Becoming number one on Google

‘Become number one on Google’ – The dream of every website owner and titles like that grab people’s attention. What can you do to help achieve that dream without resorting to black hat techniques?

We have spoken before about the dangers of using black hat techniques to improve your sites ranking. But, what legitimate techniques can you use?

There is a lot you and your team can do to improve your placement on search engines. These fall into three broad categories:

  • Improving your site’s build
  • Improving your site’s content
  • Encourage quality links

Improving your site’s build

I have written before about how accessibility can also improve search engine placement. By avoiding content types that search engines find hard to access (like Adobe Flash), marking up content semantically and using appropriate ALT and title attributes, we make our sites easier to index. However, although these techniques ensure content is indexable, it does not mean search engines will discover that content in the first place.

The following will ensure Google (or other search engines) discover your content.

  • Create a clear hierarchy – Every page should be reachable from at least one other page of your site.
  • Use text links – Links between pages should be textual rather than use images, Flash or other unaccessible technologies.
  • Use short URLs – Some web addresses created by dynamically driven websites (such as those built using content management systems) cause problems for search engines. Shorter web addresses with less parameters (characters after the ? in the address), the more likely to be found.
  • Add a site map – Add a site map that includes links to the important content. However, try not to exceed 100 links on a page as this can cause problems.
  • Submit your site – A search engine will find your site through those who link to you. However, speed up the process by submitting your site for indexing. You can submit a site to Google here. You can also submit a site map using Googles Webmasters tools. This helps Google learn the structure of your site and increases the number of pages indexed.
  • Once search engines can access your website, you need to address the content.

    Improving your site’s content

    The most important consideration when writing copy for search engines is the inclusion of search terms. Before writing a page have a clear idea of what it is about and what search terms might use when searching for that subject. Next, incorporate them naturally into copy, headings, image alt attributes and the page title.

    Be careful not to use too many search terms. Two or three per page is adequate. If you use more, copy may become hard to read and the ranking of each individual term will be reduced.

    Do not stuff a page with search terms as you may be penalized. They should be incorporated naturally into your copy. Try reading your copy out loud. If it sounds like you are forcing the use of keywords it will require some rewriting.

    Ultimately all you need to do is write good copy. If it is well written and engaging it will also attract links.

    Encourage quality links

    If you already run a website, you will have probably received an email from somebody wanting to ‘exchange links’. The email may have explained that Google ranks pages by the number of incoming links.

    There is some truth in this claim. Google does partially rank pages based on the number of sites who link to you. However, this is not the whole story.

    In reality nobody but Google knows how they rank sites. Links are a factor but it is not just the quantity that matter. Google states that:

    The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating.

    Google looks at a number of factors:

    • The subject matter of the site linking,
    • The copy that appears in the link,
    • The popularity of the site linking,
    • The reputation of the site linking.

    It is rarely worthwhile responding to link requests, unless they come from a high profile website with appropriate content.

    It is however worth seeking links from relevant sites. Which sites would you like to appear on irrespective of the benefits to your ranking? Which sites do your target audience frequent? Getting featured on such sites provide benefits of their own, independent of the benefit to ranking.

    Will the above techniques get you to number one on Google? Possibly. It will certainly do your site no harm unlike many of the other techniques out there.

    This was another lovely little extract from my book – the website owners manual.

    • Excellent stuff……….its just too bad that folk don’t follow this instead of paying a heap for seo.

    • Hey Paul,
      I’d like to ask – in what way does a site map really help SEO? From my experience this is a misconception.
      An HTML site map is just another page, I have my doubts that search engines give them priority as there is no standard protocol to how they’re created (you could have anything on the page), and the links within are going to be spidered whether you have a site map or not. I have to wonder, if you need a site map for the search engines to find all your pages maybe you need to look over the general site navigation and work out where the real problem lies.
      There are benefits though – HTML sitemaps come in useful for human users, they’re an addition (and possibly an enhancement) to the site navigation helping them get what they want how they want.
      If the aim is to improve SEO then it’s the XML Sitemap you want to be using. Originally created Google and this has been adopted as a standard protocol by most of the major search engines. More info here:
      The thing is I regularly hear people claiming HTML sitemaps help SEO while neglecting to mention XML sitemaps and offering little evidence as to why/how the HTML version benefits your site.

