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Ranking well in the Search Engines:

There are a lot of misconceptions about how search engines operate, and what to do to get listed in the first few pages of search results. I’ll try and explain what search engines do, how they do it, what they look for, and what YOU need to do to be found in them. One thing important to understand is that being included in the search results for any major search engine is not a very quick process unless paying for inclusion.

How does a Search Engine Work?

Search engines “spider” (search through) the internet using “bots” (robot like automated searchers). They use complicated formulas called algorithms in order to determine what is relevant enough to add to their database, and where to rank it under what search terms. They have different bots for different purposes. To complicate things, in order to keep up with the spammers on the internet, the Search Engines are constantly changing these algorithms in order to improve search results. So, whats the hot thing in Search Engine Optimization today may not be so hot tomorrow, and methods used to "trick" the search engines to get higher rankings today may cause a site to be penalized tomorrow. The best thing to do is to stick within the search engine’s guidelines, and not try to be too tricky. There are, however, many things we can do to help improve our rankings which will always work. First though, we have to get into the search engine database.

How do I get listed by the search engines?

Years ago it was possible to just submit your site to the search engines and they would eventually list you in their database. Now, it doesn't work that way anymore. The only search engine worth submitting to that still allows free submissions is Google, but that is not actually the best way to get into their database. It can take many months, and there is no guarantee that they will spider your site and put it into the database. It is not worth submitting to the hundreds of small unknown search engines because all that will get you is lots of spam in your mailbox. There are only a very few search engines you need be concerned with.

The way search engines prefer to find and list new content on the internet is to find it themselves through links from other sites. Google, for instance, has a special bot which searches the internet for new content, following links. If the new content is determined to be something that should be added to the database, it is, and then a different bot visits that site every once in awhile to keep the database current. This means the quickest way to get listed is to get some links coming to your site from other popular related sites. I can link to you as a start, and I will also submit your site to Google.

Yahoo charges $299 a year just to be considered for inclusion in their database (no guarantee). You can get into their search results without paying that fee, but it takes some time. To get into the first pages of results in any of the search engines will take some time. Even after they spider your site and put it into their database, it can take weeks or even months before you will climb up into the top results unless you have a really unique search term and have other popular related sites linking to you. It is possible to advertise in the search engines for quick exposure, but be prepared to spend several hundred dollars a year to do that.

The next thing to be concerned about regarding search engines is optimizing your site for them .... which means the code needs to be constructed in a way that is search engine friendly, and your text needs to be written not only for your customers, but also for the search engines. I’ll take care that the code is written properly with search engines in mind, but it is YOUR job to write the text, and have it optimized for the search engines.

What does a search engine consider important when ranking my site?

Some of the most important things are (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. The way the pages are coded
  2. The page Title
  3. The page Headings
  4. Page Content - the first 250 words of text on the page are most important
  5. Keywords and Keyword phrases
  6. Links coming to your site from other popular related sites.
  7. The Home Page text is considered the most important, but all pages taken together help determine ranking.

Some things that are NOT important and not considered in ranking your site are things which the bot skips over by intention, and does not see, which includes things like Flash presentations and images. Making the site pretty and having lots of photos and other images might be nice for people who visit your site, but it is of no help with the search engines. They see only the basic structure of your site, and the text – with certain text being deemed as more important for ranking than other text on the page, with the Home Page being the most important.

What are Keywords and Keyword Phrases, and what is the difference?

Keywords are the individual words that people might put into the search engine to find Vacation Rentals like yours. Keyword Phrases are the phrases they might use to do a search. Rarely would someone looking for a Vacation Rental like yours put in only one word to do a search – that would bring up too many unrelated sites. They would put in several keywords.
So, the keywords are words people would enter into the search engines to find sites like yours, and the phrases would be the exact words and order of the words they use for an inquiry (which is very important, since sites with the exact words in the exact word order as the search terms usually will rank higher than others).
What you need to do is determine what words people would put into a search engine to search for a rental like yours, and have those same words in the same order in your headings and text. For example, if you have a vacation rental in Maui, you might determine that most people would put “Maui vacation rental” into the search engine to find a vacation rental there. It would then be important to have that phrase in your headings, and in your text. Also put in your text any other phrases which people might use to search with, such as “Vacation rental in Maui” and “Maui vacation home rental” or “Maui condo rental, “Maui beachfront rental” etc. etc …. Whatever you think would be the most common phrases people would search for. If your page has the exact phrase as used in a search by someone, you will come up higher in the search results than other pages which do not have that phrase, all other things considered equal.

