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Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, has grown in popularity over the past two decades as a digital marketing tactic to drive qualified traffic and raise brand awareness. Over this time, SEO has evolved significantly. The basics of search engine optimisation haven’t changed as drastically, though. Content is still king, and backlinks are still a very important ranking factor.

What is search engine optimisation?

Top 5 desktop, tablet & console search engines in Europe in 2023 - Data from StatistaSearch engine optimisation still is the most effective method for companies to reach their customers. Search engine optimisation refers to all activities aimed at increasing visibility for your website, brand, products and services on Internet search engines. In the U.K. and most of Europe these activities typically target the main search engine used by over 90% of Internet users – Google.

The science of search engine optimisation

Owing to its extreme popularity, SEO for Google has become a science in itself. Optimising content requires a thorough understanding of how search engines work. It also requires a good understanding of what you should not do to raise your organic search ranking, since Google is now smart enough to detect when a website is trying to spam the search algorithm to raise its own profile. A good place to start is by reviewing Google’s own guide to website optimisation:

Read Google’s SEO starter guide

Why do you need SEO?

World Wide Web statistics estimate that Google has indexed as many as 50 billion web pages. Any regular query on Google will typically bring back millions of results. If you hope for your business to be found among these billions of pages, you need to ensure that your site is very well optimised for higher organic rankings.

And when we say “higher”, how high are we talking? Studies have found that the vast majority of searchers do not go past the first three search results pages on Google. What this means is that if your website does not rank within the top 30 for your target search terms, you are unlikely to get much organic search traffic.

SEO makes the biggest impact on lead generation

Search engine usage

Over 49% of business professionals use the internet as their primary source of information. Over 60% of internet users discover new businesses and websites through search engines. That means on any given day millions of searches are being performed online. Optimising your website for search engine visibility increases the probability that web searchers will visit your website.

Obtaining search engine listings

Certain search engines, such as Google crawl through interlinked web pages, build lists of words and phrases found on each web page and discover new sites through links on these pages. For spider-based search engines the best way to get indexed and listed is by optimising your site and then making sure other sites that are already listed link to yours.

Search engine rankings

Merely getting listed and indexed on a search engine is no longer enough to bring you business. Google has over 8 billion websites in its index. For your website to shine out and rank high for relevant searches, it is imperative that you optimise it for those keywords.

Search engine optimisation endeavours to design web pages with the intention of getting them to rank higher on the search engine results pages. Without optimisation, you site will more likely than not be lost among the millions of other sites.

What are the most effective keywords?

Ranking number one on Google does not necessarily mean you will suddenly receive a flood of visitors and new customers. You need to rank at the top for keywords that are actually searched for by your visitors.

A lot of marketing executives and companies make a mistake commonly known as “me marketing”. They assume that what they think, feel and want is what their customers will want too. The most common transference of this syndrome in the world of search marketing is when companies claim that they have their SEO work sorted because they already rank number one on Google for their own company name!

So what is a an effective keyword or search term?

An effective keyword or phrase is one that is a popularly searched for by Internet users. There is no set value or limit above which all keywords can be deemed effective. The number of relevant searches per month varies by industry. In the travel industry, searches for certain phrases can be carried out by the tens of thousands per month only in the UK. By the same token, certain industries might consider ten or twenty searches per month to be effective. The important thing to remember when qualifying a search term’s effectiveness is that it should be searched for by your target market, and is more popular than similar related terms.

e.g. “search engine optimization” is searched for by over 15,000 visitors on the Overture network each month. Whereas “search engine optimizer” is searched for by only 200-300 visitors. Obviously, the former is the more effective search term in this case, and should be what an SEO company optimises its pages for.

Checking whether your selected keywords are effective

Google offers a very useful keyword tool inside AdWords to help you select the most effective keywords for your campaign, which would ensure maximum click-throughs and traffic for your site. The AdWords Keyword Planner allows you to enter a series of search terms, and then produces a comprehensive list of similar words and more focused search terms that you could use to expand or focus your targets.

How to optimise web pages for search engines?

Optimising web pages for search engines and directories is not very different than developing web pages for human visitors. The main objectives remain the same – clean design, easy navigation and good content. In fact, when search engines rank pages they try to follow the same system of evaluations as most online searchers would.

In the video below, Matt Cutts, who used to head Google’s Webspam team when this video was created, talks about the most common SEO mistakes that webmasters make.

Optimising ordinary HTML pages

HTML pages consist of two main section, a header and a body. Good search engine optimisation involves optimising both the header and the body for search engine spiders and human editors.

Optimising the HTML header

The header is the section that lies between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags. For search engine optimisation purposes, the three main components of the header that need optimisation are:

  • TITLE: Lies between the <TITLE> and </TITLE> tags. Should provide a brief descriptive title for the page. No more than 60 characters.
  • DESCRIPTION metatag: Should provide a 2-3 line objective description of the page. No more than 250 characters.
  • KEYWORDS metatag: A list of comma-separated keywords. Very few search engines pay any attention to this tag nowadays.

Optimising the HTML body

The body is the part of the HTML page that lies between the <BODY> and </BODY> tags. This is the most important part of the web page, in that it is the part that is immediately visible to your visitors and hence is also the part that search engines pay most importance to when ranking your site. The main components of the body that count towards search engine ranking are:

  • Text: The visible text on your web page is the single most important factor for search engine optimisation. Special weight is given to formatted text, such as headings, bold text, bulleted text and text contained in links.
  • Internal links: The internal links connecting various pages in your website are important for both search engine spiders and visitors to navigate through your site. Links must be easily accessible and intuitive to follow.

