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Optimising Your Website for Search Engines and People – Part 1

“Building a website and not optimising it for search engines is like shooting a television ad and then not broadcasting it” says Pete Hillier, a web designer who builds optimised websites.

Nine times out of ten when someone connects to a website, it is via a search engine. People prefer to use search engines rather than type website addresses into their browser or even use their favourites list. Once they get the results of their search, 30% of all internet users never click on sponsored links like Google AdWords.

This means that search engines are crucially important to your website and your business.

How search engines work

Search engines constantly trawl the internet looking for new and updated information. They use special computer programmes called “spiders” or “bots” which visit websites and extract content. The bots construct databases of web pages using various criteria that are built into complicated mathematical algorithms.

When someone uses a search engine, it returns all of the web pages in its database that it considers to be relevant to the query. It ranks those websites in order from the most relevant to the least relevant.

Google handles over 60% of all worldwide internet searches. Its ranking criteria are one of the most closely guarded secrets on the planet and the criteria change constantly. However, experts think that the quantity and quality of content, frequency of updates and the number of quality incoming links from related websites are particularly important.

What is search engine optimisation?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) simply means including things in your website that search engines look for so that they rank you higher on the results to queries.

Ideally, you want your website to be listed on the top half of the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs). Few internet users look at the second results page, let alone the third, fourth or fifth pages. In fact, most users will not even consider links towards the bottom of the first results page.

Keywords are the key

Keywords are the words that internet users put into search engine query boxes when they want to find a website.

You want your website to be found by people who are searching the internet for your type of company or product. For this to happen, you need search engines to judge your website relevant to the words that people use when they make the search. Therefore, as you build and update your website, you need to use keywords that match users’ queries.

Increasingly, people are using searches with three to five words. This means that keyword phrases matter more than individual words. Word order within phrases also matters. For example, “copywriter freelance London” and “London freelance copywriter” bring up different results.

The best keywords to select are the ones that people use frequently in their searches but are not found in many websites. In other words, you should look for terms that have high demand and low competition.

Finding your keywords

Think like your users if you want to generate the best keywords. Jakob Nielsen, the web usability guru, strongly recommends that companies use their users’ vocabulary. Ask yourself what words and phrases people will use when they search for your company or the products that you sell.

A few top tips for keyword generation include using:

  • your brand name – especially if it is well known and well respected (e.g. “dyson”)
  • generic terms, not just your product names (e.g. “vacuum”)
  • competitor brands, especially if they are used as generic terms (e.g. “hoover”)
  • common words, not company jargon (“carpet cleaning” not “home hygiene”)
  • location name – especially if you are a shop (e.g. “Bristol”).

An SEO consultant can be invaluable when selecting keywords. They use specialist keyword databases and ranking software that enables them to check your current rankings and work out exactly which keywords and phrases will work best for your website.

Using your keywords

“Each web page should focus on one main key phrase.” urges Rob Dobson a London based search engine marketing consultant. “There can be secondary key phrases as well but a page should always have one main focus.”

There are certain places on a web page where keywords should be used:

  • the text of your web pages
  • the tags for each web page – these are the “IT techy part” of each page
  • the links from external websites to your website.

Part two of this article will explore how you can use your keywords in each of these places.

Making a start

You can begin working on optimising your website by:

  • checking your current ranking on the major search engines by typing in half a dozen different searches or using SEOmoz’s rank checker.
  • generating keywords by using Wordtracker, Google AdWords Keyword Tool or KeywordSpy. (There is a short introduction to all three programmes on the WebCredible website.)

Getting found, chosen and used by people

A No. 1 ranking on Google is useless if no one clicks-through to your website because the description in the search engine results is unappealing. Equally, it is not worth much if people click-through to your site but do not stay because they find it irrelevant.
Your website needs to work for people as well as search engines. The old rules of good corporate communications apply on the internet too. Your website needs to be clear, well-organised and engaging. Your business will only benefit from your website if is easy-to-use as well as easy-to-find.

Part 2 of “Optimising Your Website for Search Engines and People” will be about using keywords in the text and the tags of your website and generating links from external websites into your website. It will be published on the Women Unlimited website in May.

Women Unlimited are holding a workshop on search engine optimisation workshop for  small business owners on  Wednesday June 10, so if you want to find out more about this subject and how you can start making changes to your own results click here to book your place.

Learn More

WordTracker – lots of useful articles about SEO and keyword software

SEOmoz, a SEO consultancy which has loads of helpful articles and useful guides on their website, especially their Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Webcredible, a website usability consultancy that has introductory articles about SEO

Jakob Nielsen, web usability guru who covers every aspect of designing user-friendly websites

Online Resources

SEOmoz’s Rank checker – works out your current ranking on the main search engines

Wordtracker – key word generator

Google webmaster central including Google webmaster tools – lots of useful resources

Google analytics – tells you who is visiting your website, which pages they are looking at, how long they spend on each of them and much more

Google website optimiser – particularly useful for e-commerce sites

People who can help you to optimise your website

SEO consultants who work out the best keywords for your website like Rob Dobson
Web designers who build optimised websites like Pete Hillier @ WebFountain
Copywriters who can use your keywords to create readable, engaging text that works for people as well as search engines


About the Author: Margaret Webster is a freelance copywriter. She wrote Network Rail’s website and an intranet site for one of their employee programmes. She is currently writing a website for an eLearning company.

Her approach is to begin each project by understanding the client company, its objectives and its audience. This has enabled her to write engaging, results-oriented copy for a wide range of audiences as diverse as CEOs of large organisations and track workers on the railway.

Margaret is also working on the optimisation of her own website, www.pagster.co.uk

Photo credit: This fabulous image was provided by Danard Vincente

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  1. […] aim to respond to their users’ queries by producing a list of websites that are relevant to the keywords that the user has entered into the search engine query box (e.g. Google toolbar) and […]