If you’ve read our famous Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting, you might be wondering how to get people to visit your web site once it’s online.
In this Beginner’s Guide to SEO, we’ll explain how to make sure that when visitors search for the relevant words, your site is high up in the search results.
SEO means Search Engine Optimisation, and that means making your site as easy as possible for the search engines to find, index and show to users.
There are other ways to get visitors to your site, such as paid-for advertising, but the best thing about SEO is that it can be implemented on your site, by you, totally free!
So, do you fancy seeing your site appearing on the first page in Google and Bing search results? Yes? Well, let’s find out how it’s done!
How search engines work
Before we start, we need to learn a little bit about how search engines work.
Essentially a search engine does three things:
- Collects information about web pages
- Stores and indexes that information,
- Allows users to search the index very quickly.
So let’s look at those three separate jobs in a bit more detail.
Collecting the information
All search engines start with a clever piece of software which can download web pages, read them and follow the links in them. The crucial part of this is the ability to follow the links – without that search engines would not work.
Software known as a spider is sent out onto the web to follow links. The spider will reach your new site by following links from other sites to you. When it does, it will read the pages and, by following all the links within your site, it will know all about your site. Next it’s the job of the search engine to index and store your site.
A robot or spider is a software program which reads web pages and stores their content, then follows the links on the pages and finds more content.
Presenting the search results
When a user searches for a term – let’s say “washing machines”, the search engine delves into its index and looks for the most relevant web pages to show you. But how does it know which pages are best? It does using an algorithm – a set of considerations which can measure and weigh up many factors such as:
- Number of links to the page (inbound links)
- Number of shares on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and many other social networks
- Richness of the content
- Length of time the page has been online
- Reputation of the website the page is in
- And many, many other factors
The aim of SEO is to boost the factors in your pages that search engines see as important. Let’s look in detail at some of the basic techniques.
An inbound link – or sometimes known as a backlink – is a link somewhere on the web that refers the user directly to your website. You can see them as another website’s or person’s stamp of approval for your website. These are valuable as search engines like Google will recognise these links in their decision of who to place where on their results pages.
Getting inbound links is a really important factor in pushing your site to the top of the search results – but how do you do it?
Black hat SEO techniques are those that are used to trick search engines into ranking sites. Whereas white hat SEO techniques are ways of optimising sites to legitimately encourage search engines to rank sites. Black hat = bad, don’t do it. White hat = good, do lots of it.
There are several ways of getting inbound links to your site. Some are tried and tested and have worked for a long time. But beware – some inbound linking techniques are now outdated and classed as ‘black hat’. Some are a little old but could still be of link building worth if used in the correct way, and some are new approaches created to try to crack Google’s latest algorithm updates.
Link exchanging to improve SEO
Link exchanging is when you and another webmaster decide to set up reciprocal links. In other words, one website will link to yours and you will provide a link to theirs. This can be a very effective technique for SEO practice; however with great web power comes great web responsibility – you need to make sure you are using this method correctly – don’t link exchange for the sake of it – do it for your users’ benefit or you may be penalised by the search engines for “spam”.
Directory and link-farm posting
The useless garbage that clutters up 90% of the web – the junk mail of the web world. Once recognised by search engines but long since discredited.
Years ago, the strategy of listing your site on online directories was a means of building up links to give your website more credibility. These online directories were sometimes free and sometimes paid-for listing services. Google has since marked many directories as “web spam” – of little benefit to users. These websites are purely created to generate web traffic and send it off in all different directions through a series of link exchanging to each other – something that you want to avoid having on your website. Google downranks these sites because they try to make an artificial manipulation of the search results, and therefore do not benefit the user.
To combat the problems with online directories, Google have brought out two updates in previous years. These are known as Panda and Penguin. Panda (February 2011) was introduced to stop sites with poor quality content from working its way up to the top sites on its search engine, and Penguin (April 2012) was also introduced as an update to catch sites that were using the spamming technique of selling links to sites in order to boost them on Google searches. These were introduced at a time when maximising the number of links going to someone’s site was the practice for SEO. And as we now know, these are dated techniques, and there are more recent strategies that actually work!
Nowadays, the reverse is good practice – getting rid of spammy links to your site is the key activity! This involves finding out who links to your site, identifying the unwanted linkers, and asking the site owners to remove their link. If for some reason or another your cannot make contact with an unwanted link provider, Google can be notified directly to ignore any “bad” links. This is done using Google’s disavowal tool. This way your site’s SEO is not affected by bad inbound links.
