Beginners guide to search engine optimisation (SEO) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Search engine optimisation is about understanding how Google ranks your website, since Google has a dominant position amongst those very few search engines available to us, and controls 90% of the search traffic. You will have heard of Yahoo and Bing, and possibly a few others, but they don't count, and they follow Google's lead. Understanding SEO ... is about understanding how Google works and - if your site is optimised for Google - then it is optimised for the others as well.
Once you have created a webpage you'll need to submit it to the various search engines in order for your customers to find it. People will still be able to find it if they go directly to it (the part of the original internet that exists outside of search engines), or if they have a link to it from another website.
In order for people to find your site it will first need to be submitted to a search engine, and then indexed by that search engine. For the most part, your web designer will submit your site to the various search engines for you, and it can take3-10 daysto be fully registered. There are also various paid submission servicesavailable, and they claim to do it better and faster (which they don't normally).
If you created your own website using a content management system (CMS, as with this web page), then your provider will probably have a submission option, or do it automatically - which is common. After submitting your website, the various search engines will know about it and index it, i.e. position it where they think your site deserves to be.
Before submitting your webpage you will have been given a number of questions by your web designer, or the CMS that you are using. They will be the website's title, internal description, and internal keywords.
Title = "Bristol SEO and website services"
Description = "Bristol search engine optimisation services"
Keywords = "SEO, search engine optimisation, Bristol SEO, Brstol search engine optimisation"
These three subjects are important, and it is important that you fill them in correctly. When complete, and when your website has been saved ready for publishing on the web, these three subjects will appear as Meta tags on the front page of your website and can be viewed. Your website is written internally in a language called HTML, and it can be viewed by anyone.
How to view your meta tags
Go to your website, find a clear patch of screen (ideally top left) that is not a picture, and right-click your mouse. You will be shown a list of options. Scroll down to VIEW SOURCE and click on it. A new window will appear, or may appear and then be found behind other screens. Find it and click on it, and you will see a page of HTML programming language code. Somewhere near the top you will see something like :-
<meta name='Description' content='Cardiff SEO services'
You should be able to find <title>, <description> and <keywords>, and can use this method to see how they are set on your particular website. If they are not as you desire them, then go back and change them, save your website and publish it to the web again. If your website was designed by a company, as most are, then you can discuss the tags with that company and ask that they be changed - firmly if necessary.
Meta tags have been around since the internet first appeared, and a few recent press reports suggested that professional SEO operators were abusing them, trying to fool the search engines, and that Google had stopped paying attention to these three meta tags. That is not the case, don't be fooled. Google still pays attention to these three subjects, but also confirms that your site is not a trick by examining the content on your site. Google will not take your tags 'on faith', and will check your site.
How Google uses your meta tags
The very first thing that Google will do when it finds a new site, is look at its title. If your title is simply your company name, then you will immediately lose points in the search rankings. Google will try and use words from your title to decide which industry cluster your website should sit in. That may be mortgages, insurance, or banking, etc. When Google knows what you are, it tries to decide where you should sit amongst your peers. Barclays Bank will sit with banks, Bloggs Insurance will sit with insurance, but Bloggs & Co. Ltd will sit by itself until other factors come into play.
NOTE. You should always try and have a few keywords about your business sector in your title. That title should be less than 8 words ideally, longer titles are ignored. An ideal title may be "Blogs Insurance of Cardiff", since Google then knows which business sector you sit in, but also has a local search reference. Google knows that you do insurance in Cardiff, and Google is very clever.
Don't create a meaningless and silly title full of keywords, since your customers will see your title - and think you silly. Try and use 6-8 words to create an ideal title of who you are and what you do. Google will then look at your description, and compare the keywords of the title to the description. If the keywords don't match, you will lose points. All keywords used in the title should appear in the description, but that description must be accurate and concise, since it is the description that will appear on Google when someone is searching for you.
NOTE WELL. If you do not fill in your description, Google will do it for you. It will grab the first piece of relevant text it decides it likes, but may create a nonsense description of your site. Your official description, listed on Google, may be "We are regulated by Ofsted" - which does not advertise what you do, and no one will click on your listing. The example below actually appeared in the listings as I experimented with the site in front of a customer. Look at the body of the text - not as desired.
Meta keywords are just a formal list of those keywords that have already appeared in the title and description, and an expansion of them in list form seperated by commas. You have a limit of around 250-350 characters, beyond which Google will ignore them. Again, the keywords must be in sync with the title and description to get maximum points from Google.
