Just mention Search Engine Optimisation and you can guarantee someone will follow up with ‘SEO is a dark art’. True, there are plenty of shady characters peddling SEO skills, and certainly some ‘black hat’ SEO techniques (more on those later), but SEO really just needs a little time and some knowledge of how search engines work.
We’ll use Google as example for this article as it generates over 90% of search engine traffic worldwide and also because what works for Google will generally work for Bing and Yahoo as well.
The reason it’s an art form of sorts is the fact that, although you can do things to increase your chances of ranking well, the algorithm Google uses is never fully revealed and regularly updates. Google is trying to achieve better results for human users, so while it’s important to be aware of technical aspects, never forget about the person in front of the monitor at the other end. Interesting and informative content will always be at the heart of high-ranking sites.
Start with the areas you most control…
Meta data is additional information within the HTML coding of a page, used by search engines to help categorise a site and it’s one area where you have complete control. It includes page titles and meta descriptions, which is the text people see in their Search Engine Results Page (SERP), as well as Meta Keywords.
Imagine each page is a book in a library, or better yet a dissertation. Titles like ‘home’, ‘about me’ or ‘contact details’ might make sense to someone navigating your site, but mean almost nothing as a search result on their own. If Google doesn’t like your descriptions it may well choose its own so, to ensure the best chances of improving your click through rate when your results do appear, write appropriate meta descriptions.
<>So what meta data do I put in?
Google wants good page titles because it makes their search engine function properly, so they provide access to Google AdWords with every Gmail account. In
AdWords you can use the Keywords Tool to find out what people are searching for based on location, language and device.
Once you have a couple of popular keywords that accurately describe your page, you can put them in. The best practice is:
Primary Keyword, Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
For example, a company selling leather bags might have this page title:
Leather Holdall, Leather Satchel | Leather Bags R Us
Unless you’re an internationally recognised brand, you’ll do better to put the keywords first because that’s what the users are looking for. Google only shows the first 70 characters of a title, although it reads more, so get the keywords in first.
Resist the temptation to put loads of keywords in the title. This is known as ‘keyword stuffing’, a black hat SEO technique that Google will punish you for. It’s also bad for users who want concise, relevant information.
Because each page of your website has different content, page titles should be different too. This improves your visibility in searches, as well as making titles more relevant for specific pages.
Meta Keywords are the hidden keywords used to help Search Engines categorise a site, but following years of abuse with people using Black Hat SEO and adding popular but unrelated keywords, they are ignored by Google. Meta Descriptions, however, are important. They provide a concise description of a website that shows up in the majority of search engines. Google has confirmed that they are not a factor in ranking, but this is where the human factor comes in.
Again keep them brief and relevant – general opinion is that 150-160 characters is best. Some prefer a 120-character description that displays in full, others use longer descriptions that Google will pick search terms from and highlight in bold.
Fig.1 – ‘Leather Bags’ search. Next uses a longer description that Google shortens and highlights, Scaramanga uses a shorter description to ensure the whole message is shown.
If you do not enter a description, Google picks the most relevant content from the page to use as a description. You may find this satisfactory, but well-written and compelling advertising copy can make a huge difference to the person choosing a link from pages of results.
Now that people can find your site, you want them sharing your site or backlinking.
Hopefully your website has such good content this will be happening automatically, content is king and always will be. However you can help to get things started.
Listing your site on free directories like Yell and Hotfrog allows users to find you, as well as generating traffic to your site and improving your ranking.
It’s worth submitting content to forums and online organisations relevant to your site. Check the policies of these groups as some may restrict posting links, or ban them altogether.
Above all, avoid buying links or exchanging links. This is another black hat SEO technique and can easily lead to your site being removed from Google altogether.
Fresh content tastes better to Panda
Remember that content is king? Around 18 months ago Google released its Panda update, followed by Penguin about six months ago. Since these updates, Google prioritises fresh, original content on pages in line with its best practice guidelines, while penalising repeated content like a human would.
Having a newsfeed or case study page allows you to update your site with your latest developments, as well as potentially giving you article submissions for link building.
Don’t try to trick the search engines and always try to think from a website users’ perspective. What would they want to see? What content is appropriate and useful for them? You will rank highly in search engines eventually for the correct keywords if you label your site clearly, give images appropriate names and don’t stuff your site with keywords in the hope of getting listed.
Build it (with unique and compelling content) … and they will come.
About the author
Henry Lewington is MD at WebEden, an independently run, London based, web Software Company. The company’s maverick and refreshing approach gives it outstanding presence in the burgeoning market for website design tools. Through its online site building tool SiteMaker, Webeden is making it easy for everyone, no matter what their experience, to build a website. Over 4.2 million have already tried and succeeded.