A look at how Google has changed the rules.

Were the good old days back when the Yellow Pages was the dominant marketing resource for contractors (around the Paleozoic era, just before Larry King’s birth)?

 All you had to know was: How big of an ad can I get for how much money? After that, the Yellow Pages would design an ad that looked shockingly like every other ad in the book and then overcharge you mightily. If you paid more, for more years, you got closer to the front of the section (whoopee!). If you resisted, they would break your legs and call you names. It was a simpler time.

Although Yellow Page look-ups have plummeted (down 24 percent in the last 48 months; the online SuperPages are not doing much better), they’re not dead. Yet a good bit of their viability has been drained by one thing - the Internet.

OK, let’s call it Google. You can suggest Yahoo, Bing or Ask, but Google has 71.63 percent of the market according to Hitwise.com. When you own the cards and the chips, you get to make the rules. Enter search engine optimization, in a big way.

According to a study by Hubspot, in 2005, 69 percent of buyers said the Web site of a small business had some influence on their final purchasing decision. In 2010, that number has risen to 83 percent. Think that means it’s important for people to find your Web site?

Before the Internet, we had to go based on “who was reading or watching what.” Now, we must get psycho-graphic and determine “What questions are prospects asking before they find me?”

In essence, this is search engine optimization.

So, everyone began looking at keywords, search strings, relevance and recency as methods to be “found” on the Internet. Changes here are near constant. Case in point: There are three hugely popular search engine optimization myths thatdo not work anymore, and one “secret” Google revision that has really changed rankings.

Three Totally False Phrases:

1. If you build it, they will come.No, they won’t. Let me rephrase this: “If you build it, you will be charged.” That’s like saying if you send out an ad, people will respond. Absolutely not true. If it’s a bad ad, aimed at a bad list, you’re results will be, you guessed it, bad.

The same principle applies to your Web site. Basically, you can build the Taj Mahal of Web sites, but if no one can find you, what was the point? You just spent a whole lot of time, effort and money for customers to remain virtually oblivious to you. Do not let your Web designer “forget” to include search engine optimization as one of the main reasons you’re investing.

2.Content is king.Content used to be king, but has now become a second lieutenant. It is still very attractive, but can be overwhelming. Content per site is actually shrinking. Of course, what that means is your content has to be more focused, more concentrated on your market and more powerful than ever.

You’ve got to stress the benefits, values and problem-solving abilities of your plumbing company in a concise, clear way. That’s because the new “king” is activity (thanks Google!), and your site won’t get activity if it’s hard to muddle through (more in a minute).

3.Being ranked first equals the best site.That’s like saying your class president in high school was the most qualified. Wrong answer. Being ranked first is, to some degree, a popularity contest. But it’s not about your popularity - it’s about how popular your search engine optimization strategies are.

Ranking number one just means you have the most “findable” site in that search string. I’d rather finish third or fifth in ranking (still on the top half of the screen on the first page) and have the most conversions. Even though I’m a lead junkie, I’d rather have closeable leads than window shoppers.

Keyword Check

Now, with that out of the way, what is working now? Through Google Analytics, find out how people are finding you. Go towww.google.com/Analyticsand see where you rank in your chosen words.

Are your “best” words used throughout your site? In your title, meta tags and head tags? Check the density of word usage. If “Plumbing in Sacramento” is a search string, then use that phrase early per page, and up to three times per 300 words.

  • Images need text. This is the keyword tip everyone misses. Do not post an image on your site with some undecipherable code. Place keywords in the ALT tags for all your images. You’ll thank me later.

  • Video is more “active” than text. Label your videos and title them for relevance among hopeful viewers.

  • What are the top pages on your site now? Look for commonalities on those pages to see why they get more visits. Apply these tactics to your conversion pages.

  • Index status. Check whether your Web site has been indexed by major search engines. If it is not indexed, all this search engine optimization focus is pointless.

  • Are you socially acceptable? Put links to Twitter and Facebook on your Web site and crosslink from them back to your site. Completely fill out your profiles, again using keywords as appropriate.

  • Blog your little fanny off. A weekly “editorial” is really a blog and that can be posted on www.blogspot.com

  • Backlink Check

    When a link to you starts on another site and points to you, that’s a backlink. Getting quality backlinks is critical. So get listed in directories, post on related forums, get quoted in blogs and submit your articles to directories. Check backlinkbuilder.com. I do not recommend “buying” backlinks. Dangerous territory.

    OK, here’s the big Google change: Where you used to be able to get “found” on static content, now Google ranks “activity” on your site. This means as you gain popularity, you gain findability. I know, it’s the chicken and the egg thing. The easiest thing to do is stay active. Add links, add articles, add posts, add customer reviews, update news, change dates, Tweet like an over-caffeinated canary, add video and post your printed newsletter on your Web site.