Google will next look at your front page, and at the text content on it, and compare it to your title, description and keywords. If that content lists viagra, and Google thinks you sit in the insurance cluster, then your site will be penalised - and never found. You should have at least 4 paragraphs of good and relevant blurb on your front page. Google will then compare the keyword nouns from your blurb with that of the most popular sites in your cluster. If it is similar then you get more points, if not you lose points.
It pays to use similar phrases as the top sites you compete with, and you'll probably notice that they have ten or more paragraphs of good and relevant blurb.
What makes for good blurb?
Google will look at the top 10 most popular websites in your cluster, such as insurance, and analyse their common factors, those words and phrases - and offerings and products - that make the sites popular. Your blurb will be compared to that analysis. Google's automated software does not 'read' the blurb and then decide that it was well written, it can only compare to other (and popular) sites. Good blurb is what your top ranking competitors use.
How much blurb?
Google will reward sites that have lots of words in them, since these sites offer value to the viewers. There is a limit, but a site with twice the blurb should be listed ahead of a site with less. A website with scant blurb and lots of pictures may lose points.
Blogs produce blurb, and blurb is good - content is king! If your website does not change from month to month (no fresh blurb) then your rankings will slip. If you have a blog, and it changes week to week, then you will receive a better and higher ranking.
If your website has a guestbook for people to leave comments, and it changes every day with a new comment, then that activity earns you more points in Google rankings - even if the comments about your site are not positive.
Backlinks are a section of SEO all by themselves, and a very important aspect of page ranking that many people do not fully understand. If someone views your website, likes it, and writes a review on a blog - and puts a link to you with the blog, then that is a backlink. Google counts each and every backlink as a sign of popularity, and the more backlinks you have the better your position on Google.
That said, Google does check the quality of those linking to you. If your mum has a website about her cat, you'll not receive much of a boost. If there is a link to you on YouTube, then you'll get more of a boost. If there are 1,000 links to you on YouTube then you may well be ranked No.1 in whatever cluster you exist.
NOTE. For a backlink to you to matter with Google it does not need to be positive. If someone leaves a negative comment on a site, and a link to you "these guys are idiots, dont buy their product" then that link still counts. It's the link that matters, not the comments that go with it. So, as they say, all publicity is good publicity.
If you have a backlink to your site from another site, and that site is - well - crap, illegal or spamming people, then you may get a kick in the pants yourself. Being linked-to by a porn site is not something you want.
If your site has just appeared on the web, then those sites that have been around for five years will typically be ranked higher. They have credibility.
Your site may have a high Google ranking simply because it is popular, not because of your meta tags or backlinks. At the end of the day, the number of people clicking on your site is what matters, but - more importantly - it's how many people genuinely click on your site. If someone opens your website, but closes it again after 2 seconds, you don't get any points from Google. If they open your site and hang around for two minutes, you do get a few points from Google. How long they hang around is known as stickiness, and it points out the difference between a good website - and one found by accident.
If you understand and apply everything mentioned here then you should end up with a high page rank on Google, but that will take time. As more people find your site they will click through it, thus raising your ranking. As those people leave comments and links your rank will climb, thus more people clicking, and so on. That process will eventually put your website where it should be, maybe after a year or so. If you wish to short-cut that process, email us.
Glossary of SEO terms...
SEO – Search engine optimisation
This is the thing that your web guy should have done when designing your site, but left it out so that he could charge you more later on. It takes 30 seconds to optimise a site, and it takes that amount of time for us to know if your site has been optimised. The clever aspects of SEO involve the GREY AREA and ‘competitor analysis’, plus the use of advanced tricks and practices, some of which your web guy would probably not know. Competitor analysis takes a day or two to be thorough (sometimes a week or two), since their keywords need analysing with a modicum of skill and experience. You can pay £10,000 a month to have a good paid placement on Google, but I see people reach the No.1 slot for £300 all the time. It’s about ‘understanding’, and when you understand how it works … well, you’ll understand.
This is the left hand side of a Google search engine results page (SERP if you’re a nerd), and it displays sites that are popular, have been around a while, and are generally very good. In order to have a good organic ranking it must be a very popular website ... they say. And, if you’re dumb enough to believe that, don’t forget a little something for the fairies at the bottom of the garden. Things, are not always what they seem.
