Factsheet: SEO Basics

There are many companies that charge a small fortune to get your company listed higher in the search engine rankings, but this is something that anyone with basic HTML knowledge can do themselves. Furthermore, if you have a website built with a content management system then you can do most of it without additional assistance. So what are the key issues to consider?

Optimise per page, not per site

How many times have you done a search and landed on a page of a website that is not the home page? You need to get into the mindset that you are optimising a specific page for a target audience, not just the overall website. For example, if you sell sporting goods you may have a section on golf, and pages dedicated to clubs, clothing, tees etc. Each of those pages should be optimised only for the products on them – that way people are more likely to land on the page that they are interested in.

Content is king

Make sure that you have engaging content. If your website consists of about 5 pages, all with pictures and limited text, then you don’t have anything of value for search engines to find. Ensure that your products/services pages include relevant content, breaking it down into sub-pages if relevant. Another great way of generating content is to write case studies of existing customers. Not only do these add valuable content to your site, but they can also be used as press releases for submission to magazines. Upload product brochures and technical information as well, if relevant, as search engines can also read inside most PDFs. Google likes fresh content, so by regularly adding new and unique pages to your site you are increasing the keywords that you are likely to be found against.

Titles and meta tags

Every page has a title, which appears in the bar at the top of the web browser. This is very important in telling both users and search engines what that page is about. Keep this down to 5-8 words, and put more important keywords closer to the front. Avoid using what is known as ‘stop’ words or characters, such as and, - , & etc.

Meta tags are also a factor, although not as important as they were ten years ago. There are two main Meta tags – keywords and description. Keywords are literally just that – the key words or phrases that are relevant to that specific page. The description tag should be a one or two line description of the page contents. These would appear within the <HEAD> section and would be unique to each page.

They would generally look something like this:

<meta content="golf, clubs, putter, iron, wood, wedge" />

<meta content="A range of golf clubs, including putters, wood, wedge and iron." />

 

File names and hyperlinks

When you save a file – be it a web page or image – always add in a relevant keyword. If the page is about golf clubs don’t call it product1.htm – call it golf-clubs.htm. Any images on the page should have relevant keywords in as well. If you sell consumer products then it is also a good idea to add in product codes e.g. pt5412_golf_club_putter.jpg would be better than image1.jpg. As internet users are becoming more ‘net-savvy’ they will now often search for a specific product code.

When linking to other pages on the site ensure that the text within the hyperlink is relevant. So if you’ve done your job right so far the home page will have the words Golf Clubs as a hyperlink through to a page called golf-clubs.htm, which in turn has images with filenames relating to golf clubs.

Image ALT tags

Every image on your page should have ‘alternative’ text, which is displayed initially as the page is loading or if the user has disabled the loading of images, perhaps if they are on a slow connection. Search engines also use this text to identify page content, so again make sure that you put text relevant to the image. The HTML for an image would look something like this:

<img src="/images/golf-clubs.jpg" alt="Golf Clubs" width="211" height="82" />

On a side note it is also good practice to specify the dimensions of the image, so that the web page can render everything in place before the image loads.

Headers

In HTML there are six ‘header’ tags - <H1> to <h6>. These are used to break down and structure your content. The top title of your page should have a H1 tag. Then, subtitles would have H2 tags and so forth.  Word processors such as Microsoft Word give you the ability to apply these styles automatically. There is a further benefit (in terms of design styling) in that you can specify the font, colour and size of each header tag in the website’s style sheet – you specify this only once and every page will confirm to the style. This not only makes your HTML code cleaner but allows you to make site-wide design changes by just amending the style sheet.

Keep ‘em lean to keep Google keen

Google is placing more importance on page loading time, so spending time to ensure that your pages are optimised for speed is beneficial. It gives your site visitors a better experience and as a direct result Google is more likely to favour your pages. There is also less impact on your server, which is important for busy sites. I could dedicate several articles on the various processes that you could go through to make your site faster, but the key areas are:

-          Ensure that GZIP compression is enabled on your web server – this can often reduce the file size of HTML, JavaScript and CSS pages by 80%. The methods of enabling this will differ depending on whether you are running a Windows or Linux server, and what scripting language your website is written with (e.g. PHP, ASP, ColdFusion etc)

-          Optimise all of your images to make sure that you are using the best file format for each image - JPG is best for images, while GIF is better for icons. PNG can also be useful if you need a transparent background

-          Use CSS instead of images where possible. For example, don’t use a background box image when you can draw a box with CSS and put a border/shading around it

-          Combine CSS and JavaScript objects into as few files as possible. Think about your current home page – in additional to the HTML page itself how many other files are you having to call in order to display it? Try to keep the overall ‘object’ count to around 20

-          Check your HTML and CSS for redundant code. If yours is a website that has been developed for some time you may be surprised by the amount of code that has simply been remarked out – the web browser won’t render the content but the user still has to download it before the page displays.

Test for code accuracy

Use the free W3C HTML and CSS code validators to check your site for accuracy. Google states that they like accurately coded sites because they are more likely to display correctly across different browsers. In addition to this do your own testing with IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera, and, if possible, across mobile devices. Quite often where one browser is forgiving of a minor code error it can cause considerable display issues in another browser. Google also provide many tools for checking the quality of your site – check out their Webmaster tools to get an idea of how they see your site and any problems that they’ve found.

Get linked

Although this appears at the bottom of the article do not underestimate its importance. Building a content rich, accurately coded and optimised website is only half the battle. Getting people to find it is the other half, and this is where inbound links come in. A good place to start is your competitors. Find out who is linking to them by typing link: followed by their URL into Google. There are various online tools such as WEBCEO that will also trawl competitors’ links for you. The best places, however, are the ones relevant to your industry – news sites and online forums. Ensure that you submit press releases to all relevant magazines and website, and visit industry forums so that you can provide answers to questions, each of which can have a valuable link back to your site. Social networks are playing an increasing part, and adding the ability for people to ‘Google +1’ or ‘Like’ you on Facebook can also be beneficial.

Summary

Anyone who says that they can guarantee you first page on Google is most probably lying, as Google do not publish specific information on how their results are ranked, and therefore it can only be guesswork on their part. You can also be penalised for what is known as ‘black hat SEO’, such as extremely small text, keyword stuffing or white text on a white background.

A good Google ranking does not happen overnight, but by applying the above to your website you stand a good change of receiving more quality traffic directly to individual pages. Remember – give people what they want and they will come back for more.

All content is copyright of Martin Bailey unless otherwise specified. Text or images may not be reproduced without permission.