Search Engines have taken over our lives, the online world has sucked us in and many of us find it impossible to carry out our daily lives without being somehow connected. We use the internet and search engines to find out all sorts of information, to purchase our products and services, play games, read news, diagnose an illness, book our holidays, speak to our friends … and even order a meal. The internet and the search engine has become a staple and integral part of our private and working life and without these powerful internationally interconnected tools, where would we be today? So the challenge to advertisers and SEO specialists is to make sure we are totally on top of what is required of us by the search engines in order to rank well within their results pages.
Search engines have certainly come a long way since their establishment in 1990. There have always been search engine policies in place with the intention of showing the searcher relevant results based upon an individual’s search criteria, recommendations made on your own website and on externally linked websites. Displayed information was, and to a certain degree still is, guided by these external links and the more of the right links to your website the more likely your site will end up sitting higher in the SERP’s (search engine results pages). However, what this method of ranking a website fails to consider is that not all links to a website are naturally produced or were necessarily from positive comments shared by users. This all changed when the search giant Google came along and rolled out some major changes that not only moved the goal posts but had us thinking for the first time in a long time about our online actions and how they can directly affect our websites rankings.
The search engines use a multitude of algorithms that monitor interactions throughout the internet – Google alone uses 500 to 600. These algorithms assess such things as our conversations, content/media we write, create, record and share throughout the web and on social sites, all to better understand if we are talking positively or negatively about a person, product or item. If the content that we use or share is grammatically correct, without spelling mistakes and unique then the search engine will know where to place our website within their results pages. However, in more recent years it’s become harder to stay ahead of our competition within the SERP’s. We have a whole host of items we need to obey, follow and implement in order to tick all of the right boxes set out by the search engines; these tick boxes are otherwise known as SEO Ranking Factors. They cover in excess of 200 different areas split into two categories: On-Site – all the things that you can do to the pages of your website and Off-Site – all the things that can be done away from your website. Both need to be used to improve the websites visibility within the SERP’s.
Now in most instances many of us get the second part or at least a proportion of the second part of this process right and it is the On-Site work which generally suffers. This is probably a reflection of the fact that once a website has been built and launched, most of us would rather just upload new products/services to our current site than go back to basics and optimise the site itself. However not making any of the necessary changes would be like building a 200mph car without brakes and steering which is then to be test driven at full pelt around the Nurburgring in Germany, it will finally crash and burn. So it’s important for website owners to think of our websites as the foundations to a successful development; the foundations have to be laid properly, evenly and using all of the right methods, tools, equipment and specialists, otherwise the building will collapse.
Nowadays, website owners are frequently bombarded by a plethora of people and companies offering and or selling Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). It is like the plague of PPI calls, text messages and emails we receive on almost a daily basis, it puts us off the desire to sign up or use such services and understandably so, but if we did decide to go ahead we wouldn’t necessarily know what work was being carried out in the background for the off-site work other than knowing backlinks will be created. The situation is worse when it comes down to the on-site work, it is rarely incorporated in most SEO companies and web developers campaign strategies and as many of us are not sure what is expected/required because generally we do not know or have the time to find out, we take the individuals word for it, even though every bit of information you need to know is plastered throughout the internet. Based upon this my suggestion would be, make that time to find out as it is hugely important to you and your business success.
Unfortunately as I have seen throughout my years within the industry we cannot purely rely on a web developer or web agency to build us a successful, SEO friendly website as this term is used rather loosely. When a website is built with SEO in mind it will generally include all of the desired coded areas to add the relevant data to, in the hope you the client will implement the content yourself, but rarely is the work implemented as carrying out the on-site work from meta data, keyword terms, title tags and so forth can take just as long to implement as having your website built. If you are launching a new website, then it is imperative that all of the on-site work is carried out prior to its launch. When you launch a new website to the internet world (if the web domain has/was already been in use by you and or your company) then it will automatically lose its rankings within the search engines upon a re-launch, this is par for the course and only the search engines have control over it, however your website will bounce back slightly if and only if the on-site work has been done correctly, therefore it is advised that you do not launch your website to the world until all the right work has been done on the test site. If you are working on a live website then you may have little choice but to make the changes while the site and its pages are live, either way the changes you or your SEO expert will make, will only improve your rankings (subject to what your competitors are doing with their websites/campaigns) in due course.
