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Lies, Damned Lies and SEO

The facts about SEO

Do I need SEO for my website?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It is a phrase that has typically meant tuning a website to get the highest possible listing in search engine results. Today the phrase SEO is also used in terms of an organisation’s visibility across key areas of the web.

SEO for Search Engines

Really good Search Engine Optimisation should result in a website being listed on the first page of Google results without needing to pay Google for advertising:

Which search engines matter?

This depends on your target market. In the UK approximately 88% of searches are made using Google. It makes sense to make sure that your website is optimised primarily for Google.

Google UK 88.6%
Bing UK 6.5%
Yahoo 3.8%
Others 1.1%
Source: Statista, June 2015

The other two main search engines in the UK are Yahoo and Bing, which share the same underlying technology as each other, behave in the same way and react in a very similar way to Google.

Promises, promises

There are many companies offering SEO services. Many promise to “get you to number 1 in Google”. Be wary of these companies. No one can guarantee to fulfil this type of promise. Not everyone can be number one and Google do not publish a failsafe method of achieving this. Don’t forget, Google is a multi billion dollar business and not a public service. It can (and does) do whatever it chooses in terms of deciding search result positions for website.

Which key words?

You need to decide which key search words you want your website to be found for. Which words will your potential customer type into a search engine? Many disreputable SEO companies will fulfil their guarantee to make your website number one by choosing phrases that are obscure and which searchers do not use. This doesn’t bring any business. You need to choose key words that people are using to look for what you are offering.

Quality, not quantity

It is tempting to draw up an exhaustive list of key words for your website in a scatter gun approach. This is usually less successful. A search engine tends to prefer to see pages of information dedicated to one subject, not 100 subjects. You should choose a limited number of well researched phrases to use within your site for maximum effect.

META tags are not the solution

META keyword tags are hidden key words and phrases contained at the top of web pages. Back in the 1990's they were an essential part of every website. This is no longer the case. Google, the UK's most popular search engine, doesn't even look at META keyword tags in order to decide where your website appears in its search results. Google does, however, use a META description tag which is a hidden short description at the top of web pages. This doesn't count towards calculations on where a website appears in Google's search results. Instead this description can be used as the small “advertising” text in the search results:

An enticing description may be the difference between a visitor clicking on your link in the results or choosing a competitor's website.

Putting your key words in the right place

The key words that you use must be in the right places on a page. The following are key areas:

The title bar of the page:

Page titles are typically looked at first by a search engine when scanning a web page and they are also used within search results. This is a key area to get right.

Higher up the page is better

Like a real human being a search engine will regard the first pieces of information that it reads on a page as more important than the ones at the end of the page. Put important key words towards the top of the page.

Bigger text is more important

This is not quite accurate as it is the HTML code used to make text bigger that is important, but it is a useful guide. Make sure your most prominent text contains your key words. Whilst it is polite and friendly to have a large Welcome message on the home page of your website this is a wasted opportunity.

Repetition must be carefully judged

It would be too easy to simply repeat a key word 100 times on a page. Search engines use something called key word density to judge how many times a phrase is used within the whole page as well as distance between these phrases. If a page is too dense or has a keyword repeated one after the other in a sentence your website will suffer and the search engine may choose not to include it at all in its database.

You can be clever and beat the key word density checks, but the end result is usually a web page that makes no sense. This is usually called over optimisation. Remember, you still want the text on your website to be read by and appeal to real human beings.

The Home Page is worth concentrating on

To a search engine the Home page of a website is the most important page and so the words on this page in particular carry more weight than other pages within your website. Use your Home page carefully, but don’t forget the other pages in your site. If you are using a list of key words, prioritise them. Use the first and second most important phrases on the home page and distribute further phrases on other pages of your website.

Is SEO the be all and end all?

Even if your website doesn't appear on the first page of Google's search results for your chosen phrase it may not be a disaster. Don't disregard the other methods people will use to find your site on the web. Here are some examples:

  • Links to your site from other websites e.g. manufacturer websites if you are a reseller.
  • Your own promotional efforts through other marketing methods e.g. via traditional literature and paper based advertising, email marketing etc.
  • Links from social media sites.
  • Product/Shopping feeds eg Google Merchant Center
  • Video based sites, eg YouTube, Vimeo
  • Local search, eg Amazon Local
  • Seller / Reseller on websites such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy etc
  • Create a social aspect to site such as forum that can help drive traffic to your website
  • Submit blog posts 
  • Trade links with a complimentary sites in your niche field
  • Answer Questions - answer questions on sites like Yahoo Answers that are relevant to your niche.
  • Try to guest post on relevant blogs; make sure that you only contribute to high quality, and highly relevant sites
  • Demote irrelant Google sitelinks - use Google Webmaster tools to demote urls you dont want to show, this can increase the chance that the urls you do want listed show up
  • Remarketing


Pay for results

If you need a quick solution, or your efforts at getting a good place in free search results are not working effectively enough, you can choose to pay to advertise within the search results for your chosen key words. The cost of this type of advertising varies hugely depending on the competition for your chosen phrase, but as an indication £100 spent on paid advertising could get you 100-200 new visitors to your website. 

Don't bet your business on free search engine results

Changes to the way Google's search works, new entrants to your market or an increase in the effectiveness of existing competitors may mean that you lose your prominence in search results. You need a back up plan in case you lose your spot in the free search engine results.

Review Regularly

Once a website has been search engine optimised well it should be regularly reviewed to make sure it is continually performing, but an ongoing programme of SEO is rarely warranted.

Some examples of when you might need to go back for more are:

  • You chose the wrong phrases the first time around and you need to alter your website to cater for new phrases.
  • The words that people use to look for what you are offering have changed.
  • There is a significant change in the way that a search engine looks at your page. There are regular small search engine changes, but significant ones are few and far between.

Retro fitting

Good SEO tends to start before any HTML code is written. Structure and planning are essential for good results. Retro fitting SEO to an underperforming website to make it perform well can sometimes involve rebuilding a website. It is most definitely not a bolt on, after thought item.

Do it right, once

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