Demystifying SEO

Friday November 2017

So you've got a bright new web site, and you're hoping for visitors to flock to it, but you wait, and wait, and wonder where everyone is. Your investment in your website is only as good as the engagement it generates. If you've never heard of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), now is a good time to learn.

SEO is the process of ensuring your website is as well designed as possible to rank well in search results in search engines. Google is by far the dominant search engine, however there are others like Microsoft's Bing - which is integrated into Windows 10, Duck Duck Go, for privacy conscious users, and others that may target specific geographical markets. Given that Google is by far the dominant player in the search market, this article will focus on Google, but getting things right with Google is likely to have a positive impact across all search engines.

Google is remarkably secretive about the exact 'recipe' they use to rank sites in search results, as if they revealed all the details, it would make it easier for people to game the sytem. Google's overwhelming advice is to provide relevant, accessible, high quality content for users. Google does provide a lot of helpful information for website owners on their webmaster central blog, and it's worth paying attention to. There is information about tools and features that Google provides to help webmasters, as well as dos and don'ts when it comes to site content.

Website dos and Don'ts

  • Do include a unique descriptive title for each page on your website.
  • Do include a short description about what a page is about including relevant keywords up to 160 characters long.
  • Do include quality, well written content on every page that is engaging for visitors.
  • Do ensure that your site is mobile friendly.
  • Do ensure your page includes meta-data to enable easy sharing via social media.
  • Don't publish content copied from other websites even if it's permitted.
  • Don't publish content full of spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Standing out from a crowd

The web is a crowded place with millions of websites competing for people's attention. If you're in the fortunate position of having a website about a very unique topic, then getting your basic SEO right is probably all you need to do. For example, if you have site about New Zealand leprechauns, it's probably not going to be too hard to rank highly, however if you have a site about New Zealand beer, it will likely be a bit harder to rank above competition. In cases like this, it's important to think about what makes your site unique, and use titles, descriptions, and content that clearly convey your uniqueness. In a crowded market, potential customers are going to want to know that anyway, so it's not just about keeping Google happy.

Paying to stand out

Sometimes, no matter how well crafted your website is, there is simply too much competition for it to stand out on its own. Of course Google knows this, and this is how it makes money. Google Adwords allow you to jump the queue by paying to have ads display next to search results. Popular search terms can be expensive, so if you do use Adwords, you need to ensure that you choose search terms that have a good prospect of converting into a sale.

Social Media

While not strictly search, you can drive traffic to your website via regular posts to social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Both allow links to web pages, and Facebook will display a preview with the title, description, and the page's main image, if your site is set up correctly. People can click on these links to visit your website, and this can provide an important part of traffic to your website. People aren't going to be particularly interested in clicking on a link to the same page on your website time after time, so having a blog with articles relevant to the theme of your website can be a useful way to create engagement. In your blog articles, you can include links to product or service pages on your site, and then share links to the blog posts to social media. Make sure you provide a means for site visitors to share links to individual page on your website to social media themselves, as this can greatly extend your exposure.

Monitor performance

Google provides free Analytics and Webmaster Tools to help you monitor visits to your website. You should use these tools to monitor your website and any advertising you have and make adjustments as necessary.

Hire a professional

Some of this may sound a little daunting. None of it is rocket science, and it's certainly possible to promote your website yourself at minimal cost. If you get the basics like titles, descriptions, and textual content right, that can go a long way, however if you're not confident as a writer, or researching keywords yourself, sometimes it can be worthwhile to hire someone to achieve a better result. That said, beware of unsolicited emails from people offering to optimise your site. Many of these are nothing more than spam, and you could end up with a hefty bill with little to show for it. Bear in mind that if you're in a highly competitive market, someone offering to sell you SEO services may have a conflict of interest, as if they offer their services to someone else in the exact same market segment as you, then only one of you can be ranked first.