Search Engine Optimisation is about getting your website ranked highly on search engines. In this introduction I will look at the foundation of SEO – keywords. Even people who aren’t familiar with the term will have experience of entering their own keywords into a search engine to find what they are looking for. When a search engine displays your results it does so on the basis of RELEVANCE and AUTHORITY.
What is keyword relevance?
A search engine will pick up keywords from sources including titles, on-page text, headers and inbound links to a website. If you are building a website and hope to generate visitors (and ultimately sales) you can’t afford to ignore keywords. So how do you pick your keywords? Firstly you need consider the following:
1) Are the search words relevant to your business or product?
2) Is there an appropriate number of searches for your keywords?
3) How much competition is there for those keywords?
A brainstorm is a great way to come up with keywords. You want variety so this calls for some imagination. Start with the obvious ones and then some up with as many different variations as you can. Say you own a pet shop, some of the keywords listed below might be on your list. The number to the right shows the estimated number of UK searches per month for each of the terms according to Google Adwords:
Did you find me on Google?
Pet shop (generic keyword) – 368,000
Pet Shop London (geographic) – 12,100
Cat collars (product) – 90,500
Buying a cat (information based) – 6600
Cat collars London (product/geography) – 91
These simple examples show the importance of getting the right balance between relevance and volume of searches. The most generic search terms tend to be the most competitive making it hard to get a high ranking. ‘Pet Shop’ might work for a major online pet retailer but not a local shop. ‘Dog collars London’ is far too specific and unlikely to make you a millionaire. The challenge is to find the middle ground and have fun doing it.
You should spend plenty of time researching your keywords before beginning any SEO project. A great place to start is with the keywords tool on Google Adwords. Experiment with your keywords and be creative.
Beating the competition
Don’t forget that unless you are providing a very niche product you are up against competition for the attention of the search engines. Don’t be tempted to emphasise traffic over relevance. You might feel great ranking higher than your competitor but if you are receiving so many phone calls you can’t deal with any other customers you will soon regret that approach. Look for ‘long-tail’ keywords which deliver less traffic but have a better chance of ranking highly on searches.
How do you use your keywords?
Why not just pick one or two keywords and repeat them frequently to get the search engines interested? This is the way things often used to work. This sometimes made for uninviting copy which turned customers off. Google became aware of this and started to look for keywords based on natural language patterns rather than mechanical repetition of terms. This meant that webmasters needed to be much more savvy and creative in how they come up with and use keywords. Today it is advisable to write your web content without worrying about SEO in the first instance then adapt your content intelligently. Your content needs to be natural because search engines have gotten clever.
The importance of authority
So you have picked your keywords and you set about building your web content. It won’t be long before you are at the top of the Google rankings! Sadly, it’s not that easy. Rankings are also driven by authority which is based on the ‘link profile’ of your site. Links to your site from other websites help to build your authority. If you get links from websites which themselves have high levels of authority better still. Youtube has 565 million external links. Twitter has 2.1 billion. Adobe.com has 334 million but it ranks highest on the web for ‘trust’ because of the reputation of the sites that link to it. Link building deserves its own post.
Is SEO harder than you thought?
In principle SEO is not too difficult. In practice it can be challenging. However, it is as much an art as a science and far from being a sterile pastime for computer nerds it requires innovation, imagination and creativity. The relevance aspect comes from keywords and the authority aspect from link building. The web is full of companies large and small that have built their success on an intelligent use of SEO so it remains a key area for any digital marketer and any company planning to sell online.