Search Engine Optimisation

This is the process of ensuring your website is easy to find, index and gets given a good rating by the major search engines. Achieving a good ranking in search engines really involves every aspect of your site, from the way it is structured, the performance (page load times etc…) , the content itself and how many other sites (of good quality)  link to your site. The nuances of SEO are probably the most talked about subject on the internet since it is important to every single site out there. There are vast numbers of web sites and businesses dedicated to nothing else other than SEO techniques.  So this is really a simple overview to give you an idea of what it is about and why you need to think about it.

Search engines try to keep their ranking and indexing algorithms secret to try to stop people from gaming the system. They want their ranking system to be not only a measure of relevance to a particular search, but also of quality. Everyone else in the world (including spammers and criminals) wants their site to appear as the top result in a relevant search.

Because of this, SEO is a constantly moving target as search providers evolve their ranking algorithms and those seeking to exploit it modify their SEO techniques.  As a legitimate business you will need to concentrate on providing a quality site with relevant information and advertising it without resorting to the dark-side of spamming techniques.

SEO can be broken down in several ways. Some people talk of on-site SEO and off-site SEO but I prefer to think of it in terms of structural SEO and marketing SEO.

Structural SEO

This is about the site structure, site performance and organisation of the site content. These are issues that need to be considered by any web design company even if they didn’t have any impact on Search Engines since they also affect the users’ experience which has a direct impact on their impression of your business.

Performance is the easiest to understand. It simply relates to how quickly the pages load and whether any pages generate errors. As a user, you don’t want to wait and you certainly don’t want to click on a link only to get a Page Not Found error.

In terms of structure and content organisation you need to remember that a website needs to be machine readable.  I recently had a client whose website had been implemented by a previous design company by creating an image with all the information he wanted for the single page site and then centering it on the web page. Now as long as you aren’t blind you could look at that page and read the phone number and text in the picture. However a page reader (a tool which reads the text of the page to people with impaired vision) or a search engine would see the following…

<title>Name of web site</title>
<center><img SRC="intro.jpg"></center>

So there was a full page of information about the site owner and his business which was completely unreadable to search engines or text readers.

Marketing SEO

Marketing SEO is about two things. Designing your content so that it contains a large number of relevant keywords likely to be used to find your business as well as getting links to your site placed on as many other quality websites as you can. There are a number of things you can do yourself before you consider hiring a web marketer to actively promote your site.

Consider what terms a user might enter into a search engine to find your product or services. A useful exercise is attempting to find your competitors using search engines.  Look at the language used on their websites to try to find additional keywords that you might not have thought of. Then you can perform a search on those terms to see how relevant they are to your product / services.  From exercises such as this you can build a list of search terms & keywords relevant to your site.

You will then need to write your content ensuring that you use the words in your list liberally throughout the text. However they should be used in an appropriate manner as the search engine algorithms are quite effective at spotting ‘spam’. For example simply creating a nonsensical paragraph containing all your keywords on a page is likely to harm your rankings rather than improve them.

For each page of content you should also construct a summary of the content to place in the meta-description tag. This will be the summary of the page that is shown on a search engine result page, so it should be concise and to the point but also have enough information to lure the visitor in.

You need to ensure your site is submitted to the search engines,  it is likely they will find it eventually, but it’s a good idea to actively tell them it is there. There are additional mechanisms that your site developer should employ such as creating sitemap files for the search engines and submitting feeds of your products to Google Product Search etc…

Finally you need to get other (non spam) sites to link to your site.  The first thing to do is to get listed in as many online business directories as you can. Look for local business directories on the web, you may in fact already be listed in some so  make sure you update any such listings with a link to the website if possible. Some of these sites may require a small payment to get listed and others may be free. Are you part of any trade organisations or standards bodies? See if their website has a listing of it’s members and if you can get a link to your site placed on that listing.