Search Engine Optimisation [SEO] and being found online – an overview

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Search Engine Optimisation [SEO] and being found online – an overview

Donald Lousley Newsletter, Web Site Design & Development

BinosMany owners of a new website can be quite amazed that it won’t show in the first, or any search engine results pages. If it does appear quite quickly then it’s either luck or good planning and hard work with attention to detail.

Here are a few thoughts assuredly not covering every aspect – none of us probably have the time to implement or know how they all work, but it’s the mix that holds the secret:

Choice of a domain name:

Short is good, and descriptive of what the site is about. What it ends in is relevant, eg .co.nz or .com are both good, .info, or a name split with a hyphen maybe less so.

Have more than one domain name – think about how people may think regards your business name, eg if its a helicopter flight business maybe have multiple domain names containing heliflights, helio etc. Some names will resonate well in some cultures /countries but not in others

Hosting:

If it’s a dot com domain and you wish to attract traffic in the US, then consider hosting the site there.

Wordpress logoSome platforms make SEO easier than others. WordPress, a database driven system makes it easy as it seems to be literally hot-wired to broadcast new content.

The speed with which a site loads for a user is apparently measured by search engine spiders [computers that constantly index content all over the Internet], and if it’s a site / page full of superfluous or dirty code then there will be penalties. Many systems that make a big deal as to ease of authoring by being able to place words and images by dragging them about, will generally not make for “clean” code, and of course will then be slow to load.

Remember this one simple concept: What is good for the users of your site, will be good for search engines. It’s that simple, but the devil is in the detail [as below]:

Page structure:

Unique page title for seo

The title of each page should be unique and reflect with honesty the content below it. This is often overlooked!

Most users “land” on the Home page, so make sure it contains what the user is seeking. If another page is where a high percentage people find themselves then make sure they get to what they need, and know where they are relative to the Home page and other content.

Irrespective if it’s 1 – 4 column layout have adequate white space so words can breathe – make the layout for people easy on the eyes [black text on white is still the best].

Iphone screen shot 150Will the site’s pages scale down in a responsive manner so they view well as a list on an iPad, tablet or iPhone so the user does not have to zig zag to find and read content? Can any phone numbers on a page be tapped so the phone part of the device can dial the phone [instead of having to memorise the number and enter it]?

Both of these factors will be ignored at the risk of not being found because the site is not suitable for the increasing number of users accessing content from mobile devices.

Grouping pages: it’s easy enough to cross link from the Home page to any other page and back again, but when there are more than several pages then the only solution to enable clean straight forward navigation that is logical to users and search engines, is to group pages by topic and/or category.

…which leads to menus: Drop downs are popular, but spiders may have trouble following them to sub pages, so have an alternative menu in a side bar, and another page called a Site Map [which can be submitted to search engines]. Think redundant navigation!

Dead linksDead links: Even in your own site a link could be aimed at a page that no longer exists – its easy to fix, but you’ve got to know [WordPress has a monitoring plugin which is pretty handy]!

The problem takes on a whole other dimension though when its a link on someone else’s site pointing at a page you’ve deleted or shifted, and the server serves up it’s default, a not very helpful 404 error page. The good news is a substitute to the default can be crafted so the probably frustrated user who has just hit a wall has helpful options to consider, or another scenario is the 404 triggers a predetermined redirect to somewhere else. 404s are all too often overlooked, but Google won’t overlook them – note you never see error pages very often in results!

Page and site content:

The words used in the first paragraph[s] on the home page are critical. They must describe succinctly and clearly what you have on offer, and tie in with the page title [as above], and everything else on the site.

Writing grammar So how do we find relevant user words and grammar?

Open a Google account and then an AdWords campaign to access their Keywords tool, and there is also Google Trends and Google Insights. You see you might think your potential users / customers wishing to rent a camper van search for “camper van”¬†for their holiday, but actually search using a term like “mobile home hire”!

These tools will help you identify alternatives and the number of times they’re used per month etc. You don’t have to pay for an AdSense account at this stage btw.

Then using the above and / or your imagination do searches yourself and then analyse the words used in the top results as you look at other sites – your competition!

Fresh words and contentFresh content is best – reusing the words off other sites is called “scraping” and while it’s OK to use a small amount in relation to your own efforts [be responsible please re copyright], if you use too many your site will be penalised.

Duplicate content is not cool! Duplicate content is not cool! Duplicate content is not cool!

Content relative to your overall plan is KING! Then navigation, and lastly the “looks”

So why not run a blog [word derived from Web Log] in your site? Give content away knowing the reward will be in greater connections with people. When you post encourage discussion, and if you get comments reply to them as you OK them, to show on your page. Posting to your blog can actually be a lot of fun – I’ve made some wonderful friendships with mine.

