2013 web predictions and the confusing Google zoo

The web is currently awash with various expert gurus making their “predictions” for 2013. It’s remarkably easy to be an Internet guru these days, well over 50% of the predictions I’ve seen have been as vacuous as “mobile will grow this year” or “social will continue to be popular”; look out Nostradamus…

I think the one thing we can be absolutely certain of in 2013 is that Google’s continued tweaking of their search algorithm (previous blog here on Google Penguin, Panda, EMD etc.) will continue to confuse many of these self proclaimed Internet gurus and in turn the many believers who blindly follow them will also find themselves rather lost.

Web forums are packed with people calling themselves professional SEOs doling out truly awful advice to all kinds of unfortunate business owners just trying to keep their search positioning healthy. Comments I see all the time are things like “Google declared war on business” or “SEO is such a complex science now”. Granted, for certain search terms SEO is very complex; we’re well familiar with this as two of the most competitive keyphrases around are ‘web design’ and ‘search engine optimisation’, but to the vast majority of site owners, SEO remains a fairly simple thing.

Google have been making these updates to remove cheats, duplicates and spam from their system. The decision to name a couple of them after pandas and penguins has led to all kinds of increasingly ridiculous debate and rumours about crushing changes to come variously called Pony, Zebra and a whole menagerie of other creatures. Some are real, some aren’t, none of them are terribly crushing to anyone other than the cheats.

A lot of these puzzled SEO gurus are puzzled because they built their services around SEO short cuts; spamming article sites, directories, forums and blogs with totally irrelevant links, using software to auto post hundreds of links all over the place and so on.

Such activities do not create a quality Internet of websites or a quality search engine experience.

Google likes to do well by it’s customers, and people forget that Google’s customers are not website owners, they’re web surfers, so adjusting the algorithm to kick these cheat-built websites down the list is a good result for the customers. Tweaking is ongoing (you can stay up to date on the excellent SEOmoz website here), in places some good quality sites have lost positions and some poor ones have popped up at the top of results, but the work is getting there, the short cuts are fading away and the keening wail of cheats no longer prospering is reverberating around the Interwebs!

So what should a website owner do these days?

On-page SEO on your own website is still really critical; it’s well worth getting an experienced web copywriter to do all your text and make sure your web designer/SEO has filled out the hidden tags in website code called alt and meta tags. Make sure you are using the best possible keywords, and consider adding that blog you’ve been considering and updating it with interesting stuff regularly.

Off-page SEO is where most of the confusion reigns. In the past, simply having lots of links from third party sites was good for your search results. The big change is that now only links from high quality sites relevant to your website have any value.

That’s really it, that’s what’s thrown all these SEO experts into puzzled despair.

So, if you want to help your SEO, third party link building is still a great way to do it but you have to make it relevant and high quality;

Build reciprocal links with suppliers, partners and clients, often these will drive people to your website as well as helping SEO

Be part of forum and blog communities; find high quality blogs and forums (they’ll finish high in search results) that are relevant to your business. Start hanging out there for ten minutes each day, ask questions, answer questions, chat with others, fill out the autosignature with a link to your website, very quickly you have hundreds of links from a relevant and quality site. Same idea with blogs but using the comments feature most offer, don’t be tempted to do the “great info thanks for posting” cheat; it’s called fluff, it isn’t welcome on quality sites and will ultimately get you booted off them.

Understand dofollow and nofollow; links can be labelled “nofollow” in the web code, this tells Google that the link is not endorsed by the website, for example all links on Facebook are nofollow; they have no control over what links are posted so they don’t want to endorse them , the nofollow label informs Google of that. Many high quality forums and blogs are also nofollow; you can tell which from the HTML code which is painstakingly slow, or there are a couple of free downloads around which highlight links in different colours for you; SEOmoz’s SEO Toolbar is a good one for Firefox and Chrome browsers, and has some other useful features too. Obviously, dofollow is more beneficial for SEO, however it makes sense to build a balanced amount of nofollow as well; Google is looking for third party links to be natural, if you have 3000 dofollow links and 0 nofollow links it’s obviously not natural.

