SEO with a touch of Drupal.
One of the most common questions is How do I increase my (organic) search engine ranking? We are attempting to answer this for a site that is starting up.
What Are We Trying to Achieve?
It would be great if the question being asked was How do I increase my competitive advantage using the web which would mean identifying customers related to what you do well and offering information, products and services that best solve their needs. The SEO question to me is similar to How to have a Number 1 (hit single) the - the easy way - it sounds tantilzing but for most people not what we actually want. 70k hits per day might stoke the ego nicely, and yes we might be able to sell some ad-words. Alternatively if we found 70k customers and provided for their needs it would be outrageous.
As such we assume that:
- You are a small business website provider, just launched last week and have had 24 people visit your site and a couple of those were your mother because you told her about it over the phone.
- You would rather have customer interest in your products than hits, and would rather add value than 'trick' people into coming to your site.
- The return on investment - ROI - calculation for your website doesn't lend itself to big marketing budgets, so you are going to do this by working at it.
The goals that you might want to set include:
- Earning enough from direct and indirect leads from the website to pay for the cost of the website and the time that you have to put into it. Make these goals realistic and ideally based on some history or other channels. Dont' fall into the In the first year we plan to make $1m business planning trap as it is wasted cognitiive cycles and the framing can affect decision making.
- Call to action goals, or conversions. e.g. I want to sell to 500 people a week. Take-up is the most important measure, and we recommend questioning whether visits/likes etc are adding value. Don't completely ignore these as they are easy to measure and we may get indirect leads.
- Tie visits to content. E.g. our page on shopping was twice as popular as our page on memberships. Maybe people are coming to our site for shopping not memberships? Try to use metrics to that help to work out what customers are looking for on your site so that you can do more of it. Again try to ground the data - increasing on last month is good and for benchmarking I can say that 20 visits per day in the first month can be expected unless you do something special. If you get 500 visits per day relatively consistently then you are doing well.
- Define service or business related goals. How can you identify whether you have helped your identified customers.
The over-arching goal is to create websites for people not search engines.
Oh, and look here for the google search algorithm. If someone tells you they can trick it then it is a moving target, they don't know the algorithm works and google will most likely have worked out how to penalise your technique rather than it helping.
This discussion is going to be biased towards google as they currently have most of the search engine market.
We have put some thought into how we are going to solve customer problems. Ensure that you have:
- The purpose of the website written down and what customer problems it will solve.
- Identify the audience you are targeting. If the audience is the 3000 ecologists in Australia your visits per day goal will be different to the most popular shopping centre site in Australia.
- Do business planning. List products, rank them and do a strengths and weakness analysis.
Part of planning is identifying the keywords that you are going to use on your site. Use the free Google Adwords Keyword Planner. Plan a set of keywords that relate to the junction between target audience and competitive advantage as per the planning. The goal is to use these keywords in as many places as possible in your site. MountainRiver website development, website design, cms software, open source cms etc.
Keywords should be used throughout the site wherever possible. Use them particularly in:
- URLS. http://interlated.com.au/interlated/government.gsp is OK - but http://www.mountainriver.net/government is even better (important keyword is higher). The format search-engine-tips with the hyphens is recommended. MountainRiver publishing solutions will have done this for you, but please use the URL alias feature to refine urls to better match keywords.
- URL text. Certainly avoid 'click here' but 'read more' isn't nearly as good as 'SEO tips'.
- Heading 1's.
- Pay particular attention to the home page text.
- The title of your site. MountainRiver Web Publishing is better than just MountainRiver.
- The URL of the site. web-publishing.com.au or cms-software.com.au would be nice - but probably not affordable.
- Image file names - which are URLs.
- Image alt tags. These are the tags that help people who can't see an image for any reason work out what the image is.
For example the terms atlas and agriculture are readily linked to http://atlas.nsw.gov.au/public/nsw/home/topic/article/agriculture.html.
A recurring theme - not only will URLS with meaningful text in them help search engines classify the website, but it will help people navigate.
moz.com has some more details.
Any action that is not designed for users but to trick search engines will most likely cause damage to the ranking over time.
- Overuse keywords so that your text doesn't read properly. This will annoy visitors.
