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10 secrets to reach the top of the search results

There are well over 1 billion websites out on the internet. Getting your business website noticed among all the competition might seem nearly impossible. But following along with these five search engine tips and tricks can help push your site to the top of the search results.

But first, a little background. Creating a website and getting found just a decade ago was pretty easy. It looked like this:

1. Choose a domain name.

2. Learn some HTML code.

3. Do a little keyword research.

4. Throw in some title tags and meta tags.

5. Write in about 250 words.

That was it. If you just did those things, in all likelihood you would have had one very searchable, easy-to-find website. Today, those simple steps are just plain inadequate to get your site noticed. Google’s newest search criteria (known as Hummingbird) came out in February and, to put it bluntly, it is looking for a lot.

These days, Google is interested things like, “quality, authenticity, authority, and usability.”  Now, that doesn’t mean that being a search engine page rock star is impossible, but it does mean there is quite a bit more work to do. Of course, I am here, so you don’t have start out completely in the dark.

Here are 10 essential secrets (in no particular order) to optimize your website for Google’s algorithm — today and beyond.

1. Get social, already!

Social interaction is increasingly important for SEO (search engine optimization). That is because it is a great way to promote or share content with your “connected” audience and, just as important, your “potential” audience.

Social-media sharing is critical to engage with people, generate trust and even gauge what people are interested in, right at the moment. Oh, and there are technical reasons, too.

There are elements like topic association signals, links, citations and mentions that search engines can recognize and associate with your website. This only improves your relevance to the engines.

Not to mention, there is strong evidence that future search engine algorithms will include criteria like positive mentions and other indicators of trust and brand.

2. Be an Authority

The first thing you want to do is get involved with and master Google+. Once you have, then correctly mark up your site accordingly. You see, while Facebook and Twitter dominate in popularity, do not forget that Google owns the biggest search engine. Do not think for a moment they are not going to give preference to those who use their social media service and smartly connect it to their site.

Haven’t done that yet? Get on it. I told you these were useful secrets.

So whether you have a company brand or personal brand, if yours is positive, that is going to help quite a bit. So in order to earn that kind of credibility, you need to leverage something known as authorship. In other words, Google’s content verification ensures that connections are recognized, organized and given credit if unique and helpful. To have this type of content associated with your site and shared on Google+ (and other social media sites to a lesser extent) can really improve click-through rates.

3. Branding, Branding, Branding

I already mentioned this one, but it is important that you really understand it. An online brand is a person or organization (yes, like a company) that inspires or creates great expertise in certain topics.

How do I do this?

Well, one article is not going to cut it. However, if you continuously generate content that attracts other trusted entities to quote you, link to you, talk about you and really just look like they trust you … you have done it. Keep in mind, an online brand must be built online and offline.

Remember, becoming part of associations, connections, citations and engagement are all worthwhile. It is also be important to engage passionately. You must really dare to be great in your efforts and your message.

4. Make your site user-friendly

Responsive design is all the talk these days. That simply means that a website is easily navigable on a desktop, laptop and mobile device. In fact, it is hard to get a new website that is not responsive these days. And it is important because you do not want to scare away customers who do not have a certain type of device. Not to mention, the search engines know if your site is responsive.

But, there are other user-experience areas that are also super-important. In other words, unlike the old days when it was enough to say a bunch of new visitors came to (basically “found”) your site, the new world of search says it is more important what they do once they have arrived. Of course, having what they are looking for is a big key … but it isn’t the only one.

You see, if your site is hard to use or confusing, you could chase potential customers away (and many site owners do). You have to think beyond the click (or clicks, for that matter) and walk through all of your processes to ensure that not only can customers find you, but they can easily get what you are offering – and if you have an e-commerce site – easily pay for it.

5. Write enough content

If you are like me, you already wondered, “What’s enough content?” I am sure you also may have guessed that there is no really “ideal” length.

But, that’s OK. The goal here is to satisfy your users’ intent in a way that is delivers the right amount of information they are seeking.

