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Basic SEO guide

SEO (search engine optimisation) is a way of managing your websites pages and content so that search engines such as Google and Bing will view them favourably. By achieving this you have an increased chance of ranking well, and thus receiving more traffic.

In theory optimising a site will allow you to attract more users directly from search engine results pages. This is called 'organic' traffic. Organic traffic is web traffic that has come to you freely from search engines, as opposed to PPC (pay per click) traffic that you are required to pay for.

The following article will act as a guideline for optimising your own web pages, but it is very important to remember that your pages are built for your users. You must ensure that the user is always your number one priority as you construct your website.

SEO can be applied during website construction, or to an established website. It may be easier to apply an SEO strategy during the construction period, but this guide will be useful for sites that are already online.

The first thing you need to consider is your websites goals. Is your website already meeting these goals? Do you believe your website could be doing better? If your website is already delivering what you need and expect, proceeding with further SEO efforts may not be the best way to continue. It is possible to actually harm your website by going to far with SEO.

It is commonly believed that Google, for example, frowns upon sites that have been over optimised. This is called an 'over optimisation penalty' and may result in your site being down ranked within Google results. This is certainly not something you want.

When doing SEO is pays to be subtle. It's a combination of the little things that lead to good rankings. Again your customers and users should be number one, and you should always think of the users whenever you make any changes to your website or even a single web page.

Getting started. Setting goals and creating a strategy

Planning is vital. There is no point trying to optimise your site without thinking the entire process through, and deciding on your strategy. A lot of what you will be able to do will be determined by your available time.

SEO is part of running your business, so it makes sense to devote some time to the process. You should set your goals and set achievable and realistic targets. You should choose certain key terms you want to target and work out how plausible they are.

Choosing key terms is very important from the beginning. You should decide on a set of terms for every page you intend to optimise. SEO is not entirely site wide. On-page optimisation is specific and in many ways unique for every page you want to optimise. There are aspects of SEO that are site wide. These aspects will be covered further on in this article.

When planning you should decide :

It is vital that you have at least a basic understanding of how a web page is created and how all the pieces come together to form you web page document. If you do not have a basic understanding of this then we highly recommend you first have a read through our article, Web Page Creation : The Basics. This is designed to introduce you to the very basic and fundamental aspects of web page creation.

Structuring your website

The way your structure a website can play a role later on as you come to optimise it. Think of your computer just now, how do you organise your files and why do you do that?
As an example lets think about our music collection...

Home > Documents and settings > My Music > Rock > Bon Jovi

It makes sense to place files into folders to make them easier to find, and to create a directory structure that is logical.

On our website we can do the very same thing. Lets imagine we have a music site and we have a page where users can read an interview by an artist..

home > Interviews > Bon Jovi

Using a simple folder structure for your website can not only help you with optimisation, it can make the website a lot more user friendly. By using a good user friendly folder structure (pyramid theme) for your site you can also use very simple breadcrumb navigation. We have all read the fairytale about Hansel and Gretel following the breadcrumb trail to get home, well the very same principle applies online. Breadcrumb navigation can be very useful from a usability point of view, it also has a lot of optimisation advantages.

Breadcrumbs can be a great way of retaining a user who has arrived from a search engine. Lets imagine the user has carried out a search for 'Ford Fiesta' and they arrive on a page that is related, but not 100% what the user was looking for.

Home > Vehicles > Ford > Fiesta > Reviews

The user will see that the page is related, but not entirely what they where looking for. The breadcrumb navigation will alert them to a page (one level down) that is simply about the Ford Fiesta. If they click on that page they can then access any further information we have available. If we did not use breadcrumbs in this instance the user would have had no way of knowing we had another page that was likely to contain the information they were looking for.

Web pages

The structure is only part of the equation. We now need to develop the actual pages. At this point you need to know your limits. Is this something you feel comfortable doing. If not then you need to either go back to the drawing board and work on your skill set until you feel it is within your capabilities, or arrange for someone to develop the site for you.

