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This is not a Gourmet Kitchen

World Domination Made Easy

Like most web site owners, you’ve probably gotten dozens of e-mails, faxes, postcards and perhaps even a phone call or two from so-called “experts” promising you that they can get your site that coveted #1 spot on Google, or any of the other search sites. The cold, hard truth is that no one, let me repeat it NO ONE can do that. Anyone making that promise should be avoided.

Now that I have dashed your dreams of Google domination on the rocks, I do have some good news. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not all rocket science; there are many things you can do yourself to help raise your ranking and placement on all of the search engines. I’ll share a few of them to help get you started down the road to search engine domination.

Optimize your site for your audience, not for the search engines.

Okay, this is more of a philosophy than an action item, but I truly believe this. Despite the rumors to the contrary, the engineers at the various search companies are not deviously trying to create tools to make it harder for site owners to be found, or to create robots that are more “roboty.” Believe it or not, they want to make it easier for people to find the sites that are the most relevant to the search words they entered. To do this, those engineers try to make the robots behave more like humans.

Think about when you open your daily newspaper – you probably scan the headlines (larger ones first), glance at a photo or two, read the captions, maybe read the first few lines of a couple stories…and then you decide what you want to read first, what is most relevant to you at that moment in time.

The search engine engineers are *trying* to have the robots behave the same way. By analyzing all of the content and how it’s structured, the search engines hope to determine what is the most relevant for each person’s search.

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Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Does your site use an easy-to-follow layout, does it have compelling copy, use appropriate images and supporting links? Are your pages easy to navigate? Are headlines clear and concise? Are there links to related information on your site, or even to another site?

Find the best keywords.

This is often thought to be an easy aspect of site optimization, when usually it is one of the more difficult. What you think someone will search for and what they actually search for can be two very different things. Put a great deal of time and effort into researching your keywords for your web site. In “Five Steps to Effective Keyword Research“, SeachEngineGuide.com says that site owners may use too narrow of a lens when evaluating their site, resulting in keywords that read like industry jargon. For example, if you want to use “gourmet kitchen” as a keyword, use that and not “grmet kit”, which I would assume to be a grommet repair kit. While these words make perfect sense to you (the site owner) they make little or no sense to your potential customer.

Insert keywords into page titles, headlines and content.

Titles are displayed to searchers as the link to your pages. Having a title that describes what a person should expect to find when they get there will not only help bring more people to your site, it will bring more of the right people. Additionally, because this helps readers – the search engines love it and use this in the evaluation process to determine which sites are the most relevant for the search words used. While the formulas of accepted use vary wildly, be sure to use your keywords and page title within the body of your content. I recommend using the exact same text within your title as a headline tag at the top of the page. Do not ever have words in your title that are not used somewhere on that page – most search engines look upon this as spam and will likely drop you.

Use page titles as links to internal pages.

This is one of the easiest things to do and is also one of the most frequently ignored. How many times have you seen “click here” or “view this”? Not very inviting is it? Just like on the search engine listings, using your page title (which had better include your keywords) tells your readers what they can expect to find if they do click on a link. As an added benefit, because it helps the readers…you guessed it; the search engines love this too.

Describe your images with the alt tag.

If your site uses images for navigation elements, this is critical. For now at least, robots can’t easily read your images to understand where they go. Just like in other page links, if possible, use the page title of the destination page as the alt text so that your readers will see the little hover text and the search engines will get another dose of your keywords. If you haven’t yet, you should view your web site in a text-only web browser. This is how the search engines see your site. Delorie.com has a Lynx Viewer available for use on their site. Lynx was a web browser used back in the olden days, before the web was pretty, when it consisted of just text. If your site looks and works well in Lynx, the robots will be much happier. On the subject of images, it’s also a good idea to name them descriptively too. For example if you have a great little logo image that says “Call Vicki! Official San Mateo Real Estate Blog”, then name your image “Call_Vicki_Official_San_Mateo_Real_Estate_Blog.gif” and not just “logo.gif.”

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Make your pages “link-worthy.”

