An idiots guide to improving search results

Are you sick of the emails promising to get you “onto the front page with Google”?  Do you wonder what SEO [Search Engine Optimisation] and SEM [Search Engine Marketing] are?  Do you ever wonder about if your website could actually increase your bottom line if you are not selling plastic things from china or some other kind of widget? Does it all seem a little like black magic?  Do I have any chance of doing this myself?  Is this all going to cost me thousands of dollars? Is there a magic pill?

Let me answer these questions for you…
SEO = making your website friendly to search engines
SEM = advertising
It can.
It isn’t.
Yes, yes you do…
No there isn’t…

Lately I have been asked by a number of clients about how to increase their web search results.  In the main they have also asked whether we or they need to contract an SEO specialist to do some work on their website.  I think that an unscrupulous part of the marketing/IT industry has created a belief that good search results come about as a result of some magic that is performed when you take your website in for a service and the mechanic has a tweak under your websites bonnet.  It’s just not true.  The best way to increase search traffic to your website is to follow some simple rules.  There is literally an infinite amount of tweaking you can do but the best and biggest results will come about from just a few things.

Nota Bene

Promising any miracle cures for your website that make it number one in all searches is just impossible and anyone who makes a claim such as this is just full of it.  Search is a very fluid thing.  The results for the search “good hamburger” and “great hamburger” are quite different.  They mean kind of the same thing, and a website owner could aim to be number one for both, but it would be impossible to confidently guarantee results in one of these searches, let alone two.  So I guess my point is to be realistic with what you are hoping for.

Also, I am presuming you have already created a website and, at the very least, it has a good reason for being, and the stuff on the website might be of interest to more than just you and your very proud mum…

But First…

The first thing you need to do is get an account with Google and submit your site into their search index.  If you don’t do this, Google will find you eventually but it may take a while.  It’s free and will take you seconds so it’s a good investment.  You may be feeling a little excited right now, I know I was after listing my own first website.  Whatever you do, don’t go to google and enter some keywords and expect to pop up straight away.  As Rachel Hunter said “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”.  Submitting your site will add it to the list of millions and millions of new sites that the Google robots look at each day.  Give it a couple of days and spend the time following the other points and by the end of the week you should have achieved quite good things.

Understand the rules

The interesting thing about this whole discussion is that they [the search providers] tell you exactly what you need to do.  The suggestion that it is some kind of black magic couldn’t be further from the truth.  So, the first rule is to understand the rules.  For the benefit of brevity and consistency I’m going to use Google as our example in this document.  According to Google represents 84% of the web search marketplace so if we start by keeping them happy we’re off on the right foot.  I know that there are plenty of other web search engines like Yahoo, Bing, AltaVista, Ask etc. But, to be honest, I would suggest you get your Googleness sorted first and then concentrate on the others.  A lot of the things Google looks for the others do too [no surprises there…].

Google has a couple of great places to read about how to increase your web results.  I’m going to paraphrase theirs, and add some of my own [self proclaimed] wisdom, but if you want to check out my logic here they are;

By far, the most important of these two is the first.  The webmaster guidelines will tell you exactly what to do to get the best rank possible for your site in Google searches.  It may be a little techy at times.  But just relax and do one thing at a time.  So here we go…

Link ME Baby! – Incoming Links

One of the best ways to improve your rank is to have lots of incoming links from high ranking sites that have relevance to the subject matter on your site.  So start to encourage colleagues in your industry, associations, and listing websites to link to your website.  Don’t get them to all link to your front page either.  Have them make their links so that the relevance of where they are linking from, and the page on your website they are linking to, matches.  Google likes this.

Start with the right ingredients – Quality Content

Create Quality Content.  I can’t emphasise this enough. There are a few reasons for this.  Google sees the quality of a page of content based on its grammatical score, the number of relevant keywords in it, and how those keywords relate to other pages on your site. There is another thing about creating quality content, and it should be obvious, it will bring more visitors to your site.  Write stuff that people are likely to want to read and bookmark, or read and link to from their social media or their own websites.  Each one of those visits and links will improve your score.

It should go without saying that quality content needs to be written well, spell checked[or spelt correctly in the first place] and properly punctuated.  So, now you understand what your year 8 English teacher was talking about when she said grammar, spelling and punctuation were important…

Rinse and Repeat – Frequent Updates

So now you have great links and quality content you can just sit back and watch the page views come in right?  Wrong!  The other thing that increases your score is frequently updating your site.  Review what you have written and edit it. Write new stuff.  Find other good content to link to. Delete old or out of date stuff.  Have someone else look at your site and suggest content changes.  Changes of content indicate to Google that the site is being maintained, and, you guessed it, they like that.

