A Simple Guide to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

The Basics

Crawler based search engines (Google and Yahoo for example). These search engines have programs that are often termed crawlers, bots (robots) and spiders. It is the job of these programs to crawl the internet for web sites and collect content. They read web site content and follow both internal and external links. Once they have the this information / content they populate the search engine index with it (which is basically a database).

The search engine's job is to retrieve the most relevant information from it's index based on  search terms, once a searcher enters their search terms (keywords) and presses the go button.

The aim of any search engine is to retrieve the most appropriate results for the searcher. The results are based on an algorithm, and generally it is the algorithm or more over the difference and quality in algorithms that is the differentiator between search engines. Googles algorithm is based on around 200 different factors, and it is a closely guarded secret, it is after all their “coke cola” recipe.

Another type of search engine are based on editable or pure submission information, such as the ODP (Open Directory Project) which is the largest editable directory on the internet. Here you can add your own web site and it's details etc..

Page Ranking

Google ranks pages, at this point it is worth making it clear that pages are ranked, not sites. Page Ranking is a factor in getting higher in SERP, but it is only 1 factor but it is  probably the highest factor. It is not the only factor as will be discussed later.

A page gets ranked based on incoming links i.e. by how many other pages link to it. In Google's eyes each link is viewed as a vote, also the higher the page rank of the page that is voting (linking) the more weight that link carries. So for example a page with 4 incoming links could rank lower than a page with 2 incoming links, if those 2 links originate from higher ranking pages. It's quality verses quantity.

SERP (search engine results pages) Ranking

When a search query is performed the returning results are termed “SERP”. A page is returned within the SERP based on it's SERP Ranking. This is not purely based on a page's Page Ranking, but also a number of other factors, as discussed earlier, Google uses around 200 factors in it algorithms – these factors are often referred to as “Google Love”. But factors such as geography, a users browser history, relevance etc.. are some of these factors.

Age is also a factor, age before beauty, a website that is older has history and more credibility than a web site that started up last week. Just as in the real world, respect and credibility have to be earned. It can take crawlers up to and around one month to pick up new sites, again like the real world overnight fame is not the norm.

Keywords

Simply keywords are the words a searcher uses within a search engine query. So if I were   looking for sites or pages that sold iMacs, in the search box on Google I  may enter iMac, I might also enter other keywords to narrow down the search for example iMac for sale in Nottingham … and so on. These keywords from the search query are what the search engine will look and match for from it's index.

Better By Design - Search engine friendly design

There are a number of skills that can be used in the creation of web sites to make them easier for search engine crawlers to access the content and structure of a web site, and thus increase the chances of the content being indexed and therefore appear in SERP.

Having a well structured, cool looking web site will not, by itself, increase Page Rank and SERP. The biggest factoring influences will be discussed later, but design and structure play a key part in search engine crawler access to content, and therefore requires attention to be paid to it.

If you have the absolute best content in the world that millions would love to view, it makes little difference if people cannot search for it with a search engine, because your web site has been badly design and therefore been inaccessible to crawlers.

Content

Content should be structured and hierarchical. So heading tags should be used such as <h1>, <h2> etc. Crawlers understand heading tags, so they will give a greater importance to them, hierarchically. Text that uses <h1> is more important than something that is using <h2> or <p> and so on. That's not to say all text should be wrapped up in <h1> tags. Because the crawler needs to understand the structure of the page, so it can separate headings and paragraph content.

Some web site objects are hard or impossible for crawlers to crawler, interpret, so they should be used to complement content, not replace it :

  • Video and pictures are hard for crawlers to understand, if indeed they can at all
  • Dynamic content
  • Javascript
  • Flash
  • Frames
  • Images
    • Use descriptive plain text around the image to describe it
    • Use the alt attribute alt="a vase of flowers" tag for all images, good for crawlers and screen readers (for the visually impaired)
    • Use descriptive files names, not image_01.png, but vaseofflowers.png

Page Title tag

Page Titles should be used for each and every page where possible. These tags are crawled by crawlers and indexed based on being unique. So each page should have it's own unique and individual tag.

The Title tag is the text that appears on the browser tab when you view the page, it is generally used by search engines as the hyperlink i.e. the first line in SERP.