- Hide keywords in grey text or at the bottom of the page. It may not annoy all visitors, but it annoys me as I think you are helping search engines, not me. Certainly it doesn't look professional and search engine tools have been adapted to these techniques. See Avoid the following techniques.
Google says that formal meta-data is not not used by them, but someone may use it. You may get a system that is not as heuristically driven as google - you may get some old Librarian excited by your classification which is always nice (but not that constructive).
There are a couple of other application meta-data elements such as facebook-meta-data that are now cropping up.
Search Engine Site Map
Create a sitemap.xml file. If Mountain River web publishing solutions built your site for you we will have provided a drupal module that does this for you. This is one of the things that you can do for search engines that is for them rather than users. In this case you may as well make your site as easy to process as possible. This map will also help search engines with things that computers don't find so easily, such as items under dynamic menus or presented via AJAX.
Submit the sitemap to google, bing, yahoo etc.
The bonus is that you may get an extended listing in google.
Post to Search Engines
A lot of search engines are trying to become more 'real-time' and they can't do that by crawling the entire web. Posting to search engines may help.
Front Page Content
It is said that having front page content that both contains your defined keywords and is regularly updated.
It is said that the performance of a website - speed that a page loads in - is used as part of the ranking algorithm. It is best to have a site that loads in 3s anyway, as visitors will be happier and you will have fewer people click the 'back button' and leave your site for the next search result.
Affiliate Links, Social Media and Authoritative Sites
Links to your site in other - well respected or highly ranked themselves sites - is still said to be the main ranking metric. Social media - twitter and to a lesser extent facebook google+ linkedin will help with this. Some highly ranked sites might be resource sites such as slideshare.com or your local chamber of commerce, index on related professional sites etc.
A cynic might say:
- Encourage google searches. Logic says that Google is using cached search data as 'behavioural insight' and it helps cement their dominance.
- Google Plus/Plus-one. As above, Google has more insight in what is going on in their tools. I wouldn't say that they think that Google plus users are smarter/more insightful/better represntatives of humanity or that they have an interest in promoting these sites - but lets put that out there anyway.
- Google Adwords. Surely there is no feedback from adwords to organic search? Does clicking on an ad count as a 'vote' for a particular site?
Certainly people who see your site on twitter facebook linkedin email will directly increase visits to your site. These might be good visits as they care about your product enough to follow your posts.
It is said that a certain number of links within a page may add to the authority assumed by google of a page. See Keep Links to a reasonable number.
Again caution - if the google search engine thinks that you are trying to trick it, these techniques will work against you and the reference ranks might be ignored or worse still your site blacklisted by google.
At Mountain River Web Publishing we have redirected all sites to the www variant. You will see www.mountainriver.net as the url even if you saved key strokes and typed in mountainriver.net. We don't want search engines (could they really?) make the mistake of thinking it is 2 site and splitting referrals. Just in case.
Adwords - Spending Money
There is one sure way to be on search engine index pages. Win the 'google auction' for the advertising space at the top of search engine results. It is important to ensure that you are getting an economic return - that you understand ROI as this can be highly effective or expensive depending on how it is done.
There are other methods for advertising websites, such as buying bus advertising. Your website should cross market and be cross marketed, for example by being on all related correspondence.
One of the 'old SEO sales' was to discover effective keywords by experimenting with them in AdWords. Place an ad using specific terms and see what the return is. In my experience this is best left to people with reasonably sized budgets. Google provides other experimental methods, such as trying a few different topic pages and seeing which ones are effective in achieving the user call to action.
Testing Your Site
There area number of SEO tools that can be used to test your site and new ones pop up all the time. Try the SEO Quake extension for firefox. seositecheckup.com also seems sensible, but looks like some of the answers are wrong (caching, sitemap.xml?). Let me know in the comments if you see any other good testing sites.
Use webmaster tools to submit sites to search engines and check that they are being indexed. For example Google provides the Webmaster Tools site.
Use Google Analytics or similar on your site. Unless requested otherwise MountainRiver web publishing solutions will have done this for you.
In summary we see techniques for improving search engine ranking as being the same ones that help users. Google wants to see the web succeed and therefore, encourage good practice in adding content, labeling and linking. All of this does take effort and consideration of the value that the organisation and website provides. Don't forget to spread the word around.
Updates: Sydney Morning Herald says there are record numbers of complaints regarding shonky SEO 'consultants'.