Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

September 8th, 2009   •   no comments   


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process that results in a website appearing higher up the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) on sites such as Google, Yahoo etc. As a result of a successful SEO campaign, visitors who are looking for your products or services will be directed to your website. SEO refers to Natural search queries as opposed to sponsored words or phrases.

SEO should be viewed as a campaign rather than a single event. It takes time for SEO to work and it has to be maintained thereafter. A successful SEO campaign focuses on three key areas which are:

-       Keyword Analysis – identifying words and phrases that are relevant to your products and services. The objective is to find keywords and phrases which are searched for often but have little competition or don’t appear very often on other websites,

-       On-site optimization – making sure that the target keywords and phrases stand out on your site so that the search engines can see them easily,

-       Off-site optimization – Making your site look more important in the eyes of the search engines by increasing the number of relevant, quality links to your website from other quality websites.

Keyword Analysis

It is important that a set of Primary and Secondary keywords and Phrases are agreed which will form the basis of the SEO campaign. Once agreed these can then be liberally inserted into relevant places on the website to increase the relevance for those keywords and phrases.

Primary keywords and phrases are those that appear often throughout your website. Secondary keywords and phrases are those that appear on specific pages or sections of the website. Generally speaking, the more words in a phrase the less the competition from other websites. However, it is also likely that there would be fewer people searching for these. It is no good being number one on Google for a phrase that nobody ever searches for and so a balance has to be reached. SEO consultants who claim they can get you to number 1 on Google aren’t lying; its just that the search term will be so obscure that nobody will ever use it. If you had a website dedicated to “purple spitting frogs”, you can be certain of a number one spot.

Some keywords and phrases have so much competition that it would be very difficult to appear high up the SERP without a very large budget. Therefore, finding a niche is very important. It is better to appear at the top of Google for a Keyword or phrase that only 500 people search for each month than on position 200 for a phrase that 50,000 people search for each month.

Finding the right keywords and phrases therefore is the foundation for the whole SEO campaign. Here, we aim to come up with a list of 50 to 100 keywords and phrases against which we will analyze both the search frequency and the competition. From this we can use a statistical method for identifying the best selection that will give the best results. The following steps would be followed, some of which are iterative:

-       Analyze your existing website to identify words and phrases that already naturally appear,

-       Analyze your competitor’s websites to see what keywords and phrases they use. Tools exist to assist with this process

-       Come up with alternative phrases for these keywords e.g. “social housing consultants”, “social housing consultancy”, “social housing consulting”. Once again, tools exist to assist with this process

-       Come up with a good mix of 1,2,3 and 4 word phrases

Once we have the list of keywords and phrases we can then use these to find out the number of searches made each month and the number of websites that contain these results. Once again, tools exist that assist in the process including Google’s own set of tools.

At the end of this process we should have a set of key words and phrases that are to be the cornerstone of the SEO campaign but will continue to be refined over time. For example, to support new articles that appears on the website.

On-site Optimization

You wouldn’t expect to appear high up on the SERP for a word or phrase that doesn’t appear very often or not at all on your website. Therefore, in order to attract the attention of the search engines, we must ensure that our key words and phrases actually appear on the website. This will unfortunately involve some tweaks or even re-writes of pages or articles in order to thread these keywords and phrases into the website.

There are several areas where these keywords and phrases should appear. Examples are:

-       Page Content including articles

-       Page Descriptions – the text that appears in the top of your browser when you visit a website. This is also used in some search engines in the search results. This information is added using “meta tags” which are hidden in the page source code. If the page is editable using a content management system (CMS) they can usually be edited directly

-       Keywords  – Also hidden in meta tags and used by some search engines

-       URLs – it is better to have a page named “…/strategic-asset-management.html” than “…/page2.html

Once again there are tools to help test the relevance of a page in terms of keywords and phrases. This is an iterative process and to some extent trial and error. The key thing is to keep the language as natural as possible whilst
using the keywords and phrases as often as possible – without going overboard. Too much keyword density can result in search engines such as Google removing a site from their index, if it suspects foul play.

Off-Site Optimization

Google uses a voting system to rank websites and pages in order of importance when deciding which pages to show at the top of the SERP. It is not the case that the site with the most keywords gets to the top. It all depends on how important and relevant your website is for those keywords in the opinion of the search engine. The specific algorithms used by search engines are trade secrets and are always being refined, but generally Google works as follows:

Each link back to a page on your website counts as a vote. You could therefore argue that the more links you have the better and this is partly true. However, Google is also interested in how relevant that link is. It can tell if the website linking to yours has similar key words and phrases which is therefore more relevant. Finally, if the website containing the back link has a high Page Rank this also adds weight.

For example, if the BBC or Times Online (High Page Rank) ran an article on Social Housing and had the link social housing to a website about social housing, this would increase the importance of that site for that key phrase. Therefore, it is not so much the number of links that counts as the quality and relevance of the links. That said, the more quality and relevant links you have, the higher up you will get.

There is one last thing to say about back links. There are some back links you don’t want to have. For example, just as a back link from the BBC carries weight, a back link from some black-listed sites will damage your rankings. Google know that some disreputable “black hat” SEO consultants trade links to boost their rankings. Once Google discovers such a site (or someone reports such a site), the site can be removed from its index.

See more articles my Jez Lister. A later version of this article may be found here.

