Articles Archives - Jim Dugan

Why isn’t my site showing up in a Google search?

OK, not my site. My site shows up well. Do a search for “photographer Camden Maine” to find out.

A friend asked why her site wasn’t showing up in a Google search. The first thing to ask about this is “What search terms were you using?” She was using the terms that best summed up what she does (let’s say it’s “widget design”), plus “Maine” which is where she is. And she was nowhere in Google’s results, which is bad.

“Search Engine Optimization” is a whole field, separate from web design, and I don’t claim to be an expert. The basic steps as I understand and practice them are:

1. figure out your keywords

What is some stranger who does not know your name or business name typing into Google to find you? This will include all permutations of your products or services and possibly your geographic location. So it might be “Maine widget design” but there are bound to be other words that will lead those customers to you.

2. sprinkle said keywords on your website

Anywhere will do, at least it’s better than not having them there. But to do it right, put them in a. the page title and b. the h1 tag. Then maybe here and there in other places. More than anything, make sure that the page you are sprinkling with these keywords is actually ABOUT those keywords. Don’t sprinkle “lobster” on a page about boatbuilding. Avoid using images that are “pictures of words” as Google doesn’t recognize them. This bears repeating and emphasizing: those pages that are completely made up of pictures (even if they look like words to human eyes) cannot really be seen by Google. Put TEXT on your pages and make sure it’s relevant to searches. Most of this page is text but the logo at the top ( photography and web design in Maine) is an image, just pixels, and Google doesn’t really see it.

3. get people to link to you

Google considers incoming links hugely important, because a link is essentially a recommendation from someone.

4. wait

It’s hard but waiting is important several reasons. Google isn’t automatic, it takes time. And Google prefers sites that have a track record, so the longer a site’s been around, the better it ranks. Lots of sites do well largely because they’ve been around for years (that’s certainly the case with my site, at least in part; see below for another reason).

5. change your site often

Google likes fresh content, so keep changing things on a regular basis. This is one reason why blogging has exploded; it gives you fresh content as often as you feel like writing something.

6. check your ranking and adjust

Go back to number 1 and figure out what’s working or not working. Add or delete keywords, make sure your page is actually about the things it claims (in the title and h1) that it’s about.

There’s a LOT more to it than that but this is a beginning. Most people who have web sites don’t even think about this and it’s to their detriment.

The crucial thing to know about Google searches is: they are trying to deliver the most relevant page every time. So they like pages that are really about what they say they’re about. Don’t try to fool Google. Just try to describe the contents of the page as clearly as possible and make the content as satisfying for the end user as possible.

Perhaps most important of all: Deliver content that is fascinating, important and relevant. Do that and web surfers will like your pages and then Google will send more of them your way. (This, by the way, is another reason my site does well in search engines: I offer more than just a sales pitch. I also have the Maine Photographers’ Directory, and have had it for years. If you’re looking for a photographer in Maine, Google will show you that page because a. it’s been around a while, b. it has lots of content, c. lots of people have linked to it.)

In real estate, the three most important things are: location, location, location.

On the web, it’s: content, content, content.

Why WordPress?

I’ve been creating WordPress sites for clients for a while now and I become more impressed all the time with the many options in this open-source blogging software. “Blogging software” is really selling it a little short.

Yes, it started as simple blogging software and its transformation into a content-management system (CMS) has at times been a bit kludgy. But I’d maintain that the WordPress community has elevated it above the rest, making a system that balances ease of use with a reasonable feature set.

More elaborate systems (Drupal comes to mind) are arguably much more powerful but I’ve found that their interfaces are intimidating, especially for new users. And most users don’t need all the features, so are better off with a simpler solution.

So I decided to spend a bit of time on my own site, converting it to WordPress to make it:

  • more consistent
  • easier to update
  • more search-engine friendly
  • more modern

Why a pre-packaged theme?

First an explanation of themes. WordPress (like other CMSs) uses a database and a series of files to determine how content gets delivered. This is, mostly, not modifiable. But how the content looks on the page is largely determined by a modifiable set of files called a theme. The theme can contain images and stylesheets and HTML code, all of it designed to determine layout, color, type treatment, etc.

I’ve built WordPress themes from scratch and done it well. I’ve modified other people’s themes just fine too. What I had never done is bought a theme. This is the exception. When I saw the theme Atlantica from Brandon Jones, I thought it had the elements I needed: good basic arrangement of information with a solid set of gallery functions (mostly for my photography).

For only $30, I got a theme where most of the work was done, allowing me to concentrate on design and content. I still have complete control but I’ve saved myself lots of time by letting someone else build the basics for me.

And, to be honest, I wanted to be able to look under the hood and see how a “premium theme” (one that costs money) is built and maybe how it differs from the free ones I’ve worked with.

One of the best things is tech support. I’ve been exchanging emails with the designer, suggesting changes and corrections. I promise I haven’t been a nuisance and I won’t be. He’s been receptive and complimentary. I’m not sure I’d expect that from someone I didn’t send money to.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how we are coming to expect things being free. And I’m as guilty as the next person. But we all know the value of paying for something.

Someone once asked me why they should hire a web designer when they could “just download some free software and do it myself?” I think the real answer is that we hire professionals not for the tools they have but for the mistakes they’ve made and learned from. You own scissors; do you cut your own hair?