Search engine optimisation is something of a Holy Grail for web marketing – but despite what you might hear from any number of too-good-to-be-true SEO companies, there is no Da Vinci Code-style cipher that can be broken to lead you to the top of the Google rankings and on to your cyber-millions.
In many ways, SEO is an art as much as a science – what works for one site may not be appropriate for another – the most important thing you can do in terms of SEO is exactly the same as for any other aspect of your web marketing – build a good site.
Once you have done that – here are some other moves that might help:
The content of your site is probably the most important factor for a successful SEO strategy. The copy on all pages of your site should give useful information on topics that are unique or specific to your site.
Search engines usually read and index the first 500 words from each page they crawl – so make those words work for you.
Don’t waffle or waste words with “marketspeak” – no-one is going to search for “the world’s leading biscuit company” they’ll just be searching for “chocolate biscuits”.
Tell people what you do, what services you offer, what’s in it for them – be specific, be brief.
Once your site has been running for a while, you can use search engine facilities such as Google’s Webmaster Tools, to check what search terms have been leading people to your site.
People tend not to search for generic terms such as “websites”, they will use specific names and phrases, such as “SEO strategy Somerset”.
Find what terms people are searching for and include them carefully in the copy of your pages. These are your “keyphrases”. Get them in the title of pages, in the url if possible, in headlines and in the body of your copy – but not at the expense of usability. Cramming copy with keyphrases until it is virtually unreadable is counterproductive.
If you gear your copy to specifically provide what people are looking for, you will improve the user experience of your site, get better results from the search engines, and encourage more people to link to your site – which in turn improves your ranking in search engines like Google.
Keep it Fresh, Make it Appealing
Google likes content-rich sites. It also likes sites that update and add to that content regularly. So do people.
Creating a resource area on your site can help in both these areas. Useful and unique copy, regularly updated, is one of the best ways of “link-baiting” – attracting other sites to link to you. Which brings us on to the other key area of SEO..
There is no doubt that getting other sites to link to your site is a major factor in boosting your rating in Google – but again, while there are useful strategies and shortcuts, your best bet for getting linked to is to give the people what they want and make your site a useful resource.
The more prestigious the site you are linked from, the better your rating will be. And the more specific to your area of business the better too.
For instance, if your brother links to your site from his blog Google isn’t going to be impressed. However, get your link on a high-ranking site relevant to your industry and Google will be fluttering its eyelashes at you.
Do’s and Dont’s for Link Building
Don’t spam other sites asking for links.
Do create resources on your site that people will want to link to.
Don’t buy links from companies offering links for cash unless you are sure of the legitimacy (ie reputable directories such as Yahoo offer paid-for listings).
Do aim to get your site listed in niche directories aimed at your particular line of business.
Do get business partners to link to you, in return for you linking to them.
Do submit articles to forums where your specialist knowledge is relevant.
Also, ensure that your own internal links on your website are working properly. Search engines can have problems finding all the pages on your site if they are not cross-linked properly.
Text links work best of all, as search engines analyse the text and use this to check its relevance.
Spread the Word
Once your site is live, its time to tell the world about it. The best place to start is to register your site with the major search engine companies, such as Google, MSN and Yahoo. This can greatly speed up the time it takes for your site to appear on these search engines.
You can also post your site on on-line directories, such as the Open Directory Project. These are not search engines as such, but rather human-edited listings – you submit your site and, if it is considered of high enough quality -it gets listed.
Getting a listing on the ODP gives you kudos – and ranking points – on many of the major search engines.
Put simply, Meta tags are a section of the code used to create your site which contains a brief description of your site, what is on a particular page, and what the user can get from your site.
At one point these tags were the first thing search engines would look for – and getting “keywords” crammed into them was an SEO must.
These days, search engines are more sophisticated, but the meta tags are still important.
Don’t become fixated on “keywords” – the most important words are those included in your copy, as mentioned above, and the same rules apply to your meta tag descriptions – keep it specific, brief, useful and relevant.
The most important tag is the title tag. Each page should have a title that tells the visitor where they are. For instance, a title tag could look like this:
Tickbox Marketing – Resources – Guides – SEO
This tells the visitor where they are (the title appears at the top of the browser) and, from an SEO viewpoint – tells the search engine to find you when someone searches for SEO.
The next tag search engines look at is the description tag. In this, you put a paragraph or two telling the search engine what you do – it is this copy that often appears under the title of your website when you appear on a search engine – so make it appealing and relevant. For instance:
Finally, the Keyword tag. Pick very specific words that you think your target customers are likely to enter into a search engine. Don’t just scattergun words.
You should use no more than 250 characters, including spaces, and don’t just use terms that are too generic. “SEO” as a keyword, for instance, will put you up against 10m other websites. “SEO strategy Somerset” will narrow the field considerably.
Search engines such as Google and Yahoo allow you to buy sponsored links which appear when a user searches for a company or organisation providing your area of goods and services.
You create an account with the search engine, and then agree to pay a certain amount any time someone clicks on your sponsored link.
The more you pay, the more likely your site will appear at the top of the sponsored links.
You can fix a capped budget per month, to ensure that you don’t get hit with a huge bill if you suddenly find thousands of people clicking your links (although if you do, perhaps it would be worth upping your monthly budget – you are very popular).
You pay for search terms you think people wanting your goods and services will enter – so again, be specific and relevant: “Somerset SEO” “Web Design Bath” etc.
This can be one of the most cost effective ways of getting search engine traffic to your site – and for the vast majority of small to medium-sized businesses can be one of the single most important SEO strategy.
Return on investment
Remember that getting a high position on Google or the other search engines is not a guarantee of making money. Good SEO will make your site easier to find for the sort of people who are likely to use your services or buy your goods. Bad SEO will involve butchering your site’s usability so that people find your site but don’t click on it or use it, or “black-hat” techniques that get you a short term high ranking but then see your site banned from Google.
No serious SEO company will promise you a quick route to the top of the search engines. SEO is a medium to long-term operation, and does not exist in isolation to the rest of your web marketing.
The bottom line for SEO is your business’s bottom line – good SEO is SEO that gives you a return on your investment. Being top of Google is pretty much irrelevant if you are not getting that return.