Optimising your website for Google
Dave Bradforth and Aaron Timbrell show you how...
How do you get your website displayed higher up the search-engine lists?. It's a fair enough question, but one that's not really well understood. When someone searches for something on Google, they get presented with a list, but how does Google decide what's at the top of the list and what's at the bottom?
Search Engine Optimisation is used to describe the process of improving the number of hits to, and the quality of traffic, attending a website via the more traditional search-engine based links. When a potential visitor enters a phrase into a search engine such as, Google, Yahoo or Altavista, they will immediately look towards the first five or six links that appear as a result of that phrase. The key to a successful commercial website is therefore to ensure that your website appears within the first page of hits when a user types in a phrase relavant to your site. Search Engine Optimisation considers how search algorithms work and the things people look for. It works by having an understanding of the spidering technique used by search engines - that is the means by which search engines read the content of sites and hence add links into the search engine themselves.
Each of the leading search engines uses this technique. Pages that are linked from other indexed pages do not need to be submitted into the engine because they are found as the search engine crawler reads through the content of your sites. There are two ways to increase promotion of your site.
The first, and most expensive, is to pay an external agency to look after the job for you. Yahoo, for example, operates a paid submission service allowing you to ensure that your site receives a guaranteed number of hits as a result of a listing on the search engine.
A charge is made, either a set fee or a cost per click, and you can use this to create a marketing campaign on a very limited budget. While these programmes guarantee inclusion within the search engine, they do not guarantee the position - to guarantee a decent position within the search engine takes a little more work.
This is where the second technique comes in. You can optimise the content of your site to better suit the crawlers as they make their way through it. The most user-friendly way to do this is to always ensure that the main page of your site has prominent content relating to your corporate (or educational) aim. In a site dedicated to eBay; for instance; you'd ensure that your homepage had multiple references to the site itself as well as to the title of your site.
This technique is known as White hat SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) - it's where you're creating the content of your site for the user, rather than to guarantee a position within the search engine. Examples of white hat search engine optimisation in use include Macworld UK (www.macworld.co.uk), eBay Advisor (www.ebayadvisormag.co.uk) and IMDB (www.imdb.com).
Referring to a popular subject within any of these sites through Google will always bring back links within the sites themselves. If there are multiple sites with the same name, you have to be sure to optimise your site within the most appropriate country - Google operates on a global basis; so having your UK site visible through the French Google site is going to be of little benefit.
Black Hat SEO is an alternative process. This is used to describe ways to improve the position within the search engine, using techniques solely for that purpose. Examples include colouring text similar to the background, hiding text within comments on the site itself and placing it within an invisible DIV.
As a marketing strategy, it's difficult to fault SEO. Studies have shown that readers naturally scan a webpage from top to bottom, and left to right, meaning that it's always a benefit to be towards the top of the site.
Wholly though perhaps it's a small part of the equation - many of the most successful sites use it in combination with paid advertising - both on-line and in print - to increase the overall impact of their site.
Over the next six steps we explore some of the techniques used in search engine optimisation.
Add your site to Google
The first stage in Search Engine Optimisation is to give your site an instant advantage within Google - that is to let it know your site exists. Visit www.google.co.uk, and click the About Google link (circled in red), towards the bottom of the window.
Submitting your sites
This window is divided into four sections; including a step-by-step guide on searching through the site; the programs that they've developed and items of a more corporate angle. You now need to click the Submitting your Site link circled in red above.
Enter the URL and other details
Next click inside the URL box (circled in red), and enter the address of your website - it starts http:// and appears in the top window of your web browser. Now add comments that will help somebody to find your site; and will give a little information on it. Finally copy the letters circled in yellow above into the box below, then click the Submit button.
Your site will now be submitted to Google, and will be in with a better chance of being discovered the next time that Google goes looking. We now need to take a look at the site itself. To use our example visit www.ebayadvisormag.com.
EBay advisor on-line
The UK eBay Advisor domain appears very high within the search listings - in fact it's at the top. This is because the original site was very much text based. You can also add comments to your site to aid visibility to the search engines. You need to view the source code for your website using a standard text edior, such as !Edit or !Zap.
The key to succsess
Your text editor will open giving you the code used to build the website. The top end of the site - the title and any comments immediately after it - are viewed by the search engine when it comes to index your site. Amending the title and comment immediately beneath it so it provides an overview of your site will guarantee the best hits. For example:
<html> <head> <-- Get this title right for a better search ranking --> <title>eBay Advisor - the unofficial guide to the world's biggest online auction site</title> <-- Get these comments right as Google will use them to rank your site --> <!-- eBay Advisor is the only semi-regular title dedicated to eBay. Each issue has a mixture of practical features, tutorials and reviews designed to help you get the most out of your computer as a user of online auctions. We welcome interaction with our readers, and would certainly encourage it! -->
Good luck and may your site climb up the search engine rankings in no time!
Dave Bradforth and Aaron Timbrell