The site needs to look good, but it needs to work perfectly. Online, people are not forgiving. If something fails, or does not work as expected they are only a quick search away from using your competition. Your website is not simply a website, it is the online extension of your business. Do you feel up to the task of building something that you would be proud to Call 'part of your business'.

For the purpose of this article we will not go into any details about building a web page. We do, however, have an article that will help you understand the very basics.

Page titles

Page titles are pieces of information that are placed within the web pages HTML code. They are not displayed on the web page itself, but they are displayed at the very top of the users web browser. The page title is like a name for the web page. It should be unique to the page and not shared with the rest of the website. The page title should be short, to the point and be specific to the page. Page titles are placed within the header section of the HTML document. Below is an example of a very simple mark-up used for a web page using HTML code.

<html>
<head>
<title>This is the page title</title>
</head>
<body>
This is where you would write the page content
</body>
</html>

As we can see the html file starts with an opening <html> tag and ends with the closing </html> tag. The head section of the page also has an opening and closing tag, as does the body. The body section is where the main page content would be placed.

HTML is a very simple language to learn, and having an even basic understanding of how HTML is structured will assist you greatly with your SEO efforts.

Within the <head></head> section of your HTML document is what we refer to as the header. Within this area we will place three SEO related items. Meta keywords, Meta description and our Title tag.

The title tag is placed within the header section of the HTML document. It is constructed like the following.

<title>Your page title goes here</title>

The title tag is not displayed within the browsers display area, but it will generally be shown on the browser frame. The title you specify should be short and directly related to your page. It is very important to remember that page titles are page specific, not site specific. For this reason you should have a different page title per page. Site wide title tags can actually do harm, as opposed to good. Take the time to ensure you create appropriate titles for each of your pages.

Meta Keywords

The Meta Keywords tag is also placed within the page header section and is constructed like the following example

<meta name="keywords" content="Your, keywords, placed, here">

The meta keywords tag has greatly depreciated in recent times, but it is still worth placing them within your pages. In the search engine world things change a lot, and you never fully know what is going to happen next. It is possible that depreciated tags may become more useful at a later time, so having them there will do no harm for now, and may do some good in the future.

Meta description

The Meta Description tag has also depreciated in recent times, but again it makes sense to have it in place.

<Meta name="Description" Content="Place a page description here">

Both the Meta Keywords and Meta Description tags are page specific (like the title tag) because of this it would make sense to craft a set of Meta tags for every page as opposed to one set for the entire website. SEO in general is a lot about single page optimisation. What works well for one page, may not work well for another. It is extremely important to act per page whenever you are making any SEO related changes.

Content

It is the content that users are interested in. All through this article I have said 'put the user first'. No matter how well your page ranks in the search engines, if the content they see when they arrive on your page does not meet their requirements they are only one click of the back button away from going back to the results page.

You not only need to obtain users from search engines, you need to retain them. Providing a user with the information they require is the key method for retaining a user on your website.

When you are creating content for a page think about what information would the user expect to find on the page. Try to provide as much of this information as possible.

Your content is also read by search engines and they use this as one of the many factors they take into account as they analyse your page.

It used to be the case that you could simply stuff your content full of keywords and you would stand a good chance of ranking well for those terms. Thankfully those days are long in the past. Today search engines are getting better at understanding what a page is 'really' about.

Your content should be well written and unique. Do not use content that has been used anywhere else online. Duplicate content is generally frowned upon by search engines and it may lead to your page simply not showing up in results because it can be found elsewhere. Never use content that you have 'found' online. As a rule of thumb, all content is protected by copyright law from the point where it's created. By using someone else's content you may well be breaking the law.

When writing content make sure you include the relevant keywords, but do not overuse them. Make it read well for a user. Good content should explain exactly what the page is about without excessive repeating or stuffing of keywords.

Page headings

Page headings can be very good for your site from an SEO point of view, but only if they are correctly applied. On the web headings are very similar in nature to headings you might find in a newspaper or magazine. You can use different sizes of headings by specifying them within your HTML code.

