4) You need to ensure that all pages of your site are linked to from some other pages of your site.

5) Place a robots.txt file in the root folder of your site. It helps the Google robot. If you search for ‘robot.txt’, you should be able to find free tools online to generate this file.

6) Have a look and see how many of your site’s pages are actually being visited by Google’s crawler. Type into Google.

7) Make sure that your site is properly meta-tagged. On every page. That means not just getting the ‘keywords’ tag properly loaded with terms likely to be searched by your potential visitors, but also writing the ‘Title’ and ‘Description’ tag content carefully. ‘Title’ will dictate what heading appears on your listing, and will have some influence on your rank. ‘Description’ will supply the copy which appears under your title when your listing is served.

8) Make and submit a ‘sitemap’ file to Google. There are online tools available to do it for free.

9) Don’t ‘cloak’ or hide text on your site to try to fool the Google crawler. Google like the page you show their crawler to be the one a user sees.

10) Take some time to list yourself on Yahoo, or on the Open Directory Project. The resulting directory listings will help build your inward links.

There you are. I’m not trying to dissuade you from talking to a good SEO company if you feel you need one (if, for example, SEO is absolutely key to your business success).

But for lots of people, working through these 10 points will start to move you up the list, and save you some money.