So, you are asking, “What do I need to do to my website in order to make these necessary changes?”
Well I would always recommend using an expert, but if budget is a restriction you will need to focus upon the following 7 categories, the Content, Design, Functionality, SEO components, Analytics, Security & Backups and Compliance.
The content on your website is not only read by the user, the search engine is able to understand if something has been used on another website, rewritten/spun off from another piece of content on the web, if it is incorrectly spelt or grammatically incorrect…, thus all of your content should be proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes/errors, the content should be unique as well as engaging, contain paragraphs, headers, lists, bold text, hyperlinks, copyright dates where necessary, Images, videos and audio files that render properly across all devices from desktop to mobile, form IE11 to iOS.
The design of the site should be pixel perfect and should look good across every device and browser, the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)/HTML code should be validated properly and the CSS/HTML code, scripts, favicons and images need to be optimised across all of the websites pages properly and paragraphs MUST BE set up with the appropriate headers, titles, lists and quotes. This will help with your page speed loading times from a user perspective as we do not like to wait too long for a website to load and it will also improve rankings. The page loading speed of your website is directly correlated to where it might rank, the slower a page loads even if it has everything else in tact it will still potentially miss out on one of the top 10 placements in Google.
The functionality of your website can make or break a deal, if you are left hanging on attempting to complete a transaction, unable to share or download a file, document or video, then how likely are you to return to that frustrating website, chances are you’re not. So to avoid this from potentially happening test and validate all of the different features on your website. Forms, email contact blocks, auto-responders, internal and external links, social media icons, redirected page urls, RSS feeds, CRM integration, add-ons, plugins and check that anything else such as downloadable brochures are working/functioning and working flawlessly on every page of your website and again across browsers and devices.
Now, we can take a look at what most people call or know as SEO, though in actual fact all of the above and below encompasses all that is on-site SEO, these areas are otherwise known as “meta data” and “meta tags”, so for the purpose of this exercise we will call this section SEO. All of the pages of your website require a unique title, meta description, meta tags, image titles, heading tags, consistent urls, that all incorporate a variant of the keyword/terms which relate to the product and or service(s) for each individual page of your website. You will also require a dynamic (xml) sitemap, robots block text file, 301 redirects where necessary, nofollow/canonical tags for any duplicate or displayed copied content as well as ensuring the address and contact numbers are readily available on most pages to aid geo-locational targeting.
Once you have all of the above in place, have checked the content, design, functionality and SEO at least three times over, and once you are 100% positive that you are good to go, then and only then (if you haven’t done so already) you will want to know how to track all of your websites visits and interactions. This can be simply monitored in Googles free Analytics and Webmaster tools accounts. This valuable information will help you better understand your potential client base and what may or may not be working that well on your website. Setting this up is rather simple to do and a step by step guide on how to set this up can be found here http://www.google.com/analytics/
Security & Backups
So now everything is double and tripled checked and the tracking codes implemented, you will want to put systems in place to prevent any loss of data from all of your hard work. It is advised that you setup up protection against malware and hackers as well as taking back up copies of your entire website to prevent and or recover any losses. There are many monitoring tools or scripts which will alert you of anything untoward going on and block the intrusion/intruder, but it is just as helpful to change your login user names and passwords as frequently as possible.
And finally, Compliance
Your website must comply with any applicable laws and regulations such as if the website uses tracking cookies (and if you have followed my instructions you would have implemented the likes of Google Analytics which requires a code to track cookies) you will need to incorporate this on the site, subject to which countries require one. All of your images, fonts and so forth which have been purchased or borrowed must contain the right codes to prove they are not stolen and the website should have its own terms and conditions readily available for its visitors to read. LASTLY, if you are storing and or processing credit cards make sure you are PCI compliant.
The above forms the basic content of all the best websites and makes up 15% to 20% of the whole SEO process – without them your websites rankings will suffer.
To find out more about how you can get your website to the top of the search engines then do not hesitate to contact one of our SEO experts today for an informal conversation and advice.
Written by Nic Cohen – Head of SEO at Space & Time Media