Top 10 search engine optimisation (SEO) Tips

SEO will not give instant results and search engine optimisation should form just one part of a much more expansive marketing plan alongside other forms of advertising and promotion.

When working on an SEO strategy, consider the age of your domain (website address) and its existing inroads when setting expectations. Avoid over-targeting one or two specific keywords – particularly when link building.

New domains tend to show slower results, so expect limited Google visibility (for that read search engine results or prominence) for a period of at least 12 months on new domains and during that time try to diversify the keyword terms you are promoting, but remember that Google is particularly adept at spotting irregularities and will punish sites which it feels are trying to manipulate the search results to their advantage.

1. Getting the most basic of things right

“Mirror websites” where there is more than one copy of the same website promoted and “canonical domain issues” can have an adverse effect on SEO. Always avoid having multiple domains running with the same content and redirect any mirror sites to the most Google visible domain using what is called a “server-side 301 redirect”. This can be implemented by means of an htaccess file on an Apache web server (sorry, technical jargon, but true”!). At all costs avoid redirecting an old established domain to a new domain as this will result in significant ranking reduction whilst the new domain ages.

So, to this canonical domain thingy… Whenever a domain name is registered it comes with a canonical variant; I.E. http://www.mywebsite.com also has http://mywebsite.com. Google treats these as separate domains and one should always be re-pointed to the other using that 301 redirect we referred to earlier to avoid the domains fighting against one another.

2. Ensure search engines can fully access your site

In the most basic of terms, if the structure or architecture of your website doesn’t take account of search engine algorithms (commonly known as spiders or robots) then your website will never become fully listed (or indexed) To that end, at the very heart of SEO is the need for a clear, well structured navigation system. To be successful, sites must be search engine accessible and the navigation system should be logical for the sake of usability, with a consistent hierarchy.

JavaScript navigation systems should be avoided, as should image based navigation. A far better solution is to use conventional text links or a CSS based (sorry, getting a bit techy now aren’t we) navigation system which creates fly-in menus in lists.

When considering website navigation on larger sites, not all pages should be in the main navigation, but links to the most important pages which focus on key products, services and solutions should appear in the main navigation on every page of the site. A search engine’s assessment of the importance of a particular page is influenced by the navigation hierarchy. If the page is only linked to once or twice in the whole site, then it will be viewed as having less importance than a page which receives a site-wide link from the main navigation system, present on every page (now come on, it’s getting better don’t you think?)

3. A website is only as good as its content.

To achieve good results it is imperative that website content is targeting the right “keywords”. Keywords are those words or combinations of words, which simultaneously describe your product or service whilst at the same time being the words your prospective visitors would use when searching for your services – “buy roller blinds” for example rather than “Joe Soap blind company”. Keywords should also be both relevant to your business and have realistic levels of people searching for them regularly, often referred to as competition.

Each page of information or text should have an individual focus and no two pages should be written (or optimised) for exactly the same keywords.

When choosing keywords to target, consider what terms people would naturally use to find your products and services and avoid keywords which have many different meanings or ridiculously high competition. As a starting point to choosing your keywords, you will find the Google keyword tool of enormous help. In general terms, search phrases which have three or more words are known as ‘long tail keywords’ and these kinds of phrases can be very effectively used to drive targeted traffic to your site rather than picking the most competitive, highest volume terms which will be much more difficult to rank for.

If your business has a regional bias then consider search terms which target your area as these will be less competitive and more likely to convert into enquiries. For example, if you are a driving instructor targeting south Birmingham, then consider optimising for ‘driving instructor Solihull’ rather than just the generic term ‘driving instructor’.

4. Titles and stuff

Whilst it is generally accepted that meta tags are no longer required or used by search engines, you may consider it a safety net to include them. The title tag though, is really, really important and should be completely relevant to the page content to which it refers. The page title though should be no longer than 64 characters.

5. Don’t forget images

Remember that Google will sometimes list an image in its results rather than one of your site pages and keeping them in a folder rather than as a subdomain is better. Furthermore us a descriptive name for the image such as a product name or keyword which refers to your services or offer.

6. Directory and Search Engine Submission

It is no longer necessary to submit your website to search engines and the many packages which offer automated search engine submission may do more harm than good. Search engines follow links, so if you want your site indexing (listed or recognised) by all leading search engines then all you need are a few decent links to your site and then sit back and wait for your site to be found! Don’t waste your time with manual search engine submission.

Submitting your site to good quality, trusted web directories is highly worthwhile. A significant part of the ranking algorithm of all search engines is to assess the quantity and quality of links which point to a site.

7. Drive for natural linking

Link building has become a critical part of SEO and the highest ranked sites on the web in any category will always have great content and plenty of quality links from trusted sites. It’s a lot easier to acquire links naturally than artificially and for this reason sites with rich, original content tend to achieve consistently better search engine positioning than sites which have weak content.

Whilst becoming far less effective, reciprocal link exchange still has its place, but it should be undertaken in moderation and only between sites having a close thematic fit. Be particularly careful who you link to and always check that the site requesting a link is well positioned in Google for their target keywords. If not, steer clear! To keep track of your links, try our enter your URL in Yahoo with the prefix “link:www.yourwebsite.co.uk”.

8. Create a Blog

Write a blog and develop its content over time. Use it to help drive traffic to your main website. Google Blogspot is a good place to start, as is WordPress. Remember to use original content on your blog to compliment what’s present on your main site.

9. Ensure you have an xml sitemap

Preparing and submitting an (XML) sitemap to Google will help get your content more fully indexed. In addition, an XML sitemap can be used to assign relative priority to each page. There are some good free XML Sitemap generators – one of which being http://www.xml-sitemaps.com which will crawl your website and create a valid XML sitemap for sites of up to 500 web pages. A paid XML sitemap generator is available from the same site for websites over 500 pages. I’m stunned, is this great advice or what?

10. And finally…

Measure the impact of your work. The usefulness of Google Webmaster Tools cannot be understated as can Google analytics package. It’s a fantastic free tool which any webmaster can utilize by simply uploading a verification file onto your web server to prove domain ownership. It gives a summary breakdown of the following useful attributes:

  • top 10 traffic driving keywords to a site with percentages of total visits
  • Crawling errors, such as 404 pages
  • Number of links to homepage and internal pages
  • Number of Google indexed URL’s
  • Content problems such as duplicated title tags
  • What Google’s crawler (Googlebot) ‘sees’ in the links to your site

In addition, Webmaster Tools allows a webmaster to geo-target certain countries and territories independent of hosting country. This is useful if your website is hosted in Germany for example, but you wish to target the UK market.

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