The Google Game

There is no shortage of webmasters desperate to get their hard-won site noticed. After spending many sleepless nights coding and debugging a site for a nonprofit, it only makes sense that you would want it to actually show up when someone is searching for your organization's keywords. But, like much of the web-authoring career, you won't find a perfectly simple solution.

The science and art of ranking highly on Google has become a major industry, populated (not surprisingly) by some folks willing to do some very unsavory things to get your site listed. Here's how it works: you make the site and want to see it ranking higher; you pay a "Search Engine Optimization" company to get you listed on the first page of Google for certain keywords. What happens after this point will either 1.) entail rewriting most of your content and all of your title/meta/alt tags or 2.) entail the SEO company setting up false domains that feed into your site (or a number of other dirty tricks). Both will get you higher listings, but only rewriting your content (a major project in most cases) will keep you there. Some unsavory SEO techniques will actually get you banned from Google et al, making your site effectively useless. This was a major point of discussion on a recent thread at techsoup.org, which is highly recommended in general. Here's a snippet of the conversation:

While there's a lot you can do to improve your site's ranking, nobody in the world can guarantee that you'll come up with a top ranking on the first or second page of the search results. A statement like this implies that humans have complete control over the search engine ranking process, when in fact this is not true at all. However ... SEO can lead to excellent results without it having to be a complicated process.

You can find the thread under the "web building" forum, but you'll have to browse for the search engine-related threads. The above conversation touches on some very good, basic techniques of search engine optimization, such as the use of the title tags and keyword-rich copy. There are other guides available online for sure, but the best resource I've found is the 2004 Search Engine Optimization for Dummies. If you're new to search engine optimization, just sit down with that and apply a little of what you learn to your site. Even just an afternoon's work can make your site several times more visible on search engines and result in greatly increased traffic on the web. If you're really willing to work at it, you can get an incredible amount of publicity for your organization through your website.