Offer guest posts to good blogs; every business sector has some high quality blogs, find out what the best blogs in your market are then offer to write them a guest post about a unique subject you are expert in, and request you be allowed a dofollow link to your website at the end of it.

Don’t be tempted! There are many SEO temptations, here are a few you might come across online;

  • “1000 backlinks for $10!”; the 1000 links will all be from appalling link farm sites with no relevance and no quality, there is no quick way to build quality links.
  • “Article spinning software turns one article into hundreds!”; you can build backlinks posting articles around the web on quality sites, but the articles have to be unique, spinning software mixes a few words up to turn a single article into lots of “unique” articles. It used to work really easily, it currently just barely works with the best software, soon it won’t work at all, there is no quick way to write unique content.
  • “Submit to over 500 directories with one form”; this used to work too, today getting links on 500 free, unedited and totally unrelated directories will do you no good whatsoever, there is still no quick way to build high quality links.

The greatest point of confusion out there simply seems to be that there is no way of fiddling the system anymore, every SEO now has to work in a reputable and high quality way rather than undercutting the quality providers by using cheat techniques.

So, my number one 2013 prediction is that the SEO whining from 2012 will continue for quite some time, don’t be part of the banshee wail, or get taken in by expert assertions that SEO is dead or anti small business or anything else; keep it high quality and you need never worry.

I built my first website 13 years ago whilst learning web design, within a few years as I got to learn SEO as well, based on quality on-page copywriting and reciprocal link building with relevant sites it hit the Google front page for a range of keyword searches. Ten years later it has dropped a sum total of three places having had no changes made to its SEO whatsoever over the years and thousands of algorithm changes (it’s just a hobby site). The amazing SEO secret behind this success? I didn’t cheat, I just stuck to the essentials, everyone else on that front page with me is a corporate sized company, national newspaper or Wikipedia, so I can deal with losing a few places, one weekend I’ll do some work on it and probably make those places up pretty easily.

At SDG Web Design we’ve always focused on the SEO essentials that are always a good thing as well, we bundle quality copywriting and keyword analysis with every web design build so that all our clients get that critical on-page SEO in place from the start. Recently we’ve begun expanding our services to improve on-page for competitive search sectors and we’re working out some cost effective ways to support off-page methods like link building, which can be time consuming, as well. Give us a call at any time to discuss what we can do for your site!

 

Starting an Online Business Part 2; Internet Marketing

Getting a fully functional website and email set up is the first stage of getting a business online, next you have to think about letting people know it’s there, unsurprisingly, the best way to do that is online with Internet marketing.

A common misconception, or simply unconsidered thing for new website owners, is assuming that once the website is built it will automatically be just in the right place on Google searches and have flood of traffic coming in. Unfortunately that’s an impossibility, there are thousands of companies in the world offering the same services, they can’t all be ideally positioned on search engines, so that makes your first Internet marketing investment…

Search engine optimisation

Search sites like Google dominate the driving of most traffic online, leading to the practice of search engine marketing. There are a few approaches to this but the key essential to initially focus on should always be SEO.

This is a simple enough concept often confused by web design “gurus” trying to sell things online. basically, you want to make your site look attractive to the mathematical algorithms search engines like Google work around. In the most basic terms, if you have a plumbing website, you have to make sure the word plumbing is used plenty of times throughout the site so that Google knows it’s a site about plumbing; it becomes a “keyword” for that business website.

Some web design companies package SEO with the website build but most do not, or offer only an extremely basic level of SEO, requiring you to employ an expert to get things moving. Naturally, at Smart Domain Group it is built into our web design packages, but you can still get the most of it by doing some advance research and if you want to keep the costs low when starting up you need to be prepared to build on the foundations laid yourself.

