This is the number one question I’m asked. The answer? It’s complicated.

My small business clients, rightfully so, want to appear on the first page of Google. Well, it’s a lot more complicated than you would think but certainly do-able depending on what you’re going for. There are some ground rules to understand before myself or anyone else can help you achieve first page Google results. What I find is that most small business website owners have no idea how the system works and need some simple guidance to re-think what they are actually trying to make happen.

Question: “Can you get my on the first page of Google?”

Answer: “It depends”.
The question I will ask you back is, “Get you on the first page of Google results for what?”

The thing is, your site doesn’t just magically appear on the first page of Google without some very specific strategies in place. Where you start is by being able to clearly define, “Be on the first page of Google for what keywords?”.

The big picture for getting on the first page of Google goes like this.

(1) You figure out what keywords people are actually putting into Google to look for what you’re offering.
(2) You optimize your site based on these findings, including the content you write and how you write it.
(3) You monitor and track results.
(4) You tweak your wording and optimization strategies.
(4) You monitor and track results.
(5) Rinse and repeat.

See how that probably changes your thinking? All of my customers are smart, successful business owners. Without exception, it was surprising news to them to discover this is how it works. Once you understand this basic principle, that you need to understand what people are actually LOOKING for before you write your content, it informs the way your site is developed in so many important ways. Your content, text links and navigation menus should be based on your research about what people are actually looking for. I use Wordtracker to do my keyword research. It gives you invaluable insight as to which keywords people are actually searching.

That being said, what Google really cares about is good, REAL, valuable content and plenty of it. This is the reason we all use Google to search the internet right? They’ve done a brilliant job of returning relevant results, so much so that we rarely bother trolling past the first page because we’ve come to trust that what we’re looking for is likely on the first page. What that means to you if you want to be in one of those coveted first page positions, is that your content has to rock. Period. Does it have to be written by an award winning novelist or English professor? No, of course not, but it must, must, must be relevant, real and substantial enough to be meaningful to a reader and that makes it valuable in the eyes of Google.

Semantic search

Google has been dedicated to providing valuable, relevant results since its inception. The current operating theory is less keyword focused and more “what’s this site really about and what is the user actually looking for?” as what’s known as “semantic search”. It’s the new buzzword in the search engine world and definitely worth understanding. The bottom line is, create valuable content and give the user what they are actually looking for. You can read more about semantic search and what it means for the way you develop a web site.

How much is enough content?

Well, if you have less than ten pages of 1500 words per page, the odds of seeing your site on the first page of results is slim. Factor in the competitiveness of your targeted keywords or industry competition on Google to have a better sense of your changes. Are you targeting keywords in an industry for which there are tons of sites already there? Then you have to ask yourself, why would Google bump me up above them? The answer is two fold, and plenty of great content is one of them.

The second part is “back links” which can be really daunting. Google puts a lot of weight on how many links are pointing TO your site from other RELEVANT sites. It does you no good (and using something like a link farm can really hurt you) to have your Mom’s blog about sewing point to your technology review site. None. Forget about it. But find some other folks who have a similar or related site with a lot of traffic to link to your site and you start to matter to Google.

Above all, be sure you’re really writing to your audience, not trying to please Google. What Google really wants is good content. That means REAL content, not stilted, oddly constructed sentences designed to hit the right ratio of keywords to non-keywords. Write naturally, be yourself, engage your audience and implement basic search engine optimization strategies for the best results.

Want to read more? This is a great article and resource on current best practices for search engine optimization.