Search Engine Optimisation
When you have a ministry or business website, you have a huge advantage over others that don’t because the core function of any site is to be seen. You might not realize it but once made live and linked to, every website page is automatically saved into an enormous database called the index. Every search engine has its own index. A bit like the “Matrix” an index is a digital world where the HTML version of website pages are listed and recorded. And once in the index, it’s possible for any website page to appear in that search engine result.
Peering behind Google
Without a doubt, Google is the most dominating search engine we have. But it’s not alone. There are others like DuckDuckGo, Bing, Dogpile, Yippy and Yahoo. Hilarious names. And due to the sheer plethora of site pages out there, all search engines will list their findings in an order. To specify this order, search engines employ an algorithm which sounds as mysterious as it is.
The Google Algorithm
Search engine algorithms are top secret! And more than that, they often get tweaked and changed. Undisclosed and ever evolving – this is where the field of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) comes in. If you can match up your web-page to the criteria of the search engines algorithm, you can stand out from the multitude and be seen first. And when competition is extreme, that’s a highly sought-after place to be. This is why we have companies dedicated to working on SEO alone, and why some companies might cut-out the middle man altogether and pay Google direct to be listed high.
And the point of it all is
But despite this, the core principles behind Search Engines are not so changeable or hidden. The purpose of any search engine is to help people find what they are looking for. And it does this by following the links from one site to another. The more a page has been linked to from pages outside your site’s domain – the more relevant and important that page is assumed to be. And although smothering your site with links might look like the way to go – the Google algorithm is much cleverer than that:
Google’s mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
If you want to know the heart behind Google’s algorithm – it’s to organise, make accessible and be useful. So, if you are not in the position to hire an SEO company to help you, or you’re not in the position to invest in your Google ranking financially – there are some tweaks you can do that will help your website get listed well. All you need to do is get organised, be accessible and be useful. It’s as simple as that.
SEO tip 1: Get organised
Have a kick-ass structure
A good site structure helps people – and search engines – to understand your site. We need structure to navigate through the masses – and to help us to find the things we are actually looking for.
Kick-ass in this case does not mean complicated or extensive. If you check out website heat maps that reveal how much of a website or page people take in, you’d be shocked at how little. Time is precious – so a structure that makes sense, is clear and simple to navigate through, can make all the difference. After all, a search engine will need to be able to crawl through your site to index it well. And one way of checking whether a search engine can crawl through your site (sometimes called spidering) is through Quix SEO check. Just enter your URL and check your results.
Get linked up
Blocks of structural elements are nothing unless they are connected. This is where internal and external links can really help. Not only do search engines rely on links, movement through your website will too. Although links can be placed anywhere – through menus, buttons, call-to-actions, specified URLs behind text or graphics – they will all take you from one web-page to another.
When you are taken to another page within one site, the link is internal. Whereas external links will branch to and from external web-pages. Of course, you can link to any external page that you like, but it won’t mean you get linked back. A great way to gain more external links that point to your site, is to foster collaboration or to create content for another site that can then point to yours.
SEO tip 2: Be accessible
You might not realise this but accessibility is a legal requirement for all UK/EU websites. Check out one of our previous blogs “Is your website legal?” This means that anybody on any device, should be able to access the bulk of your information.
Because websites are so visual, it can be easy to overlook the fact that they still need to be accessible to even those who cannot see. To help, it’s important to go through your website media and make certain the alternative text “Alt text” option is filled in for every graphic/audio/video. This not only enables screen-readers for the visually impaired to “read” your graphics, but it will improve your SEO ranking too. And should for any reason your graphic fail to load, this alternative text will be displayed instead.
All websites worth their salt will be responsive. In the past PC desktops were the dominant technology, but in the digital age we are currently in, it’s the smartphone and tablet technologies that rank first. If your site has been designed for a desktop and struggles to fit on a mobile, it will frustrate your users and affect directly your sites accessibility. Even if your site is automatically responsive, you might still need to manually tweak your graphics/text so do check.
