As long as I’ve been a professional web developer, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of SEO. That’s Search Engine Optimization for those who don’t know and is basically the answer to the common question of “How do I get my site to appear first when I Google [such and such word]?”1

It’s such a common request and the process is so frequently misunderstood that I’m starting this new series to pass along the very, VERY simple things that anyone could be doing to optimize their website for search engines.

First let me say that never trust any company that claims they’ll get you #1 rankings in any Search Engine. It’s a scam, end of story. There is no guarantee when it comes to rankings. The processes used to determine the order of search results in Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other engine, are highly guarded trade secrets. Because there is money involved people are always trying to game the system, while the Search companies try to stay one step ahead.

“How can I make Google show my site first when I search for my name?”

Your name, as an individual, company brand, whatever, should easily be the first thing you’ll start ranking for, and the home page should rank highly, if not 1st, in search results. It will probably happen naturally whether you try or not, because a web page has several pieces of content that a search engine evaluates for ranking, and many you’ll already be using. Let’s take my name “Joel Sunman” for the following examples.

My site in all its incarnations has always ranked 1st for my name, with or without quotes2. I’m not sure if I’m the only Joel Sunman in the world, but as of now I’m the only one appearing in any form on the web. So the repetition of the actual text “Joel Sunman” in the website is really all it takes, because there was no competition. Copyright statements in the footer, the text of the logo, text in an About Me-type page, all repeated the same two words.

Content like this will rank highly only when we’re talking about very unique phrases like names. Don’t expect this kind of repetition to do the same thing for a common word like “Computers.” Just think of how many other sites use that word in any way, shape or form (about 390 million today according to Google).

Now let’s say there is another Joel out there on the web. He doesn’t have a website, but maybe he gave an interview to a local newspaper and that story and his name appears online. Based on the overall popularity of the newspaper’s site, this article may start appearing above my own pages, but two more factors can give me the edge.

  1. Domain Text:
    The domain directs to my site. Google and search engines pick out the words in your URL and you can think of each of these factors as adding points to a score. A URL that contains the searched for phrase counts for more “points” than just that phrase inside the copy of a page.
  2. Page Titles:
    Title bar example
    This is the text that appears at the top of your browser for any page. It’s purpose is to tell users (and search engines) what the page is about. A typical mistake is to use generic phrases to title the page such as “HOME”, “ABOUT US”, “CONTACT.” Since the page title is valued highly in the eyes of the search engine, higher at least than in-copy text, at the very least these titles should include your name, to distinguish it from all the other generic “HOME” pages out there. “Home of Joel Sunman & The Dam of Knowledge” > “Home Page.”
    Simple tweaks to page titles can have a big impact on ranking for keywords and phrases outside of just your Brand name. More on that later.

There are further ways that the actual HTML code of a web page is structured that has SEO significance, but most of these should already be implemented during the normal course of standards-based site development, so I won’t go into them here.

These are the first basics of optimizing your site for the search engines. After all that if your site is still not showing up highly for even just your name there are two possibilities:

  • Your site is too new and the search engines just haven’t found it yet…
  • Or, you’re unfortunate enough to share a name with someone/something that is very common or more popular than you in the search engine index.

All is not lost though, I’ll cover those cases in the future.

1 I’m aware other search engines exist, but I and 74% of search users don’t use them, so much so that “to Google” has become a verb. Unless otherwise noted, the specific case studies I talk about here deal with results in Google, while the techniques discussed will often benefit the results in other Search Engines in very similar ways.

2 There are always exceptions to the rule. When searching for my name Google now first returns “Local business results for joel near Sunman, IN.” This happens more and more as the top of the search results page is taken up with ads, maps, video results, etc. If I can’t even beat my namesake town in a search there may be no hope for any of us.

Google Results