Do any of these questions sound like ones you've asked or wondered about?
What is search engine optimisation?
How do I do my own search engine optimisation?
How much does it cost for search engine optimisation?
The list is possibly endless, however the answers to these questions are not as complicated as you may think. Whilst search engine optimisation, or SEO for short, should not necessarily be considered as a one-off piece of work, the underlying aspects of it are no different whether this is your first attempt or your 10th set of SEO tweaks and changes to a website you are trying to get higher in Google or other search engine results.
So, what is search engine optimisation (SEO)?
SEO is the method of getting natural, un-paid traffic to your website, by affecting how it shows up in search results. In most cases, the closer to being the first result in a search, or the more a website appears in search results, the more visitors it will attract - if you are using your website to generate business or sales, then this may translate into more customers, more sales and therefore more income for your business.
SEO can target a number of search result areas including local, national & international, image and video.
How do I do my own SEO?
If you have access to manage and edit your own website and images, then you should be able to make changes to a number of areas to improve your search engine results.
The first thing you need to do is decide on a small number of key words and phrases which are suitable for your business and make sure these bring up appropriate results in Google and other search engines - checking out your competitors and seeing what words and phrases they are found through is a good place to start. It is usually 'easier' to improve your ranking in local search results than national ones as there will be a lower number of competitive and relevant sites (e.g. for myself, 'Carlisle website design' is easier to improve than 'website design') for your chosen key words and phrases.
Google are one of the largest search engines and their guidelines are very clear - create excellent content for website visitors, not for search engines. They continue to make changes to the way their search engine technology ranks websites, and have implemented many of these changes to weed out websites that use out-dated and 'cheating' tactics to try and improve their own ranking. For more information on these 'black hat' tactics, read my Black Hat SEO article from a few months ago.
Once you have decided on the words and phrases, you can build these into a number of website areas:
- Page content
If the words that visitors can read do not include your desired words and phrases then this is the first area to address - there is little to no chance of your website appearing in results looking for these words/phrases if they cannot be found in your website text. Do not overuse these words and phrases; remember that your website is there for visitors, so your page needs to read properly for humans - no more than 2 to 3 times should be considered acceptable over the entire page, otherwise you may get negatively ranked for spamming them.
- Page title
The page title is what shows up in the browser tab when any given web page is loaded. This should be set to a small phrase which is 100% relevant to the content of the web page - for example, just using 'Portfolio' is not as good as using 'Website Design Portfolio for Light Bulb Web Design, Carlisle'. This is useful for the website visitor and also lets search engines know exactly what this web page is about. Ensure the page title is unique to each page.
- Meta description
The meta description can be set for each page on your website. This is your chance to influence what search engines show under links to your websites that show up in search results - it is a great place to sell your page/product/company and should include a 'call to action' such as 'Click to read more', making sure the text is 100% relevant to the page it is for. Use no more than 160 characters, any more than this (including spaces and punctuation!) will not be shown and many search engines will also ignore meta descriptions which are too long and instead choose their own text to show from the actual page content itself. You can also be ranked down by making this too long or including too many key words, so make sure you stick to the 160 character limit and make the words a proper, readable sentence that encourages people to click on the link and visit your web page - make sure each page on your website has a unique meta description, do not simply use the same one across the whole site, and including a key word or phrase is very beneficial to SEO.
- Meta keywords
Meta keywords can be set for each web page. Google openly admit that they no longer use meta keywords to rank web pages, as they are all too often stuffed full of repeated words and phrases, and used to be a good way for website owners and SEO companies to get high rankings for websites with poor content. There is nothing wrong with using them, as Bing, Yahoo and others still make use of them, however be sensible - choose a small number of words, appropriate to the actual page content you are setting them for. As with the meta description, make them unique to each page and try to be very focused on the ones you choose.
- Menu structure and page file names
Search engines like to know how a website is laid out and structured, so choosing a good menu naming structure helps them understand your website, what pages are in what section, and will use this when ranking your site in search results. For a menu item called 'Services', and sub-menus called 'Web Design' and 'E-commerce', then make the names of the pages these menus link to something similar e.g. 'website-design-carlisle.html' and 'ecommerce-website-design-carlisle.html'. There is nothing wrong with using key words and phrases within the page names. If you are able to setup 'breadcrumbs' to form a trail for visitors to see where they are within your website as they navigate around, this is also something which search engines will use to record the structure of your website and are often an easy way to further improve your SEO.
- Image names
Naming images well is another way to ensure search engines know what your website and pages are about. Search engines cannot 'see' pictures or know what is in them, so choose names which describe them and if applicable, use key words or phrases e.g. 'cat-jumping-off-roof.jpg' is much better than 'IMG-1023.jpg'.
- Image Alt Tags
The image alt tag serves three purposes - it is what a browser will show when the image cannot be loaded, what will be read by a screen reader for those with poor eyesight or may be blind, and finally it is the text that will be shown when a website visitor hovers their mouse over an image. As with the image name, choosing something to accurately describe the image, using a key word or phrase if relevant, is the best way to make use of the alt tag for every image, and is something you should aim to include for every picture on your website.
Where you link to other pages or websites, choose the text that you make the link relevant to what the reader will find when they click the link e.g. 'E-Commerce Website Design' should link to a page about that subject. Also set the link 'Title' to a similarly relevant phrase - the title is similar to the image Alt tags - it will be used by screen readers and is also the text shown when a visitor hovers their mouse over the link. Using key words or phrases is also acceptable if they are relevant to the page you are linking to.
How much does it cost for search engine optimisation (SEO)?
At Light Bulb Web Design, we cover all of the above within our pricing and design services as standard, however this is a one-off service as part of our initial setup of your website. Sometimes this can be sufficient and we have had good results with some of our websites seeing page 1 results within a few days of going live, however SEO is usually something you need to consider as on-going work. The Internet changes daily, with competitor websites being created and updated, and search engines themselves making changes to how they rank websites so one day you may be first, the next day you may have gone completely from page 1.
By regularly monitoring and tweaking your own website using the above information, and ideally linking your website to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, then with some research and effort, it is entirely possible to manage your own SEO.
If you want to involve experienced professionals then expect to pay upwards of £50 per month, often more, to have them do all the work for you. Whilst no company can ever guarantee ranking results, if generating business and sales from your website is a critical part of your business needs, then sometimes it can pay to involve a company with the knowledge and time to ensure you make the most of your web-presence.