Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) refers to the process of improving the position that your website appears in the "organic" search results returned by sites such as Google.
What is SEO?
As a general rule of thumb, sites that appear higher up in the results will get more traffic to their pages, and so potentially more business. Your goal is to get to page one and ideally to position one, but whether that is feasible largely depends on the market that you are operating in. If you're in the mobile phone space or travel, you'll be fighting a losing battle unless you've got a sizeable budget to spend. However, if you're offering a niche product or a service in a defined geographical area, you stand a pretty good chance of at least getting to page one if you are patient and follow these basic principles.
Keyword rich content
One of the key tools that search providers such as Google and Microsoft (Bing) employ to determine your rankings are "spiders". A spider is a piece of software that crawls the web in a methodical, automated manner. They browse your website (and everyone else's) to identify the actual copy written on the page along with things like use of key words and phrases. This data is then used to determine the relevance of your site when someone enters a keyword or phrase into Google, Bing or any other search engine.
With this in mind, you need to consider the search habits of your target audience, and ensure that the terms they might use to find your business are reflected on your pages. For example, if you offer physiotherapy services, your website content should include words or phrases that people may search for, such as "massage", or specific problems such as "lower back pain". Remember that text included in images cannot be crawled by spiders, although alternative text associated with the images is, so you may wish to revisit the design of some of your pages.
A useful free tool for identifying your keywords is the Google AdWords keyword tool. This is designed to help prospective advertisers identify the most relevant keywords for their chosen market, but it is also very helpful when writing copy for your website.
Once you have identified your keywords, ensure that they appear in the body of your pages, as well as in the metadata of your page, which is the unseen data that gives the spiders key information about your page. This can either be done by yourself, with a little knowledge of HTML and access to your server, or it can be done by your web designer.
PageRank is a number scored out of 10 that is given to your website based on inbound and outbound links, and helps search engines to verify how trustworthy your site is. Linking between sites allows "link juice" to be carried through, so if your site is linked to by a site with a good PageRank, link juice will be carried forward to your site, improving your ranking.
While you cannot generally control the inbound links to your site (and Google disapproves of link farms and other artificial ways of linking), there are some steps that can be taken to improve your PageRank score. Ensure that your site is linked to from your social media content, most notably Google+, and attempt to get listed on free open directories such as DMOZ or professional bodies associated with your market.
Both outbound and internal links are crucial. Wherever you mention a site or a source, make sure these include a reference and a hyperlink. As for internal links, meticulously linking will increase the time spent on your site by the spiders. You may wish to revisit your menu structure, or to insert a quick links footer, which will ensure that each page on your site has a link to all the other pages on it.
In order to determine the PageRank of your site, you can download a browser plugin such as PageRank Status for the Google Chrome browser.
Keep it fresh
The rate at which search engine spiders crawl your site is in part determined by how frequently the content of your pages change. With this in mind, you may want to create a monthly task to change text, images, or add or remove pages, in order to ensure that your content is regularly updated.
Alternatively, set up a blog on your site and allocate time each day (or week) to write or curate some content that is relevant to your target market. This might seem onerous or daunting, but once you get into the habit it becomes second nature and shouldn't take more than about half an hour a day. For reference material – which should always be credited – use Google Alerts to keep up to date with online content that matches your keywords.
Keeping up to date with SEO
The algorithms used by Google and Microsoft to determine the order of their results are subject to tweaks and improvements as they attempt to deliver ever more accurate search results. As a result, SEO is something of a moving feast and it pays to stay up to date. That said, these basic principles are unlikely to change significantly as they are key determinants of your ranking.
Natalie Lines is a web developer and digital marketing executive at WriteUpp, a provider of practice management software for small healthcare practices.