SEO (Search engine optimisation) is the process concerned with configuring a website to reach it’s highest possible position when a search is carried out through a search engine. Every web site owner’s dream is to achieve position number one for keywords relating to their particular website.
At the time of writing Google is unquestionably the most commonly used search engine on the internet and therefore it is critical that your website conforms to their guidelines if you want to maximise your website’s search engine performance.
How do Search Engines Work?
Prior to formulating your SEO strategy it is important to understand how search engines find, index and then rank web pages. Search engines use an algorithm to ‘trawl’ websites, these algorithms are known as search engine ‘spiders’ that are directed to a particular website usually following your submission or sometimes following a link from another website.
Before you SEO your website it is very important that you do your background research first. Look at the market that you are in and your competitor websites and then put together a list of keywords that you think that people would use to search for the products or services that you have to offer.
This list of keywords will form the foundation for your SEO strategy, you will need to optimise your pages to ensure that they are targeted at the keywords on your list.
When optimising a page on your website to target keywords on your list it is important that you do not attempt to target to many on the same page. If you target too many keywords on the same page, this can lead to an incoherent flow and can also lead to the page being penalised for keyword stuffing. 1-4 keywords per page would be the recommended number to target for a particular page in order to achieve optimum SEO for a particular page.
SEO can be broken down into two distinct functions:
- Internal SEO
- External SEO
Internal SEO is concerned with optimising the functions of your website to ensure that it is as search engine friendly as possible. Areas that you need to consider when conducting internal SEO include:
It is easy for any web designer to become too focused on making sure that a website has beautiful graphics and flash technology to make an impact on anyone who visits. While search engines are able to read images, by far the most important content factor for SEO on any website is text. Therefore when initially designing a website ensure that you create the text first including the keywords that you are targeting on that particular page, and then build any images and/or flash animation around your text.
Despite this need to ensure that you include relevant keywords in your text be sure not to overcrowd your page with your keywords as you will be penalised for keyword stuffing. Try to write your page with a natural flow at first without thinking too much about your keywords, then read over your page and try to include your keywords where appropriate.
Together with page text, meta tags are an extremely important element of your internal SEO strategy. There are a large number of meta tags that can be used to perform various functions on a web page but the meta tags relevant to search engines include:
- Title tag
- Meta description tag
- Meta keywords tag
- Meta robots tag
These meta tags are contained within the <HEAD> section of your page and therefore are not visible to anybody who is simply browsing your website (with the exception of the title tag which appears in the titlebar of your web browser).
In order to properly SEO your website you need to include the keywords that you are targeting in the title tag, meta description tag and meta keyword tag, in a similar way to how you have included them in your page text, ensuring that you do not keyword stuff. You should view these tags as a description of the page to which they are attached, and not as the opportunity to include new keywords, these tags should reflect the content of your page.
The meta robots tag enables you to specify that a particular page should or should not be indexed by search engines. To ensure that a page is not indexed by search engines simply include:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”/>
To ensure that a page is indexed by search engines use the following tag instead:
<meta name=”robots” content=”index”/>
By default a page is set to be indexed by search engines so not including this tad will result in your page being indexed.
Heading tags include <h1>, <h2>, <h3> etc. tags placed within the main body of your page. These play an important role with search engines as the words placed in these tags are given greater prominence than the main text on the page. As a general rule of thumb you should include 1 <h1> tag at beginning of your main text area and then layout the page to include at least <h2> subheadings and if possible <h3> sub headings. It is extremely important to ensure that the keywords that you are targeting on a particular page are included within these tags.
Bold and italic text placed within the main body of text, like heading tags, is given greater prominence with search engines so try to include your keywords with bold or italic styling if possible.
Another factor ensuring that you maximise the SEO potential of your website is that of keyword placement. When writing the copy for a particular page it is very easy to use the keywords that you are targeting just at the begriming and the end of the page. It is important that your keywords are placed not just at the begriming and end of the page but throughout. You should even pay attention to the use of keywords in individual sentences, try to include them at the beginning, middle and end of individual sentences when possible and relevant.
Although search engines cannot read actual images, you can still optimise images for search engine performance. When incorporating images in your pages be sure to include alt tags that include your keywords as these alt tags are read by search engines. The naming of the image file is also a factor in SEO; try to use a descriptive name for our images rather than a meaningless string of letters or numbers.
Internal links on your website are another extremely important factor in SEO. Google will find internal pages on your website by following links from other pages on your site, so ensuring that all of the pages on your website are well linked is essential to get them indexed.
When implementing internal links in your website, the use of descriptive anchor text is very important. Anchor text is the the actual text that the user will click on in order to follow the link that you have created. All to often websites use non descriptive anchor text such as “click here” that does not tell search engines anything about the page that is being linked to. Instead of using “click here” try to incorporate the link into the natural flow of the sentence and use descriptive text to form the anchor text.
