Communicat Internet Services

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Whether you have an existing website or are looking to establish your presence on the internet, one of the most important questions to consider is 'How are people going to find my website'? This is a question that is often overlooked in the rush to get an online presence established, but it is a most crucial aspect and should be at the forefront of your mind when planning your website. After all, what good is your website if your prospective customers can't find it?

Since you share the internet with literally hundreds of millions of websites, finding the answer to this question is crucial. There are broadly 4 ways that internet users will find your website:

  1. Learning it from traditional media such as TV, print, radio, brochures, business cards etc.
  2. Link from another website
  3. Recommended by someone
  4. Found using a Search Engine (SE) such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN etc.

You only have major control over the first method, throw enough money into advertising and everyone will know about your site. You can even buy links to your site from such sites as the Yellow Pages and other directory services. But for companies that don't have the marketing budget of a large multi-national company, the fourth method is the most cost effective way to bring new visitors to your website.

To make SE's a viable method your website must appear on the first page of results on the search engine. This is due to the fact that most internet users only look at the first page of results, if you are on the third or fourth page not many people are going to see your website.

Getting your website into the top ranks on search engines is called Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO.

SEO is a methodology (or art) employed to improve a websites rank is Search Engine results given targeted 'keywords'. Keywords are the words or phrases your target market uses to narrow the search results to locate your products and services. For example you want to have a high rank for the phrase 'Phone Accessories', but not for 'Carpet Cleaning' as that is not your target.

The methods employed by SEO can be broken up into three major categories :

  1. HTML Code optimisation
    The first step is the checking and rewriting if necessary of content and navigation structures on your website. Search Engines do not understand objects such as images, Flash, JavaScript, etc, and will simply ignore them. This is the most important step, if the search engines are ignoring most of your sites content, improving your Search Engine ranking will be very difficult.
  2. Content Tailoring
    Search Engines rate web pages according to their relevancy given a set of keywords. You must therefore tailor your content with these keywords in mind at all times. Fundamental to determining which keywords are relevant is an understanding of your target market. You must know the typical questions they ask to find answers. There are websites such as WordTracker (www.wordtracker.com) that can help you to determine commonly used keywords.
    Remember: this is not a race to see how many keywords can fill the page. There is an optimum keyword density. Too dense and it is considered stuffing or spamming - you will be penalised. Too little, and you are not considered an authoritative source. Choosing to hone in on a specific set of keywords per page is also prudent. You are not trying to optimise for everybody on the Internet - only those who ask a specific question.
  3. Cutting-Edge Optimisation
    SEs use algorithms that are proprietary secrets and continually evolve over time. Categories 1 and 2 focus on making your website accessible to SEs and ensuring you have high quality content. These are well-established principles guaranteed to improve your rankings - regardless of how the SE algorithms advance.
    To give their clients an advantage, SEO practitioners can sometimes try to abuse the SE algorithms. They may take advantage of loopholes or shady methods.
    Category 3 is a moving target - and hence carries risk if poorly executed. What works today is innovative, but may be heavily penalised in the future once people abuse it to skew results. You should always be wary of introducing any initiatives that fall into this category.

So if you decide to give your website the SEO treatment, how long before you can expect to see results?

Google is continually re-indexing websites, with a delay of anywhere from a few days to a few weeks being the typical time between visits to any of your websites pages. Other Search Engines have similar time periods between re-indexs. Therefore it can take up to 4 to 6 weeks before any changes to your website are reflected in your search ranking.

Keep in mind that as the web and its content is continually evolving you will need to continually update your website to ensure your ranking remains high. Please remember that SEO is not the ultimate and final word on creating a profitable web presence. It is only one aspect of your Internet marketing strategy. A good SEO practitioner understands this. They realise that there is more to the Internet than just search engines. Obtaining links from reputable websites, advertising using traditional media and ensuring your clients recommend you to their friends is just as important. If they don't reflect this in their overall strategy, consider someone else who does.