Feeding the Internet spiders: the secret of SEO

These days, just about every business out there has a website; it’s today’s must-have for companies wanting as big a slice of market pie as they can get.

But there’s not much point having a great-looking site that extols the many virtues of your product or service if it’s languishing somewhere on page 25 of a Google search. Bottom line is, nobody’s going to see it.

This is where the ‘art’ of search engine optimization comes in. Some of us have heard of it; some may even have a good idea of what it’s all about, but to many, it’s one of the great mysteries of the Internet.

In a nutshell, SEO is about making your website more visible to search engine ‘spiders’, software programs that are constantly crawling the net locating and indexing web pages.

Spiders tend to have a voracious appetite – but not for everything. They gobble up useful, user-friendly content but will spit out spam; they love the use of appropriate ‘keywords’, but not too many (same goes for links), and they really hate it when you ‘cloak’, that is, when you present different content to the search engines than you do to users, considered a violation against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

So what is it that gets your website a high Google ranking? One of the most important things is good use of keywords, words – or phrases – in your content that enable people to find you via an Internet search. If you’ve chosen wisely, your site will quite likely appear on page one or two of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). But how do you know which words to choose?

Well, you really need to put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers and ask what words you would type in if you were searching for your particular product or service. Be aware that if you use a keyword phrase like personal trainer, you’ll be competing with literally thousands of other businesses. Usually it’s best to be more specific, for example, personal trainer Ivanhoe area or children’s personal trainer in Preston. These sorts of ‘long-tail’ searches – where users type in more specific keywords – are now said to make up 70% of all Internet searches and the best thing is, these users are far more likely to be buying, rather than browsing.

The number of times you use a certain keyword is also important. Generally speaking, the more often it appears on your page the more visible it becomes, but overuse can lead to search engines blacklisting your site as spam, potentially sending your ranking into oblivion. There’s no magic number; depending on what you read you can use a keyword anywhere between three and ten times on a page. Personally, I wouldn’t go any higher than around four or five, including once in the page heading and two or three in the body text. Keywords can also be placed in title tags, URLs and in the meta description, which is the snippet of information found on a SERP that summarizes a page’s content.

But perhaps the most important thing to consider when it comes to your business website is the quality of the content. Like a high school teacher, search engines pick up on bad grammar and punctuation – albeit indirectly – and they don’t like it. I say ‘indirectly’ because their main method involves analysing the number of links to your page from other sites, and you’re not likely to have that many if users are turned off by your bad spelling.

While we’re on the subject of links, let me say that their value cannot be underestimated; they are still one of the main methods search engines use to determine the value of a web page. It’s definitely in your interest to try and garner as many of them as possible, and the best way to do this is to create content that is engaging, factual, regularly updated and that encourages sharing. The absolute worst thing you can do is to try and fool the search engines by ‘buying’ links. This is because companies that sell links tend to be disreputable and spammy – a bit like getting a letter of recommendation from a well-known drug dealer – and Google will soon drop you like a too-hot scone.

Content, content, content; this is what matters when it comes to maximising traffic to your business website. Remember, Google (and other search engines) can’t actually ‘see’ images and graphics, so while yours might be the best-looking site going around, it could still end up being ignored by those pesky little Internet spiders.

Making sure that your site content is sharp, informative, accurate and search-engine friendly takes a lot of time and effort, but once you see your precious baby shooting up through those rankings you’ll realise it’s well worth the investment.