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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Better search engine optimization will improve your business

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver November 1-7, 2011 issue #1149 High Tech Office column

As a homeowner, if I needed a plumber in years past, I might open the Yellow Pages, scroll through the couple of pages of ads and listings and pick one, more or less at random.

Now, I’m more likely to “google” the phrase “plumber Vancouver.” That gets about 1,890,000 results. That’s too much to scan, so like most users I probably won’t go past the first page of hits.

If you’re a small business with a website, the “build it and they shall come” mantra isn’t good enough. As a result, there’s a mini-industry of companies promising to help with search engine optimization (SEO) – getting your website listed higher up in the listings on Google and other search engines – hopefully onto the first page.

Jeff Quipp is the founder and CEO of Toronto-based Search Engine People – which he claims is the largest Canadian SEO company. Its clients include Bell, Purolator and Scotiabank. At the recent SOHO|SME Expo, he explained the basis for Google’s “organic” rankings.
He noted that Google, Yahoo and Bing together account for about 97% of all web searches. Google alone gets about 80% of the search traffic. A search shows a combination of paid ads and non-paid organic listings; users click organic listings about 80% of the time.

How Google calculates its rankings is a company secret (and is always being tweaked), but SEO companies have tried to decrypt its PageRank algorithm. Quipp reported that Google combines some 300 variables to rank webpages. About 30% of the variables are based on characteristics and content within a webpage. The rest are “off-page” – links from other pages and more.

It’s easier to control what’s on your webpages than what others are saying about it. Overall, Quipp said sites with more content rank higher – as long as the content is unique and valuable. Don’t just copy and paste content that’s already available online. Note that Google now considers videos and images as content.

Most important – focus on key words: the words and short phrases that might be used in a search query. Brainstorm to build a comprehensive list. Then include those keywords in your website’s title (up to 63 characters), in your domain name, in the headings and structure of your page and in the first 50 to 100 words of text.

Don’t cheat! Invisible text (white words on a white background, for instance) is noted and can lower rankings. “Meta-descriptions” (text in the html code that isn’t displayed) are no longer used in Google’s PageRank score.

Off-page factors such as links to your site or what other websites say about you matter a lot but are harder to control. Quipp gave an example of how a search for the phrase “miserable failure” for a time gave a biography of George W. Bush as the top hit.

Once again, unique and valuable content comes into play. If our mythical Vancouver plumber’s website talked about common plumbing issues – perhaps short video clips showing how users could solve some of their own problems (and when to call a plumber) – others will start to refer to it.

Check references to competitors’ websites – www.majesticseo.com offers a free tool for this – then try to get your website listed in the same places.

Offer to exchange links with clients and suppliers: you link to my site, and I’ll link to yours. Propose link text that includes your key words. Send out press releases to media. Post to relevant blogs and offer guest content to trade publications and websites. Promote your site’s content with social media. Always include your website’s URL.

According to Quipp, the 30% “in-page factors” score has a maximum limit, but the “off-page factors” score doesn’t. As a result, the more links and references you can get to your website, the better. 

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