Not everyone appreciates the subtle science and exact art that is Search Engine Optimisation. When most people think SEO, they assume that it is difficult, complex, and time-consuming, but it does not have to be.
Here at Interesting, we run a commercial gym, Interesting Fitness, check it out here if you'd like. We don't have the budgets, marketing spends or extensive AdWords campaigns that the likes of Virgin Active or Fitness First have, yet when we need to, with search terms that are valuable to us, we regularly beat them in search ranking on Google. So how do we do it? Well we understand the basics and play to our strengths.
What’s the point?
Search engines are smart, but they still need a little help along the way. Without active optimisation a site can be crawled and ranked by the search engine, but who wants to end up on the dreaded page two… or worse. When was the last time you went past the first page results on Google? With a few simple improvements and a little bit of thought, a site can climb the ranking ladder and increase its visibility.
Even without detailed knowledge of website development and coding, you can take great leaps and bounds towards better site optimisation. As with most sources of information, content is king.
To start optimising a site, you first need to decide what you’re trying to optimise. What search terms are being used that you want your website to be ranked for? Armed with these keywords you can now sprinkle them throughout your site because it is hard to rank for keywords that don’t appear in your page content. Here are some likely places to find them:
- Meta tags – although the title and description tags aren’t displayed on a site, they are used by search engines to present the results. The added advantage of enticing content here is that they give a chance to persuade users to pick your site above the competition. Space is limited so try to keep below 60 and 150 characters respectively to prevent truncation.
- Headers – proper use of HTML heading tags (H1 – H6) help make it easier for search engines to understand what a site is about and the relative importance of different sections.
- Images – these are a bit of a stumbling block for computers as they have difficulty processing them and determining the content accurately. Give them a helping hand by including alt tag descriptions to explain them.
Another essential part of on-page SEO is the use of canonical links. External links provide “link juice” to a site and the more juice, the higher the ranking. Unfortunately, search engines are sticklers for details so regard things like URLs with or without the ”www”, and “http” or “https” as different meaning that links can get diluted between different versions of the same page. Here is where canonical links come to the rescue. When the search engine investigates a link, it looks for a canonical link tag and pours all the juice into that URL building the page ranking much faster and for the URL that you want to get listed by the search engine.
On-page optimisation works when a search engine has found your site, but off-page SEO will help them get there.
Off-page SEO is all about improving the perception of a site’s quality for both search engines and users. Not only will plenty of external links to a website increase the frequency it is crawled, but also give the site the link juice described above. The links are viewed like “votes” and give some indication to the value of a site’s information. However, not all links are created equal. As Google’s ranking algorithm is largely based on links, bonus points are awarded for high-quality links from related reputable sources. For example, links from a site such as the New York Times will carry more link juice than a blog on “the colours of paint” that is only followed by a dozen people.
Don’t get it in your head that all links need to be top notch though. Everyone starts somewhere, and social media is a blessing for this. Engaging a community by creating quality content with a convenient social sharing feature can quickly begin to build the quality of those links.
Much can be done to further a site’s worth through the content it provides, but as with most technology, there is still some magic going on behind the scenes.
- Sitemap – simply an XML file that lists the pages of your site. Although it doesn’t affect a site’s ranking it helps search engines find and index new pages.
- Robots.txt – this is a file that tells a search engine whether a page should be indexed or not. This is useful as bots usually only crawl a limited number of pages per visit and the robot.txt file helps prevent indexing unwanted pages.
- Mobile friendly – mobile web traffic has exploded and the accessibility of a site on mobile devices has become of increasing importance in the world of search engine ranking. In fact, Google has already updated their algorithm to focus on this factor.
- Page speed – increasingly important for both search engines and users, a web page needs to load quickly. Studies have suggested that approximately 40% of people lave a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
Good SEO is about making it easier for searchers to find what they want. There are many pieces to the puzzle that is SEO, but the consistent effort made in these small details will quickly pay off. Furthermore, the effort put into the process will add up over time and build site status, enabling a site to rank for more keywords and increase its search traffic — winner.