Don’t try to hide text by making it the same colour as the background either! Honesty will get you further in search results.

 

Working Images to Advantage:

Green wordsDon’t put words on images – search engine spiders indexing the web can’t read like humans can.

Instead describe the photo using a few words in keeping with the thrust of your site and in keeping with the image. It’s known as putting words between the Alt tags, or sometimes called Alt Text [where you find these tags to put the description between depends on the software you use]. The Alt Text does not show to users – the concept was first developed so a browser could read for the blind. For warm blooded users you can caption and also describe any image alongside, on top or underneath, but Alt Tags are really where its at, because if done properly the image works for you, as long as it’s accompanied by a good honest choice of words.

If you have to display a very large image, then consider placing it lower down on the page, so it as it’s loading users can read text above it. Thus keeping them engaged and less likely to leave.

A constant challenge for many is how to prepare and load images onto a page or into a gallery. The process is called “optimisation” [or optimization in US English] and “uploading”. Basically this means the width and height of the image being adjusted [in pixels is the norm for measuring]¬†¬†so it fits in the space available, and this being done prior to uploading rather than having all those bytes of data downloaded to the user’s computer with an accompanying delay, and then being forced to fit.

However there is a further complexity and it’s been around for awhile: it is the dpi [dots per whatever…]. Screens are happy with a minimum of 72, but for print it needs to be higher. So the lower the dpi of images on your site the faster the image will appear on the viewer’s screen. And then to make them even faster downloading jpeg is a sort of compression algorithm more like how an old school shorthand typist would abbreviate while taking notes, and this process used carefully means quality can be reduced with software on your computer just to the point one step up from unacceptable, knowing this too will help speed.

The good news is digital cameras usually produce jpg format images, and now to get around all the above there is software in smart-phones/cameras that will resize and optimise, and let you upload all in one go, thus negating the need for an intermediary computer. Again the likes of WordPress makes an app for iPhone/iPad and Android, so the photo can be taken and uploaded on the fly. To my mind the text and context can be tweaked later from a desktop.

Embedding a Google Map in your site is also a great opportunity, as via your Google account you can place details of your business on the map – then by another means you’re listed with Google yet again. This takes awhile while warm blooded people check your placement. On the map page it can be useful to list business hours etc.

animated gif butterflyAdobe Flash animations are bad – iPhone etc. won’t play them as they make things unstable and also hog battery life. The old fashioned animated Gif as illustrated can be surprisingly useful [don’t forget the alt tags!] And then there is Java – which is beyond the scope of this post, but just know to avoid Flash!

Social media:

Some love it, some loathe it, but as above don’t just post to FaceBook, Google + or Twitter like you’d put an ad in the local paper, instead write to develop relationships. You can either post in one of the aforementioned, and have a link to your site or blog, or do it the other way around. You could also explore paying for ads. that point to your site’s content. Currently your dollar will get the best return in¬†FaceBook I believe.

 Where to put your time:

Doing all of the above can be daunting so the trick is what to focus on!
Analytics by Google
This is where¬†Analytics come into play. It’s a free service from Google and what it can tell us about users of our site can be amazing. For example watch the reports or dashboard regularly and you’ll see some pages never get looked at, so use this to guide you through where to put your time and resources. Reports will also identify what words in a search led to your site, how long they stayed, where they went, and which country or province they’re from. Use these tools in relation to money spent on traditional advertising.

Getting really serious:

Consider making multiple duplicates of your popular pages, and then change the content a little on each one, then study the Analytics to see which combinations are attracting the most visitors.

None of us will ever understand Google’s secret algorithms, but the above is a way to get a little closer if you’ve the time.

Astute train spotters reading here will notice I’ve not mentioned meta keywords and phrases – being words embedded in the code the user cannot see easily. Well, once they were important, but not so much anymore. It’s all about the page titles being unique, and content the reader can read being in tune with them – those paragraphs are holding the keywords and phrases [and your images being tagged]!

But wait there is more:

You may not wish or be inclined to address all the above, but your site can still be useful especially in saving you time. Identify questions you get asked on answering the phone or in impromptu meetings, and simply list these on your site, perhaps under Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs], and just direct your seeker of information to the site either orally or by business card.

So your site can be used to save time rather than “being found”!

On closing please be aware the above is offered on an “all care” and “no responsibility” basis. It’s what constitutes a lot of the basics which can be tweaked and built on with more advanced SEO if you so wish.

Best of Luck!

Cheers

Donald