Any business owner should be able to draw up a list of likely keywords describing their business; the primary services, location and industry specific terms for example. Given this starting point your SEO can then research which of these terms are the most popularly used in web searches and how competitive they are, helping highlight a shorter list of keywords to focus on.

The copy on the site should then be updated to build a good level of keyword density (too little won’t be noticed, too much will look like trying to cheat the system) and add a bunch of hidden labels that search engines see but web surfers don’t, such as text labels for images, layout tables and so on. Once the website is optimised the site can be submitted to Google and should get a few reasonable search positions on some of the keywords.

The ongoing aspect is link building or “backlinking”; search engines work out how good your site is based on how many other sites link to it and the quality of those sites. You can wait around and hope that people link to you which is the bizarre advice sometimes passed around by those online gurus, in the early days at least you really need to give things a push to get them started.

Some techniques might be swapping links with key suppliers and clients, spending regular time on a good quality web forum about your market and using the autosignature tool to post a link every time you post a comment, you could also offer to write a few guest articles for good blogs in your business sector, adding a link to your website at the end. Over time these kinds of activities build you lots of quality links from other relevant websites and you rank up in search results accordingly.

Web forums are awash with people over complicating search optimisation, offering long out of date advice, or “500 links for $10” deals and so on, they won’t help; if you don’t have time to do all this link building yourself, ask your SEO provider to do some for you. Google is very focused on removing SEO cheats and shortcuts and are mercilessly banishing such websites from listings, but there are still lots of providers taking advantage of how little most website owners understand SEO.

Social networks

The second key ongoing effort is still link building, but of a different kind. The above links are primarily about building Google’s awareness of your site, so it ranks your website high and people can find you easily on search listings. You can also build links for the traditional reason; so that potential customers can find you directly, and this is where social networks like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly coming into things.

All social networks are free, but they do demand regular attention and some effort to understand properly and benefit from. Each is a little different and better suited to different businesses; Twitter is good for companies who have lots of fast moving news happening, Linked In is good for business to business services, YouTube is great if your business can generate entertaining video content. You have to give each of them consideration on their merits and benefits to you, and take a look at what your competition is doing.

All social networks vary in the best approaches but a couple of key points to consider are that you need to;

Post content to your social networks at least daily, a post which is a few hours old on Twitter or Facebook disappears down the timeline people view, so most of the time, most of your audience will not see most of your posts. If you post once a week hardly anyone will notice you even exist.

Engage in conversation, the idea of social networks is to be social, if someone posts a comment on your page, reply to it, give potential and current customers a dialogue with a real person, it gives your brand a personality people can connect with.

Don’t be a pimp, endlessly tweeting about your services doesn’t make exciting content for any audience; would you want to be friends with a plumber who posted every day on your timeline that he can fix burst pipes? No, but you might be friends with one who posts occasional DIY tips or comic photos of “weird things we’ve found in drains”. On social networks you have to give people something they want to share, give people a laugh or something useful, it gives the brand even more personality and builds trust and familiarity, so when someone does have a burst pipe, they think about that funny plumber guy on Facebook and ask for a quote.

Think of it like long running TV ad campaigns; often they have little to do with the key product being sold, the focus is on characters, atmosphere, things that make people feel connected to the brand, social networks require the same kind of mindset, rather than a typical small business approach of listing products and great prices in print ads.

Of course, offer up enough share-able content and no one minds if there’s an occasional reminder of the website, core services or special offers, and that’s where you can start building your links that people will want to follow.

Internet marketing evolves

Marketing techniques are constantly changing, five years ago social networks barely existed and you really could buy a thousand for $10 and improve your search engine position; things change over time.

In the immediate future though, things look quite clear, SEO will continue to focus increasingly on quality, and it will begin to incorporate “social authority”; evaluating how outstanding you are on social networks and applying that to search engine results. It’s already starting to happen with Twitter and Google+ and underlines the importance of these two aspects of Internet marketing.