  • Avoid stuffing unneeded keywords in titles
  • Avoid generic titles
  • Use about 60 characters
  • Make them unique

Description tag

The next small paragraph that you see under the hyperlink in SERP is called a snippet. The snippet is there for searchers to read, so they themselves can determine if the hyperlink is worthy of them clicking it and thus visiting the site. The snippet, generally is the contents of Description tag. Think of them as mini ads.

  • Avoid generic descriptions
  • Avoid filling with keywords
  • Use about 150 characters
  • Use 2-4 keywords

Keyword tag

Depending on what you read, most search engines do not use this tag any more, Google and Yahoo don't. This is because web sites abused it, stuffing the keyword tag with every word out there so they would appear in more and more searches, with or without any relevance to their actual site content.

URL Structure

The URL, is the web site and page address that is viewed and typed in the web brower, so www.isoblue.com is a URL, so is www.isoblue.com/gallery-of-work/ .URLs should be user friendly by being descriptive about the page that is being viewed or to be viewed, which should contain info about the page. URLs are also searched for keywords and these are highlighted in SERP.

  • They appear in the highlighted search, and is useful if someone has added a URL as a link from another site (incoming link)
  • Avoid lengthy URLs with parameters, sessionID, numbers etc..
  • Avoid generic names like page1.html
  • Avoid excessive keywords
  • Avoid deep directory structures
  • Avoid capitalisation of URLs
  • Avoid multiple urls pointing to the same place, so always use one linking address

Multiple domain names

If you have multiple domain names that you wish to you use for a single site, examples or reasons for this are if your have registered both a .co.uk and .com address, or if companies have merged. It is best practice to use a 301 redirection to point all the secondary address to the primary address. This will stop search engines viewing secondary sites as content duplications, also it can avoid ranking from being aggregated across the multiple sites.

Content is King

By now you should have a basic understanding of how a search engine works, how the structure and design of a web site can greatly influence getting crawled and index by a search engine. BUT the whole point of building a web site is so that searchers and consumers will visit it, read it's content and act upon it positively. Unfortunately far to often web site owners leave content till the last minute or put it way down their list of things they want, or need to think about when building a web site presence.

Generally people focus on the look of a web site, does it look super cool, does it have the design / graphical wow factor. But these factors only come it to play once someone has found your site via a search engine, and to do so you need CONTENT. Google and other search engines do not rank on wow graphics!

Remember search engines read content, they index it and people search on keywords within it. No content, no search results. More over if a searcher does find your site, it is content that will keep them reading, returning and referring to it.

While designing or creating content, always remember who is number one, that is searchers, consumers, people ! Not search engines. If you create good compelling content the people will come. If your content is purely search engine based, stuffed with random keywords, the people will leave.

To repeat :  the whole point of building a web site is so that searchers and consumers will visit it, read it's content, act upon it positively and keep coming back for more.

So content is absolute king. It requires and deserves great care and thought. Once you have written your content think about the description tags. As descried earlier in this document, they are like mini ads, so write a mini ad for each page.

Here are some SEO tips for inclusion in your content :

  • Aim for around 200-300 words, or more per page, search engines like a good chunk of content
  • Think about what words people will use to search for your products or services. Sometimes these may be acronyms or “street” names, so they need to be included visibly on the site
  • Keywords should account for around 2% of the content.
  • Do not stuff keywords in content, too many and search engines may de-list you

Marketing – Promote Your Site

A web site, is a piece of marketing in its own right, but also needs promoting. To get a better ranking you need incoming links. Incoming links are seen as a vote for your web site, they are referrals. Just as in the real world, an incoming link would be a “word of month” referral. So if someone has had a good job done by yourself, had good service or knows you have knowledge on a subject. They will tell other people, by “word of month”. In web world this referral is by people creating incoming links.

For example, if on a social networking web site someone asks the question “I need a good web site for my company, any one know of one” a past customer of isoblue may reply with “yes I have, check out isoblue www.isoblue.com”. This would be an incoming link.

Another example would be if an online magazine has written an article on a range of products and at the end of the article list some suppliers with hyperlinks to their sites, again this is an incoming link.

So get out into the web and start promoting your web site, talk about it on forums (have a link to your site in your signature), social networking sites. Get articles written about your company with incoming links to your site....and so on...

From The Author

I hope this simply guide helps and good luck.

Chris Bampton

Isoblue.com, Draycott, Derby, Derbyshire, England, UK