What do you mean by Search Engine Optimisation?

Posted on 11 November 2011 by Jim Rawson, Design Manager

Designing a website is just a part of creating a good website - because no matter how great your site looks, if it is not built, written and marketed in the right way, then you will struggle to acquire and retain visitors.

There are two primary sources of 'traffic' arriving at most websites - visitors arriving via search engines and referrals from other websites. A third source,direct visits, are usually the result of non-web advertising eg radio or press ads, or word-of-mouth. This happens when someone types the 'url' of the website directly into the address bar of the browser.

As search engines are most people's preferred method of finding what they are looking for, it is no surprise that many businesses and organisations want to be easily found in these systems, as being on the first page of search results for one or several of the target 'keyphrases' can lead to a significant improvement in sales leads and enquiries. However, achieving this requires significant effort and, depending on the nature of your business, can be extremely competitive.

How do search engines index and rank websites?

Search Engines use 'robots' to carry out periodic visits to all the websites which are available on the internet. The robots visit the website and 'read' the html code of each page and take a record of it. It is then analysed according to that particular search engine's algorithm in order to 'rank' the website for certain keyphrases and words. The way a site looks has absolutely no effect on the way search engines view your website as they ignore 'stylesheets' which control the visual appearance of your website.

No one can be 100% sure of the exact algorithm that the various search engines use to index and rank pages, however it is safe to say they are very sophisticated and take into account a variety of factors including the page title (the words that appear in the header of the page) the headings, the age and size of the site, the domain name (url), which country the site is hosted in, the quality of what's on each page and how many other websites are linking to it. The 'popular' search engines such as Google, MSN and Yahoo are able to tell if websites are displaying content that has been 'scraped' from another website, and can occasionally penalise websites for being repeatedly offline, displaying scraped content, containing malicious scripts and viruses or generally doing anything they don't like the look of!

For this reason it's best to make sure that your site conforms to webmaster guidelines provided by Google and other SEs, which are freely available.

Getting your website indexed easily achieved by submitting your url to the engine, however all websites will eventually be found by search engines provided they have some inbound links from a site that is already indexed.

Digital Design has significant experience helping organisations with their Search Engine Optimisation requirements, and uses proven, ethical methods as outlined below. Digital Design recommends 'organic' search engine optimisation which if carried out correctly affords longer-term success than campaigns that make use purely of PPC (Pay Per Click) methods.

What is Search Engine Optimisaton (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimisation comprises a number of activities and when all of these techniques are used together they can jointly help a website be ranked higher in the results indexes of major engines like Google, MSN and Yahoo. In actual fact, many of these activities are simply ways to make sure that your website is 'good'.

Broadly speaking, the activities that contribute to the science of 'natural' SEO are:

  • Analysis of current website statistics (if they exist)
  • Setting objectives for keyword and keyphrase targets
  • Structuring the website in a logical and hierarchical way
  • Structuring each page in such a way as to allow search engines to quickly record and analyse the content of the page
  • Including relevant hyperlinks to other pages - both within the website (internal linking) and to other websites (external linking)
  • Writing lots of good 'content' that site visitors find useful, and including phrases that you would like to be found for
  • Making your website 'accessible' to users who use assistive technologies such as screen readers and other software
  • Submitting your website to search engines and using webmaster tools to check the status of your website
  • Acquiring an increasing number of relevant 'backlinks' from other websites, directories and social forums
  • Tracking visitor data and using it to reiterate and adapt the steps above

Due to the nature of the way search engines operate, and the sheer enormity of information available online, SEO is not an activity that can be carried out quickly,or automatically. If you are approached by an organisation offering an 'automatic' or miracle SEO product that will turn your site around overnight you should be very wary as it is unlikely to offer you any real benefit.

Good Search Engine Optimisation is a lengthy process involving research, analysis, web development and marketing, which over time will help to raise the profile and authority of your website. It is therefore important to ensure that the people responsible for the various activities - writing, creating backlinks and redeveloping the site - are all working towards a common goal.

What about PPC?

Pay Per Click (PPC) is a way of getting 'sponsored' links from major search engines, the most popular in the UK being Google's AdWords. PPC can be effective method in the short term as a way of increasing site visitors, however may companies that use PPC are disappointed when they stop advertising only to find that they have no underlying traffic generated by 'real' search engine results.