Notifying search engines that certain inbound links are unwanted and should not be considered when ranking a site.
Posting to communities and forums for SEO
You may read on various online resources that getting involved in forums is a great way to boost your SEO, building your link base by peppering hyperlinks as you go from topic to topic.
This is in fact no longer an in date strategy. For a good while, community and forum managers have realised the spamming potential that people hold when visiting their sites, and as a result, have blocked people from being able to leave any links. There may still be some places out there where a link is permitted in the bi-line, but there are much more beneficial things to do with your time than lurking in forums, waiting for a chance to promote your site.
As well as making sure your sites are linked from high quality pages, there are ways to improve the content of the site itself to make your website more search engine friendly.
Page titles, meta descriptions and title tags
All good web-page writing software programs allow you to set the page title, description and title tags when you are composing your page. These are extremely important for SEO as they give clues to the search engines as to what the page is about and what the main themes are.
- Page title: the page title doesn’t appear on your page itself, but Google will use it as the main bold heading for your web page in its search results pages. So make sure the page title contains no more than 55 characters and contains the important keywords for your page near the beginning. Think of the keywords and phrases users might type into a search engines when they are looking for the information you provide and incorporate these into your page title.
- Meta description: again this doesn’t appear on your page, but is used by Google to provide the short snippet of text underneath your page title in the search results. Use no more than 160 characters and make sure you get those keywords in!
- Title tags: these are the main headings that do appear on your page – usually in larger, bolder text. It’s important to use your web design software’s h1 and h2 settings to flag your title tags – not just make the text bold and large – as h1 and h2 have special meaning to search engines – they tell search engines this text is important.
URL of your page
Make sure your URL gives Google an indication of how relevant the material is by using descriptive, hierarchical URLs. For example, www.ukcentric.com/blog/bbc-news-responsive-design as opposed to www.ukcentric.com/t0rr45/6ttt=[ddfoig
Images are great, but on their own they have little meaning to search engines. To get around this, your web design software allows you to add “alternative text” (alt text) to each image. Use this text wisely as it’s a great way of boosting SEO. Alt text tells both search engines and users who cannot see images (or choose to switch them off) what the images are.
It is vital for search engine ranking that your site has great content. It must be useful, interesting and informative. Great content makes the user more likely to read your site, share it with others, and return! This in turn is great SEO.
A popular way of creating good quality content to websites is to have a blog on the website. So long as blog posts are produced regularly and well written, Google takes these as signs of activity on your site, boosting it in the rankings. It is important that the blog writer is mindful of the keywords they need to include in order to boost SEO. The most important point is whether the article is useful to the user and contains the keywords.
Not only is this essential in the decision to create a website for users, but is becoming more and more relevant to the way in which Google ranks your site.
As Google’s technology advances, the ranking system has become more and more sophisticated and clever at identifying the most relevant and helpful to the user. Search engines are able to judge whether a page has been built for the needs of the user, or as just another landing page full of keywords to hoist up its site in the rankings.
There are several things that users will value as a good experience on your site. One of the main factors is ‘shareability’ … so that word may not exist yet, but users will value something based on how shareable it is via all their different channels. This can be easily initiated by adding Twitter widgets and RSS icons to your blogs, websites, social media feed etc. And of course, having something that is shared is likely to give it more inbound links.
Creating something shareable is one of the most important aspects to making your site SEO friendly. Not only for the reasons that your traffic will no doubt increase and Google will trust you more, but because you are providing something entirely relevant and hopefully popular for the user. This can be seen at the moment with websites creating their own GIFs, Vines, # (hashtag) trends and more. It is important for both the users and Google to see the most human experience you can possibly offer them, and one that is superb quality – and this how to be social whilst improving your SEO.
Of course, you can also do a lot of networking in the relationship-building sense of the world via your social networking channels. This e-socialising may provide you with a healthy bundle of inbound links that will boost your website.
If SEO were to be summarised into a very small amount of words, it would be, “create useful and original content”. The days of creating content for search engines are long gone. It is the people whom you must create your content for, because after all, we’re the only reason for it all being there in the first place! Nowadays the best way to get to the top of the search engines is to have a site which deserves to be there – that is the most useful, original, shareable, and usable site in its field. Ultimately, the most human-friendly. Now get creating!