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SEO - Search Engine Optimization

By , 29th March 2007 in Internet

A successful SEO strategy is paramount in any online business and a properly executed SEO strategy will bring your website increased exposure, recognition and will generate an increase in traffic.

10 Simple SEO Tips

Please remember that there is no such thing as an SEO "holy grail". Every site is different and will have its own SEO strategy. Search Engine Optimization techniques that work well on one site may not work at all, or even have an adverse effect, on a completely different site. Search Engine Optimization is a time consuming process that must be reviewed regularly, it is not a task that's done once and left alone. Just because you are number one in Google now, does not mean that you will be next month! Your competitors will undoubtedly be trying to knock you off the top spot.

Set Well Defined Goals

What are your main objectives for search engine optimisation? How will you measure success or failure of your SEO strategy? These are two very important questions that need to be answered before you start the optimisation process.

When I ask people what they want from SEO they often say "get to number 1 on Google" or "more visitors". When I sit down and talk with them, they realise that actually it's not about the number of visitors to the site, it's about the number of Quality visitors who buy things, so their actual goal is to increase their conversion rate.

When defining your goals, make them realistic and start small. Setting a goal of reaching number 1 in a week isn't going to happen unless you are working in a very small niche market, promoting something very obscure AND are very lucky. Don't expect to increase conversions by 1000% in a month, aim for 5% increase over a couple of months. SEO is a slow progress and you are not going to see immediate overnight gains.

Optimise Key Phrases

It used to be popular to try and rank well for single keywords, however there is now so much competition on the web now, it will be extremely difficult to get good ranking for singular keywords such as "photography" or "astronomy". Now it is becoming increasingly popular to target niche markets with phrases such as "urban wildlife photography" or "amateur astronomy in england" which are more specific to your content, thus driving more targeted, quality visitors. You can still use keywords; just don't rely on them to bring in quality traffic.

When deciding on keywords and phrases, avoid using industry specific jargon. Stick to simple and clear, "natural language" instead.

You can research different keywords using Google AdWords Keyword Tool or Google Trends. These tools can help discover new keywords and phrases that you can target, or combinations of keywords that work well together. You can determine your niche phrase, or discover new keywords you haven't even thought of before.

You should limit your keywords to around 20 for best performance, and you should include them in the pages meta keywords tag, page title and page heading.

Search Engine Optimised Content

In order to gain higher rankings you need to have good quality original content, with 500 - 1000 words. Duplicate content is plagiarism and as such it is heavily penalised by the search engines, especially Google with the latest Panda update. This is a trend which hopefully be targeting more and more autoblogs (automated blogging/website scrapers) where content is scraped from genuine websites and use to create spam blogs and phishing sites.

Make sure that your content is clear, concise and to the point. Don't deviate or go off on a tangent, as it will distract your readers. Spell check and proofread your copy; otherwise you will lose online credibility.

You should use all of your keywords and key phrases, but try and keep the keyword density around 3-5%. Too low and it won't get ranked for that phrase, to high and you'll be penalised for "keyword stuffing". Page features such as headers, navigation and footers, should not be included as web copy text.

Content such as images cannot be indexed by Google, so try to avoid using images in place of content, especially when replacing heading text with fancy images. When you do use images, make sure that you utilise the alt and title tags to describe the image.

Get Connected with your Audience

Social media websites are rapidly becoming an increasingly important factor for search engine optimization, as search engines are utilizing the recommendations of users of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to rank pages in the search engine result pages. The reasoning is that when a webpage is shared or "liked" by a user on a social network, it counts as a "vote" for that webpage's quality. Thus, search engines can use such votes accordingly to properly rank websites in search engine results pages.

Header and Meta Tags

Meta tags are descriptive elements inside a web page and (used to be) used to provide search engines with information about the web site. Meta tags are contained within the header structure of the HTML document together with the dedicated title tag.

Meta tags cover, among other items, a page description and keywords. There is much debate about the usefulness of the meta tags in today's advanced search algorithms, but it certainly won't hurt to use them.