It’s probably not surprising that having up-to-date, regularly changing content is also good when it comes to building an audience for your site.  There’s that double benefit again, in fact almost all of the things you need to do to increase your search results also improves your user site experience.  This correlates with Google’s aim to provide quality, relevant content through its search results.

Keywords are key… Really, no pun intended.

Once you have a good score, you will want to make sure that people can find the right content on your site quickly and accurately.  So when you are writing about it, make sure you use the kind of words someone might use to search for that piece of content in the composition of the text.  That’s a bit long winded so here’s the short version.  Use the right words in your content.  If you are talking about cooking, use the words food, cooking, flavor etc… as well as ingredient names, cooking styles, cooking utensils, and anything else that relates to the topic.
I’m not kidding, we had a client that didn’t have the word that described what they did, let’s say it was “brain surgery” for example, anywhere on their site. It is easy to do. We all get caught up with acronyms and jargon words that describe what we do.  When people search, they generally use simple language.  It is very important to use the same simple language on your site.

No wacky systems

Most websites these days are one of two types.  The first kind is “hard coded”, that is each page is created from scratch and uploaded to the site and all of the links for that page on your site have to be added manually.  The other type is when your site is based on a content management system.  There are many content management systems on the market, most of them are free and they are good for running websites that aim to have constantly changing, dynamic content.  Remember that’s what we’re after.  So use one of these methods, or have your web programmer do it.  The most popular content management systems are Joomla and WordPress.  Joomla is the biggest and most popular for complex sites. It is a lot more functional but it is also more techy to drive than WordPress, which was developed as a system for blog type sites.

Whatever you do, unless you have a professional web resource that understands search, don’t use a system that is not search friendly, or that uses non-standard elements.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!

The robots that scan your site for the search engines are not all that smart, or more to the point, they are a little lazy.  They will index plain text and easy to read documents much faster, better, and earlier than more complex ones.  For example, if something is text content it should exist in as pure a form as possible. Don’t create text blocks as images and then put them on your site, they can’t be read. If you have a choice of a simple text document or a PDF go for the simple format.  That is not to say that PDFs are bad.  They are perfect for content that you want people to take away with them. But they are not as well indexed and so will not improve your search results as much.
When creating rich media for your site, like images and video, make sure that there is some sort of text element that describes the image.  It may be a caption below an image, or a paragraph explaining a video.

Get to know your system

Once your site is up and running you owe it to yourself to get to know the system that your site runs on.  You should learn how to change the Metadata[unseen stuff that search engines look at] for each page after you create it.  There are two main elements here.  The Metadata Description, which is the description that comes up with your search result when someone gets it in a search engine.  The other is metatags which are the main keywords that relate to a specific page of content.  Filling these in for each page will greatly improve your search result quality.  This is all about making sure that the people that get to your site from a search request actually are looking for whatever it is you are writing about on your site.

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

And here’s the last word.  Google [and the others] will also punish you if you try to game them.  They now have negative points associated with unpopular practices like out of context linking, keyword stuffing and many more.  The truth of the matter is that you just need to create quality, relevant, contextual content on a regular basis and you will be fine.
But wait, there’s more…

There are heaps of other things you can do to improve your search results. But this is the idiot’s guide, right?  So stick to what I have here and if you want to do more start doing some googling yourself. There are millions of references about how to improve your search rankings for free, and don’t forget, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It’s all too hard…

So you’ve read all of this and you think that it is all too hard. That’s OK.  If it’s not for you  go out and find someone to help you.  Simple stuff like the things I have mentioned here should not be expensive.  Make sure you talk to people you trust or that someone else has recommended. Whatever you do, don’t talk to one of the tens of thousands of dodgy SEO consultants that spam website owners every day.  Make sure it is someone who will meet you face to face [or over Skype].

They can help you with the techy stuff but remember, it’s still your website. You will still need to make sure that your site has good content.  That really is the key.  If you need to have someone create the content for you then it’s time you started talking to a great brand marketing agency.

Social is important too.

Many people think that Facebook and Twitter are not much chop for business owners.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  They act as a conduit to bring more potential customers to your site. But I’ll talk about that more in my next article, How to make Facebook and Twitter work for your small business…