Now before you go rushing off on a link building crusade it's time to dispell a myth - it's not all about links. They can be important but many of our clients are top of the search engines with very few links and you can have a look at how we achieved this on our SEO example page.
Your first priority is to get your website straight. This can often be enough to outpace your competition who are too busy finding links which count for very little while the search engines won't move them up the ranks simply because their website is flawed.
For a graphic illustration of this see the blog post SEO: building backlinks doesn't work.
In this page we'll look at how to plan your SEO process and in summary it goes something like this:
Then you will need to show great patience by waiting while your website settles in to the search engines. This could be a matter of days, weeks or months and depends on the search engine (Google is fast, Bing and Yahoo can be very slow) as well as how users react to your site.
If the search engines are dragging their heals using PPC or PPI advertising in the short term can help as it gives them data on which to make ranking decisions along these lines:
And if all that sounds like a great deal of hard work, it is! So if you would like to know what is required specifically on your website we can carry out an SEO audit for you. Alternatively if you would like us to do the work we'll be happy to provide you with a SEO quote.
But in the meantime let's look at that list in more detail...
So you want to go up the search engine rankings? The first part of your plan is deciding: for what keywords or phrases do you want to appear number one (or as close as possible!). The answer may seem obvious but it's not.
Let's say you own a used car showroom in Anytown, Great Britain. Well ideally you would like to be number one on Google for "Cars for sale". But actually that's not true. You want to be: Number one on google.co.uk for the keyphrase "used cars for sale anytown"
This is achievable and it means you are going to get the right visitors looking for your product or service. Getting to the top of the wrong search affects your CTR and Bounce Rate and your stay as Google, Yahoo or Bing's number one choice in the search "Cars for sale" will be short lived. Furthermore it won't actually do your business any good either - there is no point having lots of Americans who can't buy in your UK used car showroom and vice versa.
For a small site (5-10 pages) choose no more than 3 keywords and 3 two-word phrases. For sites of up to 100 pages think about 5-10 keywords, 5-10 two-word key phrases and 3-5 three-word key phrases.
You should also choose one or two master phrases such as "San Antonio Real Estate Inspector". This is the phrase that is absolutely core to your business.
Larger sites should also consider the sections and pages of the site and what keywords they specifically want for each of these. So a portal selling vehicles wants to pursue the keyword phrase "cars for sale" but on some pages it also wants to be targeting the keyword phrase "estate cars for sale" on others.
Once you have your lists together you need to open an account with Google Ads and use their Keyword Tool. Make sure you have used the 'advanced options' to set the language and geographical location that you are aiming for.
Treat the results with a pinch of salt as they do fluctuate so if one term has 1,000 searches a month and another has 1,100 you can assume that they are the same.
Google's keyword tool will then tell you if anyone, globally or in your chosen location, actually searches for that keyword or phrase. Strike out the keywords that people don't use from your plan and this should create your shortlist.
Remember being number one for a word or phrase that no one ever searches is like placing a billboard in the desert. It may look nice but no one ever sees it.
Your keywords and phrases must be related to the content of your site. If you go after a keyword (such as "Paris Hilton") just because it is popular the following will happen:
If you already have a website and you don't want to change the name then you can skip this section. Some of our clients have names which bear no connection to the phrases for which they now dominate the search engines so it is not absolutely essential.
On the other hand if your website or business is new it is possible to rocket up the search results with the right domain.
Having a domain name that contains one of your keywords or phrases will make your SEO easier because:
Some people believe that their domain should be their business name but this is untrue. One of the most well known examples is B&Q (a home improvement chain in the UK) whose domain is http://www.diy.co.uk. No surprise then that they are number one for "DIY" on google.co.uk!
Think carefully now if it is worth changing your domain name. You can do so without loosing any of your current traffic or web rankings by using an .htaccess file with 301 redirect rules which explain to the search engines what you have done while at the same time forwarding your visitors on seamlessly to the new pages.
BUT bear in mind that brand new domains are treated with suspicion because many only last a few days or weeks in the hands of spammers before dissappearing. As such if the domain you want has already been bought by someone else and they are looking to resell it this may cost a little extra but an older domain name carries more clout.
Buying/renewing a domain for more than one year (ideally three years) also helps for exactly the same reason. It shows search engines you have a commitment to the domain, you are not a here-today-gone-tomorrow website, business or spammer.
This will cost a little more but in SEO it pays off handsomely.
