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The power of Google

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Whatever you do, don’t mess with the $200 billion giant. As LUCINDA SCHMIDT reports, using dirty SEO tricks to try to improve your ranking on Google always ends in disaster.

By Lucinda Schmidt

The power of Google

Whatever you do, don’t mess with the $200 billion giant. Using dirty SEO tricks to try to improve your ranking on Google always ends in disaster.

There’s no point fighting it. Google’s increasing dominance of the on-line world means any business hoping to attract internet traffic has little choice but to keep sweet with the number one gateway to the net’s vast commercial potential.

The good news is that there are plenty of fairly basic and inexpensive ways for SME owners to maximise their results on the internet, according to Karim Temsamani, the general manager of Google Australia and New Zealand.

The even better news is you don’t need to be a computer geek, spouting off about “bots” and “crawlers” and “PRs” (page rankings). Sure, search engine optimisation plays a role, but there are plenty of other “non-SEO” strategies, including having a useful, well-structured website, getting a free listing on Google Maps, and exploring sponsored links via Google AdWords (see Temsamani’s eight tips at the end of this story).

Is it worth the effort? Well, yes. “If you do have an online strategy, Google is probably the most important company you’ll deal with,” says Martin Kelly, the editor of www.searchengineroom.com.au. He estimates that Google is responsible for more than 60% of internet searches globally – and more than 90% in Australia.

Kelly also estimates that Google scores more than 90% of Australian companies’ ad spend on search engine marketing. And its power is growing. The American parent company recently reported revenue of $US5.19 billion for the three months to 31 March, up a whopping 42% on the first three months of 2007. Its market capitalisation is around $US182 billion.

On those sorts of figures, it’s really not worth messing around with Google. Companies that break its unofficial slogan of “do no evil” risk being completely blacklisted (known as “Google death”, where even typing your domain name in Google yields nothing). A lesser – but still severe – penalty is having your page rank reduced substantially.

Those punishments are for trying to manipulate page rankings by techniques such as “link farming”, where groups of companies have web links to each other purely to score highly on Google’s PageRank algorithm. Other so-called “black hat” SEO techniques include keyword loading and “cloaking” (where a text-heavy page sprinkled with keywords attracts the attention of the search engine, but redirects users to a different page).

In 2006, German car giant BMW suffered (temporary) Google death after its page rank was reduced to zero when Google discovered BMW had manipulated search results for “used car” by cloaking. It was reinstated after it removed the offending pages.

How do you know if you’ve crossed Google? It’s pretty obvious, according to Yaro Starak, globetrotting Australian blogger and founder of www.entrepreneurs-journey.com. “You stop receiving traffic,” he says, adding that more than 50% of the traffic to his websites comes from Google.

(In February, internet measurement company Hitwise reported that Gocompare.com had suffered an 87% slump in search traffic for “car insurance” after Google detected “irregular inbound links”.)

“In terms of how to get back in, it really depends what you did,” Starak says. “Sometimes a couple of small changes to your site and then a request to Google will do it. Other times nothing will help.”

Last year, Sydney internet marketing company Found Agency dropped from page one to page three in organic search ranking, causing a substantial drop in its traffic. “It happened, it’s unfortunate, but we’re back,’ says Tim McDonald, the chief executive of Found Agency. “The lesson is; don’t push it.”

Even if you’re playing by the rules, you can still drop down the page ranking. And there’s usually not much you can do about it, according to McDonald. Although Google often changes its search algorithms, your page rank drop could be because a competitor has improved their site and moved ahead of you in page ranking.

“There’s only 10 positions on the front page of Google,” McDonald says. “People can get a bit hung up on it.” He says the focus should be on building a good website with excellent content and creating a buzz online.

It’s something all the Google experts agree on. “I can’t emphasise enough that the first step is to get the online strategy right,” says Kelly. “There’s a lot of very ordinary websites out there – many run by SMEs, that don’t even talk to the customer let alone the search engine robots.”

 

From the horse’s mouth; Google’s tips for maximising your internet results

  1. Make pages for users, not for search engines. Create a useful, information-rich site that others will link to, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
  1. Avoid “tricks” intended to improve search engine rankings. A useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  1. Search engine optimisation firms can be good advisers, but check their reputation first, as a few unethical SEO firms have given the industry a black name with their attempts to unfairly manipulate search engine results.
  1. Keep the content on your site fresh and updated, to encourage repeat visitors and higher web visibility.
  1. Check out Google’s Webmaster Console, which provides you with a free way to diagnose problems and make your site more Google-friendly.
  1. Make sure you have a free listing in Google Maps via the Local Business Centre. This helps users locate your business, phone number and other information about your business.
  1. Explore Google AdWords. It’s easy and measurable advertising. Many Australian small businesses are using the advertising program as a sort of matchmaking service for new customers they might otherwise not reach.
  1. Think about signing up for Google AdSense, which enables you to place “ads by Google” on your site and earn online advertising revenue.

Source: Karin Temsamani, Google Australia

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