What is the purpose of your website? If you can't easily answer that question, then I highly recommend having a good think about it because everything you do with your site should be to serve that purpose.
Chances are that your website is there to be useful or interesting or to sell stuff to a particular audience. When I say audience, I mean people - human beings. Therefore, it makes sense that the content of your site is for them (this is very
important to remember). But, how will they find your site in the first place? That's right, by using a search engine such as Google. So, not only should your site be good for people, but it must also be search engine 'friendly' so that people can find it.The process of trying to make your website appear at the top of search results is called Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO).
Before we get into SEO, there's something you should know if you're about to have a site designed and created for you...
A web designer will design your site and put the words you provide on the pages. A good website designer will construct the site such that search engines will 'understand' it (i.e. be able to determine what it is about so they can find it and place it in search results). However, it is not usual for a web designer to optimise your site for search engines - this is an additional, time-consuming job... one that you'll have to pay for or do yourself. Whichever route you choose, it is good to know a bit about the topic, so this is for you.Really Simple Search Engine Optimisation
SEO is a huge topic. The purpose of what follows is intended as a very light introduction to the principles so that you can learn more and carry out the task yourself or, alternatively, have a knowledgeable conversation with someone you're planning to hire for the job.
There are two areas to look at with SEO:
- On page optimisation
This covers everything that you can do on your site to make it have the best chance of ranking well for a given phrase or search term. You can control this.
- Off site optimisation
This covers everything out of your control that will make your site rank more highly for a given phrase. Basically, it is all about how many (and which) sites link to yours.
It's worth exploring these briefly. I'd say that on-page optimisation is absolutely worth doing because it is within your control and gives your site the best chance of ranking well. However, off-site optimisation will have a much bigger effect on your rankings. This is because, if ranking was entirely dependent on what people did on their own site, then (some) people would try to cheat the system. To counter this, Google looks at how many sites link to yours. If there are lots, then Google is more inclined to think 'ah, this must genuinely be of interest, let's push it up the rankings'. However, this is also open to abuse, so Google will also look at the 'quality' of the sites that link to you. If you have sites like BBC.co.uk and CNN.com linking to you (or indeed, important 'authority' sites for your topic), then that will boost your rankings even higher. This is called link building, and can happen naturally if people have a reason to want to link to your site. Alternatively, you'll need to find ways of getting links (such as having your site listed in online directories).What phrases are your audience searching for?
It is important to know what people are searching for, and it isn't always obvious. One place to start would be to look at competitor websites and run them through a tool like the SEOmoz Term Extractor
. Once you know what your competition is targeting, head over to Google's Keyword Tool
and plug those phrases in. It will then tell you the number of searches for each phrase in a month - and also provide you with similar phrases that are being searched for that you might never have thought of.
Once you think you have relevant phrases for your audience, check the competition and target (optimise your site for) phrases that will bring traffic volume and
that you have a good chance of ranking highly for. How do you work out your chances? Read on.Amount of Competition
Ranking well for an obscure term is relatively easy. For example, if you searched for 'hairy hungry horny hippos' in Google, I wouldn't expect there to be much competition. Having typed that, I just did a quick search and there are 1,030,000 pages in the world with those words (who'd have thought it)! Google reports this number on the right just above the 1st result. Now if you search again and put the phrase in "quotes" you'll see there are zero results. What happened there? The first search (without quotes) is a 'broad match', it means those 1 million results had all of the words somewhere on the page. The second search was a 'phrase' match, which means no pages had those words together on the page in that precise order. Well, they didn't until now - it'll be interesting to see if I hit page 1, or even the number 1 spot in a few weeks when Google finds this page.
The point of all this is that, for each page on your site, you want to target a particulate phrase. And, whilst it is easy to rank well for an obscure phrase, if no-one is searching for that phrase, then you still won't gain any visitors to your site.
Normally (not always - and lucky you if you find one), the more popular a phrase, the more competition there is. This means it is more difficult to get a top spot in the search results. So, in this stage, we've checked the amount of competition for a given phrase.Quality of Competition
The amount of competition isn't the only thing to consider though. If you're going to beat the competition, you also need to know how good they are. For this you want to know their Google Page Rank (a scale from 1-10, 10 meaning that Google think they're a mega authority site) and the number of backlinks (links) to the site. The easiest way to check this is to use the SEO for Firefox addon
If the top 10 spots have a high (5 and above) Page Rank and lots of Y!Links (Yahoo's backlink checker), then you'll have to invest a lot of time, effort and money, to beat them. The principle to beating the competition is to look at what they're doing, and do it better (better on-page and off-site SEO).
So, what you're looking for is a sweet-spot where you stand a good chance of ranking highly, but also know that enough people are searching for the phrase to bring visitors to your site.A note about Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
It is estimated that the number 1 spot in Google will get 40% or so of the clicks, and this drops rapidly down to approximately 0.5% for the number 10 spot. That means that if 1000 people are searching for your phrase every month and you're on page 1 in the number 10 spot, it will only translate to 5 or so visitors! By the way, well done for getting on page 1 at all, it isn't easy.Don't forget, it's VERY important...
When you're writing your website content, you're writing for people, not search engines. If people find your site and think it is rubbish, that won't do you much good either!Wrapping it all up - and a recommendation!
I hope this has proved a useful introduction to the most basic principles of SEO. As I've mentioned a few times now, it really is a huge topic and if it's something you want to understand properly and put into practice, you'll have to read a lot deeper.
To get you started (and in addition to the links provided above), take a look at some of the free SEOmoz tools
. For on-page optimisation, I recommend using their web developer cheat sheet
Finally, I started my SEO adventure with a great book that I'd highly recommend, SEO School
by Naomi Dunford (that's an affiliate link BTW folks). It's an easy and enjoyable read and it will help you take more practical first steps following on from this article.
Labels: search engine optimisation, seo