**** First a friendly disclaimer: – There are actually many more factors involved in determining the ranking of sites in the search engines. These two however are the main factors. Also, I’m really trying to simplify things for the average SME owner / manager.

So, with that out of the way, the two main factors in your site ranking in the Search Engines, particularly Google, are: Your Site Content and Links to your site.

Let’s look at them individually.

Your Site’s Content

The content on your site is what is going to tell the search engines exactly what your site is about and will indicate how relevant you are to your industry and key phrases.

Ideally, your content will be be highly relevant to the keywords you are trying to rank for and ultimately the traffic and visitors you are trying to acquire.

You content has to be useful to your visitors, well written and it helps a lot (with the search engines and your visitors) to have other media in there like images and videos.

Here are the main elements of your site content:

Headings:

onpage-content-componentsThe headings and sub headings on your pages not only tell your visitors what the site / page is about, they also tell the search engines what it is about. Make sure they are clear and concise and that your web developer has put in the correct heading tags ( <h1><h2> etc.) – they don’t just style the heading text, they also indicate that text as headings to the search engines.

Text Content:

Obviously the rest of the text content on your page. This does not include any text that is part of navigation elements or usually not text that is in the page template on each page. It is the text in the body of the page.

This text is very important and must be well written. The search engines respond better if it is and most importantly, your visitors will be engaged and will be more likely to become customers.

Images and other Media:

From the search engines point of view, images and other media on your page add weight to the relevance of your site to your topic or industry – when it is actually relevant of course.
Make sure any images at least have descriptive “ALT” tags to assist Google in understanding what they are about.

For your visitors, images and videos etc, help with engagement and providing a great user experience.

Title and Description Tags

Strictly speaking, these aren’t content but I want to include them as they are important in search visibility, are relevant to the page content and are very easy for you to control.

Title and Description Tags

Strictly speaking, these aren’t content but I want to include them as they are important in search visibility, are relevant to the page content and are very easy for you to control.

Page Title:

page-title-descriptionThis is actually one of the most important SEO elements on your site’s pages.

When talking about the page title, we are not talking about a heading you see on the page – it is the title within your page. (within the title tags in the page source code).
While you don’t see it on the page, you do see it in the top bar in your web browser, and often as the title of the listing in the search engine where your page appears.

Description META tag:

The description tag is less important than the title tag but still should be done right. It has some influence on the search engines in determining the relevance of your site and it will often be displayed in the snippet in the search engines.

With anything you do in terms of content, the most important thing is that it is useful to your visitors and guides them in the right direction. It’s pointless if you visitors do not find what they need and leave your site.

Links to Your Site:

First, I am going to assume you understand the concept of links (Hyperlinks) on the internet – both within a site and externally. If not, see here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlink

Links from good relevant sites to your site help in improving your rankings. In fact, in even moderately competitive search terms these days, good links are critically important to getting great rankings.

Again, from a very high level perspective, Google, and other search engines, decide what your site is about by the content on it. The links to your site are what push it up the rankings.

They essentially act like votes for your site. Simply put, say you had 2 very similar sites. One has 2 links to it from other sites and one has 10. The one with 10 wins and will be higher in the search results. (again, there is a lot to this as not all links are equal, but you get the idea.)

A big part of a good SEOs job will be acquiring high quality links to your site. But, the thing is, according to Google’s guidelines, you are essentially not allowed to build links with the intention of manipulating the search results. This has caused a lot of issues in the SEO industry.

How are you supposed to get links?

The standard line is this: Just create great content and people will link to you. The reason you hear this is because that’s basically the Google guidelines. And, if you don’t comply with their guidelines, then you could end up in Google Hell. – see more on penalties here.

So now most SEOs will preach this kind of thing, while behind closed doors, they are actively building links – because they know, links are what actually drive the best rankings. Some are doing it well, and some are not.

So you have a choice:

You can sit there and wait for everyone to link to the great content on your site. Good luck to you.

Or you can be active in building links. Do it right and you’ll prosper and won’t suffer any penalties from the search engines. Do it wrong and you’ll be smacked Google – which honestly at the lower levels of the penalties isn’t actually much worse for your business than just sitting around and waiting for the link fairies to fly in and shower your site with magical traffic giving links.

Does Great Content Actually Get Great Links?

Short answer is yes. But it has to be really great to get you the kind of links you want from good sources. The things is, this kind of content in most cases when you are not doing it yourself is very expensive to create – vastly more than good link building.
(There are differing opinions on this, but in my experience this is the case)

Even really great content benefits from some outreach to create awareness to inturn earn links.

And, i’ll go a step further and say that (in my opinion) without an active link building campaign of some sort, you’re dead in the water – especially for the average small to medium business. Content generating type businesses like online publishers and blogs are a bit different.

You just have to be aware of what is likely to get your site penalised, and the things that Google is really pursuing at any given time.

If you do actively build links, make sure that you log any links you acquire, and make sure wherever possible they can be easily removed in the event you get hit for having unnatural links. This is probably the best advice you will ever get in terms of links building.

Search engines using links to determine search rankings isn’t perfect, but it’s by far the best practical way discovered so far. If you are interested, see this video by Matt Cutts on the SERPs with no links: