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SEO is easy (when you get the hang of it)

SEO is easy (when you get the hang of it)

Through a good friend of mine, David Alves contacted me looking for some help with search engine optimisation on his new website, PlanetGift.co.uk.

This is not the first time I have tried to help a friend-of-a-friend with SEO and I found my response followed a familiar pattern:

(1) I outlined the three elements of SEO; and
(2) I suggested WordPress as the easiest way to carry out the steps in (1).

So, for future reference….

‘Good’ Search Engine Optimisation is:

1. Well structured, relevant content;
2. Some way of notifying search engines that your content exists; and
3. (in competitive markets) quality links back to your website.

1. ‘Good’ SEO: Well structured, relevant content

Site titles

Site titles are important.

In the case of my blog, they follow a simple format – [Post/Page title] [Blog  Title] – which ensures the title is always relevant to the content on any given page.

Far too often I see things like “Home” or “Welcome” used as site titles. While this may look nice, it doesn’t give you any kind of SEO benefit.

In WordPress, I use All in One SEO pack to customise my page titles, and also to set the format of page titles in different areas of my site.

Page description and use of tags or categories

It’s essential to set descriptive text for each page, or Google will simply pick up the first 160 characters on a page, which is bad for several reasons. For example, you may use the first few sentences to introduce a product, rather than focus on keyword heavy content. You may also have html or javascript early on a page, which will be useless from an SEO perspective.

It is important to to place your content into categories and it doesn’t matter if these overlap slightly.

In WordPress, tags and categories are standard options with the default installation and individual page descriptions can be set using the All in One SEO pack plug-in.

Url structures

If URLs are difficult to read then it’s more than likely they aren’t offering you any SEO benefit.

For example:

‘Good’ url: http://your-website.com/product-line/product-brief-description/
‘Bad’ url: http://your-website.com/product-id?=24wgebeh-WGGQz/

While it’s unlikely you’d set the latter yourself, this is often the standard format for database driven software such as WordPress.

SEO friendly URLs can be enabled in an options menu in WordPress (Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks).

Wording, use of keywords

Good on page content is a case of writing clear and concise descriptions of your products and services. Don’t go overboard on keywords.

In WordPress there a free plug-ins which you can use to ‘score’ each page for a range of keywords. You can then play around with the content and see how it effects things to get a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re wondering what keywords to target, you can use this free Google tool – https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal – to check out traffic for different search terms.

Images & Video

Use of images and (where relevant) videos are a great way to improve the SEO score of any given page.

Care should be taken with images, to ensure files are named in accordance with the content alongside which they will be displayed.

Images should be stored as jpegs to ensure minimal loading time. Websites which are slow to load are penalised by Google.

For the same reason, video content should be hosted externally on sites such as YouTube. Doing so also presents a nice opportunity to create backlinks (more on these later).

Social media & sharing options

It’s important to take advantage of Social Media and e-mail. You can obtain code for Facebook like and Google +1 buttons for free.

If you’re using WordPress, you can embed multiple sharing options with free to download plug-ins, which remove the need to edit any code. On this site I use Sexy Bookmarks although I’ve been known to use others.

No follow / outgoing links

If you need to use outgoing links, try to use the “no follow” tag, unless you’re linking to a high profile website (such as a news article) or another website which case a link to your site. In the latter case, care should be taken over the ‘direction’ of the links, for example:

Site A links to site-a.com/blog/review of company b.html
Site B needs to link to site-a.com/blog/review of company b.html, not site-a.com.

2. ‘Good’ SEO: Some way of notifying search engines that your content exists

Firstly, you need to build a sitemap. In WordPress you can do this using the Google XML sitemaps plug-in. Alternatively you can build them for free using this sitemap generator, however you are limited to 500 pages.

Once you have built your sitemap, you need to register it with Google Webmaster Tools.

It won’t do any harm if you ask Google to crawl your website, however a more reilable way to get to your website indexed quickly is to post the url on relevant blogs and forums. Whatever you do, don’t spam. Engage in useful discussion and include your site url in your signature.

3. ‘Good’ SEO: (in competetive markets) quality links back to your website

Your website will be ranked according to a range of factors, including on page content, the age of the website, how often the website is updated and how many other websites are linking to it.

Hopefully, the points in (1) (above) will help you deal with the on page content.

Unless you want to resort to black hat techniques, you can’t alter the age of your website. However, you can influence how many pages are linking to it. Two points to note – buying links is frowned upon and random link swapping will more than likely get you penalised.

Regular interaction on blogs, forums and other forms of social media is a great way to generate high quality back links. In turn, it may get you noticed which will result in natural backlinks when people reference your products or services.

You can also offer free advice in online (and offline) publications to generate additional backlinks (and traffic).

If SEO is easy, why should I pay for it?

Now that I’ve told the world SEO is easy, I guess I need to justify how I make a living providing SEO consultancy. No doubt I’ll deal with that in a follow up post. [link here when available]

If you found this post useful, please feel free to share it with your contacts using the menu below. I would also welcome any comments or questions regarding search engine optimisation.

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