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Search engines

Website optimization for search engines


Building websites and writing articles for the web is becoming a bit of an art form. There are do’s and dont’s written all across the internet with people’s offerings regarding what is good and bad practice for search engine optimization (SEO) and what needs to be done to improve a website’s search result ranking. This article picks out some of the best advice in terms of effectiveness and attainability and aims to stress the importance of SEO.

SEO is a term that most people hear today – it’s a marketing hurdle to jump for every business and individual who wants their website to be seen. To figure out why it’s so important…ask yourself these two questions:

1. When you want to find information, a product or service, or anything else, where is the first place you look?

2. When you use a search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc), how far down the results do you look before trying a different search – 3rd, 4th item? Page 2?

Most of you will answer that you look on the internet first and that you barely look below the 3rd search result, let alone page 2. Therefore any of us who want our websites found on the search engines, will need to make it search engine-friendly. How? Read on…

Firstly, Google, Yahoo and other search engines have a number of robots that constantly scour the web for new and changed website content. It then indexes what it finds, whether good or bad, and then through complex algorithms, chooses which of the websites to show in a particular search result – and the order to display them.

An unknown number of factors affect your website’s ranking in search engines but some of key things that search engines will favour you for are:

  • The number of links from relevant websites that link to you and the credibility of the linking website.
  • The design of your website. Clashing colours, varying fonts, flash animations and badly named image files will all count against you in search rankings.
  • The relevance of your key words. If you are a coffee shop in Leeds and start entering keywords in your meta data such as ‘Sony Television’ or ‘World Cruises’, search engines will recognize this and penalize you for deception. It’s better to enter words like ‘coffee shop Leeds’ or ‘lunch snacks Trafalgar Road Leeds’.

There are endless ways of making your website stand out to the crowd and the very best thing to do is to make it what it needs to be.  This article will not list all of the ways you can make your website better, but these are the most effective and realistic ones to achieve:

  • Keep all content and meta data relevant – this is by far the most important piece of advice to follow;
  • Link to reputable external sources when referencing something or something needs a definition;
  • Ensure the website is pleasing to the eye – no clashing colours, avoid using lots of different fonts;
  • Write meaningful keywords in your meta data and relevant to your website content (and contain the same words/phrases in the actual display text);
  • Promote your website using social media. Twitter and Facebook accounts with a meaningful account name and description will help and send tweets using topical hashtags to gain interest;
  • Request links to your website from reputable and meaningful sources.  For example, if your website promotes your hairdressing business, then links from hair care companies or bridal websites are much more beneficial than one from the RSPCA.
  • Provide resources that are in demand and link to them through forums such as LinkedIn, Yahoo Answers etc. This generates links to your website AND promotes it with people who want what you are offering.
  • Give all your images and linked files meaningful names. It’s no good calling your images things like DSC00043.jpg – Google Image search and similar, will not know what your image is of unless it’s properly named.
  • Register with online directories for free. Dmoz, BTTradespace, LinkedIn, BOTW, Joe ant, The London Directory and Squidoo are all ones favoured by the search engines.
  • Create a robots.txt file. This permits or prohibits (depending on what you write) search engines to scan your website directories. More info here.
  • Put descriptions in your image and file tags. This ‘describes’ the image and is particularly useful for robots when scanning the website but also for disabled viewers who may use screen narrators.
  • Keep your content updated and fresh. Stale websites a) reduce the interest from users and b) mean the search engines do not favour them. They are perceived ‘dead’.
  • Put yourself on the map! Google maps is an excellent and free place to put your business or website.

Of course, it’s not as simple as experimenting, seeing what happens when you press ‘search’ and assuming your website will become top – the SEO optimization takes weeks to show any benefit at all. Therefore, following the guidelines above and doing things thoroughly is important. Most importantly, it’s essential to understand there are things you can do that harm your website’s potential – and sometimes this can be permanent to the point of needing a new website address (URL):

  • Never create duplicate content. This means never have the same website in many locations and link between them. It’s good (in fact advised) to have several web addresses that link to one set of content, but never create many sets of website content that are exactly the same. Google will penalize you with irreversible damage.
  • Never flood your keywords. You should need 5-10 key words in your meta data, per web page and the key words should all be within your display text too. Generating keywords such as ‘Panasonic TV’ on a Pet Shop website will do you enormous amounts of damage.
  • Invisible text. Creating invisible text to avoid the point above, will also do you a lot of harm. The website robots that work for search engines will detect it in the website’s coding.
  • Generating bad links. Getting unmeaningful websites to link to yours, just so you can get another link, is a bad idea. Don’t do it – it will hurt your website’s performance.

The golden rule in website design is ‘if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isnt’ and we should all remember that.

Learning about how traffic is generated to your website and how many hits, unique visitors and other useful statistics can help you gear your website towards who you want to attract. A lot of websites can boast a high hit rate but subsequently learning that most of the hits come from people who know the website exists and use the search engines as a fast track to get the website link, is helpful to realise that the keywords and current SEO measures are not generating new customers.

Google Analytics is free and is incredibly clever – it provides all manner of statistics – world location, keywords used to reach the site, number of visitors (and unique visitors), number of pages visited on each session, how long they perused the site and the bounce back rate (how many clicked ‘back’ after clicking to your website from search results). It is well worth a look and we suggest you implement it for your website.

Other tools that can help analyse your website in terms of SEO are:

Google Webmaster Tools

Raven Tools

SEOMoz

There are also ways of paying for links using Google AdWords and similar – but we will write a separate article on this.

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About theithandbook

Reaching every day people and businesses with simple, effective and modern IT advice.

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