The most sustainable method of gaining relevant sustainable traffic to your website is via Google. Their ex-NASA engineers, massive computing power and 'do no evil' philosophy has made them the most powerful force on the internet today. To get the best results, most of the time you spend promoting your website should be used to improve your exposure on this monolithic search engine.
The good news is that you can do much of the so called 'Google optimisation' yourself, but first you need to understand a bit about how Google works. Remember - the job of any search engine is to deliver relevant websites according to the search words you have entered, but how does this work?
Google is constantly exploring the internet, following every link, looking at every image, and downloading every piece of information it can understand. It's a huge job and takes time, but is essential to build an accurate index from which users can search for relevant information.
Rule 1: Present your site in a way that Google can understand
Currently, although Google is damn clever, it cannot currently understand text which is embedded in graphical form. Importantly this means flash based sites are very difficult to index and search and index accurately. To ensure the best chance of a place in the index, text needs to be formatted as text. If you do insist on a graphics based site, ensure that there is a text based alternative to aid accessibility.
Rule 2: Make sure Google knows you’re there
If there are no links to your site out there, Google can't find you without help. Use Google Webmaster Tools to register your site, submit your link (optional) and upload an accurate site map to give it a helping hand.
Once Google knows you're there and understands your content it will add you to the index. This is a great start but soon you'll realise that there are a million other people trying to attract the attention of the same people as you. Now you need to work on increasing your organic (non-paid) ranking. Google's aim is to dish out the most relevant sites and it determines relevance using a long list of complex equations and algorithms, some of which are well known but most are top secret. Generally it compares the 'key words' entered into the search box to the content of your site in order to determine relevance.
Rule 3: Be targeted and relevant
If you are hoping to attract visitors looking for 'medicinal plants', it makes sense to ensure these words are included in the text on your pages, used as page titles, and found in your site's url and meta data (if you don’t know what this is, try a Google search!). If you have created relevant pages, you will find this process happens naturally so don't worry too much about getting the balance right.
Naturally some less honest people see an opportunity here, just stuff the site with selected key words and you'll automatically rank number one for these phrases right? Wrong. This kind of strategy did work a long time ago, but now artificially manipulating the content of your site to appeal to certain key phrases can lead to a Google penalty and should be avoided. Just ask yourself the question what would a person looking for 'medicinal plants' want to see? If your page fits the bill you've done a good job.
Rule 4: Do not try and cheat
There is almost no way to artificially increase your rank – people have been trying to manipulate the system since the dawn of the internet. Google knows every trick in the book and will penalise cheaters. Honesty really is the best policy.
If you are trying to break into a competitive market you can find there are dozens of sites which rank for every conceivable combination of key words. If this is the case, you need to try and find a unique niche and build up your reputation gradually.
Rule 5: Find your niche
Google provides a very useful tool for its AdWords program which suggests key word combinations and gives an idea of the competition for those words. This program is designed to help people chose which key words to bid on for advertising purposes but can also help you find a niche.
Have a play, and use the results to build up a presence in a realistic niche. It's very unlikely you'll be able to design a high ranking Britney Spears site using this technique as there are hundreds, if not thousands out there already.
Another way Google determines relevance is by using other people's recommendations. If an established site on a similar topic provides a link to your site, Google treats this like a vote of confidence. It's very unlikely decent sites would link out to rubbish ones so it's usually a good indication of quality. The more decent quality links you manage to get, the better.
Rule 6: Build good quality, relevant links with other websites
There are many ways of doing this – via article submissions, using social media, commenting on blogs, spreading the word on forums, but the best method is usually via link exchanges with reputable sites. This can take time and involves writing to many people to beg for links, but if your site is useful to their visitors they'll probably accept. Bear in mind that the top ranking sites get requests for link exchanges the whole time so you'll need to provide a really convincing case if yours is to be accepted. It can be an idea to start with less established sites first to try and build up your reputation.
Rule 7: Avoid automated link building programs
You may have seen services on the internet providing automated link building programs in the hope of increasing your Google rank dramatically in a short period of time. Beware of these – often you will get a large volume of links and see a resulting increase in rank, but it's unlikely these links will be placed on high quality sites and this again can lead to a penalty. Google hates these 'link farms' and once they are discovered the listed sites are often removed from their rankings.
Rule 8: Adhere to website standards
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) are a group which governs website standards and is the benchmark for html code in sites all over the world. Ensure your site adheres to their standards and check using the validator to make sure your site is easily accessed by the major browsers (link below).
Rule 9:Update your site regularly
Google knows how often your site is updated and can give priority to regularly updated sites. As your site grows older, it will more easily gain reputation and momentum with Google. Make sure you add or change something at least every month to ensure maximum return.
Rule 10: Be patient
Building an online presence takes time and hard work. If your changes aren't reflected in Google rapidly, remember that they have over a billion websites on their database and it takes time for updates to filter through. Launching a new site can be a tough job, but stick to the rules above and you'll get there in the end. Good luck!