- 1 Introduction to SEO
- 2 Optimisation Rules to Follow
- 3 Breaking All The Rules
- 4 Submitting a Site
- 5 Summary
How Website SEO Works
On-site search engine optimisation or On-page SEO refers to the remedial work required as we optimise individual website elements. Doing this correctly commences with a thorough SEO Audit to determine architectural areas in need of improvement, content quality and relevance of targeted keywords to products & services.
The usual objectives of web optimization are improving website ranking and visitor traffic, leading to increases in sales of products and/or services.
We look at issues such as;
- Menu and navigation structures
- Internal links, anchor texts, hyperlinks, link titles etc
- Sitemaps – user-accessible HTML and search engine accessible XML sitemaps
- Robots.txt – does it exclude the correct sections of the site’s admin areas
- 404 Page Not Found Error – custom page that handles broken links and allows visitors to find that they were after
- Broken links
- File & Image Naming conventions – no spaces, capitals etc that can break links
- Use of Image Alt texts across the site to aid in indexing and categorisation
- Titles & Descriptions – do they conform to webmaster guidelines
- Keyword meta-tag – poor use may incur a Panda over-optimisation penalty!
- Heading formats – correct use of H, H2, H3 etc
- 1st Paragraph content – does it summarise the page contents, reason and purpose
We carry out some keyword research to determine what keyword search phrases are actually used by potential clients. This research is also applied to efforts undertaken for you in an Off-Site SEO link profile audit for potential penalties.
Having assessed what needs improvement, and making any necessary compromises required due inherent limitations in the website architecture, we write a set of Page Optimisation Edits that are then implemented by the client, or by us if required. For small websites, we may only need to optimise 10 -15 main pages, for medium-sized sites, perhaps 30+ pages.
The outcome of the amendments is a better focus of the content, whereby it more closely aligns with the searches conducted by potential customers. Marketing your website is primarily ensuring its visibility is enhanced, and that your brand and message is clear.
Match Content to Searches
Overall, optimisation of a website is a process of aligning the wordsand images used on the site with the language and terminology used by potential customers… It also requires adherence with current “best practice” and elimination of any aspects of your site that could be construed as over-optimisation. Keyword spam and old-fashioned SEO tricks will ceretainly harm your site’s rankings.
What actually is search engine optimisation? This article sets out to dispel some of the myths surrounding SEO, and to promote awareness of the practice as tool to achieve a return on investment for your web site.
There is obviously confusion in the minds of many, as evidenced by the varied approaches seen within any cross-section of web sites. A lack of understanding is apparent on the part of many web designers e.g. those whose design techniques ensure that search engines cannot penetrate to any internal content!
Introduction to SEO
In essence, SEO is the art of descriptive clarity and categorisation. Its all about the words… language semantics plays a big part, and an ability and willingness to use synonyms and/or hypernyms instead of keyword repetition. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and descriptive accuracy are important elements.
Many website developers and clients are focused solely on the site’s form and aesthetics, creating graphic-centric web page sites at the expense of textual content.
As has been said many times – it matters not how good it looks, if no one can find it…
Surely, any page should be centred around its “function” of coaxing potential clients in for a look, and then capturing their interest ion completing a sale. Indeed the “form” will assist in clinching the deal in terms of conveying credibility, and showcasing products and services etc. The design should be a core element in the overall strategy aimed at delivering the all-important “return on investment” for the site’s owners. Branding, graphics and textual content ought to be a coordinated process, with one supporting the other.
All to often, one element is dominated be another, or completely ignored, to the disadvantage of the business enterprise!
Paradigm Shifts in SEO
Throughout 2012 and 2013, search engine optimisation has been a very fast-moving target. Indeed, the speed and scope of the changes brought about by Google have left tens of thousands of website owners worldwide in the depths of despair.
The biggest change has been the severity of the penalties meted out by Google for the slightest of transgressions! They’ve promulgated new terms of service, new Webmaster Guidelines and have set about enforcing those with ruthless brutality.
