SEO tips and the dark arts

Piece by piece...

Right then, clients keep asking about SEO and getting onto page one of Google. To use our politicians' current favoured opener: let's be clear about this, to do SEO properly on a website is a full-time job. And rather than there being one thing you can do to improve rankings, SEO is a combination of lots of little things all put together a bit like Lego.

SEO tips and the dark arts
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Generally speaking, competition out there in the web is fierce especially for the service industry so careful consideration needs to occur about your site’s search engine optimisation before it starts; how are all the elements that make up your finished site going to contribute to it scrambling to the top of the Googlepile?  It doesn’t help that the algorhythms that Google and other major search engines use vary and that they keep changing the rules every now and again – it’s a bit of a headache keeping up so there are many inaccurate, conflicting, erroneous and outright mythical bits of advice out there on the net. But, there are basic things that your web designer should do but there are quite a few things that you can do too.

Let’s begin with your web designer. As part of building a website there are a number of elements that need to be included that will contribute to more favourable results in a search.

  1. The code used to build the site should be lean and clean, nice and tidy and compliant as far as possible with current web standards. This will ensure that the Googlebots will be able to crawl your site without getting lost or confused and index it more efficiently. It also means that your site will load and perform more quickly and Google likes fast sites.
  2. Maybe have your site built with WordPress as rumour has it that it’s favoured by Google because of the way it’s put together. But be wary of point one above because WordPress sites are big and can be slow and clunky if they’re not built properly.
  3. Page titles should be unique, well written, descriptive and contain one or two keywords. If you have a company name, either it shouldn’t be included or it should put it at the end.
  4. Well written content is vital. Original content should be punctuated with well-considered key words and key search phrases. These elements should occur naturally in the content without being spammy or ‘stuffed’. If Google thinks you’re overdoing it, your site could be penalised in the rankings or even de-indexed.
  5. Every image should have a descriptive ‘alt’ tag. Google can’t read images so well-considered keyword-rich descriptions for images will help in the rankings.
  6. The description meta tag (The bit that appears after your listing in search engine results) should be carefully written and contain keywords and phrases and also a location (e.g. web design in Liverpool) if you want to appear in local searches. This meta description should be about 155 characters long because that’s all that appears below your listing before the ellipsis kicks in.
  7. The heading tags should be descriptive and contain keywords and phrases.
  8. Links to other pages should contain keywords so instead of ‘Read more >>’ as a link something like ‘Pay for a website in instalments >>‘ is better.
  9. The HTML and CSS coding on the site should be, as far as possible, W3C validated.
  10. There should be an html sitemap on the site which’ll make Google smile and an XML sitemap manually submitted to Google for indexing.

But, don’t rely 100% on your web developer for all your SEO needs. There is plenty that you can do give your site a leg up.

  1. Write a blog (WordPress website or similar needed). Google likes fresh content on a website – it assumes that it’s a well-used site, dynamic and therefore important.
  2. Make sure the posts you write are engaging, well-written and contain something that people actually want to read. Include keywords and keyphrased links to other parts of your site. Focus on quality content rather than quantity.
  3. Don’t get bored and neglect to write the blog. It looks pretty bad if a visitor happens upon your site, goes to your blog page and sees that the last post was six months ago. They’ll think either you don’t care (so why should they?) or worse, that you’re out of business.
  4. Try and get links to your site. Not any old link though –  links must come from websites that are in some way related to yours. A link to your bespoke wedding dress website from a skip hire company is useless. Also, make sure that sites that are linking to you are reputable. Swapping links (called ‘reciprocal links’) doesn’t work. Links need to be set up in a chain, or a spider’s web, that eventually lead back to you – so, you link to someone, they link to someone else, they link to the next and so on ’til it comes back you.
  5. Submit your site to credible online directories like FreeIndex, VivaStreet and Gumtree and give yourself a decent keyword-rich description. Many are free and some are paid for. DON’T use one of those bits of free software that submits your site and company description to thousands of online directories in one go – you don’t know that all of them are reputable and bad backlinks will do you no favours.
  6. Submit your site and business to Google Places and get one of those nifty pushpins on Google Maps. It’s easy and completely free.
  7. Use social networking. Twitter and Facebook are useful tools for advertising your site and can reach a massive audience. Advertise your latest blog post, publicise special offers, use keywords and phrases in your status updates and tweets and direct as many people as possible to your website.
  8. One of the biggest influences on search rankings is how many visitors you get. Google will promote sites that are well-visited and interacted with so anything you can do to encourage web visitors will help hugely. A site that Google deems to be relevant, dynamic and well-used will fare better than a stagnant one. Which leads me on to something often overlooked in the shady world of SEO and something that I tell all my clients . . .

Imagine you’ve opened a shop on a side road or back street off the main shopping parade. The businesses who can afford the rates are on the high street and will get plenty of passing trade and a high footfall but no one knows about your shop and fewer people will walk past your door. So, what do you do? You tell people about your shop, you deliver flyers, you advertise, you put up posters, you scatter business cards around like confetti. At first people will be aware of your shop and then, if the promotion is good, they will come and visit. It’s the same with your website. TELL people about it, advertise, get a window sticker in the rear window of your car, ask people to take a few of your business cards and give them out, use Facebook, put your web address on every bit of stationery and on email signatures – in short, spread the word. The more people who know about your site, the more visitors you will get and the higher up the search engines you will climb. It may seem old-fashioned but it’s a promotional technique that has worked for thousands of years and it still applies. Your website is your shop window – treat is as such.

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