What Is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s about making sure that your website has the best possible chance of being found by Google and other search engines for any particular key word or key phrase.

I Want To Be Number One!

The first point to grasp is that no designer or SEO consultant in the world can promise a first page position on Google, as it is Google which decides a website’s ranking and nobody else. All a designer can do is make sure that everything has been done to make sure that a site impresses Google to encourage a good ranking.

It’s also important to grasp that your site will be competing against sites that offer the same products and services that you do. A long-established site considered in high regard by Google is always going to get a better ranking than a site that is newly launched onto the Internet. If your site is competing against many long-established rival sites, you need to be prepared to spend a lot of time and money (enlarging your site, monitoring your site, adding new content, engaging in social media etc) to fight your way up the rankings and knock your competitors off the top spot.

When you commission a website, you need to be clear about your objectives. Do you want a simple brochure site that provides information on your products and services? Or do you want a proactive site which will actively encourage visitors to your site? Ultimately, what you get will be determined by your budget. A small, well designed brochure site with standard SEO will cost about £600 and will perform better than a site with little or no SEO input. On the other hand, a much larger site with a lot more content and an on-going SEO strategy will cost you more like £2K plus the ongoing monthly fees charge by the SEO consultant. But of course a well optimised site, combined with ongoing SEO and social media strategy will perform better and give you a stronger return on your investment in the long run.

Sometimes people with small, brochure style websites have high and unrealistic expectations about what their website will be able to do for them. The hard fact is that unless you have a very large budget for your site, you cannot expect it to perform well against sites that employ advanced SEO techniques.

How Google Assesses Your Site

Google regularly changes the way it assesses a website. First and foremost, Google currently gives priority to sites with excellent content. Excellent content is content that is factual, relevant to the subject matter of your site and will provide interest and value to your visitors. Good social networking recommendations (Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest etc.) are also considered important. Inbound links (i.e. links to your site from another site) are less important than they used to be, but obtaining links from ‘authority’ websites is considered a positive (but not an essential). Google also looks at the way a website is built, how page titles and headings are used and the density of keywords and phrases in the content.

Standard SEO

This means making sure a site is well designed, well programmed, and that basic tips and tricks are employed such as making sure that page titles and headings are used properly and contain key words, the content contains keywords and phrases and above all, that the content of a site is plentiful and relevant. This level of optimisation is standard and any good web designer will make sure that each SEO box is ticked before launching a site. A good designer will also advise on how social media can be used to promote a site online, although ultimately, it is up to the owner to decide if they have the time and budget to implement these measures.

Advanced SEO

SEO is big business these days and there is a whole industry that has sprung up servicing clients who want to promote their business website online. Services include competitor research, keyword research, content writing, blogging, social media integration and so on. SEO specialists charge a lot of money – often an initial sum for research/set up etc (which can be several thousand) followed by a monthly payment (can be a couple of hundred) to keep the site ranking well for various keywords that will bring a lot of visitors. This is why advanced SEO is usually only used by large companies who have big marketing budgets.

What Google Really Wants To See On A Site

Google want to see four things:

1) Excellent Content (most important)

What Google really wants to see is good, factual, relevant and unique content on your site with fresh content being added regularly. The more content you can put on your site, the better. But the content needs to be relevant to the keywords that you are targeting. For this reason, a blog (if you have one) is considered an excellent way to add new, fresh content to your site and help keep your site on Google’s radar.

Small sites, without a blog can still rank well for very specific search terms.

2) Social Networking (very important)

Social networking includes promoting your site on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Pinterest, Google Circles etc.

Social networking works because people post links to websites on social networking sites which are seen by friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or fans who will follow the links, and better still, pass on the link to their own set of followers. The principle is a bit like that of pyramid selling mixed with the idea that people like to look at things that their friends like.

Many non-native internet users shy away from social networking as they do not understand it or think they do not have the technical skills to set up accounts. But my advice is ignore it at your peril! You will be missing out on a huge reservoir of potential visitors.

Here are a few tips:

1) Set up a Facebook account for your product/service/book/artwork (not a personal page). Include as much information as you can on the site.
2) Make sure you add links from your website to your Facebook page.
3) Add ‘share’ buttons to your website’s pages so that it is easy for visitors to share your pages on the main social networking websites
4) Add ‘like’ buttons to your website’s pages so that it is easy for visitors to like your site and share it with others
5) Set up a Twitter account if you are prepared to tweet regularly (there is no point in having a Twitter account if you do not participate).
6) Set up other social networking pages (My Space, Pinterest, Google Circles) and include links from your website to these pages. The more the better really.

In practice, maintaining social networking pages is a very time consuming task, especially Twitter. However, the king of them all is Facebook, so if nothing else, I strongly advise you to set up a Facebook account.

3) Inbound Links (less important these days)

Link Building refers to the building up of inbound links to your site from other websites, preferably ones that are highly regarded as ‘authorities’ on your subject area.

There is no quick and simple way of obtaining links from other websites.  It is a long, tedious, time-consuming job. You need to identify likely sites and email them to ask for a link – you may or may not be successful. Remember that they will probably have to pay their web designer to add your link, so your request must be significant to them.

There are directories on the internet which allow you to submit your site, but make sure you use reputable ones. Beware of any site that offers to link your site to hundreds of other sites. These are known as ‘web rings’ and Google does not approve of web rings. Belonging to such as ring could get your site banned from Google which is an absolute disaster as it is virtually impossible to get your site re-instated if black-listed.

There are also many specialist companies who will be able to help you promote your site on the Internet but their services can be expensive and are not always good value for money.

4) Well-designed websites (very important)

A good website will:

– Use page titles properly (titles containing keywords, phrases etc)
– Use page descriptions properly (descriptions that include keywords and phrases)
– Use headings properly (H1, H2, H3 etc)
– Have keywords and phrases in the content
– Be well programmed

SEO Summary

1) No web designer in the world can promise you a number one slot for a keyword or phrase – only Google can do that as they are in charge!
2) You ranking will depend on how may sites are competing for your chosen keyword or phrase , the age of the competing sites, the amount of content and the freshness of the content (lots of new content is best)
3) Content is King! The more relevant content you can put on your site, the better your chance that your site will be found on Google. Your aim should be to be an ‘authority’ in your subject matter area.
4) Social networking is Queen! The more you engage in social networking relevant to your sector, the better your chances your website will be found by others.
5) The way your site is built will also influence your ranking. At the very minimum a website needs to be well designed, well programmed and employ basic SEO techniques (keywords and phrases in page titles, descriptions, tags, file names, heading structures etc.)
6) Inbound links from other relevant sites are also important.
7) SEO is expensive and time-consuming. It will add to the cost of your site. Most good designers will use basic SEO techniques on your site. Advanced SEO is usually only employed by large companies with very large marketing budgets. Specialist companies offer advanced SEO.