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Monday, November 17, 2008

Forget about Google

No matter how you look at it, everyone with a website is swimming upstream, hoping to become highly popular or the go-to place for some specific information or category of information. An undue amount of attention has been put on Google rankings, because people think that's how they will get popular; if Google lists them near the top of the list.

Over the years, the healthy swimmers have devised and acted on dozens of "get-ranked-quick" schemes, as I like to call them. But Google is a well funded entity with more internet tech's than you'll ever be able to afford. And they have a goal which is likely counter to yours: List the most popular and appropriate web sites for the searched information. They are constantly finding out what is interfering with their algorithms, and neutralizing the problem. As we work to outsmart them we are just helping them debug their system.

So what's the answer then?

I say, forget Google, or at least put them to the back of your mind for now, and ask "What would it take to really BE the most popular web site for the category I serve?"

To help think tank this idea, ask yourself "If I had $20,000 to spend on making this the best web site ever, what would I do?" Build an entire business plan around that, and leave out any SEO funding for now. Chances are you'd have a hard time spending it all, and you'd have an amazing attractive, full-featured site that was exactly what people want when they search your category, along with some over-the-top functionality even THEY wouldn't have thought of. They'd bookmark it, tell their friends about it, and use it frequently.

You don't have $20,000, but that number was just to get you to stop limiting yourself. A lot can be done for little or no money and the willingness to miss your favorite TV show while you hunker down and get to work.

The irony is that if the "get-ranked-quick" crowd had done this instead of chasing temporary ranking highs, they'd be a solid contender with a "real" google popularity that will never go away. The temporary and mechanical ways to get some notice will always fade, but if you make your quality and user experience the priority, then any google notice you manage to get will translate to a permanent following, and free you from chasing after ways to fool Google.

Then, with each new level of your site's improvement, do a little promotional effort, or even hire an SEO guy you trust to keep the PR fires burning while you concentrate on making a site that's PR-worthy. Listing your site in some directory may get you a temporary spot in Google's limelight, but if you get visitors who say "Wow, this is great" They will "digg" you, "stumbleupon" you and tag you as "del.icio.us."

"If you build it they will come" is not entirely true. People still need to find out you built it. But if it's good enough, all you have to do is prime the pump, and then watch as it takes on a life of it's own. I post links to some of my favorite sites fairly often. One such site is switchplanet.com, a DVD and Game trading site. Yes they spend some time "getting the word out" but first they built a fantastic site. I have never met the owner, but I like their site well enough to link to it. He has a full time job like most of us, but he and his wife built this site, and then never stopped adding features. A DVD trading site with forums, user movie ratings, interest groups that you can found or join, and he never stops building. It's an amazing effort really, but it's the kind of thing anyone can do if they just keep at it.
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