As with the web design itself, finding a provider who can do it all is ideal, but to stay cost effective in the early days of a business it helps to cover some bases yourself, especially things like social networking which really requires no special skills, just an understanding of your potential audience.

There are details to these techniques; a good press release can really build great links for you, a few quality recognised directories can boost search and there are all sorts of emerging social networks like Pinterest that companies are just starting to work out how to use to market themselves. Focus on the essentials at first though, get optimised so you’re appearing somewhere in the search results, link build to improve that and go social with the big names like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In or Google+ to bring in a second stream of traffic so you aren’t over reliant on Google alone.

Beyond the Internet!

Finally, of course, think real world; put that web address on vans, business cards, letterhead, invoices and everything else, it should be a hub for everything. People can check bits of information like your address or a price list or service by looking at your website rather than taking up time on the phone answering mundane questions, and if you want to encourage more phone calls, get the site written in a way which does so; a business card doesn’t do any encouragement, but it can lead to a website that does.

It sounds like a lot to take on, and it is a significant investment of money and time, but once you’re set up, it’s all benefits and much lower ongoing costs that can make huge differences to small businesses. Please do drop us a line to learn more about the ways we can help you with the web design and ongoing marketing and SEO here at Smart Domain Group, our services are built around small to medium sized businesses!

Is Google+ any good for small businesses?

Google+, the search engine’s response to Facebook, has survived over a year and made it through the 400 million member mark which is quite an acheivement in a short space of time and an already crowded marketplace, but is it a phenomenon largely alien to the UK and is it a social network with any real value to small businesses?

Some of the most regular articles we see about Google+ use words like “ghost town” a lot, with suggestions that 400 million may have signed up but most of them posted once and never returned, Google themselves admit that active users are closer to 100 million, but that’s still a number it took Facebook many years to reach and very close to numbers on Twitter.

More interesting is that whilst many people in the UK have no idea what Google+ is, it still receives over 10% of our traffic to social networks, so it isn’t entirely unknown here, but perhaps what matters the most to UK businesses is more of a hidden feature; using Google+ is good for your SEO.

As you may expect Google designed the site so that it would perform well in web searches, if the same article is posted across all the social networks then searched for it’s no surprise that the Google version will typically come up, equally if a link is posted on the network and users “+1″ it or share it around that pushes the link up in SEO search results as well.

Quite simply, any popular link or content on Google+ is going to be popular on Google search as well, and that’s an opportunity ripe for small businesses to take advantage of, so;

Sign up for Google+

They allow businesses to have their own pages and it takes as long as any other social network to set up, not all that long.

Keyword optimise

Treat it just like your website in SEO terms; you want good, professional, welcoming content targeted at your market, but you want it full of useful SEO keywords as well.

Make friends

On Google+, that means getting into people’s “circles”; users arrange all their contacts into customisable groups eg friends/family/work/business, getting into those groups means they’ll be digesting your content.

Use it

Social networks are for social beings, give it some time every day and make sure you “+1″ plenty of things, just using the system makes you more visible on it.

 

Like anything new, it takes a while to get used to, but if you’re finding social networks like Twitter or Facebook don’t work for your small business and you want to try something else, or they do work for you and you want to expand that, Google+ is clearly worth taking a look at. Even if the direct social aspects of it don’t lift your business, the SEO affect could, some researchers found that around 70 +1s on a piece of content boosted visitors by 20%, which is pretty cool for something that need only take up a little time each day.

Essential Basics of Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing encompasses a range of marketing techniques and advertising systems to focus business promotion on search engines, which have become the most commonly used tool online and the first port of call for people looking to find all kinds of services and products. Aiming to stand out through search engine optimisation, paid placements and contextual advertising on major sites like Google can be a great way to get your website found, but competition is fierce with billions getting spent on SEM worldwide every year, so you really need to think about what you want to achieve, and how you can do that, especially if you’re a small business without a vast advertising, SEO or web design budget.

