Search Engine Optimisation is such a massive turn-off for most businesses. What I hear all the time from my clients is that it’s confusing, it’s highly technical, it takes a huge amount of effort, there’s conflicting information out there about how to do it and no matter how hard you work at it, there will always be some other competitor out there doing it better.
This is an attempt to cut through a lot of the waffle and jargon. More importantly, it should give you a few things to work on with your websites that will actually move you up the search engine results over time.
Relevance is Everything
Let’s start by going back to what Search Engine Optimisation is trying to achieve. We know it’s all about getting you as high as possible on search engine results pages, right? But what actually determines the order of the results?
The answer is ‘relevance’.
A search engine will always try and return the results that are most relevant to whatever is searched for. The two most important things that influence relevance are:
1) How much your page content talks about the thing that is being searched for
2) How useful Google (or whoever) thinks your site is
I’ll cover the first one this month, and the second one next month (as it’s more complicated, and I need to do a bit more research first!)
Content Is King
The most important things to get right on your site are the actual words on the page.
Google likes pages that are full of lots of well-written text which contains plenty of words that are relevant to your business (known as ‘keywords’). Everything you write for the site should feature the sorts of words you think potential visitors are searching Google for. Google will thank you for it and, oddly enough, the real humans visiting your site will probably enjoy having lots of well-written and relevant text to read as well.
SEO isn’t about creating some monstrous Frankenstein of a site which only makes sense to the visiting search engine spiders. The one thing Google has gotten right is that it rewards sites that are full of useful content. So try and have a good chunk of text on each page near the beginning which introduces the page nicely, and which any visiting search engine spider can get its teeth into.
The Right Heading
OK – there are a few technical things you can do to your site pages to help them perform well with search engines. I’ll try not to blind you with science too much, but there’s no getting away from it.
The first is to make sure you have at least one heading on each page which uses ‘Heading 1′ HTML tags for the formatting:
This page heading should be near the top of the page and it needs to contain a few key words that are relevant to what that specific page is about. Again, this will be quite useful for your human visitors as well!
We will end this bit of the article talking about the things which most SEO articles start with – meta tags. These are invisible bits of code that sit within the <head>…</head> section at the top of your HTML page and have an effect on your search engine rankings – but not as much as you might think.
The only really important one is the ‘Page Title’ which sits within <title></title> tags. For example, if I view the source of one of my old articles – http://blog.postcodeanywhere.co.uk/index.php/why-should-you-bother-with-twitter/ – I can see the following tag in the <head></head> section:
<title>Why Should You Bother With Twitter? | Postcode Anywhere Blog</title>
This controls the text that appears in the title bar/tab of the browser window, but more importantly it will become the actual link people click on in the search engine results:
Furthermore, all the search engines put a huge amount of importance about what’s in your page title when they calculate the relevance of the page. So make sure each page in your site has a clear useful page title. And don’t bother about making it too long – all search engines will cut it off after about 60 characters.
The text you can see underneath the link comes from the ‘meta description’ field – which looks like this in the code:
<meta name="description" content="blah blah blah" />
No search engine actually uses the meta description of the page to calculate how relevant the page is. But you should still think about using it as it will mean you have complete control over how your site pages are described on the search engine results.
Finally, you may have heard about ‘meta keywords’ which are big lists of keywords in the <head> section of each page. Truth is, these have been so abused over the years by spammers they are completely ignored at the moment by search engines and I can’t see that changing any time soon. So you can forget about them for now.
Until Next Time
Hopefully you’ll have recognised by now that the majority of SEO is not really that technical or tricky. Yes, you need to think about your <title> and <meta> tags, but you also need to have good-quality relevant content and informative headings. It’s good for search engine position, but your human visitors will thank you too.
Next month we will talk about how you can make your site appear more important and useful to search engines, as this is probably the area that is least understood but most vital to get right.