Search engine optimisation made simple

Providing the best content on the web is pointless if no one knows it’s there. Here’s an easy guide to getting started with search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure your pages appear high in search results.

There’s a lot of confusion about search engine optimisation, often driven by expensive ‘consultants’ mystifying the process, and Google constantly changing the algorithms ranking sites as it tries to keep ahead of the spammers.

But remember that all search engines are simply aiming to offer useful, relevant and trusted content to their users. So the most important element of good SEO is to provide useful, relevant and trusted content! If your site doesn’t do this, no amount of trickery can make up for it.

But even with the best content possible, you still need to give your users the best chance of finding it…

Identifying keywords

The first stage of any SEO process, whether planning a web strategy or writing a single page, is to work out the words someone might put into a search engine that could lead them to it.

  • Keywords can be single words, but more often short phrases
  • Good keywords should be appropriate to your content, and not so general or popular that searching for them will return millions of results
  • Come up with a long list, then rank them in order of priority
  • Decide 1-3 main keywords, 3-10 secondary keywords.
  • Google Keyword Planner can help you find suitable keywords and find out how popular they are

Using keywords

Once you’ve identified the keywords, using them in the right places and in the best ways will optimise your page, and convince a search engine the content is relevant and useful

  • Title and headline
    The most important keywords should appear in the headline (formatted with ‘Heading 1′) and ‘title’ tag. These are often both automatically produced from the same text, depending on the system you’re using
  • URL
    Also include the important keywords in the page address. Like the ‘title’, many systems automatically use the headline
  • Standfirst
    A summary of the page, at the top and formatted with a ‘Heading 2′ style, should include any main keywords not in the headline, or important synonyms of ones that are
  • Subheadings
    Get your secondary keywords into crossheads, properly tagged with the appropriate formatting i.e. using ‘Heading 3’, and not just in bold
  • Links
    The anchor text of links (i.e. the words that are clicked on) should be relevant keywords – never use ‘click here’
  • Images
    Image captions, formatted in bold or italic, are good opportunities for secondary keyword placements. Image file names and ‘alt’ tags should also use keywords

Building links

Google considers other sites linking to your page as a vote of confidence in your content – the more links, the more valuable it must be, and so the higher it will come in the search rankings.

  • Links are most valuable when one-way. Just arranging reciprocal links is not enough – you need worthwhile content other sites want to link to
  • Google judges links from large sites with lots of visitors as more important than links from smaller sites with less visitors
  • Offer to write content in your specialist area for other sites, and include links to your site
  • Social media is an important part of a link building strategy. Links from Facebook might not directly improve your site’s SEO, but they will increase both your overall traffic and your visibility, and so improve the chances of links from other sites.

Writing for users

Remember, even when following all these guidelines, concentrate on writing for people, not for search engines. Have a look at my tips on how to make your webpages scannable, and you’ll see how similar the approach is to successful SEO.