Search Engine Optimisation : Beginners Guide
Search Engine Optimisation : Beginners Guide
A while ago, a user submitted a message using the 'tell the boss form' on our website. They asked if we had any SEO guides or tips that they could read. As we did not really have any, I thought I'd take the time to write one up.
Please note the below is only meant as a guide to get you started. We have left quite a few things out and also had to summarise certain sections (otherwise it would be huge).
We have also only covered on page SEO (SEO that you can control). We will be doing another guide in the future on off site SEO using our own blog as an example.
OK, strap on your SEO seat belts, let's hit it!
SEO : What it used to be
In the olden days, Google wasn't too smart. Yes it was better than Lycos (remember them?) or Yahoo but if you wanted to rank highly for a word, you simply needed to mention it enough times plus a few other relevant words and you would show up. Over the years a cat and mouse game started where website owners would to learn how to rank for terms, what worked and was liked by Google (White Hat SEO) and unfortunately what could be abused to rank higher (Black hat SEO). Google adapted to detect the underhanded tactics (Black Hat SEO, e.g. hidden text with keywords) and brought down the Google hammer if you tried to use them.
In the below guide we are going to pretend you are the owner of a car parts sales website. As such the examples will feature terms related to this industry. We will only provide White Hat SEO techniques as black hat should be avoided at all costs.
Step 1 : Stop!
Let me explain, there is no point in editing your website for terms that no one searched for. Therefore, stop editing and let's do some research. Before we even start, we need to see what people search for and what the competition is like. We need to find some terms people search for and the level of competition targeting these words. To do this, we are going to use two main avenues:
- Google Keyword tools
Step 1 : Competition
Looking at your website's competition can often provide you with a wealth of great keywords. So how can you tell which keywords they are targeting? In its basic form you can look at the website's Meta title tag. In this instance, we are going to look at a website called www.carparts4less.co.uk (mainly as it's the first one that came up when searching for car parts and also since it's quite a nice site). To view their Meta Title tag, you could view the source code but an easier way is to simply put their URL into the Google search bar.
In the image above you can see some purple writing. This is the website's Meta title tag. This is the first thing Google sees when it visits your website and the words mentioned in here are extremely important. In fact, Google even makes note of which words are mentioned first and gives these more importance than the ones at the end. In this example, the title tag mentions the following term first 'Car Parts Online'. This is the first keyword we are going to look into. Write this keyword down and then look at your other competitors. Keep repeating this step until you have at least 20 keywords.
Step 1 : Google Keyword Tool
Now we have the our 20 keywords which we know people are targeting, we can use Google's fantastic keyword tool to see how many people search for these terms per month. We will also see what alternatives Google provides. Visit https://adwords.google.com/o/KeywordTool? and enter your search term in the 'Word or Phrase'. Next untick the 'Broad' option on the left and tick 'exact', then click Search. Once the search has completed, click the 'Keyword ideas' tab.
The first row should be the search term you entered and to the right of this will be how many searches per month this word received Globally (worldwide) and Locally (the country you are in). So looking at the above example, "car parts online" receives 2900 local searches per month in Google. This could be 2900 unique people or 1 person searching 2900 times so bear this in mind. Click the drop down arrow next to the keyword and select "Google Search" to open this search term in a new window.
At the point of writing this, the search returned 447,000,000 results which is a lot of results. At this point many users would decide to look at other keywords thinking they could never rank due to the competition. The problem here is the numbers don't always tell the full picture. If you look at the other websites listed, only one other mentions the term "car parts online". All the others are targeting related words but not this exact phrase. This is a good indication that although the search returned lots of websites, very few (at the point of writing this) are actually targeting the "car parts online" phrase. As such, it may be attainable to rank on the first page.
The key here is to find 3 or 4 keywords that are related to your business and that have;
- High search volume
- Lowest amount of results
- Lowest amount of websites targeting the same word
Repeat the above steps for all of your keywords until you have a handful of really good ones. Then rank these in order of which you prefer to target. The number 1 keyword (assuming it's not a item specific keyword such as "vauxhall catalytic converter") will be what we use on your main page.
