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An introduction to search engine optimisation (SEO)

07 : 01 : 2014

What is search engine optimisation? According to Wikipedia “Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s ‘natural’ or un-paid ‘organic’ search results”. As Google Search is the most popular search engine right now, we’ll be basing this post on Google Search, and the Google PageRank algorithm. This post relates to ‘organic’ search results, not paid or ‘sponsored’ search results.

To remain a global leader in search, Google knows that they must return the most relevant, valuable, authoritative content to their users. If your website is not useful to your target audience, it does not matter how effective your keyword research is, your website will not appear high up in the search results. There are lots of factors that affect how high a specific web page appears on a search results page. Google gives each specific web page a PageRank between 0 and 10. 0 being unpopular, and 10 very popular.

Not many people outside of Google know exactly how PageRank is calculated, but I will summarise the most important factor. PageRank looks at how many other web pages link to your web page, and how popular each of the web pages linking to your web page are. If you provide information regarding ‘widgets’, and you have a number high quality web pages linking to your web page, there’s a good chance that you’ll appear high on the search results when a search for ‘widgets’ is performed.

Trying to achieve a large number of high ranking back links is virtually impossible for most small businesses. So what can you do to improve your search ranking? Well, the good news is that despite what you have just read, most small businesses don’t actually need high quality back links to appear on the first page of the Google search results. This is due to the fact that most small businesses can target long-tail keywords that don’t have much competition. This article is going to concentrate on the things you do have control over, the structure of your code, the content within that code, and the targeting of long-tail keywords. If you can get that right, you are well on the way to jumping right up the search results.

It’s important that you ensure that your web pages are built using semantic HTML and CSS to valid web standards. The HTML elements must be placed in the correct order on the web page, and you should ensure that the elements contain the content they were intended to. For example, there should never be more than one h1 tag on a page (unless you are using HTML5 sections), h2 tags should never precede a h1 tag and tables should be used for tabular data, etc. This isn’t a massive factor in your PageRank, but every little counts when you are running a small business. Get it right and it could help you substantially.

Let’s move onto the aspects you have full control over, the biggest being the content of your web pages. When adding pages or posts to your website, you should look into which keywords people are actually typing to find content like yours. The Google Adwords Keyword Planner is a great way to test certain strings to see what kind of conversions each string produce. First of all, change the ‘match types’ from ‘broad’ to ‘exact’. When using the tool, start off with generic (one or two) keyword terms and see what the most popular search terms are. Looking at the related search terms, you need to look at how much competition there is for a particular string, how many people are searching for that keyword phrase, and if the keyword is targeted to your business.

Try to optimise your pages for keywords that have ‘local monthly searches’ under 1,000 and over 100 (where possible, also, local means country-wide). Once you find some good ‘long tail strings’ type them into the Google Search Engine and see what sort of pages you are competing against. If they are well known (popular) companies then you should try other suggestions.

Try to optimise one keyword string for each page or post on your website. Once you have decided on a string, this should be what you use for the h1, the title, and the file name of your page. The text used in the page description is not going to help you rank better in organic search results, but it is still a good idea to optimise this as some search engines still insert this text under your page title on the search results pages.

The domain name and the structure of your URL’s are very important too. Using clean URL’s make it easier for both Google and your users to understand what your content relates to. Clean URL’s are also much easier to remember. Take a look at the following two URL’s and judge for yourself.

  • http://ampersandlondon.co.uk/index.php?cat=8&id=41
  • http://ampersandlondon.co.uk/what/web-design

When setting the file name of your blog post in publishing systems such as WordPress, it is best to try to match the header and page title as closely as possible. WordPress will do this for you automatically. Google chooses to ignore extremely common words, these ‘stop words’ can be removed from your URL’s to make them shorter.

Next is the actual text used in the body of your page. Try to include the same keyword string at least three times in the body copy, especially in longer articles. Optimise your image names and the alt tags with your keyword string, that way a potential user might find your page via Google Images.

Lastly, every website should have an XML Sitemap. It should only take you a few minutes to create and upload one. Again, if you are using WordPress, you can install the Free Google XML Sitemaps plugin and have all the work done for you automatically.

We’ve tried to keep this post as concise as possible. There is a lot more to search engine optimisation than I wish to cover in this post, but that’s only if you have the time and the budget to dedicate to a serious campaign. If you are interested in optimising your web pages for search engines, but don’t have the time or the technical ability to do it yourself, we’d be more than happy to discuss your project with you.

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