An Introduction to SEO
If you own any kind of website, you’ll already know the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The process of affecting the online visibility of a website or page in a web search engine’s organic results. Basically, improving your SEO ranking is key to generating more traffic to your site, so if your site isn’t just a hobby, then its advisable you work on it!
About the Author, Martin Bailey
This guest post has been written by Martin Bailey, an established author who has generously allowed me some exclusive tips on how to boost SEO. Martin shares his knowledge about both marketing and tech via his own website and various dedicated books such as The Useful Book of Gadgets, Gizmos and Apps.
I hope you find Martin’s SEO tips as helpful as I have!
Tips to Boost Your SEO
There are many companies that charge a small fortune to get your company listed higher in the search engine rankings, but this is something that anyone with basic HTML knowledge can do themselves. Furthermore, if you have a website built with a content management system then you can do most of it without additional assistance. So what are the key issues to consider?
Optimise per page, not per site
How many times have you done a search and landed on a page of a website that isn’t the home page? You need to get into the mindset of optimising a specific page for a target audience, not just the overall website. For example, if you sell sporting goods you may have a section on golf, and pages dedicated to clubs, clothing, tees etc. Each of those pages should be optimised only for the products on them. That way, people are more likely to land on the page that they are interested in.
Content is king
Make sure that you have engaging content. If your website consists of about 5 pages, all with pictures and limited text, then you don’t have anything of value for search engines to find. This is obviously bad SEO. Ensure that your products/services pages include relevant content, breaking it down into sub-pages if relevant. Another great way of generating content is to write case studies of existing customers. Not only do these add valuable content to your site, but they can also be used as press releases for submission to magazines. Upload product brochures and technical information as well, if relevant, as search engines can also read inside most PDFs. Google likes fresh content, so by regularly adding new and unique pages to your site you are increasing the keywords that you are likely to be found against.
Titles and meta tags
Every page has a title, which appears in the bar at the top of the web browser. This is very important in telling both users and search engines what that page is about. Keep this down to 5-8 words, and put more important keywords closer to the front. Avoid using what is known as ‘stop’ words or characters, such as and, – , & etc.
Meta tags are also a factor, although not as important as they were ten years ago. There are two main Meta tags – keywords and description. Keywords are no longer considered important by Google and only serve to let your competitors see what keywords you are optimising for. The description tag should be a one or two line description of the page contents. These would appear within the <HEAD> section and would be unique to each page.
They would generally look something like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”A range of golf clubs, including putters, wood, wedge and iron.” />
File names and hyperlinks
When you save a file – be it a web page or image – always add in a relevant keyword. If the page is about golf clubs don’t call it product1.htm – call it golf-clubs.htm. Any images on the page should have relevant keywords in as well. If you sell consumer products then it is also a good idea to add in product codes e.g. pt5412_golf_club_putter.jpg would be better than image1.jpg. As internet users are becoming more ‘net-savvy’ they will now often search for a specific product code.
When linking to other pages on the site ensure that the text within the hyperlink is relevant. So, if you’ve done your job right so far the home page will have the words Golf Clubs as a hyperlink through to a page called golf-clubs.htm, which in turn has images with filenames relating to golf clubs.
Image ALT tags
Every image on your page should have ‘alternative’ text, which is displayed initially as the page is loading or if the user has disabled the loading of images, perhaps if they are on a slow connection. Search engines also use this text to identify page content, so again make sure that you put text relevant to the image. The HTML for an image would look something like this:
<img src=”/images/golf-clubs.jpg” alt=”Golf Clubs” />
An example from Beauty Basics: Colorsport 30 Day Mascara & Brows is as follows.
In HTML there are six ‘header’ tags – <H1> to <h6>. These are used to break down and structure your content. The top title of your page should have a H1 tag, and this tag should only be used once. Then, subtitles would have H2 tags and so forth. Word processors such as Microsoft Word give you the ability to apply these styles automatically. There is a further benefit (in terms of design styling) in that you can specify the font, colour and size of each header tag in the website’s style sheet – you specify this only once and every page will confirm to the style. This not only makes your HTML code cleaner but allows you to make site-wide design changes by just amending the style sheet. A good content management system such as WordPress or Joomla will take care of this for you.
Keep ‘em lean to keep Google keen
Google is placing more importance on page loading time, especially for mobile devices. Therefore spending time to ensure that your pages are optimised for speed is beneficial. It gives your site visitors a better experience and as a direct result Google is more likely to favour your pages. There is also less impact on your server, which is important for busy sites. I could dedicate several articles on the various processes that you could go through to make your site faster, but the key areas are:
- Optimise all of your images to make sure that you are using the best file format for each image – JPG is best for images, while GIF is better for icons. PNG can also be useful if you need a transparent background
- If you build the site yourself, use CSS instead of images where possible. For example, don’t use a background box image when you can draw a box with CSS and put a border/shading around it. Again, a CMS will take care of this
- Check your HTML and CSS for redundant code. If your website has been developed for some time you may be surprised by the amount of code that has simply been remarked out. The web browser won’t render the content but the user still has to download it before the page displays.
There are a variety of website speed checkers, such as gtmetrix.com. These will grade your site and tell you explicitly how you can improve it.
Test for code accuracy
Use the free W3C HTML and CSS code validators to check your site for accuracy. Google states that they like accurately coded sites because they are more likely to display correctly across different browsers. In addition to this do your own testing with IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera, and across mobile devices. Where one browser is forgiving of a minor code error, it can cause considerable display issues in another browser. Google also provide tools for checking the quality of your site. Check out their Webmaster tools to get an idea of how they see your site and any problems they’ve found.
Although this appears at the bottom of the article do not underestimate its importance. Building a content rich, accurately coded and optimised website is only half the battle. Getting people to find it is the other half, and this is where inbound links come in.
A good place to start is your competitors. Find out who is linking to them by typing link: followed by their URL into Google. There are various online tools such as WEBCEO or SEMRush (most of which are paid-for with free trials) that will also trawl competitors’ links for you. The best places, however, are the ones relevant to your industry – news sites and online forums. Ensure that you submit press releases to all relevant magazines and websites. Visit industry forums so that you can provide answers to questions and add valuable links back to your site. Social networks are playing an increasing beneficial part and adding the ability for people to ‘like’ your content.
Anyone who says that they can guarantee you first page on Google is most probably lying. Google doesn’t publish specific information on how results are ranked, therefore it can only be guesswork. You can also be penalised for ‘black hat SEO’, such as extremely small text, keyword stuffing or hidden text.
A good Google ranking doesn’t happen overnight. By applying these SEO tips to your website, you stand a good chance of receiving more quality traffic. Remember – give people what they want and they will come back for more.