A Beginners Guide to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search engines generally carry 2 sorts of results.
- Natural or Organic listings - these are the main results they present in bulk. They are based on the relevance of the words on your web page to the words being searched for. They are free and are long term and this is what Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is focussed on.
- Paid for listings or Pay Per Click (PPC) or Google Adwords - these are the sponsored links (usually first couple at the top of the main natural listings plus ads at the right side). Everytime someone clicks on one of these the search engine makes a charge to the website being visited. These are adverts where the site owner has selected the keywords for which their advert should be displayed.
What are the main factors that affect search engine ranking?
Here is a brief overview of some of the key factors to be taken into account. Search Engines do not reveal their rating methods and are constantly trying to improve their algorithms. Search Engines try to assess the text content of your web pages as seen by the human visitor. They actively try to combat any tricks used to try to mislead them about the real content of your pages.
Web Site Design:
Web sites designed specifically to be as successful as possible on the search engines must adhere to a set of specific guidelines that have a significant impact on the web site design options available.
- The main principle is to get your page content as close to the top of the page (as viewed in the source code) with as little structuring code (eg tables) in and around your text content (copy) as possible. The best approach is to use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for layout and presentation coding as far as possible rather than the standard traditional approach of doing everything with tables.
- If you have to use tables for layout keep the tables as simple as possible and avoid nesting tables as much as possible.
- Avoid the use of frames. These can hide your content from search engines or produce unsatisfactory results in search engines that do manage to find the text content. Typically search engines send visitors to the frame with the content (ignoring the other frames) resulting in the visitor only seeing a part of your pages.
- Avoid the use of Flash. Wonderful for providing animations and movement but generally not good for search engine performance.
- Provide plenty of text navigation (preferably common) between pages to allow search engines to find all your web pages easily.
- Ensure the html code is accurate. W3C standards exist but traditionally the leading browser, IE, has loosely interpretted the standards and is very forgiving. The result is that sloppy html code works. So web designers can be sloppy when they code. If your website is syntactically correct search engines find it easier to read and rank more accurately (and above the sloppy competition).
- Use Semantic HTML - Semantic HTML mark-up means coding your website with HTML that has meaning in terms of the data in the content rather than in terms of its presentation. So a heading is marked as a heading (eg <H1>) rather than a paragraph (<p>) that is presented in large text. Both might have the same visual appearance but a paragraph is no more important than any other paragraph to a code reader (such as a Search Engine) but a heading is far more important than a paragraph.
Web Site Text Content (Copy) - Focus is the Key:
Good quality well crafted text copy that is helpful and useful to your human web site visitors is the number 1 priority above all other considerations. This is what search engines try their best to rate your web pages on. Also no amount of search engine optimisation is going to be of any value unless your pages are useful to the human visitors when they arrive at your web site.
- The first thing to do is make a list of the Keyword Phrases relevant to your business that searchers might use (so use their language, not yours). Then these Keyword Phrases need to be added to your web pages.
- Preferably the Keyword Phrases need to appear in your web pages at least 5 times (and in important places in the code - titles, headings, first paragraph, links etc) and the pages need to include more that 250 (500 is better) words for search engines to take the web page seriously.
- How many web pages are needed? - It is impossible to say but a good starting point is at least 10 web pages to be taken seriously by the search engines.
- Images look nice but search engines are blind. Avoid using images in place of words particularly for main headings and links.
Links to Your Website:
Links to a web site from other good quality relevant sites give web sites a boost in the rankings in Google in particular.
There is often a large number of competitors for common Keyword Phrases so how well your web site can do in the search engine rankings depends how hard the competition is working.
- When the competition is particularly tough the best approach is to look for a niche where the competition is not so strong.
- Results can never be guaranteed but there is usually an area where some success is achievable.
Timescales: SEO is for the Long Term
Good search engine rankings usually take time and effort to achieve. It may take any thing from a few months, 6 months is more usual and even up to a year in a highly competitive area, before a web site is properly listed by the search engines.
- It is impossible to predict in advance how search engines will rank your pages or how strong the competition will be.
- Good search engine ranking often requires a sustained effort of monitoring performance, tuning and building content and building links over at least 6 months to establish a strong long term search engine presence.
- A one off attempt can produce good results but it is more likely that several attempts are needed to achieve a web site's best possible level of search engine ranking.
Pay Per Click (PPC) - Google Adwords
You ask a search engine such as Google to list your web site (in their sponsored links section – column on right hand side in Google) against selected key word search terms. Then if someone clicks the link to you web site in your advert you pay the going rate for that click (you usually fix a monthly budget to limit your spend). This is a way of getting immediate results but like all adverts, is lost when you stop paying.
Beware of Search Engine Optimisation Spamming
Search Engine Optimisation techniques fall into 2 distinct camps.
- Ethical (or white hat) SEO techniques which are all about doing things the way the search engines want them done so that they can honestly rank websites. These are the techniques described in this article and most likely to succeed reliably over the long term.
- Then there are the black hat SEP techniques which are to be avoided. They are techniques which attempt to trick and mislead the search engines. They can work but it is a constant game of cat and mouse requiring new tricks to be employed regularly as the old loop holes are filled and risk the ultimate penalty of being removed from the search engine listings.
Michael Spencer, Managing Director.
Epsilis - Website Designers
47 Farthing Drive
Letchworth Garden City
Content is Everything .... to your website visitor and to the search engines!
What is good web design?
There are many possible answers to this question as people's personal tastes, likes, dislikes and opinions enter the discussion.
Getting the words right - by Susannah
Susannah Ross is the author of 'A Simple Guide to Writing for your Website' available from Amazon. In this guest feature, she addresses how writing for the web is different to writing for print and what you need to know to make your words work for you.
Search Engine Success through Search
Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the art of tuning your web page(s) to get the best possible results in the search engines. The aim is to beat the competition to rank as high up the search engine results listing as possible.