Good directions drive traffic to your website

You have a website and can’t figure out why it’s not showing up at the top of Google’s search rankings. You go to Google.com for some guidance but get lost trying to find answers.

Certainly, achieving visibility in Google’s search rankings can be a mystery. To help solve the riddle, USA TODAY sat down with Google’s Matt Cutts, an engineer and active blogger, who has five easy tips on how to “optimize” your site so Google (GOOG) and the rest of the world can find it.

1. Spotlight your search term on the page.

If you want to be found for your keyword, make sure that term is on the page you want to rank. The term should be at the top as well as peppered throughout your copy.

2. Fill in your “tags.”

When creating websites, Internet coding language includes two key tags: title and description. Even if you don’t know code, which is used to create pages, software programs such as Adobe’s Dreamweaver have tools that let you fill them in in plain English (rather than “<title>San Diego Chiropractor</title”).

There’s also a third tag, to add keywords, or search terms, but Cutts says Google doesn’t put much weight in its rankings on that one.

3. Get other sites to “link” back to you.

Google says it looks at more than 100 pieces of data to determine a site’s ranking. But links are where it’s at, once your search terms are clearly visible on your site and the title and description tags correctly marked.

In a nutshell: Google ranks sites based on popularity. If authoritative sites link to you, you must be good, and therefore you get to the top of the list. If you can’t get top sites such as USATODAY.com or The New York Times to link to you, try your friends. And what if they don’t have a site? They probably do. Read on.

4. Create a blog and post often.

Blogging is a great way to add links and start a conversation with customers and friends. It will cost you only time: Google’s Blogger, WordPress and others offer free blogging tools. With a blog, you can link back to your site and offer links to others. It’s also a great way to start building content.

5. Register for free tools. Google’s google.com/webmaster offers freebies to help get your site found. You can upload a text-based site map, which shows Google the pages of your site (create it at http://www.xml-sitemaps.com). Once that’s done, you’ll be registered with Google, where you can learn vital statistics — including who is linking to your site and how often Google “crawls” your site for updates.

Google’s Local Business center (google.com/local/add) is the place for business owners to submit a site so it shows up in local searches, with a map attached. Savvy consumers who use Google for searches know that the first 10 non-advertising results often are from Google Maps, so if you have a business and haven’t submitted it, you’re losing out on potential customers.

Don’t overdo it

In other words, don’t stuff your pages full of keywords.

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