External links and page popularity

Google and many other search engines measure the importance of a web page by the number of external sites that link to it, the number of visitors that click through to it and the time they spend on your site.

Optimising HTML pages with scripts, SPAs or Flash

Website that use dynamic scripts such as JavaScript, AJAX or PHP and sites that are built on SPA (single page apps) or even old pages that still use Flash can pose challenges for search engine optimisation. Search engine spiders may run into problems when crawling deep into pages whose links are generated through dynamic scripts or pages that have dynamic content that’s generated based on user input.

Single Page Apps can create a different set of problem for search spiders. While Flash technology has largely been phased out of the modern Web, most search engines cannot read Flash files on old pages, and those that do, don’t do it very well. Sites using dynamic scripts and effects can potentially miss out on search engine rankings.

Historically, the most effective way to circumvent the navigational issues brought about through dynamic content was to add static links on the bottom of the page, or elsewhere in the page body, supplementing the dynamic links.

Modern search spiders have vastly improved capabilities to render dynamic elements and scripts, making it a lot easier for webmasters and SEO experts to ensure all content on a site is indexable. Working with an SEO agency that has experience handling such content is highly recommended.

How to build links?

Link building is one of the most challenging parts of search engine optimisation. Google pioneered the concept of determining the importance of a website from the number of external web pages that link to it. Nowadays many other search engines pay a degree of importance to the number of inbound links to your web pages. What makes link development difficult is the fact that you have little, if any control over it.

Good links and bad links

Not all inbound links are equally important. Links from websites that themselves have many inbound links, i.e. more ‘important’ websites, are considered more valuable than links from sites with few inbound links of their own. However, all inbound links are good. Care should be taken when joining link farms and other such schemes which require you to link back to them. You are never penalized by search engines for any inbound links, but can be penalized by search engines, and even considered to be a spam site if you have too many irrelevant outbound links from your websites to other sites that are known by the search engines to be spammy.

Links from online directories

The Yahoo! directory and dmoz (Open Directory Project) are the web’s leading directories for information. Getting your site listed on both of them is important as they both serve as very reliable points for other search engine spiders to find your site and crawl through it. Links from Yahoo! and dmoz are also important from a link building perspective as they both provide links to your site from a very highly ranked website.

In addition to Yahoo! and dmoz, you should also get your site listed on many other online directories as well as directories that provide information specific to your business and industry.

Links from related websites

Industry associations, partner companies, other companies in the same field that are not direct competitors, and websites providing information relating to your business and industry are all viable options to approach for links to your website. In these cases you could also provide links back to their website from yours as a courtesy, without worrying about being penalized by search engines, since these links would, in all probability be relevant.

What is Google Search Console / Google Webmaster Tools?

Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, started off as Google Sitemaps. The service allows webmasters to authenticate ownership of their site and then manage certain aspects of their site’s listings on Google Search.

Webmasters can also add XML sitemap feeds of their website. This XML sitemap is submitted directly to Google, and is an efficient way to help Google spider and index large websites that might be hard to navigate.

Google Search Console can be used to inform the search engine spider of the addition of new web pages or updates on a website. The spider accordingly crawls the site and updates its index to reflect the latest changes on the site on its search results.

Who should use Google Search Console?

All webmasters who would like to improve their ranking on Google and reflect the latest version of their site on the search engine results pages should use Google Search Console.

Since May 2006 the tool includes a range of additional features such as crawl stats, query stats and page analysis, which make it very useful for search engine optimisation. Features of the tool inclue:

  • Web Crawl: Identifies HTTP errors, broken links, unreachable URLs and restricted URLs
  • Mobile Friendliness: Identifies crawl errors that might affect how your website is crawled and viewed by Google Mobile
  • Indexing Tools: Includes robots.txt analysis and preferred domain setting for sites with multiple domains
  • Query Stats: Lists the top search queries and top search queries that are clicked to access your website
  • Page Analysis: Provides a review of the user experience of your site and links to your site as seen by the Google spider.

How much does it cost?

The service is absolutely free for anyone to use, so long as they have a Google account and can verify ownership of the site.

Is there a search engine optimisation checklist?

Written an optimised title tag. 60 characters max
Optimised description meta tag. Less than 150 characters
Listed a few, relevant comma-separated keywords in the keywords meta tag
Included keywords in page heading <H1>…</H1>
Included related terms in H2, H3… headings
Developed keyword rich body text. At least 250 words
Added descriptive ALT text to all images
Minimised content duplication across multiple pages on the site
Used descriptive text and keywords within all hyperlinks
Provided static HTML links to all pages on your website
Placed keyword-rich copy in the top half of your page
Used bold font and italics to format important text
Minimised amount of code on the page – stored JavaScript in an external file
Ensured that your pages are easy to read, to find and to navigate
Used keywords in your URL, subdomains and file names, where appropriate
Drafted a link building plan
Ready to go?

Any search engine optimisation dos and don’ts?

Do Don’t
Use keywords in the title. Stuff keywords in your title.
Create pursuasive descriptions Write sales-heavy descriptions
Use cascading style sheets (CSS) Use tough to read fonts
Store all JavaScript in a separate file Use dynamic page URLs
Create a simple navigation scheme Use frames based navigation
Ensure your webpage downloads fast Use big image files or flash plugins
Use keywords throughout your page Create unneccesary redirects
Provide alternative navigation paths for links embedded in frames or flash Hide text by making it the same colour as the background
Create a sitemap linking to all pages Stuff keywords in a NOFRAMES tag
Place common mis-spellings in your keywords meta tag Stuff keywords in ALT text behind a blank image
Submit your optimised site once to search engines and directories. Plagiarise site copy.