In 4 steps, this article will explain how your site can be optimised to help your position in Google.
This is quite a long article because I've tried to explain basic SEO simply, but with enough detail for normal (not technical) people. While these 4 steps are by no means all there is to SEO, they cover the basics and are particularly useful if:
- You are commissioning the design / build of a new website
- You've got a website that isn't providing you with any enquiries
- You're a web designer researching best practice
A couple of the questions I'm often asked by owners / directors of small to medium organisations or the marketing managers of larger companies are:
Is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) a black art?
No. It can be time consuming but getting the fundamentals right is easy.
Can I optimise my website?
In short, yes, building SEO into an accessible website is a relatively simple process.
A bit of a caveat - unless your site uses a Content Management System (CMS) you might need to get a web designer / coder to make some of the changes, BUT this article will give you the understanding of how Google sees your website, so you can manage the SEO process and tell your chosen techie what to do using words they understand.
Picture it. Your prospective customer is hunched over his keyboard, he's researching products and services like yours. Or; Picture it: Another prospective customer is just about to place an order... she's ready to buy right now. This very instant!
Wouldn't it be nice to know what these people typed into Google? Then you could optimise your website for the search terms that your prospective customers use every day.
Well, you can. And it's easy! Find out what people are searching for on Google here: http://www.google.co.uk/trends/
To give you an example of how I would use this, try it yourself as if you were a bee keeper and you want to sell organic manuka honey in the UK. It's more fun if you get into this bit. Staple a bit of net curtain to an old sun-hat and put on some work / gardening gloves. OK. Ready...?
In the box that says 'All search terms' type the single word honey (accuracy is key here, so you may want to cut a finger or two off your gloves):
Then from the filters drop down click the arrow next to 'Worldwide' and select 'United Kingdom', click the arrow next to '2004 - present' and select 'Last 12 Months', Leave everything else as is and click the button marked 'Search':
Scroll down past the maps (which you can broadly ignore, they don't work well for the UK)
Then you can see 'Top Searches' (when I did it, manuka honey was the 3rd most popular) and next to that 'Rising Searches'.
In 'Rising Searches' (when I did it, Feb 2011) it showed the search term manuka honey benefits has been used 50% more by Google users in the UK in the last 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months, so maybe that's a trend we need to be considering for all your marketing, not simply search. Anyhow, we'd better use that as one of the search terms we optimise for, huh?
Now you've done that go back to the top of this page and start again.
In the search box compare the single word honey with the phrases manuka honey and organic honey (just click 'Add Search Term' under the box where you typed honey the first time).
Leave everything else as it is, hit 'Search' and you'll see this:
This bar graph compares the total searches for each search term, so you can see that honey is loads more popular than the other two.
REALLY IMPORTANT now, scroll down to the 'Top Searches' box and you'll see a little arrow by the word honey above this table...
Click the arrow and you can now see the top searches relevant to manuka honey and organic honey. (There weren't many searches for organic honey when I did this, so Google couldn't suggest any)
If you really were selling Organic Manuka Honey in the UK (and why not consider it, that hat is so you, now you've accessorised it), this research would tell you which search terms you should be including in your website to demonstrate to Google (and your potential clients) how much you specialise in Organic Manuka as opposed to standard honey.
Now try it with search terms for your organisation, products and/or services. Easy huh?
Build a list of the most important searches for each page of your website or product / service you offer.
You've got your list of search terms but how to illustrate to Google that your site is deserving of a position at the top?
You judiciously sprinkle them throughout your content and architecture, that's how. But, before we get into the how, where and what the...?
Take a moment to look at these important anti spam essentials:
DO NOT repeat search terms ad infinitum throughout your text to the point it becomes clunky and difficult to read.
DO NOT add them at the bottom of the page over and over and over again, next to the towns you serve... unless you're Hot Chip (I find the bit at 58 seconds particularly relevant here) this repetition is pointless.
Here's where to add your chosen search terms
If you haven't already got a site, or if you've tried everything else and you still can't get onto page 1 of Google, get a domain name that contains your most valuable search term. One of our clients changed his to www.BristolPestController.co.uk which is a fine example.
