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Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Your search engine results: make new friends but keep the old

February 12th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

When you search on Google for your favorite keywords, such as your department name, you might be dissatisfied with what you see. “The top result from our site is our Contact Us page. That’s not even our home page. How can I get rid of it?”

Don’t even try to get rid of it! Believe me, search engine optimizers spend a lot more time complaining on their SEO forums about pages with no ranking than about pages with the wrong ranking. They spend a lot more time complaining, “How come Google hasn’t indexed any of my pages?”

Be grateful for what you’ve got. It’s sometimes hard to get pages into the Google index. It’s often harder to get them ranked the way you want. It’s not rare to see one of your minor pages in the top search result. It’s sometimes hard to change. An influential website may be linking to it that way. If you ask them to change it, they may realize that it was a mistake in the first place and delete it entirely.

This is related to a serious problem that we’ve already talked about. When you change URLs because of a site redesign, you also lose all the links you’ve gained to those pages. Change all your Web addresses and nobody will be able to find anything, except maybe the home page (unless you changed that one too). Your site could drop out of the search engines almost completely. Your rankings might never recover.

So what if Google has put your Contact Us page at the top of the search engine results? It’s not your home page? Guess what? It has now become your home page, as far as Google is concerned. If that’s the first page from your site that visitors see, that may well be the page through which visitors enter your site.

So now you make lemonade out the lemons – you edit your Contact Us page so that it does the work of a home page. You make sure that it has a prominent link to your real home page. You make sure it includes links to the main sections of your website. And you make sure it looks nice. No, you didn’t expect company would come knocking, so now you spruce it up – before you answer the door, put on the new bathrobe instead of the ratty one.

Analyze your search results and try to figure out why they are what they are. Did you mention the name of your department more prominently on your contact page than on your home page? That’s common. For example, adding your department name and address to your home page can do wonders. Does every page link to the contact page but not to the important pages? You may need to change your navigation menu. I often add links in the footer to my main pages, using their keyword-laden titles, thereby creating a mini sitemap on every page.

Or maybe you just happened to use your most important keyword on a minor page, and now Google is displaying it in the middle of a snippet that seems to miss the point, as far as you’re concerned. Compared to “Agricultural, industrial and systems, nuclear, petroleum – engineers come in all kinds,” a snippet such as “Texas A&M University … Office of Engineering Safety” can seem downright irrelevant.

So, if you can, sculpt your search results. Change Google’s snippet by jazzing up the words that surround the keyword they found. There is a whole set of techniques you can use to improve how your existing search results appear.

It’s quite likely that Google intentionally gives more weight to older links to your site, ones that gradually increased in number over time. It reminds me of a song we sang when I was a child:

Make new friends but keep the old
One is silver, and the other gold.

Thursday, February 12th, 2009 Search
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