A short guide to search engine optimisation for small organisations

(i) Introduction

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is something of a black art. There are companies operating all over the world who specialise purely in SEO. No major search engine makes its search algorithms public. The SEO industry makes it its business to second guess how Google and other search engines are ordering and prioritising results. So, everyone's guessing and anyone who says they're not is frankly, telling porkies!

Telling porkies!
The pride of Melton Mowbray

On occasion Google will overhaul its algorithms on a grander scale than daily tweaks (which also certainly happen). These overhauls are given 'amusing' names such as "Penguin" and "Panda" and create a furore in the world of SEO, with companies jostling to be the first to realise how and why their, or their clients' sites, have moved in the rankings.

Penguin
Hilarious Penguin!

When we talk about SEO we are talking in the main about Google. Although other search engines exist and are important, such as Bing, Yahoo! and Ask, for the purposes of this blog, I will refer to Google as a catchall term for all search engines. Google is by far and away the most used search engine. Microsoft would like to have you believe otherwise, but Google run the show.

(ii) Black & white hat techniques

In the early days of Google, it was possible to dupe the algorithms quite easily in order to maximise web traffic. These days, this is not advisable. Google's powerful algorithms are now such that the use of any so-called black hat techniques may well end up with a site being blacklisted, or at best, heavily penalised.

Winona Ryder
The favourite "Winona Ryder nude" was guaranteed to get 'em clicking."

It is important to bear in mind the Google is in the business of providing relevant information. The more relevant its search results to its users, the more they will return and use Google (and therefore can be served more advertising). Google's motto of "Don't Be Evil" may be taken with a pinch of salt when considering its overall business practices, but it does act as an excellent single line guide to good SEO.

Search Engine Optimisation should be aimed at making a site present itself as a reliable source of information that can be presented as part of search results. The more reliable, interesting and relevant a page is, the better it will do in the rankings. There are many factors that lead Google to consider a site more favourably. Exploring these factors is SEO.

(iii) Mobile friendliness

In the case of your site, the a key thing to be considered is if the site is mobile friendly. A while back, Google updated its algorithms to promote sites that are mobile friendly, and demote sites in its rankings that are not.

Mobile friendliness comes in two broad areas: a) dedicated mobile sites. These are sometimes seen as a URL like "http://m.url.com" or "https://mobile.url.com". b) 'Responsive' sites. These are written in such a way that the code will automatically render itself well on a variety of screen sizes; tablet, phone and desktop. You can tell if a site is responsive by loading it on your computer (try http://www.bbsplumb.com for instance) and resizing the window, especially making it smaller. You'll notice that the site reorganises itself as the window size changes and the menus in particular change their format.

Drink me!
Shrink and grow at will.

For a variety of reasons, I would advocate a responsive site over a dedicated mobile site. Although there is little difference in terms of SEO (you can embed code that links the mobile & desktop sites for SEO purposes), you will be, to at least some extent, updating and tweaking two sites, thus maybe doubling your workload in keeping up with site updates. (Updating and tweaking the site will happen a lot, as you will learn later on in this blog post.)

(iv) Keywords

Keywords is a catchall term that describes what are usually phrases. A keyword is what a Google user will type in in order to instigate a search or will be used to display appropriate adverts on sites that display Google ads. Keywords need to appear in various areas of your website, which I cover below.

Choosing keywords is highly important. The most highly used/searched for keywords will result in a list of search returns as long as your arm, and it is easy to get lost in the morass. Ideally keywords need to be slightly 'off the wall', so that although there will be fewer searches for that keyword, you will stand a better chance of ranking highly. "Travel to Egypt" for instance returns 291 million search results. "Guided tours to Egypt from the UK" yields 240,000 results, a much more manageable number.

It is important to use variations on your keywords: "guided tours to Egypt from the UK" can be used as a starting point - "escorted tours to Egypt UK", "cultural tours to Egypt UK", "spiritual tours to Egypt and the holy land from the UK".

Pyramids
Nearly as old as the hills.

Keywords should be placed in the following main areas (though there are others, see below):

  • page title
  • headers, that is specifically between <h1> and </h1> & <h2> and </h2> tags. Depending on how the CSS has been crafted on your site, these headings and sub headings will often appear bold, or in larger text.
  • body text
  • meta description field.

In this typical Google listing, the black text might be text from the meta description, or from headers and body text. If Google doesn't find decent meta descriptions, it may well use body text or header text. As ever, which occurs is part of the secret Google search algorithms.

Search return

Be careful not to stuff your page with keywords. Pages must read like real English; you should assume that Google staff are reading your site personally (this isn't necessarily the case, but is a good rule of thumb).

There are many online tools out there that will help you choose keywords. Sites like wordtracker.com offer a paid for service, while possibly the better free service is the one that comes with Google's AdWords. It's worth signing up for an AdWords account even if you don't spend any money, just for the keyword suggestions. Go to adwords.google.com to get started.