All of the major search engines place considerable importance on the number (and quality) of inbound links to your web site. But how do you get those links? Just like the movie said “If you build it, they will come.” If your site has quality content, people will want to share it by adding links. You can, of course, request other site owners to link to you, but use this tactic with caution. Only request links from sites with relevant, related material. Be vigilant – never, ever, let your site be placed on a large list of sites. These lists are frequently abused and as such are being dropped from most search engines.

That’s it? Really?

No, that’s not it. This is but the tip of the iceberg. Even on the day you reach the #1 spot, you will still need to keep working. SEO is a lot like when you used to play “king of the hill” as a kid, as soon as you manage to claw your way to the top, there are ten others ready to come and try to knock you down. But hey, nobody ever said world domination would be easy.

Written By

Jack Leblond is a SEO/SEM professional working for a large corporation full time in Austin, TX. He is not a Realtor, he is our in-house SEO expert. Jack is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for TG (www.tgslc.org). In addition to managing the team that develops and maintains the company's multiple Web sites, he focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-marketing and Social Media. Jack's background ranges from Submarine Sonar Technician/Instructor for the United States Navy, technical writer, pioneer in internet/intranet creation for McGraw-Hill and Times Mirror Higher Education, former Adjunct Professor for two Universities teaching web-related courses, has served as a city council member and co-founded Net-Smart, a web design and hosting company, where he managed networks and oversaw the development of hundreds of Web sites. As a free-lance SEO consultant, Jack performs SEO Site Audits for small/medium businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings.

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Michael Price

    September 9, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Great information Jack and super first AG post. SEO is something that is easily “overthought” and losing focus of more important issues like content can be a hazard. Creating content that is designed for quality vs. quantity is critical and your point about gearing SEO efforts towards audience is good advice. Looking forward to more posts.
    Cheers,
    MP

  2. Vicki Moore

    September 9, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Thank goodness that’s it for now. Holy cow. I have to read that about 10 more times.

  3. Virginia Hepp

    September 9, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you, Jack. You have covered all of the basics of SEO in a very understandable way, especially the image alt tags – usually confusing. Can’t wait to read more.

    VHepp

  4. Steve Simon

    September 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    A lot of good points in the post. But I thought this worth mentioning.
    For real estate agents seeking to build a source of future clients and customers, the reality is local is better than global; the long tail search strings will get you a better results than the broad base very popular ones.
    For example;
    a search for -real estate- on Google produces:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 704,000,000 for real estate
    but a search for Land O’ Lakes Florida real estate produces:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 298,000
    It is a lot easier to place better by narrowing scope.
    Optimize your site for a single town or neighborhood and you’ll be able to do better.
    Global, broad searches are very hard to get any reasonable SERP for.
    Local, narrow, “Long Tail” searches will have you close to the top.
    Quality content within a local zone might just get you on the first page (and that is where you want to be given the dropoff as you move downward in position…
    Just my thoughts 🙂

  5. Jay Thompson

    September 9, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    “Optimize your site for your audience, not for the search engines”

    Praise be! I am loving this Jack guy already!!

    So no one really needs to write (for example):

    Phoenix real estate is a great buy! As your Phoenix Realtor I can help you find Phoenix homes and other types of Phoenix real estate. If you can’t afford a Phoenix home for example, you may want to try looking at Phoenix condos with your Phoenix realtor.

    And believe me, that kinda crap is out there….

  6. Mike Mueller

    September 9, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Jack – Good stuff. My favorite block of text was…

    “Think about when you open your daily newspaper – you probably scan the headlines (larger ones first), glance at a photo or two, read the captions, maybe read the first few lines of a couple stories…and then you decide what you want to read first, what is most relevant to you at that moment in time.”

    To an html guy that reads…
    , , , , followed by…

    I was talking to my buddy yesterday and he said, “Mike Mueller really sucks”. I had to agree. We drank a few more beers and then egged his house and bashed in his mailbox.”

    Then even I could be #1 on Google for “Mike Mueller Sucks!” How cool would that be?

    (I hope the html tags don’t get picked up in this comment, I won’t know until I hit “submit”. If they do, then I guess Mike Mueller really does suck!)

