May 21, 2012

Search Engine Basics – a beginner’s guide

By Campbell Angus

Search engine optimisation can seem like a confusing and deceitful thing. It’s not all about tricking people into choosing your site from a search list, though, regardless of what any disreputable search gurus might tell you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re curious about using SEO to improve your site’s search ranking.

Relevant content

It’s vital to write lots of content; good content! A site might be optimised to the nth degree, but if it doesn’t have regularly updated content that is relevant and useful to your target market, it won’t do you much good. The main reason that this is so important is that strong content encourages return visits and links to your site, both of which help with search. It’s also important that these links are relevant and not misleading. Search engine indexing has been designed to detect consistency in links, so make sure that the URL, the site that posts the link and the content found on the page once the reader has clicked, are all related. It’s exactly this kind of organic referencing that separates the sites that really perform from those that don’t.

Search engines are actually remarkably clever. Companies like Google spend much time and money making them more so every day.  So don’t try (or let your web guru try) to trick them. Here is a list of some cheeky tactics sometimes used to outwit search:

Cloaking: This is when the search spider is presented with different information to that displayed in the searcher’s browser.

Keyword stuffing: This is when pages are jammed full of search-rich words, regardless of the relevancy of those words. A slightly lesser evil if the keywords are all relevant, but still looked down upon.

Link farming: This is when a group of websites arrange to link to every other website in the group, thereby boosting their search ranking.

Accurate titles

There are a number of simple things you should know about how to present your content for search. Each page on your site will have a title—this mightn’t be displayed, necessarily, but will be in the code (which is what search engines read).  It’s very important for this to be short and accurately descriptive of what is going to appear on the page. This makes it simpler for search engines to accurately index the page, and ensure that the information people are given matches what they searched for. This feeds back into the first points—if the information is relevant, people are more likely to share it, which boosts SEO.

Text headings

Graphic or image based headings may look good, but search engines will just ignore them. Try to use actual text for your headings, so that search spiders can read them.

Simple URLs

Every time someone links to your site, search engines read that link on their site as a URL. It’s important that this URL is as simple as possible. If it’s an option, ask your web developer to avoid query string URLs—these direct the URL to a search function on your site, instead of going directly to the article you want linked. If there’s a question mark in the URL, it needs to be revised. Shorter URLs are also much easier for your readers to remember and share. Have you ever been told that you simply have to go to amazingness.com/thing/12345=?searchquery/ ? Much too confusing.

All Blaze Online solutions are ‘search engine friendly’ ensuring page title and text headings are featured throughout the site, simple natural-English page titles are used for all pages, and changes to your site (new pages, page updates etc) are submitted to search engines on a regular basis. Take a look at a few our our Search Engine Success stories.