Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your organic (free) search engine results. It is a massive topic and there are whole companies that focus exclusively on SEO tools, techniques and applications as their core business. Most people have heard about SEO and know how important it is but may not be sure what it means or how it all works. The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics and provide some direction for those who want to improve their rankings.

After putting considerable time, effort and expense into your website it can be very frustrating if it doesn’t rank well with search engines and therefore can’t be found. If your website is buried amongst the thousands of others out there, then potential new customers could be lost to your higher ranking competitors. There are many different reasons for poor search engine rankings and some can be easily identified and resolved, if you know what to look for.

The most common culprits and the first three things to check are:

  1. Content
  2. Links
  3. Site structure

1) - Content: There have been radical changes in the way that Google ranks websites recently, due to two major upgrades (Penguin & Panda) and many subsequent minor ones. Fresh high quality content has always been important, but more recently it has become fundamental to achieving optimum page rankings. The whole point is to direct users to the best possible source, of the latest information, for the search query that they entered. For example if a user keys in ‘website design Auckland’ then the sites that have the most recent content, with the most relevant information, and multiple mentions of the key search word or phrase will rank the highest on the page (amongst many other factors).

To improve and maintain high rankings it is important to keep your website content up to date. Page content should contain the relevant key words and be updated on a regular basis, in particular the home page. Blogs are a great way to do introduce fresh content, and new pages (ideally the blog would be on the same website address as your page, i.e not on Blogger or Blogspot etc). Blogs also act as a powerful tool to help communicate with your customers and keep them updated with changes in your company and industry.

2) - Site structure: Technical issues can affect how well your site ranks. Google uses what’s called the Googlebot, sometimes also referred to as a ‘spider’ to crawl your website and determine where to place it in the rankings. It is important to ensure that your website content is structured well for Google and any crawl errors are identified and quickly resolved. Cluttered code that is difficult for Google to read will slow down the crawl process and impact your website rankings. One way to ensure that your site is Google friendly is to check it against the latest W3C Web Standards. Quality web developers build websites within W3C guidelines making things very easy for search engines such as Google. To determine if your site is compliant with these standards you can go to http://validator.w3.org/ key in your URL and run the check.

3) - Links: Google has always been big on linking, information sharing generally is key to the philosophy of how Google works. In fact an earlier version of Google was called ‘Backrub’ and sites with more 'inbound' links are still heavily favoured. There are different kinds of links; inbound, outbound and internal links and they all impact SEO.

Inbound links are particularly valuable as each one is essentially a vote of confidence for your site; some are much more influential than others. Internal links are hyperlinks from different pages within the same website. Internal links to relevant, related topics are important to help optimise your website for search engines. It’s almost like creating a map or a path for the Googlebot to follow within your website structure. Internal links also allow easy access to each page to ensure all content can be ‘crawled’ and therefore contribute to your page rankings. It is also very important to consider the ‘anchor’ text, which is the text inside the link, and ensure that key words are positioned here. For example: "Our recent blog on responsive website design suggests"… Outbound Links are links to other websites and can often 'bleed' searchbots and can negatively impact your page ranking ( PageRank) if not done correctly.

Finally if your website is not getting good search results for your selected keywords, there is a lot that you can do to improve the situation. Investigating the three areas mentioned above would be a good start and could have a major impact on your search results. The issues could be easily resolved and therefore worth a try before resorting to other more expensive options. NB: There are many many pitfalls with SEO and sometimes a seemingly harmless change (like over stuffing keywords on a page) can have negative repercussions with search engines, so consider all changes carefully.

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