Six steps to successful SEO – Step 1 - “Understanding”
In my ideal world, websites would be built from the inside out. By Clare Green
Businesses would approach their new website as a marketing plan and the first thing that would be decided upon would be the content. They would know exactly how many pages the site was going to have and what each page would contain.
The text content would be written for the end user and to appeal highly to search engines. Only then would a web designer be brought in to make it all look wonderful and be beautifully coded (and a very happy web designer he’d be too).
However, historically this is not how people work and, crazy as it may seem, many businesses start with how they want their website to look and the content is an afterthought.
As a result, the clients I meet in my work as a search engine optimisation consultant and copywriter tend to already have websites.
They often fall into two distinct categories:
The first are the ones who have been told by someone (often a web designer) that they need SEO undertaken on their site – we will call this client Mr Sceptical.
The second type found out about SEO themselves, often through trying to find out why their website is not performing – we can call this client Mr Miracle.
Mr Sceptical has often just spent a lot of money having his site designed by a professional so that it looks great and doesn’t really want to spend any more money on it. After all, it looks so much better than his competitors.
Mr Miracle knows there is a problem already; he’s probably Mr Sceptical a year down the line having had disappointing hits on his site. Mr Miracle has accepted that he needs SEO and asks ‘How soon can you get me to the top of page one on Google?’
It is at this point that I don’t enjoy my job, because I have to burst both of their bubbles within the first five minutes of conversation.
I tell Mr Sceptical the truth, that it doesn’t matter how attractive your website design is – it is like a beautiful boat with no sails or engine if it does not have search engine optimised content.
I tell Mr Miracle that I can certainly get him to the top of page one of Google for a search term such as “Potato mat driver” but as he sells houses in London, this probably would not be of much help.
The truth of the matter is that I can help both of these clients to achieve good results, but first they have to understand the principles of optimising their websites.
In this first of six articles in the ‘Six Steps to successful SEO’ series, I will give an overview of SEO practices to help SME’s really understand the value and, I’m afraid, the limitations of search engine optimisation.
A good way to approach SEO is to understand that search engines trawl through websites constantly. They probably visit your site once a week or so and ‘read’ it. The search engines then use the information they have collected to provide search results to people.
Because all is not fair in the World Wide Web and some users try to cheat with spammy sites and misleading links, search engines attempt to address this through algorithms which give more weight to certain aspects of content and level the playing field.
It should be noted at this point that nothing about your design, with the exception of domain name, page names and picture <alt> tags are interesting to search engines from a ranking point of view. They do not give you any points for graphic design, animated images, video etc. That is all irrelevant to a search engine and indeed, often, slows your website down. Indeed large images and legacy plug-ins such as Adobe Flash can render your online presence inaccessible to mobile and tablet devices.
Search engines are looking for content that is relevant to the main aim of your website. For example, if you sell shoes, you are more likely to be successful if your website contains lots of information about shoes and is called wwwshoes.com That’s a simple enough premise to understand.
Search engines like good coding. They like the html coding to reflect what the visitor actually sees on the screen. Gone are the days when people could get away with coding packed full of keywords invisible to the human eye or covered over with images.
They are, in essence, attempting to sort the wheat from the chaff. SEO should be all about ensuring that your site is pure wheat.
Of course, it would not be good practice merely to write your website for search engines. They are quite clever and wise to such ways and will mark you down for it. The site has to be written for the end user.
So, now we return to our two fictional clients.
I explain to Mr Sceptical that SEO is like dual marketing. It’s marketing to human beings of course, while also marketing to search engines. It’s not witchcraft; it’s not something invented by charlatans to bleed money from business owners. It is simply a great deal of reading generally, a good bit of research for each client, and writing that combines your marketing aims with the type of content that appeals to major search engines.
I tell Mr Miracle that the most important competition he faces is himself. There is every point in gaining genuine new business; there is no point at all to getting a lot of worthless hits from people who don’t want to be on your website.
Unless you want your website to be simply a reference point for existing clients, rather than to attract new business, the point is to invite new people to view your services and then to impress them sufficiently to commit. Commitment can be purchasing an item, filling out an online form for more information, subscribing to your news or blog, registering for a discussion forum or donating to charity, but whatever your website is for – that is the aim.
The aim of an SEO consultant, or your aim if you decide to make improvements yourself, is to improve your situation by increasing your visitor numbers, the relevance of those visitors to your services and conversions from those hits to commitment from the end user. It is not necessarily to get you to the top of page one of Google – well, not within the first week anyway.
The next article will look at competition, the fly in everyone’s ointment.
- Clare Green is a search engine optimisation consultant and freelance journalist based in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. If you’d like to read more articles about SEO or get in touch with Clare personally, please visit www.seo-to-go.co.uk.