Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can be incredibly rewarding when you finally get what you’ve been working for: first-page positions for your best keywords. For me that means getting on the first page of results for the word "copywriter", so it’s gratifying that things are going well right now.
But I have to admit it was a long, hard slog to get there. SEO takes time! You can be optimising up to the eyeballs and getting all the high-quality backlinks you can find, only to see no change in your current position at the back-end of nowhere.
So why is that? Why is it that you can one day be nowhere for a keyword you’re trying to get seen for, then quite soon after – and without having done anything different to what you always do – be right up there with your competitors, fighting it out for top spot?
It’s to do with what’s called the sandbox. All the search engines, including Google, the most important one, use secret, time-based indicators that slow down your progress to the top. And they do this for good reasons; it’s not just to mess with your mind. One very important reason is so that they can be sure the sites they reward with good positions are legitimate. If they didn’t do that, it would be the easiest thing in the world to set up a fraudulent site – offering to "sell" designer goods, taking customers’ money and never actually sending anything, for example – optimise it up to the eyeballs with hundreds of inbound links and on-site SEO, grab top positions, then run off before the cops catch up with them.
The search engines also, to greater and lesser extents, like to check that you aren’t indulging in "black-hat" search engine optimisation practices. What’s "black-hat"? An old-school example would be if you were trying to optimise your site for, let’s say, the word "Gucci". You think to yourself, "Okay, how can I mention Gucci a zillion times and get all the optimisation benefits that will accrue without making the site unreadable? I know! I’ll write Gucci in white font over a white background at the bottom of the page!" Doing this would allow human readers to view what they think is a perfectly normal web page while at the same time giving the search engines, which look at websites in a completely different way to humans, many repetitions of the word "Gucci" – to the effect that the search engines are fooled into thinking the site they are looking at is an authority on the topic and reward it with a first-page position.
Well, the search engines are wise to that kind of mischief and will penalise you severely if you start to mess them around. But they need time to check through your code – which is why they make you wait. You can rank for your target keywords and keyphrases in a month or two in MSN, in four months or so in Yahoo, and in up to a year in Google. A year!
So what can you do about that? Well, if you’re in a real hurry the obvious solution is to use pay-per-click advertising. That’ll get you the position you want immediately. The only thing is, you’ll have to pay for it. I don’t know about you, but I just hate paying money. For anything! So I’m happy to wait.
This is what you should do:
- Make sure your on-site optimisation is all done.
- Get good-quality links coming in to your site. In other words, links that are relevant to your field, authoritative, and from trusted sources.
- Go and have a cup of tea.
- Go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.
- Get up the next morning, check your site to see what you can tweak, then go and get some more inbound links.
Then one day you’ll wake up, sleepily enter your site’s optimised search term into Google while fully expecting to be stranded on page 37, and the world will be a much better place when you’re number seven on page one out of five million results. And that’s when you’ll wish you had an identical twin you could kiss.
London Marathon 2009 Update: Sigh. It’s no good. The leg I injured back in September is better now – more or less – but still feels very fragile whenever I do anything adventurous on it. Like running. The rumour is that the London Marathon actually requires quite a lot of running, so I’m going to defer until 2010. But it’s going to happen, believe me! Thanks for all your support.