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An introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 16:03 Written by  John
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In today’s online landscape getting your website found in Google is absolutely critical to the success – or failure – of your online business. There’s a great deal of detailed information out there regarding search engine optimisation but this article aims to boil the optimisation process down to its bare bones.

It is a basic guide to the key tenants of the optimisation process so we don’t go into the details of how to do it – this will give you the information to make the decision to either do it yourself or to outsource the work. It should also act as a good checklist to make sure you’re getting a proper service from any company you chose to use to manage your optimisation.

We’ll be adding new articles that will go into more depth in the future so make sure to follow our blog at:

Stage one: Key phrase analysis

First off you need to run some key phrase analysis to find out what people are searching for. Use Google Adwords as the basis of this research, so for example in our situation we want people looking for web design in Cambridge to find us. We ran a Google Adwords search (it’s a free service provided by Google – ) using our key criteria (web design Cambridge) and came up with a list of the most popular phrases that people use in Google. There are a number of other tools that you can use for key phrase analysis; just do a Google search to find what’s available.

Please do check that the search results are suitable, particularly if you sell something like accountancy services as a generic phrase like ‘tax return’ really isn't going to help people find you. You should also take a look at your competitor’s websites to see what they’re optimised for. This can really help you when you start off looking at key phrases to optimise your website for.

Once you have a list of the key phrases that people use to find companies like yours then it’s time to optimise your website.

Stage two: On page optimisation

The next stage is what is referred to as on page optimisation. This includes the infrastructire of your page (how fast it loads, how easy it is to navigate, canonical URLs, website maps, duplicate content, etc - we'll be covering this in some detail in the future) and the content of your page. There are a huge number of factors that Google uses to decide which websites are most relevant for a particular search term and one of the factors is that your website contains the key phrases your customers are searching for. There are a number of areas of your web pages that you’ll need to change:

Initially there’s the Metadata:

Title tag - the text in the bar right at the top of your browser, and also what Google will display in the search results.

Description tag - what is displayed under the title tag in Google search results.

Keyword tag – a list of keywords that used to be important but that Google doesn't use anymore but other search engines still do.

Next come the body copy tags:

H1 tags – these are usually the page titles you find in your copy. They’re normally a bigger font size then the rest of the text.

Bold tags – any content that is in bold is given more weight then other content. Of course if all you content is bold it will make no difference so it’s a case of balance.

Link text and link title – the text within links is given more weight. This is found in the a href link:

<a href="">Web Design Cambridge</a>

Image alt tags – this is the alt text you see when you hover over an image – again use your key phrases here too.

Once all of these have been optimised it’s time to look at your body text. This needs to feature your key phrase(s) but be careful not to over do it as Google is trying to find the most relevant page. If Google thinks you’re trying to cheat you’ll be penalised and you could go down in the rankings. Make sure you add in the desired key phrases exactly as per your research. We haven’t found too much negative impact by spreading them over punctuation, for example:

SWAYsearch web design, Cambridge, offer professional and affordable web design services.

In that sentence I’ve included the key phrase web design Cambridge and added an additional web design in at the end.

Stage three: Backlinking

The next stage is to get other websites to link back to your site. This is a practice known as backlinking. The main aim of backlinking is to get links from relevant websites which have a high Google Page Rank (for more information on Page Rank please visit:

There are a number of ways to get backlinks, from adding your website into directories like Yell or DMOZ, to sharing links with similar websites (or your suppliers, etc) – a practice known as reciprocal linking.

Other approaches include blogging (much as this blog article will point back to ), to writing in forums, commenting on blogs, writing wikis and the more traditional PR based strategies such as sending out press releases that contain lots of relevant keywords and links to your site.

It’s always best to avoid link farms (websites that are simply a list of links) and anything else that looks like it has only been set up to collect links. These may end up being blacklisted by Google and that could have a negative impact on your search engine optimisation.

The other key tools to getting backlinks are using social media websites like Linked In or Twitter as increasingly Google is indexing these sites over and above standard websites.

Stage four: Ongoing optimisation

Don’t expect your website to shoot to the top of Google immediately; it can take a good few months for the changes to take effect. Search engine optimisation is a war of attrition and it takes a while for Google to move your site up the rankings.

You’ll need to be checking your website regularly and adding new content as often as you can. Google loves new content and the more frequently you update your website the more frequently Google will crawl it. This means your updates will get found sooner and you’ll start a positive cycle where changes you make get recognised and stored in Googles index sooner.

Keep adding backlinks into your website. This should be an ongoing process that you do on a regular basis as over time Google will see your website has greater and greater authority. You can always add in new backlinks by writing and commenting on blogs, tweeting regularly, adding facebook content and using other social media tools. If you’re business has something that makes good photos these can be uploaded to sites like Flickr.

Ultimately the key to search engine optimisation is to keep at it. Keep checking that your key phrases are still relevant, keep adding new content like news, blog posts, new pages, etc, and keep backlinking. In the end it will pay dividends as a front page listing in Google will really help your customers to find you.

We'll be adding some more substance to this overview over the next few weeks so make sure you click on the RSS link at the top of page and follow the blog for more search engine optimisation insights.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 June 2011 14:01


John is a co-founder of SWAYsearch.

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