Don't let your web designer chose the file names for your web pages as these become the URLs and this is a really important place to include the main search term you are targeting for a page. Here's an example from a client for whom the domain name change was not possible (sometimes, SEO has to give way to brand) but optimised URLs are the next best thing: www.expolink.co.uk/WhistleblowingHotline.aspx
This is the bit right at the top of your screen, not actually on the page at all, but above all your browser buttons:
It also shows up as the link in your Google listing:
Include no more than 2 search terms with the most important at the very beginning. You've only got about 70 useable characters so think carefully about how you should use them.
The actual words on the page (NOT IMAGES). Try to include the main search term for a page in the first words of copy on that page. Being expansive, yet on topic try to refer to your business, products and services by their actual name and the problems they solve, not 'us' 'we' 'it'.
For example: 'Hair Cons Inc have spent years perfecting this patented hair restorer. We guarantee your hair will grow back thick and lustrous, like a donkey's mane' leaves Google in little doubt about the nature of the product but "We made it and tested it, if you buy it, it will grow to be thick like a donkey's" doesn't include any relevant search terms and actively discourages Google for listing the page.
Text Links In Content
Throughout this article, I've linked to other useful pages. Do the same.
NB. On your home page, I suggest you only link to other pages on your site, you don't want people arriving and then the first link they click sends them off to another site.
Alt text is used to describe an image to blind web users who's browsers read pages aloud to them. Google is also unable to see images, so wherever you use an image on the site, you attach alt text that describes what is depicted in the image. From an SEO point of view, it is a good idea to include search terms in the alt text, but ONLY if they describe the image.
Make a list of all the images on your site, append alt text to each image and send it to your techie. They'll love you for this.
Header Tags (H Tags)
Assuming that your site is built using accessible web standards (and since the most basic been about for over 10 years, if it isn't WHY THE HELL NOT?) then the headlines, sub headings and paragraph titles will be called H1 (main headline), H2 (sub heading), H3 (sub sub heading) and so on. Relevant search terms to the content of the page should be included in the headlines. Most sites have "Welcome to our site" as their H1 tag on the home page, don't do it. It sucks.
This is a kind of hidden bit of each page, you can see it if you view the page source... It also shows as the bit of black text that appears under the blue link on Google listings:
The meta description should be different for every page, include search terms and encourage people to click the link above through the employment of engaging language, do not actually instruct people to click the link as that would be daft.
Same as above, this is kind of hidden, but since Google hasn't used them for probably 10 years, they're a waste of space, so delete them. If your web designer has filled them with lots of words for "SEO", consider deleting them from your approved supplier list.
Google is constantly finding new sites, new pages and new content. If the content on your site is stale and unchanging while competitive sites have regular, on topic updates it's likely that Google will rank these competitive sites above yours.
We'll go into more detail about how to produce engaging, fresh content another time, but for now, consider getting a WordPress Blog added to your website. It's free (apart from the cost of bit of set up and colouring in) and it incorporates much of the on page SEO mentioned above.
OK, so this isn't something most people can actually do, but tell your techie that you want a WordPress blog to live here: www.yourwebsite.co.uk/news/ Don't let them fob you off with their preferred solution as they won't optimise the architecture and WordPress is optimised pretty much out of the box, so stick to your guns.
Both Google and Bing request that website owners / administrators submit content to them using their webmaster tools in the form of a sitemap.
This can get quite complicated as you need to upload (via FTP) 3 unique files to your website's root folder. If you don't know how to use FTP, follow the instructions below and send the files you create to your techie and ask them to upload them to your root folder... they'll know what to do.
So, to generate a sitemap use a service like this: www.xml-sitemaps.com
You'll need to follow the instructions on each site on how to verify the site (choose the upload file option, you'll need to save it to your pc and email it to your techie along with the sitemap) and then how to submit your sitemap.
Don't confuse the sitemap document you've created with the pretty sitemap your web designer included in the build of the website. In this step you're creating an ugly brute of a thing, which few people will ever see other than Google and Bing, so while this final step is time consuming the first time, it is very much worth the effort.
That's all there is to it.
Well, that's all there is to Part One. Part Two (out in March 2011) is about why Google likes links and simple, honest ways to acquire good ones (that fresh content in your WordPress blog will help)... but if you have any questions in the meantime or feel I've missed anything, leave a below comment and I'll respond.
If you don't have the time / inclination to do this work, contact Noisy Little Monkey now. We'll quote to fix your website (our day rate is £500 + VAT) or invite you to one of our seminars (prices start at £30 +VAT per session) as it's easier to understand if you can watch me waving my arms about and ask questions.
Thanks for reading!