SEM can seem complex to a newcomer and today you can find agencies that specialise in guiding clients and regular marketing agencies through it, but do a little research and take time to understand what’s going on and it’s possible for anyone to take advantage of it.

Pay per click

Search engine advertising has been around in some form pretty much since there were search engines with pay per click advertising programs. As the name suggests, you only pay for advertising which people actually click on; like those “sponsored results” that pop up at the top and to the side of regular Google results pages. Unsurprisingly Google does dominate the market with its Adwords service but Yahoo and Microsoft also have competitive services available.

PPC is highly flexible allowing you to focus on particular keywords and locations so you can really target the most likely potential customers for your product. It also offers a lot of statistics which help you figure out if you’re using the right keywords and other ways you can improve success rates; a lot more interactive, helpful, targeted and cost-effective than just paying out thousands for a print advert.

Search engine optimisation

SEO is all about getting your site high in the natural search listings, widely considered the most powerful marketing your website can have. Intelligent repetition of key words and phrases on your site communicates to search engines clearly what your site is about, helping it stand out above other websites which haven’t balanced their copy as carefully. Things like links from third party websites and the age of your site also come into it.

Whilst top searches like “plumbing installations” are impossibly competitive, localised SEO (for example “plumbing installations Maidstone”) can be a powerful tool for small businesses at a very competitive cost such as a few hours work from an SEO expert or multi-skilled web designer, they’ll also be able to provide an ongoing service or give you some pointers on how you can keep building up SEO on your own by link building.

 

SEM has been a place of rapid change in recent years with a variety of cheats developed and blocked by the key players; huge volumes of money are at stake in a near monopoly so it seems that most developments in this field are likely to continue to centre around Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. SEO has become an absolute must-have to make a website worth setting up but take your time with paid advertising; see if others in the business are using it and try to find out how it has worked for them, if you want to try it go easy at first setting strict limits on how much you want to spend, with some keywords it’s possible to test the market with a small investment of just tens or low hundreds of pounds.

What is link building for SEO?

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One of the most vital aspects that very few people consider when putting together a website design is link building.

Links are a critical component of the Internet; it can only be a network if different websites are somehow linked together. In the early days of the web everyone wanted to build links for web surfers to follow and find their website, today people link build so that search engines will find their website. The more links you have to your site on third party websites, the more “authority” you have in the eyes of search engines, and that means better search engine results.

So for years search engine optimisation experts have sought not only to create great on-page SEO with plenty of keywords, they have also built links for their clients.

Of course, building links is something anyone can do, so a lot of small business owners have saved money by building their own links, unfortunately, all that has now changed substantially.

Led by Google, search engines realised there was a phenomenon of link-spam. Hundreds of web based business directories sprung up which anyone could add their link to and other techniques emerged such as article submission websites, where poor quality and repetitive articles were regularly posted just so the author could put a link to their website at the end. The same article would be submitted to tens or even hundreds of sites leading to an Internet full of duplication and poor quality content. Businesses would also sell offers such as “100 great links for $10!” on networks of websites set up purely to service this offer and with no attention to quality standards.

Concerned at how these approaches were skewing search results and progressively leading to a poorer user-experience for search engine customers, Google recently amended their system to blacklist duplicate content, and along with it all that link building spam has been dying off too.

The general concept of monitoring external backlinks to assess website authority remains a good one though, and link building is still a valid SEO technique, but it has to be carried out in a far more quality driven manner.

Links will still be effective from high quality websites with their own high site authority, and whilst it’s still possible for people to DIY link build, some expert SEO help will often be required to target the right kind of sites and to find ways to build links from them, so yet again, the best approach to SEO is an ongoing one working alongside specialised and experienced SEO and web design experts

Geo targeting your SEO

Search engine optimisation is the boom business on the Internet as more and more website owners learn to appreciate the power of search engines like Google for Internet marketing. Just a few years ago SEO was confined to web designers and a few multinationals but today everyone is getting in on it and at the same time the search engines are getting smarter, with a major development being geo-targeting.