    • Hi Paul, to expand a bit on your list, here’s a few SEO pointers:
      Use text links – Use meaningful text links.
      Just as “click here” links are bad for accessibility, so they are bad for SEO too. Search Engines try to garner as much information as possible about a page from it’s content and from the links pointing to it. The anchor text you use within an internal or external link is vital for providing that little bit of extra info and relevance.
      Use Short URLs – If possible, avoid parameters altogether. So called search friendly URLs will use mod_rewrite (or something similar) to create nice, word based URLs such as: – rather than –
      Wordpress and other publishing systems often offer this functionality out of the box. Make sure you use it.
      Add a sitemap – Unlike Ryan, I think that a HTML sitemap can help rankings, especially if you’re a new site with a lot of content. Search Engines can be slow to crawl a new site and find all of your juicy content. Providing links to it all from a single source can improve this.
      Similarly, as Ryan pointed out, an XML sitemap can be a good way to improve the ‘findability’ of your content, and has been shown to improve the crawl times of the the search engines; i.e. they come back and check out your website more often.
      Submit your site – Hmmm, do it for Google maybe, but your time would be better spent on looking for relevant links from external sites. Search Engines would much prefer to find links to your site rather than be told about it.
      Relevant links will often come from good content. Certain related websites may want to link to you, providing good content on your site will certainly improve your chances. Good content also increases the likelihood of making the top pages of the Social Bookmarking websites which in turn can lead to new, relevant links pointing to your website.
      Oh, and as you say, semantic mark-up can add emphasis to your content which again will help the Search Engines better understand our website.
      Here’s a few SEO no no’s too:
      1> Don’t hide text on the page in comments, hidden divs, or the ol’ white text on a white background trick. You’ll get away with it for a while, but when the Search Engines find it, you’ll quickly feel their wrath!
      2> Don’t use the same Meta Titles and Descriptions on all of your pages. Just as it will improve Accessibility, unique Titles and Descriptions will improve your chances of ranking highly.
      3> Try to reduce duplicate content on your site by writing good, unique content and by properly organising your site’s structure.
      4> Don’t court links from everyone and anyone. Try to keep links leading to your site relevant and on message. Avoid linking out to unrelated sites too. Keep links leading from your site to highly relevant, good sources which you feel your visitors will benefit from.
      5> Don’t let your content go stale. Keep your website up-to-date with new content and links to good resources. The Search Engines will thank you for it.

    • Great Content! Like with you other posts and podcasts you have a gift of explaining the (slightly) complicated stuff.
      The only point i would not give any really credit to is to submit your site to Google, you might as well spend those two minutes creating one backlink by trying to register your site with technorati, digg, etc. or posting a comment on a blog which allows your site links ;-)(if the blog followed the links!)
      also the extra contribution from chris is really good i hope you have not sent the chapter to the printers yet!

    • You forgot to mention the META Keywords Tag, Link Farms and Hidden Text .. all great SEO techniques.

    • Nice info, but whenever you write “I have written before about …” it would be helpful to have a link to the relevant article(s). Cheers.

    • nice post and will def help the novice. my opinion is that seo companies are a waste of money. just to stir things up ;-)

    • nice post and will def help the novice. my opinion is that seo companies are a waste of money. just to stir things up ;-)

    • nice post and will def help the novice. my opinion is that seo companies are a waste of money. just to stir things up ;-)

    • I wonder if this post is in any way related to the fact that the “Interesting Links” section now benefits from longer description text?
      Are you doing a few SEO tweaks yourself Mr Boag? Or am I reading too much into it :)
      Nice post.

    • Paul,
      First off – love the podcast.
      Yeah, you got most of it, for sure. I’d nix the submission part, unless you’re a brand new site…doing this for a living, I’ll throw in my insight. For 90% of businesses out there that have a website, simply correcting their title tags to reflect their actual service offerings and service area will dramatically boost their rankings. The key here is that the content does need to relevant to the title tag, readable by the search engines- and unique.
      Regarding flash, if you’re smart – you’re going to use it (within reason…inside a banner heading or a sidebar box, etc..). Google can absolutely parse out the text within the flash, as long as you don’t break it apart or use graphics for text – even if the text is buried within 3 movie clips and dynamically accessed. I know this to be true, as Google has pulled content from our flash sections and posted it in the description field for our search engine result listings. If you’re smart, you can really use this to your advantage. Experiment and be amazed.
      What’s most important though, is not just where the client ranks for a given term (though that can be a huge factor for how much traffic they get), but rather what that client does once they GET to their site. I see sites everyday ranking #1 for this or that, but when you click on them the content is so horribly organized or stuffed with keyword links that I leave and look for a site that addresses my needs, in a way that makes me perform an action – request more info, download a document, subscribe to a feed, etc…
      THAT is what SEOs and Web Designers SHOULD be focusing on, as that’s what is going to keep your clients happy. If I get them to #1 and send 100,000 more visitors a month, but they see no increase in sales or leads, etc…. how long before they get dissatisfied? However, if I increase the number of leads, contacts, email subscriptions, purchases, etc., NOW I can show the real value of the service, which means more money for us AND the client.

    • It is truly interesting, but does comments on blog count ?

    • Sushil Pandey

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