When I was younger, around 3 years B.G. (Before Google, so around 1995 in real terms), I would alter a website’s colours, fonts and pictures till I found a combination that caused more people to click through and buy a product. These days that’s called multi-variant testing - by people who have too much time on their hands, and who need to get out more often.
Another silly buzzword, that means ‘to measure’. In my day we might say that we had 200 clicks today. Today, you may hear that the company’s website metrics touched 200 clicks. Buy such people a magazine about adventure holidays, and ask them to stop playing computer games in the evenings.
Split A/B testing
If you split an email list into younger and older recipients, to see which works best, you have just performed a split A/B test – and are now a SEM professional. Walk with pride and a swagger.
If you see which email broadcast worked best, younger or older people, you are now an analyst and deserve a better office.
A website that sells stuff, instead of just displaying information about how wonderful your company is. If your website has ‘add to cart’ then you have an eCommerce site.
This is a series of facts and figures about how people found your website, how long they stayed on it, and which pages they visited – all very useful stuff. If you use Google Adwords, and sign up to Google Analytics (it's free for Adwords users) you can get lots of useful info, and use it to improve your website message – and sell more products. If you have an eCommerce site and are serious about selling stuff, analytics is essential. Many other web hosts provide analytics, and they are just as useful.
Most people who find your website will, on average, spend two seconds deciding that they don’t like it – or that it’s not what they were looking for – and move on. If they stay and poke around, you have a ‘sticky’ front page message. Stickiness is the measure of how long a person browses your site.
A word or search phrase that your customers may use to find your website. If you sell fish in St. Ives, with your seven wives, then you may have a paid Google keywords search of ‘St. Ives fishmongers’. If you simply used ‘St. Ives’ then you would attract many people seeking a cottage for the weekend, or a cosy bed & breakfast, and would be paying for the wrong type of people to view your website.
Click through rate CTR
This is how many people actually open up and browse your website, as opposed to those that may see your listing and pass you buy.
Cost per click CPC
What you pay Google when someone clicks on your advert. This could be as little as 1pence, or for some high-end products as much as £10 a click.
Pay per click PPC
This is the heart of Google advertising, and you will offer to pay an agreed sum (usually less than £1) every time someone clicks on your Google advert from a SERP (a results page). If lots of people click, and they buy your product, then great. If they click and don’t buy, you need to talk to someone like us to stop you from wasting money. If you set-up a new keyword, you can often see within hours how many people are clicking on it, and where your advert sits on the page, No.1 … or nowhere to be found. Changing the amount of money you offer for that keyword phrase, and the experimentation of differing keyword phrases, is something best left to a professional – or until you have had some training. Some people make a living from experimenting with which keyword phrases attract the most customers for the least money – the heart of the marketing process.
Content is … well, words, facts and figures, and … well, content.
Call to action
This is the latest buzzword, and simply means a sentence and a button, typically to buy something. “Click here for offer details” would be a call to action. For most normal humans it would be a link.
Above the fold / above the line
This phrase used to be used by marketers involved in direct mail, and indicated the part of the letter with ‘content’, as opposed to the tear-off strip with a return address to take up an offer (below the line). In web terms, it is now used to describe the part of the website first visible, i.e. the bit you don’t need to scroll down to view. It can also be used to describe the blurb about an offer rather than the ‘call to action’ – which is a button they press if they want to buy something.
Google's "display" network
This is Google’s left arm, the placing of your paid advert on someone else’s website. If the owners of that website sell wallpaper, and you sell wallpaper glue, then there is a close synergy – and you may pick up a few new customers from advertising your product on their site. Adsense ads are more hit-and-miss than Adwords definitive keyword searches, but can be very effective if you do your homework right.
Google's right arm and its money making machine, the paid search part. You choose a keyword such as ‘wallpaper’ and pay to have your site appear on the right hand side of Google search results relating to wallpaper, hopefully somewhere at the top.
NOTE. Most people still look on the left of Google, to those sites that did not pay, but got where they are because they are good, relevant, and popular or … have had their SEO handled by someone like us. You don’t need to have been around a while, be popular or relevant, to be number one. Some people pay £10,000 a month to be on the first page on the right, and some pay £300 to be No.1 on the left.
NOTE. The average consumer ‘trusts’ the listings on the left of Google, the ‘organic’ listings, far more than the paid listings. Those paid listings are often tacky. Sometimes you search for ‘St. Ives’ and see “Buy St. Ives on eBay”, causing the paid advert section to lose credibility and trust.