<h1>This is a top level heading</h1>

The example above uses H1 to scale the heading. H1 Is the largest and most important heading available for use on a web page. There are other heading sizes available.

<H2>A less important heading</H2>

<H3>Again an even more important heading</H3>

With the above examples, every time you increase the 'H' value the text used for the header is reduced. From an SEO point of view, search engines will view headings with a higher value of being less important. For example a search engine will read through your page and notice you have an H1 and H2 and a couple of H3's. From this information the search engine will place a higher emphasis on the H1 tag as it tries to analyse and work out what your page is about.

Headings can be nested to allow you to present the information in a user friendly way.

<H1>Page about trees</H1>
Introduction text...
<H2>Types of trees</H2>
<H3>Apple tree</H3>
Descriptive text...
<H3>Orange tree</H3>
Descriptive text...

The nesting of your headings can improve your sites usability. It has been proven that people tend not to read an article when they are looking for information online, they simply scan through the page. Headings catch their eye and point them in the right direction to find the information they are looking for.

When you nest your headings it is important to use them as intended. Your main heading should be page specific, you can then have sub headings relating to specific areas of the page. You should not use more than one H1 (main heading).

If you use subheadings (H2) you can display H3 headings below them, and still revert to H2 headings. But it needs to be laid out properly. You should try and have a structure something like Main heading, sub heading, topical heading, topical heading, sub heading topical heading, topical heading etc. etc.

Your page headings can be an important aspect of on page SEO, if used correctly they can be used to help the search engine understand the main topic of your page.

Navigation

We briefly touched on Navigation, specifically our breadcrumb navigation examples. Navigation works very well for users, but it also allows search engines to crawl and index our web content. It is links that make the web work. Pages link to other pages, sites link to other sites. Links are the roadways of the web and are travelled by users and search engine bots.

The type(s) of navigation to deploy on your website will depend greatly on what kind of site you are using.

Page Rank

Page rank is a system developed and used by Google. The Google page rank system gives a value from 0-10 for every page that is indexed by Google.

The page rank system works by counting a link from Site A to Site B as a vote for Site B from Site A. As a vote is cast Site B accumulates some page rank from Site A.

This is a very simple example, but it explains the Google Page Rank system in very simplistic detail.

It is important to remember though, not all sites are equal. A vote from a site with High Page Rank will pass more Page Rank than a vote from a site with lower Page Rank. Within the online marketing community Page Rank is often abbreviated to simply 'PR'. For a long time PR was seen as a bit of a commodity within internet marketing circles. Because of this, sites where able to sell links based on the amount of PR they may be able to pass. Buying links is no longer safe, and Google is actively trying to put a stop to this practice. It is also fairly difficult to view a web pages PR score these days. It used to be a simple case of viewing the score on the Google Toolbar, now the data that is made public is at least 6 months out of date.

Our recommendation is forget about PR. It does matter internally from a Google ranking point of view, but it is only one part of the picture. Getting links will gain you PR, but do not base a websites PR as a reason to try and gain a link.

Link Building

We have mentioned previously the importance of having links pointing to your website. Search engines use links to find your content. They also analyse the importance of each link when they are ranking your pages. Having good quality links pointing to your site can greatly help you rank well within search engines.

Before even thinking about link building you need to ask yourself 'Is my site link worthy?'. In other words is there any reason why another site would wish to link to me. If you answer no, then you need to go back to the drawing board and address the issue. It is way easier to attract links to a site that provides good quality relevant content. It is the content you offer that will help you attract links.

One of the most effective methods of attracting links is the sending of link request emails. When you engage in this activity you are effectively emailing a site owner and asking him/her to add a link to your website from theirs.

This is why you need to be sure your site is of a high enough quality to be considered. If you email a website owner asking them to link to you, they are going to want to have a look. If the site is of little or no use to their existing users the chances are they will simply ignore your request.

You will find that a lot of link request emails will be ignored simply because of the sheer volume of link request emails that are being sent. You need to make your link request email stand out and give the site owner a reason to at the very least read your email.