Yep. This is a little tricky. Here are some things to think about when you are creating content:

  • Is this webpage unique compared to the others on my site?
  • Are you site pages unique compared to your competitors’?
  • Does it answer questions that visitors might have?
  • Is it easy to find from the home page?
  • Do you have extra value in the form of images, or videos, or original copy that people will want to share?

OK, so enough doesn’t have anything to do with word count. Instead, it means to make your words count. Got it?

6. Do your keyword research

This one is a holdover from the “good old days” … you know the easier time as far back as 10 years ago. To do this, you must research keyword queries with respect to Web stats, social, paid media and industry research. Your ultimate goal here is to try to understand user goals, their purchasing cycles, and well, their needs of course.

Here’s how it works. Basically, the search engines categorize through intent and context. Intent tries to examine what the user means based on their previous searches. And context is more rigid as it looks at where they are, what device they are using, etc.

So, as a website owner, your goal is to be very clear about what answers you are providing. Clear language and correct use of your chosen keywords is so important. In other words, if you successfully connect user intent to website content, your relevant search results (and traffic) will be miles ahead of your competition.

7. Build a digital footprint

Search engine secrets go beyond just tweaking your website. In fact, everything you professionally engage, whether it is PR, partnerships, sponsorships or other offline opportunities, can be meaningful. And they provide the foundation of what will become your digital footprint.

Of course, you are going to need to incorporate them into your digital space. The massive connections engine that is Google looks at all of these connections and engagements to determine how trustworthy you are, and how much value you bring to not only your profession, but to the world around you. And that means both online and offline.

So as the days of links, links, links fades to memory, start thinking in terms of citations, connections, mentions and associations. I hate to say it, but you need to “be seen” with the right people and organizations. At least to the search engines you do.

8. Have an actual marketing plan

While there are a lot of tips to enhance your search engine efforts, there are few more basic or important than having a good marketing plan. Trying to get anything done without a clear idea of where you want to go is a silly as seal in a footrace.

There are some questions that you should answer before you start designing, writing and optimizing. You can start with these:

  • What is your area of expertise?
  • Why are you different from you competition?
  • Why should users/customers care?
  • What is your message?
  • Who is your competition?
  • What is it that do you do that should make Google rate you higher than them?

While you may think you know these already, do not shy away from doing your homework. Then, once you think you have it all down, set some realistic goals, including SEO goals. Also, keep in mind that a good tracking system like Google Analytics is critical to your long-lasting success.

Then, drill down into your content. Adjust your topics accordingly, and then, make sure you keep to your schedule. If you are fortunate to have a loyal audience, do not disappoint them by missing your mark. Remember, “trust, trust, trust,” is key.

9. Structure your site properly

Whether it means overhauling your current site, making a few minor changes, or simply starting from scratch – you must have a properly structured site. We already talked about responsive design, went over easy navigation and have even pointed out that added security can boost your rankings, but those are only parts of the big picture.

You see, the trick here (the secret) is to build your site around intent-based topics is what they call “siloed and distinct” In other words, you should only cross-link to the most relevant or related topics available. Otherwise, it will dilute your presence in the search engines.

By dividing your site into ultra-relevant topics gives both users and search engines the ability to easily access your expertise. But I warn you, do not try to be an expert at everything. Instead, make sure you and your site are geared to dominate your niche and your niche alone.

10. Make use of SEO plug-ins

One in four new websites is built on a WordPress platform. If your site is among them, you can find some great SEO plug-ins that help you automatically create built-in keyword tags for the search engines. And, because it’s WordPress and respected by all of the search engines, these keyword tags are considered.

Plug-ins like “SEO WordPress”, “WP SEP Tags”, and “SEO Helper” are all rated 4 stars or higher and allow you to click and choose your most important keywords and install them from “behind the scenes” for the search engines to find and rank you higher. Find a plug-in that you like and remember to use it for every blog. It’s a real content booster.

OK, here’s the deal. I am guessing we could come up with another 30 or 40 tips that would also help to bring you ever-closer to the top of the search engine page rankings. And if it is your vision quest to identify and implement every single one of them, I say go for it.

However, for those of you who are content to place quality over quantity, you should already have a clear picture. Get an idea about where you want to go, establish yourself as an expert, share your ideas and be clear in your organization and messaging. The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.

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