This is the opposite of Google Adwords, in that you sign up to allow Google to place adverts on your own website, and earn some money from it. If your site is extremely popular then you may make a worthwhile amount, if not you may make $10 a week from the adverts that appear on your site. Many companies make money this way, but just as many consider the placing of adverts on their sites as a distraction - and of a lesser quality. You can make money when a placed advert is clicked on, or simply when it is displayed.
A link to your website from another site. Google works on the assumption that if many people put links to your site on theirs – that your site must be good. This is where the GREY AREA comes in, and … belief in fairies down the bottom of the garden, that your marriage will last, and that bald men really are sexy.
If you try and add to the quality of your site by providing many useful links to other websites of a similar nature, then you are helping those using your site – and that is a good policy. But … you will not increase your Google ranking by doing so. Don’t stuff loads of links to other sites on your website in the belief that it will help your ranking.
The Grey Area
This is the part of the internet SEO which you don’t talk about in polite company. This is people paying £300 to be No.1 on Google, even if their site is crap. The grey area is not illegal, nor even immoral, just the use of tricks to get what you want, not hard work. I often shock people by demonstrating the grey area used by their ‘very respectable’ competitors to advance their rankings.
A short story, snippet, or brief yet useful description of something. Supposedly, it started off as “business logging” and became “blog”. And, it started off as nice people creating useful tips on products for other nice people – all done free of charge because they like the sound of their own voices, and like to see their words in print. It has now come to the attention of website owners and SEO gurus that Google rewards websites with blogs on, especially if the content keeps getting updated. So, we now have people writing all sorts of crap in blogs because it helps their rankings, not because it helps the reader of the website. It’s now seen that you ‘must’ have a blog, and update it each week. Because Google does respect blogs, bloggers now do the ‘black hat’ bit of SEO and try and affect other people’s page rankings. Other people will write your blogs for you as well – for a few dollars.
Black hat, white hat, blue hat
Aka, people who should get out more often. A white hat SEO guru sticks to the rules and charges his customers lots of money to get a modest ranking, a black hat charges his customers a small amount of money to get to No.1 ranking, and a blue hat plays computer games a great deal – after writing a clever and humorous blog about white hats and black hats.
Googlebot, robots, crawlers, spiders
A computer program that automatically inspects your website every now and then and tries to decide where your page ranking should lie, based upon a series of computations – and it compares you to other (similar) sites.
This phrase started with musicians and writers, who sold their products in small numbers. Large companies realised that die-hard music fans and book fans would search out their favourite artists and buy their offerings, even when those offerings were not on the shelves in the stores, or on eBay or Amazon. Those large companies then realised that a large number of small sales added up to a big number, so they now see ‘the little people’ as being valuable. This is long tail theory, in that the sales curve diminishes to a long tail that ends up with a digit one, yet starts with millions of sales for the top artists. A search phrase of “Michael Jackson” will return millions of websites, yet “Michael Jackson’s best sporting moments” will not return millions of websites. The later is a long tail search phrase that may only return one or two matching websites.
In the HTML programming language, a language used for building websites, there are certain messages sent to Google and other search engines by the website itself.
<Meta name="author" content="geoff wolak"
This tells Google and others what to display about your website, and how to index your website. Many web designers get this wrong, and screw up their client’s SEO because of it. Many so called ‘SEO gurus’ and website designers now believe that Google does not pay attention to certain meta tags, since people used to abuse such meta tags. For people who no longer believe that Google takes these tags seriously, I refer you back to the fairies at the end of the garden. I demonstrate ‘conclusively’ on a regular basis how the position of a website on a search engine is affected by the meta tags.
A junk email, or a junk link, or a junk blog, or an unwanted version of any of the above. It is also one of my favourite tinned meats, very salty. Try it with mint sauce in a sandwich.
An opt-in recipient is someone who wants to receive an email from you about your products. These days such people are double-opt-in, in that after they signed-up to your newsletter you sent them a confirmation email to ask if they were sure – with the option of cancelling. There are also rules and guidelines to follow when emailing people, even if they are customers. If you make a mistake, your email address will be listed as spam and your future emails will go nowhere. If that happens to a serious eCommerce site then you have a big problem, since your email provider will not listen to your protests, nor threats of legal action. You have to be very careful!