One method is to engage with the site owner on an unrelated matter. For example you may find a typo or an error on a page. By sending an email to the site owner pointing this mistake out you have opened a channel for dialogue. If they reply with a 'thank you' email you can point out you are involved in the same industry. You could then ask then to have a look over your website. At this stage you could find a page on their website where you would like a link added and send then a request.

When ever I send link request emails I always mention that I found their website whilst searching for information on the sites subject. I mention that I operate a website that is within the same industry and point out a page on their website where I think a link would be well suited. I also refer to a link as a reference as opposed to a link. I find this has a softer effect than a conventional link request.

I have found that for every 15 link request emails I send only one will receive a reply. A typical ratio for emails sent to links received is closer to 1 in 30. Because of this it is a numbers game. You need to spend a fair amount if time simply contacting website owners within your industry or topic.

Deep Links

Deep links are links that point to internal pages within your website as opposed to the homepage. Deep link can be very useful for gaining additional exposure for your internal pages.

It is important to remember that it is your pages that rank within search engines and not your site. A website is a term to refer to a collection of pages, but it is each and every page that contains the content and will attract search engine traffic.

Getting deep links will enable search engines to find your deep content, it will also pass link juice to them. If all of your links point to your homepage it can be a challenge getting your internal pages to rank. Deep links that point directly to your content can be greatly beneficial.

Anchor Text

Anchor text Is the actual text that a website uses to form the link to you. It can be an advantage to have links pointing to you to use favourable anchor text. We previously used a page about Bon Jovi as an example. If a website chooses to link to that page and uses the anchor text "Click here" we will get the benefit of an inbound link, but no anchor text. If however they use "Information about Bon Jovi" or simply "Bon Jovi" the search engine will be able to work out a lot more about the page based on the inbound anchor text the other site provided.

Web Directories

Web directories can be a good source of inbound links, although you do need to be careful where you add your business. Google and other search engines tend to frown on the concept of paid links, because of this a lot of paid inclusion web directories have fallen under the spotlight.

I tend to advise listing only on free directories. I also recommend against using any automated submission services. Vertical directories (topic specific) can be a good source of links. They may also deliver a little bit of traffic to your site.

There are a number of ways of finding topical web directories using search engines...

"[your topic] Add URL"
"[your topic] directory"
"[your topic] web directory"

and so on...

What you are doing is searching for common text snippets that may appear on suitable directories.

Blogging

Blogging can be a great way of getting your message out there. Many companies run a corporate blog, some may even run multiple blogs for the various parts of their operations. Blogs are all about posting information that is relevant, yet not important enough to be put on the main website. You can either set up a blog as part of your existing website, or use a blog hosting service such as Blogger.Blogs allow you to expose your companies message to a different audience. Your blog posts may appear within mainstream search engines, or blog specific search services.

Syndication

Syndicating of content allows you to make your content available elsewhere. For example you may provide an RSS feed that allows other sites to display small portions of your content. It will then link to your pages to view the rest of your content. Content syndication can be beneficial, but only if you have a lot of other services or sites using your feed(s).

The other use of RSS can be allowing users to subscribe to your feed. This can be people who use RSS feed readers on their desktop, laptop or even smart phone or tablet. As you produce new content their RSS feed will reflect this and your content will be made visible to them. They will be able to read a small excerpt then if they want to read the rest of the article they will be required to visit your web pages to do so.

Social media

Social media is indeed a very powerful tool that should be used by business to retain and attract users/customers. Users of social media tend to be involved within their social sphere. If you can get your company visible to people within your ideal demographic area, you can use this to your advantage.

Social media is all about word of mouth. In the technical age word of mouth is all about 'sharing' and 'tweeting'. Social media is certainly not something you should ignore.

Your social presence is also picked up, to a varying degree, by search engines. Today the main search engines are 'social aware' and having a large social user base may be beneficial to you. Social networks can also directly lead to increased user awareness.

Related content:
HTML basics
Facebook for business
Twitter for business



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