  7. Mike Mueller

    September 9, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    It did get gobbled by the comment box! I really suck.
    Should have looked like:

    To an html guy that reads…
    , , ,

    followed by…

    I was talking to my buddy yesterday and he said, “Mike Mueller really sucks”. I had to agree. We drank a few more beers and then egged his house and bashed in his mailbox.”

  8. Mike Mueller

    September 9, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    I triple suck!

    I can’t even put in a ?

  9. Jay Thompson

    September 9, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Mike – if you are trying to put HTML in a comment, try using the / tags (with no spaces

  10. Jay Thompson

    September 9, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    NEVER MIND! That doesn’t wok either! (not that you code even read what I tried to write…)

  11. Jay Thompson

    September 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Mike, BTW, Andy Kaufman ranks #1 for “Mike Mueller sucks” in Google…

    Now I’m off to Google “Jay Thompson sucks”…

  12. Gretchen Faber

    September 9, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Jack,
    Have you been in my kitchen in the mornings when I’m opening the paper? Yes, I’m one of the few who still even gets a paper.

    This information is timely as I’m working hard on my nascent site. As we’ve all noticed, fewer and fewer people read the paper for their information, and more and more are online – even with their breakfast cereal.

    Gretchen

  13. Drew Meyers

    September 9, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Jay-
    Your own blog ranks number 1 — how convenient 🙂
    https://www.phoenixrealestateguy.com/jb-says-zillow-sucks/335

  14. Jack Leblond

    September 9, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Great comments…you guys are really on the ball here, this may make my job a bit tougher.

    Steve – Thanks for reinforcing my comments on the importance of selecting the correct key words, choosing words that work for your site and not the 30,000,000+ other out there is critical.

    Jay – Be careful, you might be stealing traffic from the Phoenix convention/visitors bureau.

    Mike – How can one guy suck so much? I have no idea what you were trying post/ask…feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you want.

    Gretchen – I try to fold it back up and not dribble milk on it, sometime accidents happen.

  15. Rocky

    September 9, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Novel concept here! Good points and information, now I guess I have to find the time to do it. Welcome to AG.

  16. Jim Rake

    September 10, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Jack – mucho thanks. AG is one of my morning reads….great content! Always appreciate ways to make my “engine” run cleaner and smarter. Guess I better make time to get up to speed with the SEO business.

  17. Mike Mueller

    September 10, 2008 at 7:15 am

    It’s a shame when you have to comment using pictures. Maybe AG sucks more than I do? 😉

    It’s getting harder and harder to suck. Here’s the link: https://twitpic.com/ayj9

  18. Kris Berg

    September 10, 2008 at 8:08 am

    I had to play the “I suck” game. AG gets top honors for “Kris Berg (well, you know)”, followed by my own blog. More curiously, Redfin scored Page One placement as well. Hmm…

    But I digress. Thank you, Jack, for a lot to think about and a lot more to work on. For the record, I do suck where SEO is concerned.

  19. Todd

    September 10, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Are we practicing what we preach? What is Agent Genius’ page rank? What are AG’s declared keywords?

  20. Jack Leblond

    September 10, 2008 at 8:38 am

    OK…I had to play too. Thankfully no pages (in the first few) that say “jack leblond sucks”…dang, now there will be. But, thanks to Mike, this post is on page one.

  21. Jay Thompson

    September 10, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Todd asks: “Are we practicing what we preach? What is Agent Genius’ page rank? What are AG’s declared keywords?”

    Page Rank is easy, AG.com has a Google PR of 5. I don’t know if that really means anything though. Personally, I think PR is over-rated (would be interesting to hear Jack’s take on Google PR).

    “Declared keywords”? I dunno. Given the nature of AG as an industry focused “group blog”, I’m not sure organic search placement really means all that much. It’s not like AG is trying to generate leads, or even consumer eyeballs really. It ranks #3 for “real estate opinion blog”. That may or may not be worth a plug nickle. I’m sure certain posts rank very well for “long tail” keywords. I know when I write for AG I give zero consideration to keywords/SEO. Maybe Benn and Lani will smack me for that, but it just doesn’t seem to be the focus here. I write here what I think the AG readership will find of interest. Whether I ever accomplish that is another story.