OK, so now you know how to find keywords and how to check to see if anyone is competing for them. Next you need to start optimising your website for them. One important lesson here is to understand that Google sees every page on your website almost as its own individual website (not 100% accurate but the easiest way to explain it!) This means you need to use different keywords on each page. So for example, you may target the term "car parts online" for your main page but when you navigate into the exhaust section you will want to alter this page to reflect the keywords relevant to these items ("remus exhaust" or "cat back exhaust"). Again, when optimising the Mercedes section you would choose to target a term like "mercedes exhaust parts".
Step 2 : Meta Tags
As we discussed above the Meta tags are what the search engines see but more importantly it's what it sees first. It's the first bit of information Google finds and it's what you are telling Google your site is about.
The Meta tags consist of 3 sections:
- Meta Title
- Meta Description
- Meta Keyword
Now lets get one thing clear, the Meta keyword tag is now pretty much redundant when it comes to Google (and most other search engines). It was abused so much in the past that most search engines know it's worthless. With this in mind we will ignore this Meta tag in this guide .That being said, please don't think about stuffing it full of keywords. Google may not use it to rank you but it may get annoyed if you try to spam it!
Meta Title Tag
The most important Meta here regarding SEO is the Title Tag. Google will look at all the words mentioned in here and will assume your website is about these terms. It will be checking this once it visits your website, so no cheating! It will also show favoritism to the first words mentioned. As such, if you wanted to target "second hand cars" you would need to arrange your title tag something like the below;
Second Hand Cars : Purchase used cars from YourCompany.com
Notice how the keyword phrase is at the beginning and the other words mentioned are relative to this phrase.
If your site doesn't have a Meta title tag you can add one using the below code. It will need placing in the <head> tags of your coding.
<title>This is a title tag</title>
Meta Description Tag
The Meta description tag is your equivalent of a sales pitch to the customer. It is displayed just below the title tag in the search results and any keyword mentioned that is searched for is automatically made bold. Although this doesn't affect rankings directly, it does if a user clicks your link. Take a look at the auto trader example below.
In this example I searched for "used cars". As you can see the keyword is in the description tag but more importantly, Google has made it bold. It picked up that the search term is in the description tag and draws the users attention to it. This can be a powerful extra way of persuading the user to click your site.
Be careful though, don't go cramming your description with lots of keywords, this can send red flag signals to Google who will in turn penalise you for it.
If your site doesn't have a Meta description tag you can add one using the below code. It will need placing in the <head> of your coding.
<Meta name="description" content="This is an example of a Meta description. This will often show up in search results.">
Step 3 : Keyword in URL
Now this is a tricky one. It's not always possible and recently Google has been very particular with what it favours (especially with exact keyword domain penalisation). So what does it mean? In short, we want to try and get your keyword into the URL. So if you have a page selling car brakes, you have two options.
Buy a domain name like www.buycarbrakes.co.uk
- Partial Match domain - where a keyword is mentioned in the brand name e.g. SquirrelHosting.co.uk
- Update one of your pages to include the URL e.g. yourcompany.co.uk/car-brakes.html
Option 1: I've included this in this guide for one reason - to give you an example of what an 'exact keyword match domain' is. Google recently updated to penalise sites which were hosted on a domain solely for the purpose of ranking for that keyword. It's caused quite a lot of controversy and no one really knows exactly what's going on regarding Google with this. Therefore we would suggest making sure that your domain name is related to your brand, not keywords. e.g. yourbrand.co.uk. Of course, you may be fine with this option if your page content is good quality but personally we wouldn't risk it.
Option 2 : A partial match domain is a great way of including a keyword in your brand name. e.g. Squirrel Hosting.
Option 3: This is what we would suggest and it's what we have done here at Squirrel Hosting (mixed with option 2). This is where you alter the pages on your sites to include the keyword. So if you had a page selling Car clutches and the file was yourcompany.co.uk/clutches.html (or even a dynamic URL like yourcompany.co.uk/index.php?categorie=200310) you may want to change this to yourcompany.co.uk/car-clutches.
Step 4 : Keyword density
Keyword density is how often your term (and the words in your term) are mentioned on your page. So for example, if your website had just the letter 'a' repeated and nothing else, the keyword density would be A=100%. Keyword density needs to be carefully managed, too low and and you won't reap the benefits, too high and the red flag can go off and you can be penalised for "keyword spamming". You want to aim between 3-7%. There are plenty of tools out there that will analyse your website's density for you for free. Try searching for "keyword density checker" in Google.
