SEO (search engine optimisation) as a part of the web design and development process is one of the most confusing aspects of getting a web-based business up and running. Often confused with internet marketing, the design optimisation of your website for placement in search engines is a much more specific part of internet marketing and design.
In line with keeping online business simple, here is a brief overview of how to start your own website optimization process, in three simple steps. As with any simplification, there is the need to leave out a lot of relevant information, so this should be seen as an A-B-C tutorial. To get the most out of your website, follow this up with serious research, and preferably consult an internet business consultancy or search engine optimisation specialist.
Why search engine optimisation?
So first things first, why do you even need to think about search engine optimization? To start with, we need to understand how search engines work. As much as we'd love to have an intelligent person read our site and rate it highly for us, the sheer volume of information on the internet these days means that programs have to be written to search sites for us and, using intelligently programmed rules of thumb, rate the content for us. Although not infallible, most search engines have become fairly good at this function. The major search engines each have their own proprietary technology to match a searcher with the content they are looking for, but there are some key principles common to most of them. By understanding what a search engine looks at, and by focusing on making sure that search engines know what your site is about, you stand a much greater chance of reaching your target audience.
Where do I start?
As the saying goes, content is king. Make sure that the content on your website is good, and that your site is attractive and easy to navigate. Also very important is to be sure that your site has been professionally coded using standards-compliant code. This will ensure that when search engines do index your site, that they are able to do so unobstructed by problematic hacks, and at a high content to code ratio. As is usually the case, these same factors will make your site load considerably faster, and it will be much more people-friendly too. With those prerequisites in place, we can start our three step optimization process.
1) Identify keywords
Firstly you need to identify the key things your target audience is searching for. Let's say, for example, that your business specializes in online music sales. Start with 8-10 key search engine terms, for example:
buy music online
online music store
buy music cds online
online music cds
2) Create optimized content
Now you need to create content relevant to each of your desired search terms:
1) Create some new pages, one for each search term.
2) Make sure that each page contains the respective search term in the title. Don't overdo it though. As a rule of thumb, don't let your page title run over 80 characters long, otherwise it is likely to be trimmed to that length which could look strange in a search result. Remember that many search engines use this as the link text to your site, so make it attractive.
3) Update your page meta tags to include the search term keywords, as well as common synonyms.
4) Create your page content. Make sure that the content utilizes your key search phrase many times, and use each respective word in the phrase regularly. Focus on keyword density. In short, this means that the number of times the words in your key phrase, divided by the total number of words on the page, is as high a percentage as possible. Don't overdo this though, because a keyword denity over 10% is likely to get penalised. Generally, keyword density in the title, the headings, and the first paragraphs count most, and should be where you target the bulk of your keyword density optimization.
5) Above all, make sure that your page makes sense and offers real value to your intended audience. Many try to do the above at the expense of providing really valuable content on the page. This just results in a user closing the page as soon as they get there, which doesn't help your site at all, so be careful to make sure that your primary audience -- your site visitor -- is still king on the page.
6) Make sure that your images have "alt" tags that are relevant and contain as many of your keywords as possible.
7) Create the URL to your page in such a way that it includes your keyword term. So if you are creating a page optimized for "buy music online", you could set it up, for example, as www.mysite.com/buy_music_online . Once again, don't go overboard. The rule of thumb here is to keep it under 128 characters long. This has the dual advantages that it tells a search engine what the page is about, as well as making it memorable and intuitive for your human readers.
3) Be honest, Like most things in life, deceit seldom pays in the long run. Search engines are continually picking up sites that are trying to boost their rankings unfairly. All it takes is one person to pick up your dishonesty and report it, and your whole site could be banned indefinitely.
Always make sure that all the pages on your site are primarily there for your intended audience, and only secondly optimized for search engines. A big part of how search engines rank a page is by the number of links from reputable websites, and no reputable sites are going to link to a page that offers no value to visitors, or that is obviously there only to rank well in the search engines. A site that offers real value to visitors, that is well designed, well optimized and friendly to search engines is well on its way to growing its traffic.