The chances are you are going to share a server with other websites which means all of you have the same IP address. There can be hundreds of websites on one server and what happens when one of them starts spamming? Well you're all going down.
Respected providers such as GoDaddy and Webfusion monitor and remove spammers and con artists themselves. If you go somewhere super cheap, or even host abroad in countries which are largely unregulated, all your SEO work can go to the wall within a couple of days.
Good servers are also reliable servers. Cheaper ones tend to crash more often making your website unavailable - the more the search engines see this, the lower you will rank.
Search engines like websites with clean code because they know these display correctly on all the major browsers and offer a better experience to users. W3C (X)HTML compliancy confirms this.
All things being equal a search engines places a W3C (X)HTML compliant website above one that is not.
This is for exactly the same reasons as your (X)HTML. All things being equal a search engines place a W3C CSS compliant website above one that is not.
The internet is all about delivering content to users. If your pages are full of code with little visible content they are going to be be slow to load (compared with the information they hold) and treated with suspicion.
Many website owners are penalised for scamming and they don't even know it. Poor descriptions of images in ALT tags and light font colors ontop of dark images are just two examples.
Your new visitor knows nothing about your website when they first visit and search engines know nothing about your images. To keep both happy:
These are crucial to SEO and carry tremendous weight with the search engines so long as they reflect the content of your website. If they are totally at odds with your website's content expect to be penalised.
Websites that tell search engines how often they are updated speed up page loading times and this is an important part of ranking.
If a URL reflects the content of a page then search engines will place weight on it. www.joesplumbing.com/services.htm means something but www.joesplumbing.com/central-heating-services.htm means much more.
www.joesplumbing.com/services.php?section=centralheating&type=gas is difficult to read and make sense of while www.joesplumbing.com/gas-centralheating-services.php could not be clearer.
Breadcrumbs are usually placed near the top of the page and look something like:
Home > Televisions > LCD > Toshiba.
They help your users navigate and help search engines understand and correctly index your website with the correct structure. They even appear in the search results of Google which helps you sell other products or services to users. And finally they can improve your keyword density dramatically.
Where reasonable you should create links, preferrably text links, to other pages on your site. To use Google's own example:
So many people shy away from this but it can add huge credibility to your website if the websites/pages you link to:
So if your page is about solar panels and you link to a government website about solar panels, or a page on cnn.com about solar panels, you are going to benefit. You are giving your users a better web experience and for it you will be rewarded in the rankings.
Some, but not all, hide their content in external files which the search engines never see. Your menu should have some of the most important keywords and phrases and, being near the top of the page, carries great importantance. Don't hide them from Google, Yahoo and Bing!
If you have regularly updated content then add an RSS feed or two. Some people will simply use them to get your new content on their desktop but other webmasters may publish the feed on their website. The latter provide links back to you at no cost or effort.
These files tell the search engines where to look and how often to look at which pages. They are the fastest way to get the largest part of your website, if not all of it, indexed quickly and into the search results.
Both Google and Bing will then provide you with indepth analysis on how your website is performing so you can monitor your improvements over time.
Now your website is "clean" submit it, or resubmit it to all the major search engines. Any that are worth their salt can pick up on the fact that you have made changes worth considering.
If you have been unsuccessful in getting listed in DMOZ, the Yahoo Directory, etc. it's time to try again. Your much improved site which now displays quickly and correctly around the globe may well be accepted this time round.
Now it is time to give the search engines a few weeks to get their heads around your changes. You can go chasing links if you like, it won't do you any harm, but you may not need them at all once everything settles down.
If you have purchased a brand new domain name it can take slightly longer to get indexed as the likes of Google, Yahoo and Bing wait to see if you're planning to "stick around".
Note that search engines rarely index your website correctly the first time round. It may take them a few attempts. So don't go carrying out "knee jerk reaction" work on early analysis of your website. Patience, patience, patience.
Now you know what is involved in the initial process (and we have not even talked about links yet) the question is: Should you do it yourself?
Part of your plan should be coming to a conclusion about who should carry out the work. By now it should have become very clear that, even for smaller websites, pursuing a competitive keyword is extremely time consuming and resource intensive.
With this in mind consider that you are good at what you do, that's why you run that business, and there are other people who are good at Search Engine Optimisation. Like paying a mechanic to repair your car instead of learning the technical knowledge yourself, you may decide to outsource this work.
If that is the way your mind is heading then contact us for a SEO quote. Otherwise your plan should be in place and we are ready to start on the DIY process. The first step is to understand how poor code affects your SEO
I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimisation and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.
If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.