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Building Project Management Capability & Maturity

July 10th, 2009   •   no comments   

Building Project Management Capability and Maturity must be a priority for any organisation involved in delivering multiple projects and programmes. Having mature project management will have a direct impact on an organisations capability to consistently delivery successful projects and programmes. The alternative leads to projects going over budget and failing to deliver on promises made. For some organisations, these project failures can have a devastating impact on the success of the entire business. It can lead to products and services being late to market, other projects being cancelled or postponed due to tied in resources, and problems due to poor quality outputs.

Many organisations take the decision to adopt ‘best practice’ project management principles in order to improve their project management capabilities. In the UK and many other countries around the globe, this usually means Prince2 – ‘Projects in a Controlled Environment’. Prince2 was developed in the UK by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and launched in 1996. It is used in many countries throughout the world both in the public and private sectors as the standard for project management best practice. It is comparable to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) as often used in the USA and elsewhere.

Although PRINCE2 sets out a framework for how individual projects should be managed, it doesn’t address how an organisation should be set up to use it. This takes a great deal of planning and time. In fact, the implementation of methodologies such as Prince2 within an organisation is a project in its own right and needs to be run as such. Some might even argue that the implementation of Prince 2 requires a Programme of work to implement it successfully. When Prince2 has been implemented correctly it has been embedded into the organisation in such a way that all projects are managed in the same way, taking into consideration the size and purpose of the individual project. A test of this would be a measure of the ease at which employees could move between projects without incurring prolonged period of acclimatisation. When the methodology has been embedded properly within the organisation, you would see the same repeatable processes and techniques used by all projects. When these processes are being continuously reviewed and improved this is called a mature process. The Prince2 Maturity Model (P2MM) defines such a scenario and allows organisations to gauge, by assessment their own level of maturity as well as identifying where improvements need to be made. The Prince2 Maturity Model should be the aspiration of all organisations seeking to implement a new Prince2 methodology or to improve an existing methodology.

Of course, the Prince Maturity Model was developed because so many organisations were failing to grasp the concept that Prince2 implementation affects the whole organisation and the way they manage projects. This basic fact is often overlooked by organisations that mistakenly believe Prince2 training is all that is required to achieve success in project management. If you train your workforce they become better at their job right? As logic goes, it looks a sound approach and is why many organisations have embarked on Prince training as a means to ensure that projects are properly managed. Of course, no one is suggesting that Prince2 training is a bad thing; but it is only one aspect of improving the success of projects within the organisation. Successful project management requires a three-strand approach: Knowledge, Expertise and an Embedded Methodology.

Knowledge refers to Prince2 training and certification. In many ways this is the easy bit. You pay your money and your project managers get trained.  Of course for the individuals it’s not really easy at all but you get the point. The projects managers return with an understanding about the project management methodology to play their part in the Prince2 organisation. However, whilst having an understanding of the Prince2 methodology and project management in general will be a big step forward, to become an excellent project manager requires the second strand; experience.

It mustn’t be overlooked that project management is first and foremost a management discipline. Project Managers are managers first and project managers second. This may feel unpalatable for many but it is true. The best project managers are not the ones who have the most project management qualifications but the ones with the most management experience; not necessarily in project management but in management per se. If you think about it, project management shares many of the generic management disciplines such as setting objectives, motivating staff, planning events, leading teams, enforcing ways of working, communication, negotiation, reporting, monitoring and control. Experience in these disciplines is far more important and hard to obtain that passing a Prince2 examination. I don’t say this to denigrate the Prince2 methodology or the training that is provided, which is usually excellent. I say this because if organisations wish to build a strong project management capability within their organisations, they can’t rely on rookie project managers with little or no prior exposure and experience in management. They can’t teach you experience, you have to acquire it over a period and usually by making mistakes. The lessons for organisations aiming to increase project management capability, is to ensure a mix of experience as well as qualifications.

The third and in many ways the most overlooked strand to building project management capability is that the Prince2 methodology (or any methodology for that matter) must be embedded within the organisation. I remember turning up at a large Local Authority in the UK to carry out an assessment of a failing project and to recommend a recovery plan. The Local Authority went to great lengths to explain to me that they were ‘a Prince2 House’. They had trained 13 of their project managers in Prince2 and told me that all of their projects were run according to Prince2. As I spoke to the project managers and interviewed various other stakeholders it became clear that the organisation was Prince 2 in name only. It had no repeatable Prince2 systems and processes into which the project managers could engage. I would expect to have seen a centre of excellence or programme office issuing templates, guidance documents, route maps, lifecycle models, tools, quality procedures etc. but found none. Instead, each project manager had designed their own way of working, together with their own document formats, planning methods etc. In short, there were no commonly understood processes, techniques and components, as one would expect from the Prince2 methodology. Further more, Prince2 training had not been extended beyond the project managers and therefore, key roles such as Senior User were simply not being fulfilled adequately. Attempts to set up project boards were hampered by stakeholder confusion about their role. As a result, they either didn’t attend project boards or sent a deputy without the appropriate decision making authority; which defeats the entire purpose.

To conclude then, if you want to enable your organisation to deliver successful projects and programmes, by all means select a good methodology or life cycle model. However, don’t rely entirely in training alone. Experience and cultural acceptance of the chosen methodology is just as important. Why not set up a project specifically aimed at implementing your chosen methodology. What better way to implement your new methodology throughout the organisation?

Written by Jez Lister, Director of Templar Consulting Ltd, a project and programme management consultancy based in the UK.

There may be a later version of this article here.

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