Doing well on Search Engines

Note: in the following Search Engine is abbreviated to SE and refers to Google, Yahoo! Bing  etc.  The word ‘Browser’ means software used to surf the internet and covers Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome etc.

The first and most important thing is that a Search Engine (SEs) such as Google should be able to find your page.  The easiest way of doing this is get a link from another website or page that is already listed.  Your web designer will probably set up one from their portfolio page (But you will need several links to be well ranked – see below).  If a SE knows your site exists it will be able to index it.

What a search engine does.

Once every two or three weeks SEs will ‘crawl’ round the web, finding all the web pages and adding them to its index.  It keeps a cached copy of all webpages and photos etc. along with an index of all the words used on those pages.

So when a surfer searches for something, just like the index in a book, it will list all the pages which include that word(s). If someone searches for “Qualified Plumbers Widnes”, it will list first of all those pages with the exact phrase, and then pages with those 3 words in any order.  It also gives the number of pages it has found, but you will find this can vary.  If you were to perform that particular search today an SE might say there were X results, but when you repeat it in about 2 months time, this number could be higher or loser, by as much as 30%.  This is because the set of rules, called an ‘algorithm’ that SEs use to decide which pages are relevant and how they are ranked, changes.  All SEs are constantly modifying their ‘algorithm’ to provide better and more accurate results. It is reckoned that Google uses over 100 different criteria to rank each page on your site.  These algorithms are a closely guarded secret; and we can only guess at the exact criteria which are used to ranks a site.  But some things are known.

Choosing the right words

It is important to get the appropriate words about your business included on your page and especially ones that people will actually use in a search.  It might sound better to refer to yourself on your web site as a Sanitary Engineer’, but if everyone is looking a ‘plumber’ your page will not be listed in that search. 

Another instance would be an optician practice, they might offer “prescription spectacles”, but an average of 2,400 searches for that phrase are made on Google UK for this each month, whilst far more people 74,000 actually search for “prescription glasses”  Tools such as Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com) help a web designer to gather results such as these and advise the client on wording his site.  It will not only inform the designer and client what words people search for most frequently, but also how many other pages are ‘competing’ for that phrase, the less competition the more likely you are to get noticed by SEs

Site Design.

To help SEs index a site the pages must be standards compliant,  whilst sites which are badly coded may display OK, unclean code is unhelpful to SEs.  The World Wide Web Consortium has an online validation tool – http://validator.w3.org/

Placing your words

Once one has decided on the words to use or focus on, called the ‘keywords’.  They need to appear on the page – several times – so it is obvious to the SE what the page is about.  Obviously we don’t go mad and keep repeating “Plumber, Plumber, Plumber”; SE algorithms are set to spot ‘spamming’ like this and drop the page from its index.  Rather they should appear naturally in normal sentences and headings. 

Headings

SEs give more prominence to any words placed in a heading tag. These are special tags used in coding a web page <h1>, <h2>, <h3> etc. as opposed to paragraphs which have a <p> tag.  Simply making it bold in a larger font won’t be regarded by the SE as a heading.  Avoid using generic headings such as “Home” and “About”.   Note: you can see these tags on your web page by clicking on ‘View’ in your browser and choosing “View Source” or similar

Title and Description

These are not part of the main web page as displayed in your browser.  They part of the <head> section which contains information about the page itself and links to other files used to display it. Example of a title The Title is visible in Title-Bar at the top of the browser window.
Both the title and description are shown in a list of search results as shown below. (These are from a Google search) 

Titles and Descriptions in a Google sSearch

The importance of titles and descriptions is two-fold.  SEs place considerable importance on any keywords contained within them, AND a well written title/description should tell the person searching that they have found exactly what they are looking for; and encourage them to click on it.  Making them a ‘call to action’ is also a good idea “Phone us now for…” or “Buy online”.

Again one can see the Titles and Descriptions by viewing the page source.  If there is no description supplied for the page, the SE substitutes some test taken from the web page itself, and the outcome of this is hit or miss

Usually it is up to the web designer to add these two items to the <head> sections of the pages, but as the site owner you can direct them on that; as they will do on page content.  With some systems such as Actinic for online shops or WordPress sites you can add or update these yourself. 

There is a good Video on writing SEO friendly Titles and Descriptions on:  http://www.seobook.com/video-google-seo-friendly-page-titles

Alt Text

The ‘Alternative Text’ are the words which appear when one hovers over an image on a page.  The purpose of this is to provide information to people who have their browsers set not to display images, or for people who are partially sighted and who use vocalisation software.  Thus they should contain helpful descriptions of the image;. e.g. “Our Staff at Work”.  When the image shows a product, or a service being performed; one can take the opportunity to describe it using some of your key words.  “Our flux capacitors will transport you to the future”.

Incoming Links

All of the above will help get you in a Search Engine’s index for relevant key words – and where the page appears to an SE to be very relevant to a topic it may also be well ranked for that topic.  But the most important criteria for ranking; whether you are first or fifty-first; is the number of incoming links to your site.  Another site which links to your site counts as a “vote” for your site.  However no all links are equal.  Links from sites that are themselves well ranked will be better than others.  Again if the site is dealing with similar subject matter it appears more relevant.  So links from trade associations or colleagues in a similar field of work count better than one from a neighbour’s home page.

Getting these links is the responsibility of the website owner, only he/she can negotiate or haggle to obtain them.

Good places to obtain them from:

  • Business, trade or professional Associations.
  • Directories such as Yell.com; or web Directories (such as Yahoo directory)
  • Local community websites.
  • Non-competing sites in your business niche
  • Social networking sites in your business and ‘Linked In’
  • If you buy advertising in local publications do they offer a web link as well?
  • Exchanging links with business associates.
  • Join Facebook and other social networking sites – you don’t have to be an active member, but you are normally allowed to place on link.
  • Quality Blogs in your niche.
  • Start your own ‘blog, and provide up to date information/ advice for your customers etc.

Finally – A word of warning

Politely ignore those phone calls which promise to get you “on the first page of Google”.  It is possible to get any page up there if one focuses on some obscure phrase such as ‘affordable plumbing and drains Cheshire’.  But unless the potential customers are actually searching for that phrase it is next to useless.

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