Sitemaps do exactly what they say on the tin; they are in essence a contents page for your website containing links to all of the pages within the website. HTML sitemaps are useful to both search engines and to users, they will usually be constructed with the use of a list of links to all of the pages on the website. XML sitemaps are created purely for search engines as they do not have any meaningful content for human users. XML sitemaps will have a list of tags outlining all of the pages contained on the website and can often be submitted to search engines to enable them to index all of your pages.
Page Types & Page Names
If possible, avoid building websites using dynamic pages unless absolutely necessary as they can be detrimental to your SEO strategy. Although search engines are able to pick these pages up as long as they have inbound links, they prefer static pages.
When creating static pages, it is important to use descriptive page names for each page; instead of calling a page “article1″ try to use the keywords that you are targeting on the page to form the page name.
External SEO focuses around building high quality links to your website from other websites on the internet. When performing external SEO it is important to take into consideration the topic area and PageRank of the website that you are trying to get a link from. While there is no such thing as a bad link to your website (it is impossible for a link to your website to have a detrimental effect on your ranking unless you link back to that website) websites that are based on the same topic and/or with a high PageRank will provide a better quality link than with a website with a low PageRank that is off topic.
Areas that you need to consider when conducting external SEO include:
One of the most important elements to consider when carrying out external SEO is anchor text. As explained previously anchor text is the actual text that a user would click on in order to follow a link. This anchor text provides information to the search engines about the nature of the page that the link is pointing to.
Whenever possible you should include descriptive text within your anchor text, and try specifically to include the keywords that you are trying to target on a particular page. For instance for this page if you were trying to target the keyword “free seo guide” you would use the following anchor text…
Free SEO Guide
<a href=”http://www.devoted-domains.co.uk/free-seo-guide”>Free SEO Guide</a>
Using “Free SEO Guide” as the anchor text tells the search engines that this page relates to these keywords and this effects your ranking.
Link exchanges provide websites with the opportunity to obtain inbound links from other websites. Link exchanges will typically involve two websites providing links to the homepage of the other website via a “links” page.
In order to get the most out of link exchanges you should target websites that are in the same topic area as your own. If you setup a large number of link exchanges with websites that are not related in terms of topic area to yours in anyway then it is possible that you will be penalised and this will have a detrimental effect on your SEO performance. If done correctly, a link exchange can provide a great way to generate additional, relevant links for your website and potentially more traffic.
If you have a talent for writing articles relating to your industry or market then article directories provide an excellent opportunity to generate high quality relevant links. You should target article directories that allow you to either place a link within your article or that enable you to place your link in a signature box at the bottom of your article. Article directories are a great way to generate links as if you write an article that relates to the subject area of the page that you are going to link to then you are generating a quality, relevant link.
An external blog provides a great opportunity to obtain links to your website. These links can simply be from the blog itself, or they may come from other people who read your blog and decide to link to your website. If subscribers to your blog link to your blog, this will benefit your website too, as the link juice from your blog will be partially passed on to your main website.
Link baiting is a process whereby you setup your website in such a way that it attracts natural links back to your website. Essentially link baiting requires you to create something interesting enough on your website to get other people’s attention. In order to successfully link bait your website you might consider the following:
- Informational baiting – Provide unique information that people may be interested in such as tips, or a unique perspective.
- News baiting – Provide information on a very topical subject, again providing a unique perspective is very effective.
- Humour baiting – Write an amusing or witty page, include a humorous cartoon or drawing.
- Controversial baiting – Creating a website that contains off-key or controversial subject matter. It is important to provide strong reasoning behind it.
- Tool baiting – Create an online tool that is useful enough that people will link to it.
- Widgets baiting – Create a badge or tool, that can be placed or embedded on other websites, with a link included.
Social Network & Bookmark Websites
Over the last few years social networking websites and bookmark websites have become more and more popular. Facebook and Twitter dominate the market but only provide “nofollow” links which it could be argued do not have an effect on your SEO performance. Other social networking websites like Myspace and RateItAll do provide links that are followed so it is important to target these websites in order to use social networking and bookmark websites to improve SEO performance.
If you know other people who have websites or friends of friends, try and arrange for a link exchange. In order to maximise the potential you should include some text around your link that relates to the content on the page that is being linked to.
Directories provide a list of websites much like a search engine, but rather than being sorted by rank they are organised into categories which vary dependant on the individual directory. It is important to bear in mind that directories vary dramatically in terms of quality and search engine recognition, and it is not always a certainty to obtain a listing once submitted. To maximise the use of time in your SEO strategy take the time to read the submission guidelines for each directory before you make a submission.
There are many good SEO companies on the internet that can help you optimise your website, however be very wary of companies that promise ‘a guaranteed listing’ with a particular search engine because they may or may not claim that they have a special relationship with them. This is impossible as none of the top search engines forge such relationships with any SEO companies.
If you are looking for a company to perform SEO for you then the answer is simple; type “SEO” or a related phrase into Google and select one of the companies near the top, if they are able to get their own website to the top then they obviously have some idea of what they are doing. Avoid websites listed under the “Sponsored Links” section as they have had to pay to be there.