» Why Page Rank Will Make You or Break You
So, your brother-in-law made a bundle selling hand-painted salad bowls on the Internet and you, naturally, figure, “If that idiot can do it, so can I!” Well, before you run out to drop a bundle on web site software in a box, or an even bigger bundle on a web design firm, know this: you can have the best product and the best site on the entire Internet, and still lose more money than you have in the bank right now. In other words, you can go bust without a whit of notice from the rest of the world. Oh, and you’ll have to cope with your brother-in-law laughing all the way to the bank.
New-to-the-net entrepreneurs, interested in the world of e-commerce, see the Internet as a business with little downside risk and unlimited upside potential — something they can run out of a spare room with little or no time involved. Nothing could be further from the truth. As with any business, brick and mortar or bits and bytes, you have to be involved from idea to inventory. And, if you’re just testing the waters to see what this e-biz is all about, and trying to do it on the cheap, you have to be even more involved. In fact, your own sweat equity is what’s going to make your site a success under these circumstances.
The key is marketing — getting the word out that you’re open for business — and in the world of e-commerce, that means search engine optimization, or SEO as it’s called in the trade. It’s a fact that most visitors to your newly launched site will find their way to you via a search engine like Google, Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves and other ‘find it for me’ sites people use to find everything from Inuit jewelry to, well, to hand-painted salad bowls.
These search engines (SE) use a variety of criteria to evaluate your site for relevance to the search words entered by the user. If someone is, indeed, looking for Inuit jewelry and they enter those key words into an SE query box, they want relevant results — links to sites that sell Inuit jewelry. They aren’t looking for sites selling anything else, so the search engine results are delivered to the user according to their relevance. The more relevant to the user’s query, the higher in page rank (PR).
Now, think about your own adventures with search engines. When you enter your key words, and the search engine delivers results pages, what do you do? Do you start your search on page 122 of the search results? Of course not. In fact, most searchers won’t look beyond the first page or two for a particular site. Why should they if sites are ranked by their relevance to the query?
So, what does this mean to you, the novice e-tailer who’s spent a couple of thousand getting a site up and functioning? It means that marketing matters, search engines matter and page rank really matters. But remember, you’re trying to do this for cheap. You can’t afford to spend money on SEO, so what can you do to get better results for your money and effort? Do-it-yourself search engine optimization, or DIY SEO.
Start by learning everything you can about the search criteria used by the biggest SEs. Each search engine uses its own weighting formula to evaluate and assess your site’s content. Called search engine algorithms, these weighting formulae are top secret to prevent unscrupulous e-tailers from finding ways to beat the system. Even so, search criteria are well known to professional site designers and SEO companies in the business of improving page rank for a hefty fee.
You can start by conducting a few test queries to see where your site shows up in the rankings from different SEs. For example, if you’re selling e-books on family health matters, type in family health. If your site is buried in the backwater of the SERPs (search engine results pages), you’ve got some work to do to get your page rank up. Key word optimization is the place you start.
Your site’s relevance to a particular query is based, in part, on the text contained within the site. So, if you don’t use the words family and/or health frequently (key word density) your site isn’t going to show up on the first page or two of SERPs. You can make improvements to page rank by simply increasing the frequency key words appear within your site’s text. But key word density is just the beginning.
The positioning of key words is just as critical. A search engine uses ‘spiders’ to assess a new site’s relevance. In many cases, these spiders will only search a portion of your site’s text — the first couple of hundred words, for example, or main and sub-headings. To improve your site’s PR, try to work pertinent key words into all headers, HTML title tags and other SE identifiers. It’s a low- or no-cost means of boosting your site’s PR.
Next, include your main key words in your site’s description text — that little paragraph that appears below each site listing on the SERPs. Again, a few word adjustments can mean the difference between hitting a home run and striking out. (BTW, more e-tailers strike out than hit home runs.)
Search engines don’t pay much attention to graphics or photographs — any file with a jpg, bmp or gif extension — so placing key word dense text within graphics won’t do much for your page rank, though it will make your site more user-friendly. Focus, instead on the site’s corpus — the main bodies of text on the different pages of your site.
Another factor in determining PR is inbound and outbound links to other sites. The thinking, here, is that sites with quality inbound links must be quality sites, offering SE users the information or products they’re looking for. You have several options with regard to acquiring inbound links. First, contact sites related to yours in some way and ask for a reciprocal link exchange. Sometimes called ‘link begging’, the process can be time-consuming and more than a little depressing when you get turned down time and time again. But you can’t beat the price — it’s free!
Another alternative is to purchase related links. There are several links auction sites from which to choose. Sellers are e-commerce site owners looking to boost their income from direct sales by selling links from their pages to yours. It’s a relatively low-cost option, though the results are never guaranteed. And, the higher the site’s ranking the more costly the links.
Another useful resource for improving your sites PR for cheap is the SE help pages themselves. Visit the Google landing page, click on ‘About Google’ and discover the many tools the SE provides to help you get more notice for no money. To learn more about these freebies, check out the article from May entitled Making the Most of Google’s SE: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. It’ll show you all kinds of little tricks you can use to see what your competitors are doing and to get a view of your site the way the SE spiders see it.
So, if you’re just starting out, consider the following to improve your site’s PR for nothing more than your hard work:
- key word density — how often key words appear within the corpus of your site;
- key word placement — key words should be dense at the start of each paragraph and should appear in all heads and sub-heads. Appropriate key words should also be placed in Meta title and header tags to increase your sites relevance;
- site description — make sure your main three or four keywords appear in your sites description that will appear just below your site’s link from SERPs. Search engines like that;
- pix and graphix — while important to making your site attractive and user friendly (a picture is worth a thousand words) text embedded within graphics won’t be picked up by search engines;
- links — buy them, exchange them, beg for them — no matter how you acquire them, inbound links, quality links (links related to the main focus of your site) will have a significant impact on your site’s page rank.
- SE help pages — check out Google’s ‘About Google’ page for some of the most helpful free tools anywhere for improving PR. (See May’s article)
Finally, hang in there if you can. The steps described here will improve your PR, moving you from page 122 to 68 overnight! But you’re still in the boondocks of SERPs. However, as visitor traffic increases and you continue to learn more about SE algorithms and the various search criteria used by each SE, you’ll see a gradual improvement in your PR which, in turn, can lead to a dramatic increase in your sales.