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How SEO Works

Some of the key factors involve in getting your website ranked on search engines.

Keywords

Your customers find your website by typing keywords (e.g. plumbers) or keyword phrases (e.g. plumbers in Hereford) into Google. If your site has been optimized for those keywords then the likelihood is that the site will be found. If it’s been optimized for some other keywords then it’s unlikely to be found.

So the choice of keywords is vital as the first step in Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of potential customers searching for the site and second guess the keywords that they are likely to use. This is not as easy as it sounds. Don’t just use the first words that come into your head. Try to get into the heads of your customers. They are likely to use totally different search terms from the ones you, as the business owner, would use.

Remember also, that your site is competing for position with other sites so the more specific the keywords, the less competition you will have. For example, there are a lot more sites that can be found with the keyword plumbers than the more specific phrase plumbers in hereford.

Choosing the right keywords is a crucial step in SOE and if you don’t do it properly you might as well not bother doing anything else.

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Site Structure

Search engines typically find out about your site using programs called robots or spiders which follow links from site to site or page to page. In order for them to find out about all your pages it’s important that your site has a good navigation structure with links that can be read by the robots as well as humans. In general this means

Use text links for the main navigation rather than links based on images or Javascript.

If this is not possible or desirable then provide alternative text links, for example in a text based menu positioned at the foot of each page.

It is also a good idea to provide links to pages on your site from within the main page content where appropriate.

Don’t use too many levels for the menu structure. Keep it to 3 at the most.

As far as possible keep the navigation straightforward to help search engine spiders index your site.

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Page Content

Another important factor is the appearance of keywords in the page content. Search engines are looking at how relevant the keywords are to that page. Keywords that appear a number of times will be taken as relevant. Keywords that appear in section headings or are bolded will be taken as especially relevant and will help improve page rankings.

Having said this, however, it’s important that the content is not rendered unnatural by artificially stuffing it with keywords. That will simply cause the search engines to reject the page completely, regarding it as spam.

The important thing is to provide good, high quality content. This is becoming more and more important as search engines get more sophisticated.

It’s also important to keep updating the content. A site that is updated frequently will get looked at by search engines more often than a site that doesn’t change. This will improve its rankings – see this blog post for further explanation.

Good quality, relevant to your business content is important for getting good search engine rankings.

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Title Tags

Embedded in the underlying code that drives your web browser to display a web page, are Title Tags and Meta Tags. These are set when the web page is developed and they can be read by search engines but don’t appear on the actual web page that gets displayed. (This statement is not completely true because the page title, as defined by the title tag, appears at the very top left hand corner of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser).

The title should be meaningful rather than just being a string of keywords because it also appears as the title in the search engine listings when the page is found.

The title of each page is one of the most important factors in SEO. Putting appropriate keywords in the title tag of a web page can make a big difference to the ranking of that page.

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MetaTags

There are various types of Meta Tags.

The Meta Description tag should contain a brief description of the page content and is important.

The ALT tag for images is also important – see under Images below

The Meta Keywords tag normally contains a simple list of keywords relevant to the content of the page. These days the Meta Keywords tag has very little influence on search engine rankings and Google is known to ignore it completely.

The Meta Description tag is important for two reasons. Firstly, search engines look for keywords in it and the appearance and position of keywords will have some impact on rankings, albeit not as much as those in the title tag.

The second reason though is that it is the description that usually gets listed, underneath the Title Tag when the page is found on Google. Therefore the description should be worded as if it’s an advert for the page to encourage people to click through to the site when they’ve found it from a search.

The Meta Description Tag is important for search engine ranking and to entice people to click to your site when they have found it through a search.

Images

An often overlooked factor in SEO are the images. You can get a small but surprising number if visits from people doing image searches on Google so make sure the images on your site, including those on your blog, are good quality and, where possible, have relevant ALT tags set.

Don’t ignore images on your site. They can often bring in a surprising amount of traffic to your site.

Blogs

One way of updating content without having to continually change the main body of the site is to include a blog. Blogs help search engine positioning because, firstly, they get updated more frequently and, secondly over time your site will acquire more and more content and more pages for the search engines to list and be found by users.

Including a blog on your site can help your search engine rankings.

External Links

The so called “on-page” factors described in the preceding sections indicate to search engines how relevant the site is to keywords that are being used for a search. The number of other sites linking to that site is used by search engines has traditionally taken by search engines as an indication of how popular, or how important, the site is.

So, getting other sites to link to yours is crucial for getting good rankings. But how do you do this? Many webmaster try to do this by asking other sites for link exchanges. I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you’re trying to get as link from a site that has particular relevance to yours. Links from sites that have no relevance to yours will have little value in helping your search engine rankings and, in the worst case, your site may be penalized and lose ranking. Specifically don’t use so called link farms – sites that do nothing but provide links to other sites and avoid paying for links from such site.

The other thing to bear in mind with link exchanges it that, at the same time that inward links will provide a boost for you site, linking out from your site to other sites will decrease your site’s ranking to a certain extent. So you need to be very careful to ensure that you get a net gain from such exchanges.

Make your site so good, with excellent content, that other sites will want to provide links to it simply because it is so good.

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