Whether you have a Content site or an Ecommerce site, search engine traffic will constitute a large percentage of your visitors. For a mature site, 25-50% of its traffic will typically come from search engines. Because of this, a continual theme throughout this guidebook is to optimize your website to rank highly in search engines. This concept is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. It is the practice of optimizing a site’s internal and external aspects to increase the search engine traffic it receives.
The majority of web traffic is driven by the major search engines – Google, Yahoo and MSN. Together they account for more than 90% of the US search market, as can be seen below.
In order to generate traffic from search engines it is important to rank near the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). On Google, the first search result receives 36% of the clicks. This is equivalent to getting the traffic resulting from holding the second through fifth positions. In total, the first page receives 89% of the traffic. Therefore, if your site does not appear on the first page, that keyword phrase is unlikely to bring in much traffic. How to track your keyword rankings will be covered in a later chapter.
In this guidebook, SEO techniques for achieving high rankings are divided into two categories: onsite and offsite. In short, the techniques relate to the following.
- Onsite – Creating a high quality website, generating content for it and optimizing the site’s use of keywords.
- Offsite – Acquiring links to the website, particularly from related, high ranking sites.
A search engine makes the best match it can between the words people use when searching and all the web pages it has indexed. These words are called keywords. You want people to see your site at the top of the search results for commonly searched keyword phrases that relate to your site. This means more traffic and thus more income.
Since most of your search engine traffic will come from Google, the SEO techniques discussed in this guidebook will implicitly refer to improving your Google rankings. However, such techniques will often improve your rankings in other search engines as well. This is because the goal of search engines is the same – to display the most useful search results they can find to the searchers.
When a user types in a query at Google, the pages returned will be the most useful pages it can find. Usefulness in Google’s eyes is a combination of three factors: relevance, reputation and quality.
- Relevance – The pages returned will be relevant to the searched for keywords.
- Reputation – The pages shown will be ranked in part according to the quantity and quality of links to these pages.
- Quality – The ranking of the pages shown is influenced by the quality of those pages.
For a page to appear in the search results for a given keyword phrase, it needs to have content which is relevant to that phrase. The factors Google uses to decide how relevant a page is number in the hundreds. Some of the more important factors used when evaluating a page’s relevance to a phrase include:
- Existence – Does the exact keyword phrase exist on the page?
- Proximity – If the individual keywords are present on the page, how close together are they?
- Relationship – Do other related words exist on the page?
- Positioning – Where are the keywords located in the text?
- Subject – Are the keywords related to the main subject of the page?
- Co-occurrence – How frequently do the keywords occur across the page?
Other sites linking to yours will also influence the keywords your pages will be considered relevant for.
- Anchor text – Do the keywords exist in the anchor text that links to the page?
- Context relevance – Do the keywords appear near the link on the linking page?
As you can see, there are many ways of getting relevance for a keyword phrase, but this is of little use unless the page has reputation as well.
When faced with multiple pages of apparently relevant information, Google has to decide which are the most authoritative or trustworthy. This is done by comparing the quality and quantity of the references these pages have in the form of links. Thus, reputation is developed by acquiring links from sites that already have high reputation and that are relevant to yours. The factors that make a link contribute the most to your reputation will be covered later in the chapter on Quality links.
In addition to relevance and reputation, the quality of your site will also influence Google’s decision when ranking your pages. Some of the more important quality factors include those listed below.
- Responsiveness – Does the page load quickly?
- Validation – Does the page contain errors or poorly written code?
- Outgoing links – Does the page link to other relevant, authoritative pages?
- Site relevance – Is the page relevant to the rest of the site?
- Page age – How long has the page been around? Older pages have more authority.
- Update frequency – How often is the page reviewed? Search engines like content that is up to date.
- Language – How natural is the language? Does it appear computer generated or spam-like?
These quality factors and many others will be considered as you build (or improve) your site in the coming chapters.
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