Spend as much time as you can considering your keywords. Keep a list of a hundred or more - you won't get to use them all unless your site becomes very large, but as I discuss below, you'll need to rotate and tweak your keywords.

While signing up for Google Adwords, also sign up for Google Analytics: analytics.google.com. You will be given a code snippet that needs to go into all your web pages - your web designer will help you with this if you don't have the technical know-how at hand. Once Analytics is installed, you will be able to track people accessing your site, the journey they took through the site, where they came from and what keywords they were searching for if they have come from Google.

Use Google Analytics to monitor which keywords are being used to find your site. If there are keywords that are not performing particularly well, try tweaking them or using different ones from your list. Record keyword performance in an Excel sheet and track performance over time.

Super Sleuth
Start sleuthing, Sherlock!

It can also be quite useful to search using various keywords and go to your competitors' sites if they come up above you. Visit the sites that appear above you in Google rankings and work out where that site have put their keywords - it might be in the page title, whereas you only have the same keyword (or elements of it) in an <h2> tag.

(v) Other considerations

Google likes sites to change. A changing site says that it's relevant because it's being kept up to date and therefore will provide useful information - which is Google's business. Don't be afraid therefore of changing the text in your site, adding new pages and sections.

Consider adding a blog - but only if you're prepared to write blog posts regularly. A dead blog page says no-one at the company cares about their audience particularly. Again, if you need help setting up a blog, contact your web developer. If you need help with writing the blog, get in touch with us!

If you are stuck for a blog subject, try a curation blog post. This starts with a link to another page (offsite) or blog post and quotes and links to the author (good etiquette). Then you can quote relevant parts of the offsite article and comment on it; whether or not you agree with the points made, widening the discussion and raising further issues.

Museum curation
You are the curator!

An ideal site in Google's eyes is one that is linked to many times (more on this below) because it is the 'go to' place to go for information on a particular subject. Therefore if you can write pages (or blog posts) on a variety of subjects related to your organisation's specialisation that people will find relevant and interesting, that will help your SEO prospects.

(vi) Inbound links

A site that is linked to often will rank highly in searches. Wikipedia for instance will appear on the front page of many, many searches as it is both full of changing information, and is linked to often.

It is important then to generate inbound links. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Firstly do not go to so-called link farms or participate in link exchanges with other companies (unless they are highly relevant to the content of your site).

If you become a repository of useful information, people will link to your site naturally - this is ideal.

Linking to blog posts or new pages in your social media sites is also a start (more on social media in later blog posts).

A quite effective method of creating inbound links is to create them yourself. Visit forums relevant and register. Become a contributor, asking questions and answering others' questions. Make sure that in your signature is a link to your site: every time you post you are creating a link. Also you will raise your profile in the industry in general and therefore allow you to build a more popular site that should contain lots of information that people want to read.

Become the expert
Quite the expert, are you?

Some blogs also allow comments - you may be able to insert a link back home but don't forget to respond properly to the blog post too!

(vii) Social media and SEO

Social media marketing is a huge area that I will not touch on in this blog post (you've done well getting this far!), but save for later posts.

(viii) Final points to note

SEO also includes several other things that can be addressed in time. For instance the page URLs of a site - they should ideally contain keywords, as should <alt> tags around images and other meta data. There are also a host of technical SEO points that can be addressed, such as page load times, Google Webmaster Tools' errors, W3C compliance and the like. These are tweaks that can be considered in the fullness of time. We'll examine them in later blog posts.

Conclusion

A single blog post such as this cannot hope to cover a broad, diverse and complicated a subject as SEO. Hopefully however it has given some oversight into some of the main points. Several issues need raising in conclusion:

  • SEO practice is a constantly changing art. It is essential that the online marketeer, even an in-house practitioner, stay abreast of the current trends, and more pointedly, Google's latest search engine algorithms updates.
  • There are many online resources out there to help the beginner and indeed, the seasoned professional. It is worth reading the most recent posts and it soon becomes clear as to who are the respected industry voices.
  • I would recommend viewing blogs and subscribing to newsletters, such as HubSpot's.
  • Most businesses have a dedicated marketing budget and part of that should be the payment of wages/dividends to staff involved in online marketing activities. Traditional forms of marketing are on the wane and the early adopter of best practice may well successfully win new customers at a faster rate than their competitors.
  • igeek can provide guidance. Talk and a phone call are cheap, so should anything provide immediate difficulty, do not hesitate to get in touch.
  • This final points cannot be stressed enough: it is essential that your SEO is constantly monitored, tweaked and changed. Keywords etc need to be monitored for results and the best performing promoted, the worst replaced with new ideas. An SEO campaign ignored is a campaign that will fail.


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