Many of the website promotional techniques that were widely promoted and perfectly acceptable 6-10 years ago are not only now forbidden, they can wipe out a website’s rankings and eliminate their traffic. That’s particularly harsh in the case of past link-building efforts that took place many years before the rules changed. There is no effort by Google to ignore or overlook those older links…
The search engine landscape has dramatically altered in the past 2 years. Revised relevancy ranking algorithms are one thing – but the implementation of both Panda and Google algorithms is aimed at identifying and punishing breaches of the rules…
In the quest to reward website’s with the best content, the collateral damage has been significant indeed!
There are new guidelines that, when followed, will ensure your site prospers – or regains lost ground. The goal is still generation of “qualified traffic” – defined as those who come to you because they want what you offer, and not by accident. In some respects that’s actually easier than before because there’s not so many items to tweak! In other respects its harder because breaking any rules will be severely penalised!
Two Approaches to Building Traffic
The long-standing methods for boosting visitor numbers to a website are Organic (natural) SEO and Pay Per Click. These can be used in a complimentary fashion, with PPC used whilst organic rankings are lagging. In a smaller business website, it may be difficult to fully optimise it for a broad range of search phrases. In that environment, PPC campaigns can greatly extend the web site’s reach to potential customers.
In other words, carefully optimising for the major keyword terms is augmented via PPC which to targets keyword search terms for which natural rankings are harder to attain.
Optimisation of your Website
The long-term traffic generation techniques of on-the-site optimisation essentially deliver “free” traffic from search engines based on your ranking for particular search terms. This requires the site to contain high-quality content that provides answers to the searcher’s queries.
Providing the best-possible content ensures that;
- search engines list the relevant pages in Search Engine Results Pages
- viewers of the SERPs click on your link and visit your site
- visitors to your site then spend some time reviewing your content before moving on
Google measures visitor retention time… therefore, fast exits tell Google that your site did not fulfill the visitors needs… That is recorded, and used against you if it happens consistently! The important aspect at your end is to ensure that your page accurately describes its content!
You must help Google by descriptive accuracy and ensure that the content is relevant to specific searches whenever possible. Both content volume and organisation is important, as is ensuring that search engines can index all it without hindrance!
Where you are unable to attain high natural rankings for important phrases, you might be prepared to pay to ensure people find your site via a PPC campaign. essentially, you “bid” for those “sponsored listings” positions and pay each time a visitor clicks on your link on a search engine and goes through to view your site. PPC allows you to generate traffic even if your site is poorly optimised, but is by far the most expensive option long term.
A plus of PPC campaigns is that you can set it up do take the visitor straight to the most relevant content.
The primary PPC options are Google’s Adwords, Bing and Yahoo Search Marketing (previously Overture) Each is a variation on the same theme. Google is probably the more expensive but delivers the most visitors. All have easy set up procedures for creating your personalised advertising campaign/s. Copy-writing is the underlying skill required, as your try and shoe-horn in adequate content into limited title and description space!
Search Engine Landscape
There have been huge changes in the search engine scene in the past decade, with the meteoric rise of Google to its position of total dominance. All the golden oldies are pretty much reduced to historical anachronisms. Some cling to life still, others are gone but not forgotten. Yahoo gets its search engine data from Microsoft’s Bing, and Google provides search results to many of the lesser search engines globally.
Perhaps the more fundamental changes have the greatest consequences. For a decade, an well-written listing in the human-edited Yahoo Directory and the Open Directory were vital to search rankings and visitor traffic. Even the great Google placed great emphasis on top-quality directory listings, and there was a time when a listing in The Open Directory ensured good Google rankings. Now, it seems to count for very little indeed!
Between them, Google, Bing and Yahoo account for almost 90% of all web searches. Therefore, it is still very important that your web site is carefully optimised!