What geo-targeting means is that if you search for something like a building contractor on Google, you will often get different results dependent on where you are searching from in the world. The search engine takes a note of where you are, then looks for websites offering the right kind of services you’re looking for and that are also based geographically close to you. This is especially useful for searching on mobile phones, tablets or laptops and helps bring search results on things like tradesmen’s services into sharper focus than before.

At its most basic level a search in the UK will bring up mostly UK based websites or UK versions of major websites like Ebay and Amazon. In highly competitive search term areas though, it can go right down to towns and postcodes level detail.

So, how do you take advantage of this and not get left behind?

It calls for thinking out an expanded strategy on your general SEO, most people interested in optimising their website will already have keyword packed copy, page titles, third party links and so on, but now you need geographically targeted keywords as well so that the search engines know where you are and where you operate. Of course, more keywords means a lower density and efficacy on the keywords you already have in place, so be smart.

Think limited
You can only place a handful of keywords into page titles or meta tags, so don’t try and cram a huge list of local towns in there, keep it to regions, counties or states so that you only have to find space for two or three more keywords that really matter.

Think copy
Like any keyword incorporation whilst optimising, look through the current copywriting for natural places to slot in some geographical locations; mention where you are based in every opening paragraph and closing paragraph still focusing on general regions or key cities and towns.

Think lists
Search engines love simple lists and people will put up with them in your copy if they fit into context, so make a new page detailing your delivery service or your operating area, and make the primary feature of the page a long list of villages, towns, cities, counties, states and regions you want to get traffic from. This is great for search engines and useful reference for any human who wants to check if you do deliver to where they live.

Equally useful for SEO but less usable for humans is to sneak in a locations paragraph on every page as a closing item such as “Contact us today, we work across the south east including…”, this is a quick way to bulk out geographical keywords on every page of your site which most people will just skip over as they read.

Think local
Geo-targeting is most powerful at a local level for small businesses, don’t try and compete for an entire country unless you have a lot of time and money to spend on SEO. In less competitive business sectors it is plausible by making lists of the largest cities or states in any given country, but for the average small business owner wanting to compete in a very localised area just get the map out and make an alphabetical list of every location within your operational radius. Most people are only just catching on to geo-targeting so get it right now and you can beef up your site authority and history and really roll in the results.

Why good SEO takes time

Many of our clients wonder why SEO is never a quick fix; why do new website designs take time to show up in the listings? Why doesn’t a fresh round of SEO copywriting instantly propel their site up the rankings? And why are some keywords so hard to rank for?

Simply put, search engine optimisation is a long term investment, and one that is always best approached with ongoing rather than one-off work.

New websites

Initially, it can take a little while for search engines to even register the presence of a new website, but after that Google combines a couple of factors when considering the search listings that disadvantage newbies.

At the first stage it looks at the relevancy of on-page SEO, how often keywords appear, how repetitive the website is, the quality of the web design; all the basic essentials every good web designer should provide you with (essentials which we include with all our design services!).

Secondly it considers something called site authority, blocking out spam and cheats by ensuring a website can be trusted. It figures this out by looking at how long the website has been online, by how many other sites link to it, and what the quality and authority of those linking sites is.

Obviously, any new website has very little site authority so it’s very much in the interests of business owners to invest in some ongoing SEO early on to get those third party links built up and boost their site up the search listings.

Recently amended websites

For much the same reasons as with new websites, the recently amended can take time to show you whether the amendments are an SEO improvement or disaster.

It takes Google a while to notice the changes and if you’re targeting new keywords you may have to build up site authority in those keyword areas because they are different from what you were focusing on before. If all your third party links are for car MOT services and you begin focusing on second hand car sales then the old third party links are going to be of limited use and you need to build a bunch of new ones.

There’s also the unfortunate truth that sometimes it takes a little experimentation to get things just right, SEO is often more of an art than a science, plus if you make too many changes too often, Google may treat it as suspicious and bash you down the rankings for a while just in case you’re trying out a cheat.

