e-CBD presented at the Business Women’s Incorporated luncheon in April (a 3×5 step digital workout), and as promised here’s Part 1 of my presentation on Search Engine Optimisation (Part 2 is here, Part 3 coming soon!). You can view the presentation in slide form on Slide Share, as well as Luke and Nick’s presentations on Social Media Marketing and Facebook Pages respectively.
To give you a quick overview, this post will be going into the basics of what Search Engine Optimisation is (in 2013) and how Google ranks websites, followed by quick look into technical optimisation and what your website needs before starting with the main SEO activities (technical optimisation is a main SEO activity too, the only difference is that you’re considering optimisation before the site is actually built).
Parts 2 & 3 will delve into what the main SEO activities are in detail with advice on what you can do yourself to help your website rank better.
What is SEO?
To start with, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of enhancing and adjusting a website in order to make it more visible in search engines for relevant search queries or keywords. The techniques used to optimise a website will be outlined in Parts 2 and 3. There are over 200 signals Google uses to determine the rankings of websites in search results, including on-page factors such as content, headings and titles, as well as technical and off-page elements such as your robots.txt file and online citations or “links”.
Rather than implementing quick “SEO tricks” which try to manipulate search results (and only has short term benefits and can hurt your site’s rankings in the long run), or focusing on #1 rankings for trophy keywords, SEO is the process of making your site valuable to your website visitors and thus becoming the best answer to their initial search query. SEO falls under the umbrella of internet marketing and all of your internet marketing efforts needs to be firmly tied to precise goals for the website traffic you are trying to generate i.e. I want to bring 250 people per day to my site to increase enquiries about my blue widget services.
Technical Optimisation – Pre-SEO
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure your website has been built correctly to start with. If you are thinking of getting a new website, or have had a new website made, make sure the following factors are considered with your decision otherwise you could lose any SEO value your site has or not be able to optimise your site properly at all. Things to look at include:
What type of Content Management System (CMS) is/will the site be built in?
- Can you actually edit the areas you need to?
- Will the chosen CMS have any limitations or barriers to SEO
- Could it cause issues such as duplicate content?
- Is the code messy?
Do your research with this and talk to your web agency about what is possible.
Does your website have friendly URLs?
- Avoid special characters such as: ? $ % }
- These can sometimes cause errors in the URL or create duplicate pages – e.g. a bracket ( or ) can also display as %28 or %29
- Opt for clearly labelled URLs that describe the page accurately. This is much easier for the eye to read, as well as for search engines.
- Which link would you prefer to click out of the following examples?
- www.onlinestore.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=5&zenid=?, or
Have you set up redirects when your domain or page URLs have changed?
If you have changed your URLs, whether it’s just a few pages within your website or the entire domain name, redirects should always be put in place.
This makes sure that any “ranking value” that the pages of your site have will be passed on to the new URLs, and tells search engines where the new locations of the pages are. This is sort of like leaving a forwarding address when you move.
Redirects also make sure that any links pointing to outdated URLs are pointed to the right place giving users a more cohesive experience. Checking for “crawl errors” in Google Webmaster Tools helps alert you to any broken links from referring sites or that people have bookmarked.
How quickly does your website load?
Site speed is important for user experience.
If your site is slow, it can increase your bounce rate and reduce the length of time visitors stay on your website. It can also have a more serious impact by preventing search engines from being able to crawl your site properly which can result in a decrease in rankings if the problem persists.
You can read some fairly technical recommendations by Google on best practices for improving page speed but this is generally something you will need a little more technical experience in than some of the other items we’ve outlined. Remember we’re always here to help if you get stuck.
Is your robots meta tag giving search engines the right message?
- Robots.txt file: tells search engines which pages of your website their ‘robots’ or ‘spiders’ can and can’t crawl.
- Meta Robots tag: tells search engines what pages to index and whether to follow the links on the current page.
Getting this wrong can have a significant negative impact and not allow search engines to read or find your site at all. This is something you can check yourself – go to yourdomain.com/robots.txt to see if you have a robots.txt file.
If you can see the details in the image to the right, then you’re telling search engines to disallow robots across the entire site – not a good idea if you’re trying to be found!
You can also view your site’s source code to check that you have the correct Meta Robots tag. Right click on your website and click on View Page Source (in Chrome & Firefox) or View Source (in Internet Explorer) – near the top, you should see one of the below options:
- <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow” />
- <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow” />
- <meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow” />
- <meta name=”robots” content=”index, nofollow” />
The third option (bolded) is typically what you want to see (unless you have password protected pages or require registration before a visitor can see a section of the site) and is telling search engines to index this page and to follow and pass page rank through the links on this page.
Once you are sure your website has been built correctly and that there aren’t any technical issues that can act as barriers to SEO, you can start to work on the site, or optimise it, to get it more visible in search engines.
Read Part 2 of Optimise Your Website Like a Pro where I’ll be going into On Page Optimisation and Content Strategy.