Optimisation Rules to Follow
There are some basic concepts and guidelines that are prerequisites for success…
Form vs Function
In your business plan, clearly define the niche that your web site will fit into, and how you will portray your business, products and services. Develop and manage it to meet the defined functions, but be prepared to monitor results and adapt to changing circumstances. Keep it streamlined, fast to load and clean and refuse to allow any technological gimmicks that impair its functions. This includes pointless Flash animations or large images which cripple page loading speeds – and send disappointed visitors scrambling towards more responsive websites!
Databases were once a potential impediment to indexing of internal website content due to unfriendly URLs, session IDs and sundry other oddities. Having one generic / duplicated Title, Description and Keyword meta-tag on every page of the site was a truly appalling but common design “feature.”
These days, the modern Content Management Systems have long-since overcome those old shortcomings.
Most CMS applications allow full control over all elements including search-engine-friendly URLs, Titles, Descriptions, Headings and more.
No 2nd Chances
The appalling “Click here to Enter Site” intro page with no textual content ejects budding customers into the ether, in search of a “proper” site that provides prompt satisfaction of their information needs.
Added to that, all search engines place greatest emphasis on the Home page content. Should they encounter a psuedo-Home page bereft of content, guess how that will impact your rankings! If a search engine can’t locate sufficient information to properly categorise the site, how do you expect it to calculate the site’s relevance to any search query?
Focus on What rather than Who
Be crisp and clear in outlining your website’s content throughout its pages. If your brand is not yet a “household name” then the emphasis should be more on what your products and services are, and less on who you are.
A search may commence with an open-ended phrase that is then refined with adjectives or locations. If you are selling spades then the descriptive elements such as Titles and Headings should not be the technically correct but hopelessly imprecise “Agricultural Implements.”
Wasting opportunities with “Welcome to my web site” is equally unhelpful…
Research the keywords phrases that searchers might use to find what you offer. For each page, ensure that the most relevant search phrase is are included within descriptive sections such as the title, heading and initial paragraph as part of a explaining what the page is about.
The Smiths shovels manufacturer’s site title ought not be “Welcome to Smiths Agricultural Implements Web Site.” Instead, a minimalist “Powder-coated Steel Shovels – Lifetime Warranty | Smiths UK” would provide product accuracy, a USP and the Brand elements withi nthe 70 characters allocated ot the Title.
Is Content really King?
- The objective of search engines is presenting the most relevant page listings (SERPs) for every search
- Your objective is to ensure that your on-page content is relevant to a specific search made for the product or service you have available!
Every page should be unique in all content and descriptive areas. It should also include the targeted and specific keyword or search phrase in meta-tags and body text.
All Pages Within Two Clicks
The website navigation should be engineered in such a way that all pages are within two clicks of your current position. Providing an easily found HTML sitemap page is helpful to human visitors. It is also helpful to insert hyperlinks to your primary internal pages within the Home Page body text sections. This highlights the importance of those pages, reinforces the sections within the Home Page with relevant supporting content AND ensure viewers can go straight to the section they are interested in.
Given that search engines may not place value on pages more than 3 levels down, a fairly shallow structure is best. Even then, getting all internal pages of a big site indexed usually requires an XML sitemap page with links to every internal page. Doing it properly require you to;
- Install a dynamic sitemap generator
- list the sitemaps in your Google and Bing Webmaster Tools accounts
- add the recommended Sitemap line in robots.txt
There are multiple obsolete meta-tags that SE’s generally ignore. Some, like the “keyword” tag are now not used by search engines due to persistent abuse. Using the keywords meta-tag might even signal over-optimisation efforts to Google…
The recent font changes to Google’s SERPs display means Titles should be shorter than the previously recommended 65 characters. As at time of writing (August 2014) the prevailing opinion is that Titles with 56 characters have a 95% chance of being displayed verbatim.