When a site takes a long time to load, people can get frustrated and impatient and this can indirectly affect your accessibility. However, site loading times are highly influenced by your hosting company and the hosting plan you have subscribed to. Without a doubt, basic hosting plans will yield a much slower site loading time. Just by upgrading your hosting package you can significantly improve your sites loading times. To check your sites speed, check out Google Page Speed Insights and Pingdom Tools. And on a slightly different tack, if you are keen to check out your internet speed and what can help improve it, do have a read of this blog by BroadbandSearch.
Even if you are on a basic hosting plan and your site is extremely slow, you can significantly improve it by compressing your file sizes and specifically your graphic files and videos.
SEO tip 3: Be useful
In essence, the better your site is at giving people what they are looking for, the better your SEO ranking. When people can’t find what they are looking for they will hit the back button and bounce (aka bounce back) to the search engine to look elsewhere. A great tool for checking your sites bounce rate is through Google Analytics.
A bounce rate below 20% tends to indicate a problem with how the analytics has been setup but a bounce rate between 20-40% is considered excellent. Most websites though have a bounce rate of 40-60% and rates that are much higher are a bad sign that your website is failing you. If your site has a consistently high bounce rate, it will automatically be ranked lower in the search. But if you do have a high bounce rate, there are a few things that can help to dramatically improve it.
The first step is to seriously consider what your content is. Perhaps the most important requirement is to be relevant. As Google spiders your text it will index relevant words. So, any important words should be intentionally selected and placed in the most strategic parts/places of your site.
Page titles and page descriptions
Page titles inform users and search engines what the page is about. Titles should be clear and relevant, especially as the title of the page will directly be listed by engines. Likewise, page descriptions (sometimes referred to as meta-descriptions) will get displayed next, and although they won’t be used directly for page rankings they do help users get a speedy overview or introductory snippet of your page.
Use focus keywords
Unlike page titles and descriptions, page keywords are the fuel that trigger the search in the first place. They are the search terms – the solutions people are looking for – and keyword research is a huge area of SEO research.
You will need to know what people are searching for (keyword research) and whether your site/page is capable of ranking for it (keyword competition). Specifying a focus keyword doesn’t mean finding just one word – but the searching terms that you would like your site/page to rank for. After all, it’s not often we do a google search on a single word. Don’t use terms that are too broad (unfocused or competitive) or too specialized (that not many people will use). And don’t use words that have a bad connotation. Every page should have a different focus keyword – otherwise you might end up competing with yourself!
When competition is great, long-tail keywords can help. These typically comprise 3-7 words and are more specific. The keyword “Web Design” will have huge competition but “York WordPress Design” has less. Tools that might help you with this include: Google Autocomplete, Google AdWords Keyword planner, Yoast Suggests, Google Trends and Moz Keyword Explorer.
When you have settled on a keyword/long-tail there are three places where you can incorporate it – in your page title, in your website source code and in the text content on your page.
Remember not all content is created equal
When a vast amount of information is presented, remember that not all content is created equal. Some will be more important than others. Out of all your sites pages, your most important ones will be your homepage (which introduces your company) and landing pages (which helps any stranger to take the next step and work with you). These pages will need a clear message on who you are, what you are about and how you can help. For this you need great taglines and slogans and branding. And although your home and landing pages will be your most significant, there will be others that stand out from the rest too. Cornerstone content is content that is considered most important. So, identifying which pages are cornerstone pages will help your SEO as well.
SEO tip 4: Don’t stop
Like a hairdresser cutting a person’s hair, as time goes on and things grow, the original cut will need tidying. SEO is like that. You might not realise this but the more changes you make to your site, the more often the search engine index will need to update your information.
Update your content
One SEO strategy anybody can employ is to keep updating your content. After all, out-of-date information can be worse than no information. And because companies, markets and culture are constantly evolving, it will be something you ought to tweak every now and then anyway.
Create new content
Another approach is to keep creating new content. You might not consider yourself a blogger, but blogs and newsletters are a great way of keeping your site content fresh and relevant (especially when the bulk of your company information might be more static). Blogs enable your website to be pointed to from other platforms too (like social media/email). And the more active and linked to your site is, the better for your SEO.
Finally: remember what matters most
Although there are so many SEO techniques and strategies out there, remember what matters most – the people who are searching for an answer and who need help. So, do harness all the SEO knowledge and strategies that you have – but more than that – never forget that a useful, relevant and engaging site is what search engines are looking for the most. And that’s the secret to SEO.