Google holds the title of world's most powerful search engine with comScore reporting an estimated 13 billion searches in July of this year compared to next largest competitor, Bing, with 3.5 million. It's no wonder why businesses of all sizes are allocating significant financial and labor resources toward improving their Google search rankings, a practice called search engine optimization, or SEO.
There are above-board strategies for improving your search ranking and there are underhanded strategies. Violate Google's guidelines and the penalties can be swift and severe. A couple of years ago, Overstock.com was penalized by Google for offering discounts to students in exchange for providing links to its site on their school websites. Search Engine Watch reported the brand saw web traffic drop 32 percent for several months after the infraction.
Remember that Google's objective is to ensure its users quickly find quality content and relevant ads. Focus on building the best website for your targeted customers and you're in good shape. "Game" the system and you're apt to eventually lose. Steer clear of these punishable offenses or risk significant reductions in your brand's rankings.
Take a lesson from Overstock.com and never purchase or otherwise financially reward inbound links to your site. It's an underhanded strategy that drives unqualified traffic likely not at all interested in what your brand offers.
Avoid irrelevant or flimsy content. If you post superfluous content that is unrelated to your business in an attempt to drive mass traffic, Google will notice. Similarly, if your web pages have too little content, Google won't find your brand to have subject matter expertise. Strive for a balance between providing enough content to earn Google's attention and providing so much content that users struggle to navigate your site.
Avoid duplicate content. If the search giant determines your site carries content found elsewhere, your ranking will suffer.
Don't add behind-the-scenes keywords that are unrelated to your content. While keywords aren't as important to Google as they used to be, the search engine will ding you if you include keywords that aren't related to your site or if you repeat the same keyword multiple times to trick the system.
Avoid title stacking and hidden text. Adding multiple title tags to a page won't win you any friends at Google; one title per page is preferred. Equally distasteful is any attempt to hide keywords by making the font the same color as the background color on your page.
Be sure you're not dismissing social media as a search strategy. If your brand is absent from social media, it's not likely to rank as highly. Google looks to social sites, Google+ in particular, to determine your brand's authority and credibility.
Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover, a sales training and marketing firm based in Memphis, Tennessee, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).