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.
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.
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.
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.