Meta Keywords should be kept to a maximum of 15-20, but do not over do it - only use keywords and phrases that appear on that page and don't go looking for every synonym in the thesaurus.

Meta Description should be kept to a maximum of 160 characters; any more will be ignored or truncated in the listings. The description should describe what the visitor will find on the page and combined with the title, compel the user to visit your site.

Organic SEO in Green, Paid listings in Yellow
Organic SEO in Green, Paid listings in Yellow

The Title Tag is however very important as it will be seen at the top of a search engine listing (see above) as well as in the visitors web browser window. Page titles should be relevant to the content on the page, and unique to the site.

Having strong, relevant, clickable titles can have a major impact on rankings, visitor numbers and conversions, and for this reason it is probably one of the, if not the, most important factors when considering on page SEO.

URL Structure

You should use search engine friendly URL's (also known as clean urls), and if possible, and create a structure that will highlight your keywords and re-enforce a structure to the site.

Consider an "old fashioned" link such as the one below:

http://www.myshop.com/index.php?cat=4&prodId=3245&prcode=df432

This URL has no keywords, almost impossible to remember or write down and it does not promote any kind of structure. Lets now look at a search engine friendly version of the above URL:

http://www.myshop.com/clothing/womens/shirts/df432/

Immediately you can see keywords and a structure to the site, and so can Google. It gives the appearance that the site is well organised and conforms to a logical structure. It is also easier to say, write down or remember.

For best results, URL structure must be thought about, planned and implemented from the start of the project. Changing the URL structure mid way through will create orphaned links, confuse search engines and decrease page rank. If you do not handle this properly any page rank on the old page will not be transferred to the new page, decreasing your search engine visibility. You also run the risk of duplicate content penalties.

Page Speed and Performance

In the last year or so Google has been putting more emphasis on page loading speed and site performance. While this created a lot of buzz on the internet when it was announced, page loading speed has always been important. How many websites have you visited where the page just takes too long to load - either through over use of images or adverts? The natural course of action is to go back and try a different site as a slow page is a bad experience. For this reason page speed is now a ranking factor and slow loading pages will be marked down.

You can test and optimise your page speed with the use of two add-ons for Firefox. Google have released an add-on for the popular Firebug add-on for Firefox. If you haven't already, you will need to download and install Firefox, Firebug and Google Page Speed.

If you don't want to use the addons you can use the free online page speed tester from WebSiteOptimization.com. Both solutions will allow you to see where your site is being slowed down and suggest ways to improve performance.

You can use some of the tips here for Optimising WordPress Bandwidth Usage, the technique can be adapted to any website though as long as it runs PHP.

Alt and Title Tags

Google Image search is becoming a popular tool for finding pictures, so if you have a lot of images on your website (product images or photography for example) it makes sense to try and cash in on this source of traffic.

Images and anchor links can (and should) have alt and title tags. The alt tag should contain an alternate representation of the image should the image not load, while the title tag should contain a description for the link or image. Search engines look at these tags to determine the relevance of the link or the content of the image.

<img src="image1.jpg" alt="Picture of a Dog" title="A photo of my pet dog Wolfie sat in the garden" />

Always use natural language descriptions, not just a keyword list. If you have a lot of images on the page try not to make all the title tags the same.

Internal Site Linking

Make sure that your pages have a lot of internal links to them. It's no good having a page you want to rank high if it only has one link to it - search engines will see this as an unimportant page and may not index it.

If you are using WordPress then the related posts plugin will help by providing a list of posts related to the one being read. This is not only of value to search engines but also to your visitors as they can find related content. This is also known as "deep linking". Having a sitemap can help with linking but you really should have links to and from all your pages, but remember they must be relevant links.

Read Google Webmaster Guidelines

Following these guidelines will help Google find, index, and rank your site. Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions, we strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the "Quality Guidelines," which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise penalized.

Check out the official Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide for a free eBook that lists some best practices that teams within Google and external webmasters alike can follow that could improve their sites' crawlability and indexing.

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