SEO – art or science?

5 December, 2011    

I think content on the web should twinkle and sparkle, so that when a user finds it they’re sure that it’s what they were looking for. Some people say that search engine optimisation (SEO) is a bit like throwing mud at a wall – and that the more you throw, the more chance you have of attracting users. I know what these people are getting at – but I like to think that SEO is more like polishing. I think you can make your content better and brighter and more noticed by users and search engines alike.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO does exactly what it says on the tin. It focuses on the elements that make up your web pages; page titles, headings, content, and URLs all contribute to  your search engine ranking. Making changes, where necessary, is one of the most regularly reliable ways to improve search engine rankings.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO includes all the things you do to promote your website outside of the design. Getting more inbound links to your site, making sure that you’re listed in directories and search engines, and creating XML sitemaps or robot.txt are all parts of off-page SEO.

Both on-page and off-page SEO are aimed at improving your placing in natural search results. But as well as natural search results, search engines also provide and promote sponsored links.

 

Paid for SEO

You can create a highly-relevant text advert for each keyphrase you include in a paid for campaign. These adverts are then displayed when a user searches for that keyphrase. Paid for adverts are displayed in the ‘Sponsored links’ areas of search engine results pages (SERPs). One of the current most popular paid for services is Google Adwords (http://adwords.google.com)

Paid for adverts are only displayed when the specific keyword phrase is searched for, so they are highly targeted.

A lot of paid for services auction keyphrases, based on their popularity or competitiveness. The prominence of your advert is dependent on the price you bid for each clickthrough, with the highest bidder placed top (except in Google, where clickthrough rate is also taken into account).

You may want to consider a paid for campaign for highly competitive keyphrases, although you may feel that you can achieve your ambitions by refining your approach to SEO and relying on organic results.

 

Best practice

By understanding what you are offering to users on the web you can better describe it in the copy on the pages and the metadata that search engines use to understand your website, and in some cases, explain it to web users. Search engines are designed to get users to the pages that will be most helpful to them. The best way of ensuring a high ranking is therefore being useful, and making this ‘usefulness’ self-evident to search engines as well as your users.

High quality, relevant content and a site that is designed with both users and search engine accessibility in mind is the best way to prove to search engines that you are a valuable resource that they should be signposting users towards.

 

On-page SEO

On-page search engine optimisation should never be at the expense of the user experience – it should complement it.

Think of on-page SEO as labelling, refining and polishing content. You should be able to optimise your content without human readers being able to notice. One of the main things to consider is how you use keyphrases which describe and represent the main purpose and ‘offer’ of your site. More information on keyphrases is given in another post on this site.

In addition to the content that users see, there is a wealth of information and data that is visible to search engines to make it easier for them to understand what your site is about. This metadata (data about data) gives search engines the clearest indication of what your site is about, why users would want to visit it and for which search terms it should offer your site as a recommendation.

The golden rule of on-page SEO is prioritise the user experience, but always consider the effect that content choices will have on your visibility to search engines.

Conversion efficiency

Increasing your visibility in search engines will help to ensure that more people can find and visit your site. But once you’ve got them you want to make sure that you keep them, or at least get them to do what you want quickly. Make sure that your main call(s) to action is prominent on the page users will arrive at.

Meta description

A page’s meta description gives search engines a summary of what the page is about. This can be a sentence or two which summarises the content of the page, and is often used as the snippet given on search engine results pages. Try to write a description that will both inform and interest users – and is unique. Also try to feature keyphrases wherever possible.

Avoid:

  • Writing a description that has no relation to the content on the page
  • Using generic descriptions
  • Filling the description only with keyphrases
  • Copying and pasting all the content of the page into the description.

Use unique descriptions for each page Having a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google. This also helps get users to the most relevant page in instances where a search brings up multiple pages on your domain.

Search engine indexing limit = 155 characters.

Meta keywords/keyphrases

You can also associate keyphrases to a page or post. This will also help to increase the site’s perceived relevance for specific phrases. Descriptions and keyphrases can be added at the same time as creating new content, or refined over time.

Alt_tags

Alt_tags offer alternative text for images and are used by both screen reader users and search engines. Search engines use all the metadata attached to a site to understand what the site is about and what it has to offer web users. Ensuring that all your images have alt_tags that are accurate, but which also feature your keyphrases where appropriate will help to improve search engine ranking.

Try to include keyphrases in alt_tags.

Internal links

Links on your site should be descriptive. For accessibility reasons you should not use text like ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’ when giving users a link. But links are another opportunity to show search engines what your site is about. Ensuring that your link text is descriptive and features your keyphrases will help with your SEO activities.

Try to include keyphrases in link text.

Headers and titles

Search engines put more weight on the words that appear first on pages. If your key words and phrases are near the start of the page title you are more likely to rank well. This technique also helps users. People scanning result pages see the early words first. If your keyphrases are at the start of your listing your page is more likely to get clicked on.

Try to create titles which:

  • Contain important keyphrase combinations or phrases
  • Create an engaging and compelling description of what the article is about, which differentiates it from other pages on your site
  • Is short and to the point

Search engine indexing limit = 70 characters.

Try to make titles and headers enticing and feature keyphrases where possible.

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