Optimising Content for Search Engines

Identify target keywords to insert within your content, the most important words being in the title and first paragraph. Write your content within a clear, visual hierarchy and add a little food for the robots. But the bottom line is: write interesting content.

There are 3 main ways people are going to visit your website:

  • They “know” you and your web address.
  • They were referred from another website.
  • But most likely, your site/page appeared in a search engine listing.

So this article explains at a high level how to optimise your site's content for the search engines. Google, Bing, Yahoo and all the other search engines have fantastic systems to analyse your web page. If it's well written, then the search engines will pull out all the keywords it needs. If it's interesting then people will read it, tell their friends about: the more visitors, the higher the search engines rank it. Job done. 

But you can help a little to stack things in your favour:

In the simplest of terms: produce well-written, interesting content.

1. Keywords

These are the words or phrases that people type into the 'Search' box to [ideally] find your website. You might want to consider who your main audience is, and anticipate what keywords they'd type in to find you. These keywords (or phrases) define both your market and your audience, and you need to channel each audience to the right content.

Overall Purpose

Think about your audience, and who is your competition. Then think about what you want your site to do. Are you promoting a brand? Are you selling something directly? Do you need to appear credible? Think of the goals (conversion) and how to achieve them; eg, direct product sale online, email subscription, white paper download etc. You might then want to think of an ideal conversion rate to measure success.

Finding Keywords

  • Look at your existing site's records, specifically referrals and keywords people use within, or to get to, your site.
  • Look at competitors' sites and identify what keywords they are using.
  • Play around with keywords in search engines - and ask real people what they think of them.
  • Look at the bigger picture - cultural trends and news stories.
  • Use SEO tools, such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool
  • Hire a professional (he was called Ben when I wrote this).

The right keywords are where your site ranks the highest, but you need to balance that against likely level of traffic. Is someone really going to type those keywords into a search engine?

2. Embedding Keywords

They need to be used in your interesting content, basically. The more important keywords should be in your headings and the opening sentences of opening paragraphs.

But you should also consider using them:

  • In the navigation menu.
  • In the page title.
  • Within the URL (web address) of the page.
  • Use only one Header 1 (h1) tag, with the most relevant keyword within the title. Then use Headers 2-6 to create a hierarchy to each page.
  • Within meaningful filenames (such as embedded images or PDFs) - so rather than image01.jpg, use man-on-beach.jpg.

And link to other web sites and related material: it puts your page into context for the search engines, and may be a real bonus for your human viewers. And if some links to your site, that counts for double!

But don't overdo it. The search engines may blacklist your page/site if it thinks you have filled your page with spam keywords, files or links to other sites.

3. Technical Stuff

This is where you need a good web developer to help you out

  • Make sure your code is accessible and compliant. Use ALT and TITLE tags where possible, and run it through a compliance checker.
  • Other than the TITLE tag, the main META data to worry about is the 'Canonical' URL for a page - and make sure you manage your HTTP redirects. Keywords, Descriptions and even some Geo data is largely ignored by the search engines.

Semantic Markup

This is incredibly hard to do manually, but is food for robots and is a way of really building knowledge. By using extra tags and embedded attributes, it turns your plain text into data that can be linekd to other data and categorized. But, unless you're using a CMS, this is hard work.
The 3 main players are RDFa, Microdata and Microformats. It's early days, and there's no clear leader, but adopting any of these systems will give you the edge.

Site Optimisation

Having a Sitemap.xml and a robots.txt in your site root are essential. A humans.txt file is a nice touch too.

Your site should be fast too, ie, how quickly your pages load up. It helps your humans, and your Page ranking can be affected by the site speed.

Analytics

The most common is Google Analytics, but there are many other solutions available. This software tracks your users, count the visitors, what browser they have, what time of day they visited, where they live etc. Services such as Quantcast also allow you to estimate your audience demographics.

Information Architecture

Let's say someone lands on a page in your site: does the person know where they are? Are there obvious links to find related material? How can more help be obtained? This is where information architecture (IA) comes in, and it's a specialist field in itself. It's akin to designing a library - signage, help points, classification systems etc. And good IA will improve the searchability of your site for humans and robots alike.

4. Tools

You can glean some great information on preparing material for an online audience (such as the Yahoo! Style Guide) but if you struggle to write good content yourself, find someone who can: hire a copy writer.

Other (more technical) tools:

But you should also consider hiring a web professional; depending on your budget it could be a general site builder, or specifically an SEO consultant, a usability expert, a copy writer and maybe a 'User Experience' (UX) specialist. Or just ask Cognimatic.