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BY PAUL QUENEAU
“You’ve got to put the hay down where the cows can get it!” so said Jerry Brown, our dean when I was in journalism school. It’s certainly true for the World Wide Web. The snazziest site in the world will do you no good if no one can find it.
Google makes a point of being mysterious when it comes to the hows and whys of its search results. That’s beautifully democratic in a way; a person or company can’t just buy their way to the top of the search listings. But as powerful as Google is for Web searching, it can make you feel powerless when trying to decipher just how to get your site listed prominently.
Here are a few simple tricks that will do much to improve your standing with the big G:
1. Preeminent domain: Your website’s address — aka domain name — can propel it to the top for a particular search query. For instance, search for “elk photography” on Google, and the second listing is www.elkphotography.com. There isn’t a single elk photo on the site — it’s simply the photographer’s last name. Yet it illustrates just how much Google values the words contained in a Web address. If you’ve already chosen a domain name or prefer to stick with something less specific, don’t despair: try setting up some subdomains. These put a term before your domain name, i.e. elkphotography. yourdomain.com. Match your subdomains with the terms folks would use to find you, and Google will view them as golden search tickets.
2. Content is king: Google is its pretty good at judging if you have anything useful to say. Stock your site with diverse, interesting information about the subjects you cover and Google will take notice and boost you in its hierarchy. It also seems to place a big value on how-to and where-to articles. For photos and videos, though, it hasn’t a clue to the actual quality, so take time to write descriptive captions, include extensive keywords in actual site text (not just image metadata!), use image file names that match the content (bull-elk-fighting-0342.jpg), and last but not least, descriptive alt text (the text that appears as an image is loading). It should go without saying, but don’t plagiarize information from other sites. Google places a premium on original content anyway. However, posting pertinent press releases related to your site’s main themes is fair game and may boost your valuable-info index.
3. Map it out: Create a logical hierarchy to your site, grouping similar pages together in sections and subsections. Place text links to most if not all of the main pages on your site in a tiny font at the bottom of each page. It’s also valuable to have a sitemap page containing all the links on your site laid out like a family tree. Most website software can create this for you, and once you have your sitemap you can submit it to Google using its webmaster tools. (http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/)
4. Employ sticky words: What would someone type to find your site? Write it down and make sure those words appear prominently in your content. Pay special attention to the titles of your pages — the text that appears above the buttons on your browser window. Don’t go overboard with 300 keywords as Google will disregard them, but craft concise descriptions into your page titles about the subject of each page.
5. Get linked: I didn’t put this first because in my experience it’s not nearly as important as some sites might lead you to believe. Yes, getting other sites to link to yours will help Google find you, and having many other sites linking to yours will boost your ranking. However, your time is better spent on the recommendations above. Start by submitting your site to Google at http://www.google.com/addurl.html. Google will then know you exist, and once it sees you have valuable information to offer, it will take heed.♦
— Paul Queneau grew up in Colorado hunting, fishing and backpacking. He started with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine as an intern and is currently the conservation editor. Contact him at pqueneau@RMEF.org