By Neil on February 6, 2014
SEO, Ranking in Google, and Keyword Research
There are many ways for people to end up on your website, but for most of us the most effective way to get good quality web traffic is to show up consistently in search results on the main search engines (i.e. Google, Bing, Yahoo etc.). To do this we need these search engines to firstly know about our website, and then we need them to think that the content on our website is good quality and is what those searching for will like. The search engines then need to link your web pages to search terms people enter into the search boxes. There are a few things you can do to help major search engines like Google to understand your website better.
Search Engine Optimisation – SEO
Search engine optimisation, or how it is commonly referred to, SEO, is simply a name given to a set of practices that make your website easier to find and be understood by search engines. Firstly, you need to make sure the search engines do not look negatively on your website, and secondly they need to be able to navigate and then categorise and index your web pages in their databases. SEO has a few different areas, from the content on the web pages to how long visitors stay on your website and navigate around it. In fact there are probably 100’s of individual factors that influence how search engines categorise your website, and while we do not know all of these factors we can make sure our site is setup correctly to have the best chance possible of ranking well in search results.
Google, who serve up the majority of web searches, always state that websites should be developed for people and not search engines, and more importantly they should be setup around those people your website is aimed at. If visitors on your website can’t find what they are looking for, or the content is badly written and presented, then they will leave pretty quickly. If this happens too many times then the search engines will know your website is probably not great, at least not for the keywords (more on these later) people entered into the search engine and then ended up on your website through.
What do search engines look for?
As mentioned there are likely 100’s of factors that search engines use to find and rank websites, and they have sophisticated algorithms that ultimately take all these factors to come up with a ranking system. However, there are a few important factors that should always be kept in mind when thinking about SEO and search rankings.
• Quality content.
• Sensible URLs, titles, and headings.
• Internal links throughout your website.
• External links to your website.
• Meta titles and descriptions.
Simply, you should write good quality content that people want to read, and this content should be specifically about the subject visitors expect it to be. For example, if someone searched Google for ‘best road bikes’, and ended up on your website they will be expecting a good informative guide to best road bikes. The reason these people ended up on your website is because Google thought your site provided good content around this subject, but how does Google know?
Bear in mind that it is more complex than this, but Google looks at words (keywords) within your text, URL (web address), page title, headings, and internal and external links to establish what your website (or webpage) is about. You should therefore try and use the term ‘best road bike’ at least a few times within your text, with one mention coming fairly early on in your post. Also use variations of these words throughout your content. Don’t go overboard though and stuff your content with these words because it will look unnatural and like you are just trying to convince the search engines that your site is about ‘road bikes’, and they may take a negative approach to this.
Sensible URLs, titles, and headings
Again, looking at the ‘best road bike’ example, if you create a post on your website about this subject and you want to attract people searching for these search terms then you should give your post a representative title. In most cases the URL is taken from your page title, but not always so you should check. In this example you could call your post ‘Best Road Bikes 2014’ and you URL should be ‘www.example.com/best-road-bikes-2014/’. This makes Googles (and other search engines) life so much easier because straight away it has some clear information about your post. If your website is about bikes in general then you will also have a better chance of Google looking favourably on your post about this subject (e.g. www.justbikesexample.com/best-road-bikes-2014/).
The next thing you should do is add headings to your post, and if possible an H1 and an H2 heading. This sets a structure to your post, just like reading a book, and sections carefully titled make following along much easier. Again, in a lot of cases your post title is automatically used as your H1 heading, but if it is not you should try and use the main keywords you want people to find your post for in Google within your H1 tags. H2 headings will need to be set manually when you are writing your post, so it could be for example ‘Important criteria in road bikes’, and you would then discuss that these criteria are underneath. You can have more than one H2 heading, but do not go crazy. You can also have H3, H4, H5 and so on, but the H1 and then H2 headings are the most important.
Finally, on the subject of titles and headings, you should also add good titles and alt tags to any images you put into your post, as well as name the image something relevant when you save it. Rather than have an image called example114.jpg, call it best-road-bikes.jpg. This as two benefits, one is that it again adds to the evidence that your post is about ‘road bikes’, and the other is that search engines have dedicated image searches, so your images will have a better chance of showing up here too. The title tag shows when someone hovers their mouse over the image, and the alt tag lets search engines know what your image is about. For example, when an image is put in your post it should have code something like: [opening image tag] src=”http://justbikesexample.com/uploads/best-road-bikes.jpg” title=”best road bikes 2014″ alt=”best road bikes 2014″ [closing image tag].