Competitive keywords

With some keywords, it is simply about competition. Some business types are more common than others or the industry utilises SEO heavily throughout; one of the toughest sets of keywords to rank for are “search engine optimisation” for example.

To rank high here it means lots of ongoing SEO work on everything; the on-page copy, relevancy, keyword choices and the site authority elements such as third party links. Often for smaller businesses it’s best to focus on what are called ‘long tail’ keywords and keyphrases; ranking for “SEO” may be an impossible nut to crack, but getting a good place under “SEO expert Kent” will be far more achievable and still send plenty of business your way with a high search placing.

 

Search engine optimisation is often about experimenting and trying out a few solutions to discover just the right one. A little patience letting Google and the other major search engines like Bing and Yahoo consider the results, index them properly, and assess the site authority for a while is just part of the process.

We’re currently working on a new search engine optimisation product for our clients providing ongoing work to expand on the on-page essential SEO features we already provide at the initial web design stage, get in touch if you’re interested in learning more!

What is Search Engine Optimisation?

Just a few years ago no one beyond web designers had much of an idea what SEO was; today it’s a boom part of Internet marketing.

Getting that cherished first place on Google can make a huge difference to a business; 94% of web surfers ignore paid or sponsored results and only look at the ‘organic’ listings, 62% never go beyond the first page, 42% never go past the first result! Figures like these drove website owners to find out how they could get in those first page organic search engine results, and they discovered the answer was SEO, but what is it exactly?

To understand SEO, it helps to understand how search engines work, so let’s take a look at the big name on the block.

In basic terms, the Google system doesn’t understand what any words mean, they ‘keywords’ you search for are totally meaningless to it, but it can easily produce a list of websites which have your keywords in.

Once it has a list of sites Google then applies a complex algorithm to try and figure out which sites are the most relevant to your search. It looks at how many times your keywords appear on each website, whether they’re packed onto one page or spread out equally, where the words appear on each page, each paragraph, each sentence, whether third party websites have recommended any of the results as a good resource by linking to them and hundreds of other parameters.

So, in a simplified way, the algorithm runs something like this;

  • Are the keywords in the page title? +5 points
  • Are the keywords spread across the page? +3 points
  • Are they repeated too many times? -3 points
  • Do other sites relevant to the keywords link to this site? +1 point for each

 

And so on. By juggling a lot of measurements around, Google gets a pretty good idea of which websites are most relevant to your search enquiry, even though it has no understanding of what any of the websites or keywords mean.

So, as the name suggests, all an SEO expert has to do is optimise a website design to appeal to that search engine algorithm, putting all the right words in the right places by adjusting the copy, building links with third party websites and so on. Unfortunately, you can never be certain just which keywords a potential customer will search with, Google’s algorithm is one of the best kept secrets in the world, and it’s constantly tweaked to improve the results!

Expertise in SEO can only come with years of experience actually doing it, experimenting with different techniques and staying on top of the many changes and how they affect things. Like any other trade, search engine optimisation is a specialist skill and one that should always be ongoing, evolving and responding to the latest changes in search engine algorithms and practices.

The six most important components of SEO

Even in the ever changing world of search engine optimisation there are a few golden rules that no one should ignore and that are always worth spending time, thought and a little money on…

Keyword selection
Picking the right keywords to describe your business and focus your SEO on is crucial; keywords that may seem obvious to you may not be obvious to potential customers and you can easily pick words that no one searches for. Conversely, you could also pick the same keywords all your competition use (including that big multinational spending tens of thousands on SEO work) and find good search positions almost impossible to get.

A simple start is asking employees and friends what keywords they would use to describe your services and taking a look at competitors. Google also offer a fantastic free tool called Trends; you can type in any SEO keywords and see how popular they are, which countries are using them and which are the most popular and fastest rising related keywords. Combine this with another free Google product, Webmaster Tools, and you can get some really interesting information. Webmaster Tools tells you all about the people who came to visit your site, and the keywords they typed in to find it. Spend some time playing around with these resources and it can really help you selecting quality keywords.

