This topic has been covered many times,including by me, but I continue to get asked this question. Recently I finished a brand new website for someone who does commercial photography (service changed to protect the client). The company name was Jane Doe Photos (name changed again to protect the client). Within 24 hours of the site going live, you could do a search on “Jane Doe Photos” and their site was the first one listed on Google! Not bad to go from zero presence to number one for their company name in less than a day! But the problem is that unless someone is specifically searching for “Jane Doe Photos”, their site would never appear. And most likely someone is going to search for “Commercial Photography”, not “Jane Doe Photos”.

And this was her question. Only two weeks after her site went live, she wanted to know why she didn’t come up when you did a search for “Commercial Photography” when her competitors did. The problem is of course that search engines are kind of like the chicken or the egg question – if you are driving a lot of traffic to your site, then Google will put you are the top of the list, which then drives more traffic to your site.

This was my reply:

Hi Jane Doe,
Google has over 250 variables that it uses to determine who gets listed in their results, but I’ll tell you about a couple of the most important ones.

1.) The number one thing Google looks at is the number of links pointing back to your website from other websites. The keywords used in the link are a “vote” for your website for those keywords. So if you want to get listed for “commercial photography”, you need to get lots of other sites pointing to your website where the link to your website is for those keywords. Here is an example:

ABC company relies on Jane Doe for many of it’s commercial photography projects.

Notice that I’m not hyperlinking your website name, I’m using the words “commercial photography” to link to your website. If this appears on ABC company’s page, they have essentially voted for you for those keywords. The more votes you get for those keywords, the higher your placement on Google!

2.) Once someone lands on your page for a link like this, the page that the link points to needs to be about commercial photography. That is why it is critical to have written content on your pages – not just a bunch of photos. If Google follows a hyperlink and it points to page that doesn’t talk about the keywords in the link, the value of that link is diminished. Each page has to contain relevant content. Your goal is not to get your site listed on the first page of Google, but rather to get each and every page listed on Google. Google doesn’t rank websites, it ranks web pages.

3.) While it would be great to have all of your clients and prime contractors link to you, it turns out that you can create many of these back links to your site yourself. This is done through blogging and social media posts. All of this takes time, but you can “vote” for yourself. Besides creating these links, blogging, social media, and email campaigns also drive traffic to your website, and the amount of traffic that your website gets is another variable that Google looks at when it determines who to list on the first page. If your site has lots of links and gets lots of traffic, Google assumes it must be pretty important for the type of content you are presenting.                                .

4.) A note about these back-links: the votes are “weighted”. It turns out that its not just the number of votes you get, but who you get them from. Kind of like the Oprah effect – a link from Oprah counts more than a link from me. A link from the American Society of Commercial Photographers site back to your site will likely be more helpful than a link from your neighbor’s facebook page. The quality of the link also matters, especially from sites that have been around a long time and a relevant to your site.

5.) Which leads us to another variable that Google looks at in its page-ranking algorithm: length of time that a website has been in existence. While newer (fresh) content is perceived as more valuable than old (stale) content, websites that have been around for a long time have a higher preference than ones that were just created. There isn’t much you can do here – spend the next year building back links and creating great content and you may eventually be able to pass your competitors. If you can get more votes (back-links) than your competitors, you may eventually be able to pass them even though your site is newer.

Hopefully this simple explanation helps you work on better placement for the pages on your website. Remember: Build lots of quality back links pointing to pages with high quality content for the keywords used to link to your page. Do this and the search engines will take care of themselves.