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How to make a website more visible to search engines

Do you have a web site to promote your business? Is it working to get you new customers?

Maybe you would like to know a bit about how search engines work and what you can do to improve your site’s ranking? There is much more to it than described here, but this will give you a start.

For people to find your site, it is vitally important that it appears on the first page of the search results, and preferably near the top. Very few people will actually go on to the second page of the results – usually they will use some other search terms to try again.

So let’s look at what is going on.

How do people look things up?

The first thing you need to do is think what people are looking for that your business might provide. For a yoga studio, the primary thing would be yoga. But people might also be interested in yoga for stress management, the philosophy behind it, or a particular type of yoga. So you could expect people to be using any of these terms in their search.

The second thing to consider is whether people are looking for something in a particular area. If so, they are likely to use the name of the area in the search. Someone looking for accommodation for a trip to Dubbo will likely use the word “Dubbo” in their search. A person looking to buy something by mail order is less likely to use a location.

Here are some examples that might be used by people looking for a particular product or service:

  • “yoga newcastle” or “newcastle yoga” – The keywords may be in any order, and the search results may actually be different.
  • “yoga stress management Hunter Valley” – There may be several keywords, and the location might be a region or a suburb.
  • “exotic jewellery Hamilton” – People may use alternative spellings, e.g., jewelry.
  • “ayurvedic products mail order” or “ayurvedic products best price” or “ayurvedic products Australia” – People looking for unusual products may expect to use mail order, or might be looking for the best price on them. They may also not want to order from overseas, so will specify their own country.

So to know how to structure your web site, you need to understand what words people will use to search for products or services that you can provide.

Now you can do some guessing based on your own experience, which should cover the most common search terms. But you could also do a bit of market research by asking friends, neighbours, customers what terms they would use if they were looking for your products and services.

How do search engines set the rankings for web sites?

The basic principle is that they count the occurrences of the words on each web page, and list the sites according to how well the page matches the search terms. So if you are searching for “yoga newcastle”, the top ranked sites in the search results will be those which have the most occurrences of the words “yoga” and “newcastle”.

Of course it is not as simple as that. Search engines apply other techniques to try to improve the results they give you. If your site has the word “yoga” many times, but not the word “newcastle”, it is unlikely to be ranked highly for a person looking for “yoga newcastle”.

The primary technique Google uses to improve the results is reputation. If a lot of sites refer to your site, then obviously the owners of those sites think that there is something worthwhile on your site. Google will assign a higher reputation to your site than a similar site with few other sites linking to it.

They take this further by considering the reputation of the sites that link to yours. If very well known and reputable sites link to yours, then some of their reputation flows through to your site. So if major newspapers, government departments, professional associations link to your site, your ranking will benefit from their reputation. But note that paid advertising with these organisations does not rank highly. Editorial references are the most valuable.

By the same token, you will often find sites that are just pages and pages of links to various businesses. They are often called “link farms”. Links from these to your site count nothing towards your reputation.

Another technique is concerned with location. If a person uses a location in the search, eg, “yoga newcastle”, the search engine will look for businesses using that word or near that location. (Yes, they do know pretty accurately where any given site is located.)

They also know where the person doing the search is, and will tend to give higher rankings to businesses near that location if nothing is specified in the search terms, depending on what the person is looking for.

Over the years since the Internet started, people have tried numerous ways to “game the system”, to artificially try to raise the ranking of their site. This may have worked for a while until the search engines realised what was happening. If they think you are using devious means to get a higher ranking, they may actually blackball your site and not list it at all.

One thing to note if you are testing is that the search engines usually take into account things you have searched for in the past. So if you have visited a site before using certain search terms, they are likely to give that site a higher ranking than it would have if a total stranger used those search terms.

How do I make sure my web site ranks highly for these searches?

You could pay a company lots of money to do SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This means choosing words and references for your site that they believe will get it ranked higher in the search results. Do beware, however, that many companies offering this service do little more than give you a bunch of keywords for similar businesses to your own. This of course means that there is little to make your site stand out from the others using the same keywords.

Other companies will constantly monitor what the search engines are doing and adjust their advice to match current techniques. This can be very valuable for high traffic web sites, but it comes at a price.

Search engines do not stand still! They are constantly looking for ways to improve the results they present to users, and for people trying to gain an artificial advantage. What works this week may not work so well next week. Google’s advice is to be natural, and to include lots of relevant keywords in the ordinary text of your pages. This will get you good rankings and will not require constant review.

Google has useful advice for webmasters here:

This site has up-to-date information on what techniques to use for Google currently:


1. Try to work out what search terms will get people to your business.

2. Use those words and phrases throughout the ordinary text of your web site.

3. If your site contains a lot of pictures and not many words, think about how you could restructure it to include relevant words.