Web design
It may seem obvious, but good web design is essential to ensure search engines can access your site, find all the pages and understand all the content. Clean, standards obeying code, well structured navigation and fast loading times make it easy for search engine spiders to crawl through and index your site.

Original content
Recently Google has been focusing on a growing cheat. Websites with large numbers of pages using the same keywords tended to do well in search listings, so a lot of sites started using SEO software to automate writing thousands of very similar pages repeating the same keywords. A Google update called Panda has made a huge dent in this practice, ignoring any page which more or less duplicates others. The Webmaster Tools Advanced Indexing feature will tell you if any of the pages on your website are being dropped for being repetitive.

Keyword density
It’s important that your chosen keywords show up lots of times on your website, but there’s a balancing act to be struck, repeat them too much (called ‘keyword stuffing’) and your pages will be dropped. Keywords also need to be nicely spread across every page, packing a couple of paragraphs on a ten page website just tells Google you have a couple of relevant paragraphs but the rest is nothing to do with the subject at hand, good SEO spreads keywords around your site at just the right density.

Other on-page factors
A web page is more than just the body of text a visitor reads, you also have the title of the page, the website address itself and all kinds of tags hidden in the code which offer secondary titles, lists of keywords and descriptions of on-page images which your web designer can add. Extra weight is also applied to headings and emphasised text in the main copy, so make sure each is used wisely!

External links
Also called backlinks or third party links, search engines will consider how many other websites are linking to yours as a sign of its quality. This was another area open to abuse as people found ways to automate link building into poor quality directories. Another Google update called Penguin changed the way this is calculated, to be useful to SEO links now have to come from websites that are relevant to the keywords and that also meet Google’s opinion of a good quality website.

More than ever, quality is the name of the game with Google closing numerous quick-fix routes to good search engine positioning in the last year, follow these six golden rules of search engine optimisation though and you can still get yourself into the top positions.

Get a free search engine boost for your business with Google Places.

Google is about more than just a search engine, the web giant offers all kinds of cloud services, email and their stunning Maps and Earth systems as well. One of their lesser known products is Google Places, which combines elements of search and Maps in a way that can really benefit small businesses, plus it’s free and takes just a few minutes and some simple form filling to set up!

Have you ever searched on Google for something like “restaurants” and found a batch of results for restaurants local to you highlighted in the results and even plotted on a map to the side, as in the example below?

Google Places screen grab

These results are drawn from Google Places, it works best when someone is logged in with a Google account so the system knows exactly where they live, but even when not logged in it figures it out from your Internet IP address which has an area code system similar to phone numbers. If your search includes a specific place, “restaurants in London” for example, the results are for the location you state.

Besides getting businesses top billing direct to their local market, you also have the option to pull up reviews left by system users with positioning ordered according to the best quality reviews, you can see an example below including a photo of the restaurant, directions and a more detailed map; pretty cool!

Example of a Google Places profile

So, it’s a great way for web users to find services in a specific location and get feedback on the quality of service, how can your small business take advantage?

Places is completely free, just head on over to www.google.com/places, click “Get started now” and then “Get your business found on Google”. You will need to have a Google account set up, but that’s also free, it just takes a couple of minutes of form filling and you’re done.

Getting set up in Places is similarly simple, just prepare a good description of your business, a nice image or logo, essential contact details and anything else you might want to add, Google even let you place special offer coupons.

There are a few pages of details to fill out including things like opening hours and geographic location, if your service is offered across an area, such as a tradesman or pizza delivery firm you can specify an area rather than a single location.

You’ll be all done within minutes and the only time you’ll need to do anything again is to validate your details and update anything important like contact details if they change. Google is already integrating the whole thing with their social network Google+, which means small local businesses can get even more visibility directly to people in their catchment area, a great free feature for small businesses in the biggest and busiest business directory in the world!