The Title tag content is shown on the top left of the browser border as you view a website. It is usually used as the heading when/if the page is listed in the search engine’s search results pages (SERPs). This important first impression deserves more than the pathetic “Home” or “Welcome”. The recommendation is a concise summary of the site / page content in a few words, plus your Brand Name / business name. You only have 70 characters including spaces to work with if its to appear verbatim in the SERPs.
Page Description Tags
If provided, the Description meta-tag is usually used verbatim in the search engine’s search results pages. This is your chance to encourage a searcher to click and go to your listed page. What’s required is a sales pitch of a maximum of 160 character (including spaces).
Apparently, the Description meta-tag transfers zero SEO traction these days! For a large, complex page, NOT having a description may make sense as it allows Google et al to automatically extract a dynamic Description highlighting the page content that is relevant to the search.
Breaking All The Rules
Needs must suffice when the devil drives… and those mission-critical Top 10 search engine rankings have over time ensured that smoke & mirror solutions allowed sites to ascend to the top of the ranking pyramid. These tricks ranged from the simplicity of hidden text to the complexities doorway, hallway and stub pages, link rings, paid links and onwards to sophisticated cloaking and redirects that trick Googlebot into seeing and ranking content that human viewers cannot see.
Google is now much smarter… and has developed a nasty, vindictive streak! Bottom line is, do anything which breaches the terms of service or webmaster guidelines and and you WILL be penalised for spamming, over-optimisation and/or subverting the search index.
The majority of penalties are automated and will be revoked once the site is compliant again. On being penalised, a site has its rankings and traffic slashed, in many cases by 60% – 70% overnight… Google is on the alert so strive to rise to the top of the rankings on merit – it’s a better long-term strategy and a hell of a lot easier than cheating once was!
Submitting a Site
Having revised your your website to meet the new rules of engagement with Google, you ensure it’s included within the indexes of the various search engines by;
- adding a site map in your Webmaster Tools account on Bing & Google
- adding the Sitemap: http://www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml line in robots.txt
- add a listing on a couple of local or national business directories
You can easily check if your site is indexed on Google by doing the following search;
– Site:www.mysite.com (replace mysite.com with your own domain name)
That will show you how many pages of your web site Google has found and indexed.
The “Submission to 10,000 Search Engines for $99.95” was never good value, and is even less so today as its guaranteed to get you a penalty for manipulative linking practices!
Website Optimisation Maintenance
Our experience since 1997 shows that a full-scale site web site optimisation will often serve you for several years. You may require an update when a significant change occurs in the search engine guidelines or terms of service. This was certainly the case in 2012 and 2013 when Google redefined both it’s Terms of Service and Guidelines and outlawed many common SEO practices in widespread use.
As a consequences, hundreds of thousands of websites worldwide were harshly penalised. The main aspects where penalties were applied was poor content quality, and manipulative link building efforts.
In severe cases, websites lost 80% of their traffic overnight! Recovery from such an event usually requires remedies applied on both aspects.
- Click here to request a website SEO audit
- If you require corporate website optimization services, we are happy to help.
- We also have an overview page outlining rates for seo packages.
In terms of delivering traffic to your website, the main search engines are still Google and Bing – Yahoo receives and uses Bing data, not its own. Google and Bing provide their results to many smaller search engines and portals and deliver results for some 90% of all searches performed online! They also have supplementary “sponsored listings” derived from PPC campaign advertising systems.
Search engine optimization of your web site is now even more important than ever, both in terms of improving rankings AND avoiding penalties!
Your goal of a reliable flow of “qualified traffic” is only achieved by a combination of the best available content, and compliance with the strict new terms of service laid down by Google.
Website designer have an obligation to clients to ensure their site is developed to facilitate search engine indexing. Establishing the functionality should precede creating the design form. Make it work, then make it pretty…
Businesses large and small that are planning a new website (or considering redesigning an existing site) should insist on SEO as a fundamental structural component. This will save you money in the long term and shorten the the return on investment (ROI) timeframe.