How can I determine which Keywords and Keyword phrases to use?

Most of the time you can guess at what people would put into a search engine to find sites like yours. A better way is to use THIS TOOL (be patient while it loads) to see what search terms are actually being used in searches. To use this too, put in a search word or phrase you think is appropriate, hit "Enter" on your computer, wait a few moments, and it will show you how many searches were done last month in Yahoo, and also give you some suggestions for other search terms. The results will be similar in Google, just the numbers would be larger.

How do I write text to rank high for MY Vacation Rental?

There are several things to consider here.

  1. Keywords and Keyword phrases - The most important keyword phrases should go into the Headings. Also sprinkle those phrases and others into your page text, but don’t overdo it. It should still read naturally.
  2. How much text – Generally you need at least 250 words on a page for it to be considered important enough to possibly rank. This means you should have some good descriptive text on at least most of your pages, and they should contain a scattering of your keywords and keyword phrases. A site which has only one page with a significant amount of text on it is at a great disadvantage. Try to emphasize different keyword phrases on different pages if possible. Have some descriptive text on your Photo Gallery Page with each photo.
  3. Write for People AND Search Engines - Generally when one writes text for web sites, you must consider not only the people who might want to come to your site, but also the search engines who will spider your site and categorize and rank it according to the content.

Why are links important?

To get Listed - The quickest and most sure way of getting into the search results is to have the search engine bots find your site through links from other sites.
To get higher in the rankings – The more links you have from popular related web sites, the higher you will be ranked. Notice the words “popular related web sites”. The popularity and quality and relevance of the sites which link to you are far more important than the number of links to you. Do NOT try to get links from free for all link farms full of unrelated links …. this won’t help and could hurt.
To get more traffic to your site – If you have links coming to your site from popular related sites, chances are you will get some people following those links to your site.

Links coming to your site are at least as important as the text on your site, and maybe even more so. It is a lot of work to get links, but it is the one thing you can do that will pay off the most.

How can I get links coming to my site?

There are many ways to get links. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask people you know or do business with who have related sites if they would link to yours. A personal call usually gets better results than an email. You may need to promise a reciprocal link to their site from yours.
  2. Join local organizations like the Chamber of Commerce or a Visitor’s Bureau which has a web site and can link to you.
  3. Put your rental into Vacation Rental directories which allow at least a free trial and allow a link to your web site. Search for other related directories to which you can get a link from (some of these may require a payment).
  4. Do searches related to your area, and see if there are any web sites for businesses which do not compete with you which might exchange links with you.
  5. See who is linking to your competition, and try to also get a link from those sites. To see who is linking to any site, put into the Yahoo Search Box and do a search for: link:http://www.example.com -site:www.example.com (of course replace “example.com” with the actual web site name). There is a similar method with Google, but Google only gives you a few of the actual backlinks so I won’t include it here.

Some final tips on writing good content:

Make sure you divide up your text with headings because they increase the readability, and are important places to have good keywords for the search engines. The more good text sprinkled with plenty of your keyword phrases the better for the search engines, but at the same time for the benefit of people it should sound like the words are coming from a person lovingly describing their prized possession. In other words, have lots of your keyword phrases, but not at the expense of sounding natural.

For a vacation rental, usually the more personal sounding you can make it, the better it comes across, such as saying "I" and "you" a lot. Describe how they would enjoy being there in glowing detail. There is also a need for the short, clear and concise ... and that is why it is important to have the "At a Glance" bullets in the sidebar. That makes it easy to see exactly what it's all about without reading through a lot of stuff. This makes a good combination. Ideally, you need both the short and concise along with the expanded detail.


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