When updating your website's keyword density, make sure that you follow the golden rule. Never write for Google, write for your customer and tweak it for Google. Never alter a sentence for Google if it makes it confusing for the customer. The amount of websites we have seen that have text that's unreadable due to trying to get that extra keyword in is untrue. If you can't fit your keyword in, mention other words that are related. Again, use the Google keyword tool to find words Google knows are related.
Remember if you have mentioned a keyword in your title tag, it needs to be one of the main keywords used in your website's body.
Step 5 : Header texts (h1,h2,h3,h4 etc)
To understand header texts, it's best to think of a book. The title on the front cover is the most important text. It tells you what the book is called and as such carries the most weight. This is the equivalent of your H1 text. When you read through the book, you will get a new heading on each chapter (H2 text).
On web pages you can implement these in the same way. The title (not to be confused with Meta title) of your page should be in H1 tags. As a general rule of thumb every new section should be headed in H2 and then any section under these in H3, H4 etc and so on.
As with the Meta Title tag, it's widely believed Google places importance on which words are mentioned first in the H1 texts.
Now regarding SEO, Google and the other search engines will take a keen interest in the words mentioned in these. So whatever your page is key worded for, try to mention the keyword in your H1 and H2 text if possible. Keep your header tags reasonably short - no more than 5-6 words. A site with an excessively long or keyword stuffed header text, can send alarm bells off at Google HQ so don't even be tempted to do it! Like your page content, keep your header texts natural and tweak them for Google
Also, do not have more than one H1 tag. You wouldn't have two book titles would you?
A header tag can be added quite easily. Simply wrap the header tag around the text as per the example below.
<h1>This is a header 1 title</h1>
<h2>This is a header 2 title</h2>
Step 5 : Bold / strong texts
In testing by various companies (including Seomoz.org), search engines appeared to have a preference for web pages that used the <strong> or <b> tags around the keyword once on the page.
To make a word strong or bold, you would do the following:
this is <b>bold text</b> and this is <string>strong text</strong>
Step 6 : Image ALT texts
An image can not be read (or at least not at the point of writing this) by search engines. Due to this we use what is called ALT tags. An ALT tag tells search engines and also users what the image is if it doesn't load. It also helps partially sighted people using programs that read the Alt Tag out for them to assess what the image is about. So if you have an image on your site, you need to add an ALT tag to it. Now Google is surprisingly positive regarding keywords mentioned in images. So try to mention your keyword in one of the images but make sure the image filename is relevant to the ALT tag and what the image actually is. If it's a picture of a 'Ford Car' don't go adding ALT tags 'Motorbike', especially when the image is called 'ford-car.jpg'.
We have seen a lot of sites who abuse image ALT tags and ram keywords in as much as possible - don't do it! Remember if you do this you will eventually get caught and penalised.
To add an ALT tag to your image, you would do the following;
<img src="your-image.jpg" alt="Your image description here">
Step 7 : Spelling and Grammar
Not only is this annoying for the user but search engines will downgrade you if your site is full of errors / unreadable in sections.
Step 8 : Speed
Google especially detects how quickly your site loads. If it takes a long time then the theory is it's more annoying for the user and as such is not as important as a fast loading site. With this in mind make sure all your images are optimised, your coding is correct and remove any unnecessary coding such as unused CSS etc. Also look at compression if possible.
Step 9 : Internal keyword links
When one page links to another you have the opportunity to control the wording used in that link. This is called your Anchor Text. So for example, if this blog page was to link to our Linux hosting page, instead of putting;
we would simply put:
This tells Google and other search engines that the page is about web hosting and this is the term we would like it to rank highly for.
Bear in mind that using keyworded anchor text to link into your site from an external url is no longer best practice. Internal links and external links are two different things and should be treated differently when it comes to anchor text.
Remember the changes you make to your site will not reap rewards with Google overnight. You can submit a sitemap using Google webmaster tools which will help speed things up.
I hope you enjoyed reading the above and if you have found any of the information useful, please do let us know in the comments box below or even better, share it socially via the below buttons.
Also, if you can think of anything else you believe we've missed or something you don't agree with above, let us know.
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