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With all the hype surrounding search engines today, only two elements matter when working to position your site among the top rankings: unique content and links to your site.

Let’s start with unique content. Unique content means you are providing something of value to the Internet community. You have something to say - factual or opinion - that is uniquely yours. And others appreciate and seek out that content.

In school, duplicate content was called plagiarism. We know that plagiarism is bad, and it is equally bad and damaging on the Internet.

In addition, content written for the search engines should not be redundant. Search engines make money by providing links to sites that the users feel answer their questions. They do not want the same AP wire service story to show up 20 times on page one even if it is legitimately posted on 20 subscribing news Web sites.

Ok, I can hear the protests now. “But wait, we sell XYZ product and the manufacturer provides us (and everyone else) with the descriptions!” That is fine, but just don’t expect it to place well. Your next thought is probably to just rewrite the content. Yes, that will work, but first ask yourself, “How can we create more value for the visitors?”

Consider these questions:

1) Can you write case studies with industry-specific examples?

2) Can you have visitors add reviews about the product or service?

3) Can you create an FAQ page that only talks about the product or service from the buyer’s perspective?

4) Can you write a buyer’s guide?

For example, this article you are reading is my take on the world of search engine optimization. There is no doubt I have learned from and been inspired by Danny Sullivan, Jill Whalen and Karon Thakston. But this article is my take on it after years in the business and thousands of conversations in email, public speaking and one on one. In other words, this article is unique and is adding value for you the reader. At no cost. The search engines love feeding you this content because you appreciate it and continue to use those search engines for your search needs.

If you ever think you have figured out a shortcut to creating new content for the search engines, please stop. There is no shortcut; creating unique content is difficult, but not impossible.

Two more thoughts on creating unique content for the search engines before moving on to links:

1) Theme does matter, so if your entire site specializes in topic A, then individual pages on subspecialty Ab will do well.

2) Exactness of speech matters. State clearly and exactly what you mean. If you are presenting a difficult concept, restate it in a few different ways to clarify exactly. But don’t be redundant. Effective communication requires hard work, and the results look easy. Such is life.

The second major driver of search engine ranking is links to your site from other sites.

The power of links is mostly attributed to the Google page rank algorithm. The logic is simply to consider links as votes in a democratic society. So, if one site has five Web sites linking to it, but another has 100 that link to it, then most likely site two is a better choice. Even better is if both sites that link to each other share similar themes.

Of course, this is an oversimplification, but that is ok. Links are an area of search engine optimization that can quickly get you into trouble.

The great news is that if we create compelling content, people will naturally link to us. CNN does not hire people to send spam requesting links. Rather they pay reporters and editors to create content and they get links naturally.

The short formula is “links from reputable sites to my site help.” Other factors to consider are:

1) The reputation of the site you are linking to is a huge consideration. The search engines care who you hang out with, but they also understand you have no control over inbound links (hint: linking policies are stupid).

2) If the linking site covers the same or a similar topic as yours, it helps you gain more clout in the search engines. So, a link from the Texas State BAR Association to a law firm Web site is more helpful than a link from bustedtees.com (at least from the law firm’s perspective).

3) The text of the link matters. If I really wanted to help the folks at "Medecins Sans Frontieres", I would create a link like this: Help the 2005 Tsunami victims, but if I checked my search engine keyword counts, I could change it to Tsunami Relief Fund donations

As a final thought, I would like to offer two rules of thumb that should steer you clear of trouble.

1) When writing your content, read it out loud. This in an old writing technique I first learned my freshman year of college. It still works and should be in your search engine toolbox.

2) When you consider asking for a link to your site, first ask yourself if it adds value for the site visitor. A link from an airline that flies to NYC to Broadway shows is relevant and adds value. Do that.

Good luck with creating a great Web site and may the search engines reward your hard work!


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