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Internal links throughout your website
Basically, when search engines look over your website they will land on a specific page, maybe via a link from someone else’s website. Once on your website the search engine robot or spider as they are called will scan the particular page it is on and index it. If it comes across links on your page it will follow them (unless you specifically ask it not to). If this link goes to another post or page on your website then this page will be indexed too, and so on. It is therefore very important to try and link internally to other pages and that all pages are linked to at least one other page or post. The text/name of these links will also play some role in helping the search engines understand what the destination post or page is about. For example, you could link from your ‘Best Road Bike 2014’ post to another post on your website about choosing brakes, and you could link to this post using the link text (or anchor text as it is known) ‘guide to choosing bike brakes’.
Having links leading to other peoples websites can be good too, particularly if they are related to your subject. It will show to the search engines that you are adding additional benefits to site visitors, and it will reassure them that your post really is about ‘road bikes’.
External links to your website
Some consider this the Holy Grail of SEO, and if you can get lots of links to your website from other good websites then you will have made it. It’s not as clear cut as this, but if you can get links from other people’s websites pointing to your website then it definitely helps. However, it used to be quantity over quality, but today we need to look at good quality links from websites that either have a fantastic reputation (e.g. bbc.co.uk or techcrunch.com, or in our example bikeradar.com), or the websites linking to your site should have something to do with what your website or post is about. For example, it would help the ‘Best Road Bike 2014’ post rank well in Google for related search terms if it had a few links pointing to it from websites about Bikes, Fitness, Outdoors etc., or other posts that are about a similar topic. Links, and in particular good quality links from good and relevant websites are looked at as votes of confidence or thumbs up. All things beings equal if it was between your post and someone else’s post, your post would come top if it had better links from external websites.
Meta titles and descriptions
Meta titles and meta descriptions are extras that you can do to help people click on a search link to your website rather than someone else’s. These are what show up in search results, so are what people use to judge whether they click or not. By default your post title is used as the title that shows in the search results, however you can modify this to add more relevant words or shorten the meta title so important keywords definitely show up. If you are using WordPress to make your website then there are plugins that allow you to control this meta title. If you have no way of controlling it then make sure your post or page title is formatted so that important keywords feature near the beginning.
The meta description is what shows below the title in search results. Again, by default the search engines pull the first text from your post content and show it in the results. However, this is quite often not the best text to show, particularly if it is just a post date and author, or if you are using custom post types with non-standard content areas you can get random text here. So it is recommended that you custom write a meta description for your posts or pages so that people browsing search results can see straight away what your site is about and you can even try and entice them to click with well written meta descriptions.
While not necessarily factors for search engines ranking your website, meta titles and descriptions are important for getting real people to click on your links in search results.
Keywords are the cornerstone of websites, and search engines take note of the keywords on your website and store them in their databases, ready to be found when someone types a particular keyword or keyword phrase into their search box. This is the starting block for search engines when they produce their list of websites that match a particular search term, and then it’s the other factors that determine how high up the search results your website will appear for a specific keyword. Some keywords are more popular than others, for example the phrase ‘road bikes’ gets around 22,200 monthly searches in the UK, while ‘best road bike’ gets around 590. You can use Googles free Keyword Planner to assess search volume for different keywords.
It is however not just about search volume but also about competition that you want to look at when thinking about targeting specific keywords in your posts. There are many companies and tools out there to assess keyword competition, although a simple test is to type your keyword into Google and look at the sites that are shown. Check them out and see if you think potentially you could do better. Ultimately, there should be a compromise between search volume and competition, and you should base your website posts around keywords you can rank well for and that will send you though a good amount of search traffic.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is big business with many “experts” taking large sums of money to optimise websites to rank higher in search engines. However, following the simple steps outlined here will help you setup a well optimised website that will do well. One factor that we have not mentioned yet it time. The older your website gets the better it will do, as long as you keep adding fresh content relatively regularly. There are many other variables and techniques that may improve your ranking in search engines, and if you want to learn more I recommend you check out a free guide on MOZ, which you can access here!.