Jan 02 2011

The client’s responsibility for SEO

In my previous post, way back in June 2010, I tried to emphasize that what is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), consists of several tasks which need to be met by different skillsets. There was a follow-up comment on the LinkedIn discussion to the effect, “If it works then Yes; if it doesn’t, then No!” Agreed, but what exactly did the client ask for and expect?

As a website builder who feels that she incorporates search engine accessibility into her products, I would like my clients to be aware of the different facets of SEO, of what enables a website to show on the first page of results.

There is so much to making a website visible on the web, that it is truly fantasy when potential clients expect results within a month to six weeks. And are appalled at the cost of doing SEO thoroughly.

You may have been assailed by emails from overseas companies offering SEO services. Be aware that anyone can provide an automated report that purports to diagnose SEO ‘errors’ on your website. I recently saw such a report of four pages of narrow spaced script, in which four short lines stood out. And I could have told the client those points by just looking at the website for less than five minutes.

SEO has been defined as comprising two parts: online and offline optimisation.

You need to get the online optimisation right at the outset and you need the full cooperation of your web designer to do it. Thereafter, the followup work is offline optimisation – which you can do yourself, even if it is time-consuming.

Online optimisation ensures that websites are easily navigable by both visitors and search engines, that titles, meta-keywords and meta-descriptions are included, that headings, images and links are appropriately styled and tagged, and that the website loads quickly. Make sure that your designer/developer understands and acts on implementing SEO friendly urls.

But it’s the offline optimisation that takes time, continuing effort and relentless attention to detail. Offline optimisation requires you, the website owner, to put effort into building incoming links, that your unique selling point is clear, that your terms of trading and customer service are transparent and that your website visitors feel that they got good value by visiting. Extrapolate this into other online marketing outlets, and you will note that you need to monitor what people are saying about your business on Facebook, Twitter and in reviews on shopping or other consumer websites. The businessman who wanted to take TripAdvisor to court for publishing bad reviews about his hotel might have won the case but he committed a marketing catastrophe.

Here are various resources on the web that might help put SEO into more context.

Data about online usage

Much of what you read about how websites are found is anecdotal. Websites like Mashable and TechRadar that publish the news about what’s trending online pull in data from elsewhere. You need to go to their sources, such as Experian Hitwise and Nielsen to find the data for yourself.

If your resources are a little more slender and you’re looking for a summary rather than data, try eConsultancy which publishes regular reports on online behaviour, email marketing and valuable guidance on SEO, how to convert customers and what to pay attention to in ecommerce sites.

Inbound marketing services from Hubspot

Hubspot offers online marketing software services. Their website tells you that Hubspot will:

  • help you get found online by more qualified visitors
  • show you how to convert more visitors into leads
  • give you tools to close those leads efficiently
  • provide analytics to help make smart marketing investments.

If you’re unsure about how to start offline optimisation for yourself, with the free tools that are available on the web, Hubspot may not be a bad place to start. The company offers a 30 day free trial for you to find out. It also offers free webinars (online seminars) which will guide you through the optimisation process.

Disclaimer: I have not used the full Hubspot service myself, although I have used some of their trial features in the past.

How Google finds you

Google updated its search algorithm in a major way during 2010. You’ve probably noticed how search results begin to appear before you even finish writing your query

Broadly speaking, the speed at which your website loads is taken into account. Bloated code, obsolescent styles of scripting, innumerable widgets on the page (including the Facebook Like button), all these can slow down the speed at which your website appears on the screen. Google is looking for clean code, and fast download times.

Meta tags are back in fashion. Page titles are essential and meta descriptions should truthfully reflect the content of the page. Headings should contain keywords or keyword phrases.

Content should be fresh and unique. Which is why it’s extremely useful to update your blog with company news and information at least once a week. (a rule that I admit I’m not very good at keeping myself!)

The volume of search queries for the type of product or service you are offering will influence Google’s view of your website’s status in the scheme of things.

Make sure that you have Google Analytics code installed on your website and that you understand what the Google Analytics’ reports are telling you about what your website visitors do while they’re visiting. It’s free! So why not.

Copy writing

There’s a skill to writing good copy for the web: short, succinct sentences in which every word counts, bullet points and no more than around 250 words on a page. Those words must incorporate the search terms that people use to find the product or service that you’re selling.

Don’t try to stuff keywords into your copy. Google, Bing and Yahoo!, the major search engines, recognise that as spamming. Instead, optimise the copy on each page for no more than two to three different keywords or phrases.

Despite all the changes and fashions that have happened to search engine optimisation since the web became so dominant in our lives, good writing that provides clear information and help is the web’s biggest asset. And that will reflect in how Google ranks your site.

Use Google webmaster tools to find out how Google sees you, who else links to your website and to tell Google about your website.

Doing it all yourself?

Many small traders want the ability to alter and add to their websites themselves. You’ve no doubt heard of WordPress, which is used on so many small websites nowadays.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, WordPress is not a generic website building tool. It is blogging software with some content management service capability. You will probably still need a designer to get the installation up and running and tweaked to your satisfaction, which includes building the final design.

Its biggest advantage is in the wealth of free support provided by people all over the globe. People design themes for free and plugins for free.

One of the best plugins that I’ve seen for SEO comes from Yoast. When you add a new post, the Yoast SEO plugin gives you the opportunity to add meta descriptions, keywords and to write snippets that will show up in search results.

I’ve just created a WordPress installation for a local client who is overwhelmed that at last she can add information to her website without having to ask the web designer first. She’s finding the concept of SEO a bit foreign but is learning fast. Naturally, we’ve installed Yoast.

See Helen Burrell, beautiful jewellery to treasure for ever.

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