There are nearly 200 million websites on the internet, according to British internet services company Netcraft. The most common way for internet users to track down a single site in the midst of this giant digital haystack is by inputting a word or phrase into a search engine.
This is why it’s essential to make your site as easy as possible for search engines to find and rank, in a process known as search engine optimisation (SEO).
“Typically over 80 percent of new traffic to a website starts with a search. If you are not being picked up by the search engines or not getting good placement in them you are not going to get traffic to your website,” says Fiachra O Marcaigh, director at IT consultancy Amas.
SEO: The basics
The best way to make sure your website ranks highly in any search engine is to regularly update it with relevant content. “[The content should be] relevant for the terms you want and expect to be found under, and regularly updated so that the search engines know that is an active and lively website,” says O Marcaigh.
This content could include putting up photographs of a product launch, information about a new service or a press clipping related to the firm.
The title tag of a website and the site’s keywords are also a critical part of SEO. The former refers to the name users see at the top of the browser window, while the latter refers to the terms users type into a search engine when searching for particular information online. Search engines look at both of these when ranking a particular website. Keywords should be incorporated into your site’s content.
“The [title and keywords] will be things that are very specific to you like your brandings, but also things that are more general like the sector you operate in and the things people tend to search for,” says O Marcaigh.
SMEs should try to come up with a title and keyword phrases relevant to web surfers who are likely to do business with the firm. For example, an accountancy firm based in Blackrock in Cork would be better served by ensuring its site ranked highly for the search terms “Blackrock Cork accountant” rather than just the word “accountant”.
“Pick out your key phrases that you want to be found under. You should have 10 or 15 priority ones and then another 25 or so backup ones. Make sure that those phrases are used heavily in your content particularly in headings, captions for photos, tags for photos, links in the pages,” advises O Marcaigh.
It’s a good idea for firms to research which keywords web surfers are using. Programs like Microsoft adCenter, Google Adwords and Wordtracker can be used to work out and generate effective keywords.
SEO: What search engines want
Search engines like it when websites link to one another. Incorporating links can quickly boost your rankings. For example, that accountant in Cork could post a link to the Institute of Incorporated Public Accountants, perhaps under the ‘resources’ section of the company’s website. And if you link to a business partner’s site, ask them to link to yours in return.
Webmaster tools like Yahoo Site Explorer and Google Web Master Tools are handy for figuring out how the search engines index websites. Using these programs you can find out how web surfers are reaching your site, and you can even ask an online community for advice about SEO.
The way your website is designed also has a huge bearing on how search engines find and rank your site. Website development packages like Real Weaver 4 and Adobe Dreamweaver are powerful applications. These programs let you put multimedia content – like photographs, streaming video and flash animations – on your site. However, you should be careful of developing an overly complex website, as some search engines may have trouble indexing certain types of content. If in doubt, speak to a website developer or an IT consultant.
“You have to construct your site in a way that is search engine friendly. It is something that is best planned from the outset because if you go down the road of a very fancy animated graphic site that isn’t written in standard compliant HTML, it may be invisible to the search engines,” says O Marcaigh.
SEO: Online footprint
There are lots of ways you can increase your footprint on the internet and drive traffic to your website.
“If you have got something that you can make a video of, make a presentation of, put it on YouTube and on your own website as well. It can send a reasonable amount of traffic. It is a way to hit a general user target market – the under 25s, which is one of the hardest markets to penetrate,” says Leslie Gilmour, owner of Cube Online Marketing.
Company blogs are another good way for SMEs to increase traffic to their site. Recently, FBD Insurance posted a blog entry about how to drive during wet conditions. The post subsequently ranked higher in Google than the company’s website.
“Blogs tend to punch above their weight in search engine optimisation because they are regularly updated, relatively speaking, and they are given a priority by search engines,” says O Marcaigh.
There are other ‘web 2.0′ services that can help businesses reach new audiences. Twitter, for example, is a micro-blogging service that has enjoyed explosive popularity with consumers and is now beginning to be embraced by businesses. (Look out for more on Twitter in a future issue.) Similarly, many companies are turning to social networking sites to build brands and maintain customer relationships.
“The more sites that you link back to your website and carry your key messages the better. If you have time to do it and you do it well, then absolutely Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are definitely worth having a presence on,” says O Marcaigh.
SEO: Top tips
Here are a few other SEO ‘dos and don’ts’ to consider:
- Regularly check which keywords your competitors are using and compare them to yours.
- Select the appropriate domain name for your site. There’s no point using the dot-ie domain if you want to appear at the top of Google.co.uk.
- Sign up to relevant online business directories.
- Don’t post a response on someone else’s blog simply to generate a link to your site.
- Don’t worry too much about social networking sites if your target market doesn’t use them.
- Don’t pay for underhanded SEO services like ‘cloaking’. This is where search engines are redirected to ghost sites filled with links and keywords. If you’re caught doing this your site will be ignored altogether.
There are lots of simple things you can do to make it easier for web surfers to find your site. However, the process of SEO is an ongoing one and it’s an area most firms will have to revisit periodically as their site, and the internet, evolves.
This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.