Goosing Google Search Rankings

There are ways to increase your company's standing in search results; getting duped by scam artists isn't one of them

Jena Houman has a question that's surely of interest to many business owners hoping to generate sales via the Web:

My husband and I have owned a natural stone business for 20 years. The majority of our new customers come to us through referrals and word of mouth. However, I would like to put some effort into getting more business through search engines. I talked to a consultant once and was told that they would write our Web site in the same language as Google's and that this would bring our page [higher rankings] in Google search. Is this true? Also, I was told that if we incorporate [related] articles, it would increase the probability of our Web site coming up first in searches. Do you think that is a good idea?

This is a very tricky business. PageRank, the mathematical approach Google (GOOG) uses to rank search results, is very well documented, and there are many tricks that can be used to boost a site's ranking. Google has made a number of tweaks over the years in a constant struggle with people who want to game the system, and these modifications are a tightly held secret.

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The idea of writing your Web site "in the same language as Google's" is either nonsense or completely trivial. The Web has a common language, called hypertext markup language, or HTML, and all pages are constructed in it.

The concept of adding links to your page is more reasonable. Links from your page to other sites and, more important, links from other sites to yours, are major determinants of PageRank scores. You can improve your standing through a judicious use of links to other, closely related sites, and by encouraging other related sites to link to yours.

There is an art to improving your site's ranking in search results—in industry parlance, search engine optimization (SEO)—and there are many consultants who can help you with it. Unfortunately, the field is also full of scam artists. I am not in a position to recommend SEO consultants, but I would suggest that you talk to other small-business people who have used such services and try to get one-on-one recommendations.

By the way, for anyone who wants to delve deeply into just how Google's PageRank works, I recommend Google's PageRank and Beyond: The Science of Search Engine Rankings by Amy Langville and Carl Meyer (Princeton University Press, $35). Some knowledge of linear algebra is required; the book includes a good appendix introducing the math, but if you are not familiar with the concept of an eigenvector, you're going to get lost pretty fast.

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