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Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Published: 14th April 2009

Author: Andrew Hart

What is search engine optimisation?

Search engine optimisation1 refers to a group of techniques aimed at improving both the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "organic" (natural or un-paid for) search results. Getting traffic (or visitors) this way is the cornerstone of most successful websites whether they are brand new or well established: new websites need to attract an audience and established ones need to cope with customer attrition.

SEO has an important role to play in the marketing and promotion of a website but is only one part of a successful strategy. For now, let's get to grips with the basics of SEO.

Contents

Calculating your website SEO

Every search engine uses an algorithm to calculate any given web page's relevance against any set of search terms. These algorithms are highly complex, ever evolving, and their exact details are closely guarded secrets. Given this scenario it may seem that achieving good SEO is somewhat of a mystical process, but simply following best industry practice will ensure your web pages receive a good rating.

SEO can not be done 'out-of-the-box' and any good SEO service will include a detailed analysis of your business, your customers and (unsurprisingly) your website. This reflects the fact that whilst the rules relating to how you apply the SEO are pretty standard a significant emphasis needs to be placed upon understanding the business in the first place.

SEO should never be treated as a one-off task as many factors change over time:

  • Search engine algorithms
  • Search engine popularity
  • The nature of your business
  • Your competitors
  • Your competitors websites
  • The language used by your audience (terms/phrases come in and out of fashion2).

As such, any good SEO plan will include a regular review of all these factors and will record your websites performance in the leading search engines.

White hat vs. black hat techniques

There are many 'white hat' (good, ethical, long-term and industry best-practice) and 'black hat' (bad, unethical, short-term and lacking credibility) approaches to search engine optimisation with proponents for both.

Beware sharks

Sadly, the industry is peppered with black hat SEO'ers who offer a quick step-up the search engine rankings. Whilst this can appeal to an organisation launching a new website it does not represent a good long-term strategy. Why? Black hat solutions may get a great result today, but as soon as the search engines catch on to a black hat technique3 your rankings can plummet, or worse still you could be removed from a search index entirely! Not only are you then removed from critical search results but all the investment you made in black hat techniques is then lost. Don't believe it can happen? Read a standard 'removal from index' letter from Google:

Your page was manually removed from our index, because it did not conform with the quality standards necessary to assign accurate PageRank. We will not comment on the individual reasons a page was removed and we do not offer an exhaustive list of practices that can cause removal. However, certain actions such as cloaking, writing text that can be seen by search engines but not by users, or setting up pages/links with the sole purpose of fooling search engines may result in permanent removal from our index. If you think your site may fall into this category, you might try 'cleaning up' the page and sending a re-inclusion request to help@google.com. We do not make any guarantees about if or when we will re-include your site.

- Google

Everybody hates spam in their email and black hat techniques are simply the 'spam' of search engine indexes. Search engine companies need their results to be accurate and so can (and will) remove your website if it is identified as using such techniques.

Like anything in life, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. If an SEO company guarantees specific results in a day or two, or doesn't take the time to thoroughly understand your business then walk away. Whilst they might deliver some short term boost in traffic volume, the quality is likely to be lower resulting in a higher bounce-rate4.

The white knight?

Black hat techniques aside this leaves white hat techniques.

These are ethical practices revolving around the use of:

  • semantic mark-up
  • well written content
  • accurate metadata
  • inbound links from other genuine and relevant websites.

It really is that simple. Okay, so you need to put in a little work up front and some fine tuning may be required along the way, but this effort is minimal compared to having your website removed from a search engine index and having to begin all over again.

By simply following industry best practices white hat SEO is stable and works well over time. Why? Simple - these methods are the same ones used to build the algorithms used by search engines to compile their indexes.

Our approach

We only use white hat techniques. Some techniques are debatable as to which camp they fall into, and until such a time as they are accepted by the leading search engines we will not risk our clients websites by using them. White hat techniques offer results in pretty much the same time-frame but deliver a higher quality of traffic (genuine visitors, not "bounces") and are more stable over the long term.

Given the importance and the evolving nature of SEO we encourage our clients to take a holistic approach. As such any SEO plan we provide our clients will involve:

  • An identification of the most appropriate keywords/phrases
  • An analysis of the website mark-up to ensure it is highly semantic
  • A review of the publishing process
  • A review of the critical search engines to be monitored
  • A breakdown of the performance of the keywords
  • A review the of website statistics relating to referrals/keywords
  • A review schedule detailing which elements need to be checked at each interval.

The information gathered from this plan is then be used to carry out any remedial work required (sometimes none), ensuring that our clients websites perform consistently well over time.

We build basic SEO into any new design as standard and encourage our clients to follow-up by using our full SEO plan. This can often be managed by our clients with a little guidance or we can provide ongoing reviews at a very reasonable rate.

If you are interested in finding out more about our SEO services please contact us for a friendly chat today.

  1. Or 'optimization' for our US-English speaking visitors back to 1
  2. They can also change from market to market, e.g. a "Mobile phone" in the UK/Ireland is a "cell" in the US and a "handy" in Germany. back to 2
  3. A bounce rate is reported as part of the majority of most good statistics packages. A high-bounce rate indicates that people coming to your website are leaving, typically as the page is deemed 'irrelevant' to what they were looking for. back to 3
  4. Black hat techniques include spamindexing such as link-farming or keyword stuffing. See also: [wiki: spamindexing] back to 3