  22. Benn Rosales

    September 10, 2008 at 9:31 am

    We rank for exactly what we want to rank for, indexed in anywhere from 4 seconds to 60 seconds, and our keywords are organic- google loves us. We clean errors that matter, sometimes we reformat images, but we spend the bulk of our energy (as a free service) on things that drive conversation.

    In fairness, we’re not in a local market competeing for two keywords which is what makes Jack’s help special, so how about a little less ball busting.

  23. Nick Bostic

    September 10, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Welcome Jack, I’m glad you joined the team.

    These are all excellent points that I’m glad I don’t have to preach about anymore, instead I’ll just send out links to your article (and anything upcoming).

    I “gamed” Google very successfully a couple of years back – got high (5) page rank and #1 SERPS – all within a couple of weeks. Yes, I got a lot of traffic. But because I had created the site with the sole purpose of testing some theories against Google and not to help customers, it generated an abysmal amount of actual business. So your point of writing for the audience is dead on. Like I tell people, if you write to beat the search engines, your job now turns into a full time SEO expert because the search engines are always trying to reward content, not people who are gaming the system.

    One point I’d like to add regarding ALT tags is that they are also necessary for web site accessibility. Technically, accessibility covers people with disabilities, in this case blindness using a screen reader. But I personally disable images when I’m browsing any time I’m on a slow connection. If you correctly ALT tag your image, I may read that and decide to actually open the image. If you have nothing, there’s no chance of that. Plus, a few years back Target was sued for not using ALT tags which was thought to be discriminatory.

    My $0.02 on Page Rank is it used to mean more than it does now. It usually correlates to SERPs, but not always. Where I am, there is a self-hosted WordPress real estate blog and a WordPress hosted one. The self-hosted one has a better design, has a more tech savvy operator, has been around over a year longer and has more well-written content. But for some reason, the WordPress hosted one has PR 5 while the self-hosted has PR4. But do a search for their most hotly contested keywords and the self-hosted one shows up on page one, the WordPress hosted one (with a higher PR) doesn’t show in the first 5 pages.

  24. James Bridges

    September 10, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Jack,
    Awesome fundamentals. If every real estate professional followed these tips they would have their website soaring. It just takes an attention to detail that truly is possible by each agent.

    BTW, the tip on “Optimize your site for your audience, not for the search engines.” is one that I think takes alot of pressure off of writing your content for both real estate websites and blogs. Once you write your pages (and posts) for your audience, you can always go back and do some mild optimization, but just keeping in mind that search engines don’t buy homes makes life a whole lot easier 🙂

  25. Lisa Sanderson

    September 10, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Wow, thanks for the tips! And thanks for making them seem fairly easy to implement, and for not blowing my mind with jargon. Now, if you could just wait a few weeks to post the next set , I’d be grateful to have the time to absorb these and put them in to practice. ~Lisa

  26. Mike Mueller

    September 10, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Jack-
    in all seriousness, wonderful stuff.
    Headlines, smaller bylines, photo names, alt tags, captions and text.
    Writing for the reader not the search engine.

    (I just didn’t want the serious comments to get lost in our silliness) (and I still suck)

  27. Jack Leblond

    October 9, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Update: In the original article I used the following sentence: “Do not ever have words in your title that are not used somewhere on that page – most search engines look upon this as spam and will likely drop you.”

    A more accurate wording would be: “Do not ever have words in your title that do not support the ideas and concept of the page.” For example, do not have a page about a home listing with a title of “Brittany Spears Does It Again!” – That would be bad (Unless it’s her home you have listed). However, if you title was “Jack Leblond is NOT a Realtor”, and the page explained why Jack is not a Realtor, without actually using that exact phrase – that would be OK.

  28. Sharleen Kutrumbis

    December 16, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Thank you for this helpful article. I have been battling this with my site and this gives me very easy information to follow-up on.

  29. Michelle Minch, Moving Mountains Design

    May 23, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    A lot of SEO gems here. One that I have found particularly useful, and that I will now start doing is describing your images with ALT tags and the best way to name images. I’m using ALT tags, but didn’t name the photos in an SEO friendly way. Thanks for the tips!

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