You want people to find, choose and use your website, not your competitors’ websites. This means that you need to appear high up the rankings on the search engine results pages – ideally in the top half of page one. But how do you do that?
Search engines aim to respond to their users’ queries by producing a list of websites that are relevant to the keywords that the user has entered into the search engine query box (e.g. Google toolbar) and high-quality.
Your website will be highly-ranked if search engines judge it to be a high-quality site that is relevant to queries for your type of product or service. If they cannot work out what your website is about or they judge it to be poor quality then it will appear low down in the rankings.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is simply doing the things that search engines, especially Google, look for so that they rank you higher on their results pages. Part One of this article explains how search engines and keywords work. This part describes some practical things that you can do to improve your search engine rankings.
The content of your website should be very clear so that search engines – and people – can work out what it is about. The quality of the spelling, copywriting and structure will be judged by search engines too.
The most effective places to use your keywords are:
- page titles
- headings and sub-headings
- bold text
- the anchor text of the links within your website
- the first 25 words of your html document (which often includes navigation items as well as some of the text that appears on the page)
- your home page.
Longer search terms with 3-5 words (known as long-tail searches) are increasingly used by people when they are looking for a website. So try to:
- use all the keywords in common searches for your type of product – e.g. if someone is searching for “Gordon Brown” then a website with “Gordon” and “Brown” will beat a website with just “Brown”
- closely associate the keywords in common searches – e.g. if someone is searching for a website selling “English goats cheese” then websites using all three keywords together will beat websites using those words in separate places.
Not keyword stuffed
Keyword stuffing is a meaningless list of words that are put on a webpage to trick search engines into ranking a website more highly than it really deserves. Nowadays, search engines are programmed to detect these lists and penalise sites that use them. People also hate keyword stuffing. It almost guarantees that visitors will leave your website quickly and never return.
Fresh and up-to-date content
Google loves fresh content. The more frequently your website changes, the more frequently Googlebot and other search engines spiders will visit it. When they find new, well-written content on your website, then it will move up the rankings as a high-quality and relevant site.
People also love new content. It gives them a reason to re-visit your website. Blogs, social media services, email forums and user-generated content are all great ways of keeping your website fresh.
You need to make your web-pages ‘search engines friendly’ so that they can easily work out what your pages are about. Try to use your keywords in all of the following places for maximum optimisation:
- first 25 words of the page of the HTML documen
- file name (e.g. optimising-websites.html)
- html title
- meta tags – description, keyword and content tags
- unique page titles for dynamic pages.
The quality of the source code, navigation and links will also be judged by Google.
Tag your photos, videos and animations
Search Engines cannot read the ‘non-text’ content on your pages, such as photos, videos and animations. You need to tell them what these media files contain by using Alt description tags. The alternative descriptions also help people who are visually-impaired or using mobile devices such as Blackberrys or iPhones to access the internet.
Use description tags
A good description can help your website to get chosen from the listings on a search results page. Sometimes Google will use the description tag to create your listing. Other times, it will create its own description from some of the text on your webpages.
Send your sitemap to Google
Google looks at the link structure within your website to determine which pages are most relevant. If you submit a sitemap to Google, then it helps it to crawl all the pages in your site more often.
Links from other sites
Google uses the links on other websites to assess the subject and quality of your website. Each link to your website works like a vote for it. The most important things are:
- The quality of the pages which the links are on (a link from the BBC website is worth more votes than a link from an obscure website)
- The quantity of links pointing to your site
- The anchor text of these links – i.e. the actual words used in the link
- The location of the link is on the website – editorial beats footer.
Links also bring people directly to your website. People use links on one website to find other sites that are interesting and relevant to them.
Link-building is a low-cost way of dramatically improving your search engine rankings but it can be very time-consuming. Ways to build links include:
- ask clients and suppliers to link to you
- ask people in your business network to link to you
- participate in communities
- join networking groups – like LinkedIn and Ecademy
- generate bylines by writing for other websites
- list in free directories especially dmoz, the open directory project.
Ask for your main keyword phrase to be used as the anchor text for the link if you have any influence with the people who run the websites that link to your site.
Cheating can lead to blacklisting
Cheating is presenting your website in one way to search engines and in another way to the people who visit your site. Google will judge a site untrustworthy if it violates its webmaster guidelines by:
- hiding text (e.g. text that is the same colour as the background or in tiny font)
- hiding links (e.g. links on superscripts)
- cloaking or using hidden doorways
- key word stuffing
- mis-using links (e.g. links to web spammers, excessive reciprocal links or paid-for links that are not part of legitimate advertisements).
Your website may be removed google index and not appear in any search engine results if it is judged by search engines to contain cheats.
You cannot optimise your website once and then forget about it. You need to keep your website fresh with up-to-date content, optimise the new pages and build links with other website owners. If you do these things then, over time, you will have a website that is highly-ranked by search engines and well-used by people.
Women Unlimited are holding a workshop on search engine optimisation workshop for small business owners on Wednesday June 10, so if you want to find out more about this subject and how you can start making changes to your own results click here to book your place.
WordTracker – lots of useful articles about SEO and keyword software
Webcredible, a website usability consultancy that has introductory articles about SEO
Jakob Nielsen, web usability guru who covers every aspect of designing user-friendly websites
SEOmoz’s Rank checker – works out your current ranking on the main search engines
Wordtracker – key word generator
Google webmaster central including Google webmaster tools – lots of useful resources
Google analytics – tells you who is visiting your website, which pages they are looking at, how long they spend on each of them and much more
Google website optimiser – particularly useful for e-commerce sites
People who can help you to optimise your website
SEO consultants who work out the best keywords for your website like Rob Dobson
Web designers who build optimised websites like Pete Hillier @ WebFountainCopywriters who can use your keywords to create readable, engaging text that works for people as well as search engines.
About the author: Margaret Webster is a freelance copywriter. She wrote Network Rail’s website and an intranet site for one of their employee programmes. She has just finished writing a new website for Epigeum, an eLearning company.
Her approach is to begin each project by understanding the client company, its objectives and its audience. This has enabled her to write engaging, results-oriented copy for a wide range of audiences as diverse as CEOs of large organisations and track workers on the railway.
Margaret is also working on the optimisation of her own website, www.pagster.co.uk.