Search engine optimisation, or SEO as it’s commonly known is a vital part of any website development project. Nearly 75% of your website visitors will come from search engines, so it’s never been more important to make sure your website is ranked effectively. This article discusses some of the techniques used to optimise a website and explain why it’s important to keep it honest and not try to fool the search engines…
Before we delve into the SEO techniques it will help to understand how search engines crawl and index the web. Search engines use programs called robots or spiders which crawl around the Internet looking for websites to index. When they find a website they gather the content and add it to their index for searching. A few years ago it was not uncommon for website owners to cram keywords into image ALT text, link titles, meta tags, and comments (all of which cannot be seen by the website visitor). Robots have evolved and have become wise to this and WILL penalise a website for doing these cheats. They can also determine whether text is being hidden (white text on a white background).
In summary, good honest content with a structured and well coded website will work far better in the long run. It’s worthwhile to note that although there are absolutely no guarantees that any of the techniques will increase your rankings – they do increase the chances of search engine placement and you won’t see the results of your hard work for several months.
- Identify Keywords/Phrases
- Write Keyword-Rich Content
- Optimise Page Titles
- META Tags
- Use Valid, Standards Compliant Mark-Up
- Create a Sitemap
- Generate In-Bound Links
- Create a Blog
- RSS Feeds
- Separate Style from Content
- Page Naming
- Use Live Text
- Update Content Regularly
2. Identify Keywords/Phrases
This is one of the most important steps you take and should be done prior to making any modifications. Take your time to make a list of your keywords. See what your competitors are using and utilise the readily available tools on the Internet to help. Google and Yahoo both provide free keyword suggestion tools (see further information below) and there are plenty of websites to help you.
When choosing your keywords it’s important to take a step back and really think about what people will be searching for to find you. Focus on a particular niche and if you’ve got less than 100 keywords you’re not trying hard enough! Prioritise your keywords to identify 15 or 20 of your really important keywords or phrases (these are the ones which you feel most people will be searching for).
3. Write Keyword-Rich Content
When writing your content make sure you have mentioned your relevant keywords at least once. It’s important not to stuff the content with the same keywords as this can have a negative effect on your rankings. Place your main keywords in the page title, and separate your content under sub headings (making sure to include the keywords in the sub headings).
If you find that you’re writing a lot of content on a particular subject, which is part of another subject, why not create a new page? New pages help to emphasise a particular keyword or topic and give you the opportunity to optimise the page title, filename, and even write more content.
4. Optimise Page Titles
The page title is one of the most important aspects of a web page. The page title appears in the search results of the search engines and should be short (no more than 66 characters) and keyword-rich. Don’t repeat keywords and you must make sure the keywords in the page title are also referenced in the page content. Don’t use the same page title on every page throughout your website. Change the titles of the page to see how this affects your rankings.
5. META Tags
Meta tags are inserted into a documents header to help identify or describe the documents content. Example Meta tags include keywords, description, and author. Meta tags are mostly ignored by search engines these days, and the ones which still use them place a low priority on them. The main problem with Meta tags is that you can insert whatever you like and so were open to abuse. Having said that, it’s still best practice to include the Meta tags for the search engines and directories which still use them. The Meta data should be specific to the page and not the entire website, so write separate keywords and descriptions for each page. Keep the descriptions short and only use up to around 12 keywords per page. The description may be displayed on the search engine results page so make sure it also contains keywords.
6. Use Valid, Standards Compliant Mark-Up
Make sure the HTML/XHTML code is valid and complies with the standards set out by the W3C. Invalid mark-up can throw the robots and prevent them from indexing the site correctly. When constructing your page make sure you separate your content into sections, for example, headings, paragraphs and lists, using the standard HTML mark-up (P, UL, H1, H2 and so on..). Robots rank keywords in headings higher than keywords in paragraphs. If you don’t use the correct HTML for the elements you won’t be getting the best out of your keyword placement.
It doesn’t matter if you use XHTML or HTML as long as the code validates. Always run your web pages through mark-up validators.
7. Create a Sitemap
A site map should provide links to most of your website, that not only benefits your visitors but also search engine robots. A site map can make crawling a website easier and we want to make the robots job much easier! As well as a site map page you can also create a separate site map file (XML, plain text) and submit it to Google.
8. Generate In-Bound Links
Aside from having a search engine friendly website the most influential factor to gaining better organic results in search engines is by obtaining in-bound links (IBLs). In other words, we want other relevant websites to link your website. Getting your link to appear on directories and relevant websites can have a significant impact on your search engine placement.
9. Create a Blog
A blog is a great way of communicating and writing lots of content. Setup a free blog and link to your website (and vice-versa) to benefit from the additional traffic you get from a blog. A blog gives you the chance to write more on a given topic and in a much more relaxed manner. You can then promote your blog separately by adding it to directories or posting topics on other blogs.
10. RSS Feeds
RSS feeds are a fantastic way of attracting returning visitors, but also act as a great search engine optimisation tool. You can add your feeds to various search engines for inclusion in their index. It’s also a good way of keeping the search engines up to date with your latest content. You can create an RSS feed for latest news, blog, or even top products.
11. Separate Style from Content
If your website is built using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) rather than tables you will instantly benefit from a user friendly and more accessible website. Search engine robots will find it easier to index the content when there is less mark-up and a smaller file-size. If your website uses frames or tables to layout the content consider a re-design using a CSS based design.
12. Page Naming
The name of a web page can have an effect on your rankings. You should make sure they are named appropriately and are not too long. Try to use hyphens ‘-’ rather than underscores ‘_’ as Google converts a hyphen into a space and simply removes an underscore (combining the two words together). The same principles also apply to folders.
13. Use Live Text
Robots are unable to index text that appears on an image. Make sure that all headings and navigational links are actual live text and not images. As a rule – if you can get away with using text, do so.
14. Update Content Regularly
Search engine robots will be more interested in your website and return more often if the content regularly changes. Try to make a point of updating the content on a weekly basis with new pages, news items, products etc. Monitor your website stats to see how your website is doing and update the content accordingly. Check out your competition to see what they are doing with their website. Why not change your page titles to see how this will affect your search engine placement?
These are just a few of the things you can do to increase the chances of appearing better in the search engine results. We will be talking more about this over the next few months, including the issues involved with e-commerce and database driven/dynamic websites. We will also write a follow up to cover the other aspects of search engine optimisation not mentioned in this article, including domain names, sandboxes and visitor analysis.