Bit of a different blog this time. One area that we sort of work at the fringes of when we make our websites is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Our responsibilities typically begin and end at creating a well-coded template that gives users the tools to add content to their websites without having to worry about the technical side of things.
However, one thing that keeps coming up is customers wondering what they can do to make their website more visible. This is where SEO enters, but not necessarily where all the answers lie.
Lots of SEO companies promise the world and act as though it’s the most complicated procedure known to man. Just keep paying them money and next week, you’ll be ranking number one. It’s true, one can use so called “black hat” SEO tactics to boost a website’s ranking very quickly. This involves exploiting some hole in Google’s search algorithm to trick it into thinking your site is more popular than it is. This can work for a while. Then Google changes their algorithm and removes this hole, and if you’re still using this exploit when they do, you risk losing your ranking entirely.
If your website is serving a very niche market, or you’re only trying to target a very specific set of keywords, it’s possible that you could improve your ranking considerably by just making sure your site is as optimised as it can be for that market / set of keywords. This is “white hat” SEO. Don’t be led to believe that this is difficult though. It can certainly be time consuming (depending on how large your website is), but it is not difficult. There’s some fairly simple rules to follow
- Page Titles – Make sure these are set correctly (and not just ‘Home’ and ‘About Us’. An easy first step is just to ensure your home page title includes the keywords you’re trying to rank for “My Company – My Keywords”
- Page Descriptions (or “Meta Description”) – Make sure these are unique for every page of the website and relevant to the content on the page. Google does use these in its results, so make them as useful and eye catching as possible!
- Headings – Google does use headings to determine what a page is about, so you have a main header (or “h1” tag, to get technical) on every page that succinctly describes the content. Make sure there’s only one “h1” tag on every page.
- Menus – Make sure these are text based (ie no flash or image based menus) so that Google can crawl your site properly
- Keywords – Ensure you use the terms you’re trying to rank for in the page (especially the front page) a few times. However – don’t go overboard here. As long as you’re trying to rank for something relevant to your business, it should be entirely possible to do this without thinking really. Just filling the page with those words won’t help (and could well hurt your ranking)
- Create a Site Map – This one may sound complicated, but all popular CMS systems (Wordpress / Joomla / Drupal etc) have tools that will do this for you in one click. Then, setup Google’s “Webmaster Tools” on your website, and submit a copy of your sitemap to them.
If any of that seems daunting, then it’s certainly worth getting an SEO company to give your site the once over to check you have those bases covered. There’s a few other little optimisations that can have an effect like site speed, but follow the rules above, and you should be most of the way there.
So you’ve optimised your site to within an inch of its life, and you're still not ranking where you want on Google. Well, then you may well have forgotten the most important bit about your website. Content. You can use every SEO trick under the sun, but unless you have something on your website that people are interested in, it’s all for nothing. Even if your SEO is working well and you’re ranking at the top of Google, if people don’t find what they’re after, they’re just going to move on to your lower ranking competitor’s site anyway.
These days, this is probably the best place to start when creating your website. Unless you’re doing something very niche, your first step should be to analyse your competitors’ websites and then work out how your website can be better than theirs. A great website design can help, but this needs to be coupled with content that people want to read / listen to / watch / interact with. Just plonking a website on the internet and then sitting back and waiting for the money to start rolling in is not going to work. You need to be constantly evolving your site – creating new and exciting content to keep people coming back for more. Blogs, members only areas, videos, podcasts… the list is endless. Just make sure your website is better than your competition, and you’re most of the way there.
The other side to this is inbound links. This is actually more important than the content in many ways. Google places huge importance on how many links there are to your website from other people’s website (and the more high profile those websites are, the most influential those links will be on your rankings). However, it is somewhat of a chicken and egg situation, and the content is something you CAN control, so it’s a better place to start. Hopefully, if your website is good enough, people will then start linking to it of their own accord. Depending on how competitive your marketplace is, you may need to think about a marketing campaign at this point to create the initial interest in your website, and then, hopefully, things will grow from there.
The short version of all that is SEO is not an end in and of itself. Create a great website, make sure you’ve covered the SEO basics, and then use marketing as a final push if necessary. That’s all there is to it!