Please note: In this post the term ‘Website’ is used to define websites, web pages and blogs as appropriate and relevant.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a process that affects the visibility of websites. Visible to who? Search Engines and Search Engine users. Website owners naturally want people to find and use the site, to become; contributors; followers; fans; customers; etc. Especially if they provide information and products that meet the user’s need.
What constitutes SEO?
Naturally, it is a website’s content that is of interest to and registers with search engines and users alike. Consequently, the content needs to be relevant to the website’s purpose and the user’s needs. To facilitate search engine indexing that determines whether the site and its content will be displayed in the response to a user’s search (see ‘Search Engines’ for further information), the content needs to contain appropriate and relevant keywords (discussed further down). It cannot be emphasised enough how content must be: good quality, relevant and appropriate.
For both users and search engines it is important the design of a website enables ease of navigation. The design needs to avoid too many high density images, animations or anything that unnecessarily utilizes system resources. The aim should be to enable users to quickly find what they are looking for without too many clicks. Many will be put off if they find themselves constantly passed from one page to another each of which requires a further action. Ideally they should be able to reach the content they are looking for within one or two clicks.
As with books, websites contain background information that impacts upon whether a search engine or user will consider them. In books this is referred to as ‘metadata’; if interested more may be read about it here. For websites (to clarify this includes pages, posts, blogs etc.), meta tags/information may be incorporated in: titles; headings; descriptions; keywords and images. Nevertheless, it is usually the title or heading that is of most importance. Does it make clear what the website, page or post is about? If it immediately implies it contains what a user is looking for, or at least will have some relevance, they are more likely to click through to it. These tags and information are vital to search engines as it will often be used by them to index the site or content.
How to Optimise a Website
To ensure they have the most effective SEO possible, a website owner needs to consider:
- How Search Engines work. (See ‘Search Engines’).
- What people search.
- The search terms (keywords, phrases) generally used.
- Which search engines tend to be preferred and mostly used.
The following may help with the optimisation process.
Who is the website aimed at? Who are the target audience? Very important to understand the audience and what they are looking for. To understand their needs.
A word or short phrase that easily defines the topic/subject of a website, page, post, document, etc. These determine the category under which a search engine will list the website etc. They are also the words or phrase a user will input when searching a topic.
To optimise website discoverability keywords should be incorporated within content wherever possible AND RELEVANT. Relevancy is crucial. Some abuse the facility by excessively including keywords all over the place and by also inserting ones that are not really relevant. Their aim: to get the website indexed in multiple categories, even those to which it does not belong. The idea: to have the site revealed in multiple search results in an attempt to gain greater exposure. This is known as ‘keyword stuffing’. Though it may initially work, users and search engines quickly recognise the content has no relevance to the topic searched. Keyword stuffing is frowned upon and search engines will quickly block such websites and content and usually ban them from further indexing. Consequently, the website will not even be revealed in the results of searches to which the content does actually relate. Keyword stuffing should always be avoided.
Note: For more detailed information, see Keywords.
Website owners and designers should ensure the text entered is clear and readable. Busy backgrounds that make text hard to read should be avoided as should exotic font styles. Font size and colour should be as ‘normal’ as possible e.g. most sites opt for 11-12 point and the standard ‘automatic’ black colour. Visitors to a website frequently do not have a lot of time and if they find it hard to read will quickly move on to more user friendly alternatives.
Navigation bars and tags need to be clear and consistent. The titles/names used should enable visitors to easily perceive what they relate to. Colourful, flowery, titles that do not instantly clarify what the subject matter is need to be avoided. In addition, it there are more than ten pages, it is recommended a site map be made available.
Images are resource intensive, therefore only those that are relevant and in context should be included. Also, to assist those who may have the image facility turned off, due to an unsophisticated system or slow download times, alternative information should be provided: an ‘alt’ (alternative) label and a link to substitute text that helps the user understand what the image relates to.
Flashing, throbbing, pulsing and strobe light images should also be avoided. Not only are these extremely resource intensive but may also cause the visitor discomfort. They may be thought clever, intriguing and unique for attracting attention but for the majority of websites are unnecessary and distracting.
Design across the whole of a website; pages, blog, links should be consistent and correspond to the overall design and intent. Visitors need to know they are still on the same site when moving from one page/link to another. Different designs between these could easily confuse resulting in the user thinking they have wondered into something unrelated or erroneous. Most have little time to investigate or double check and would probably simply move on. Not what a website owner wants.
Addins/plugins need to be carefully checked to ensure they are relevant and necessary. They may look good but do impact upon download times, which may result in users abandoning their search for relevant information. Website designers need to remember the design needs to be search engine friendly and should always be designed for ease of use by the end user.
Crosslinking to important, and relevant, pages within the same website will assist visitors and may help improve visibility as search engines will pick up on them. But again they must be relevant. Any sort of attempt to ‘fudge’ matters to gain further indexing will be noted and may result in a site being blocked.
Regularly updating information in a website and in its pages will result in search engines coming back to ‘crawl’ the site. Provided the updated information is relevant, this will facilitate further indexing and consequent visibility in search results.
SEO is crucial to a websites discoverability/visibility. This relies upon:
- Good quality ‘relevant’ content.
- Clear, consistent design: template; layout; text; images.
- Clear, relevant meta tags: headings; titles; descriptions; keywords; images.
- Remaining on topic throughout.
- No ‘keyword stuffing’.
- Regular ‘relevant’ updates.
There has been a little repetition in places but it must be emphasised websites need to be: clear; easy to navigate; easy to read; search engine friendly and above all relevant.