How to SEO your website

The How To Issue: If you don't know a Google Panda from a Penguin, this SEO guide could save your website from a Googlocalypse.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

'Search engine optimisation' just means 'the things I need to do to help users find my website on Google'. It's as simple as that.

Back in the website-building days of yore, SEO was a game of strategy: 'How many times can I shoehorn this popular keyword into that paragraph?'; 'If I give that bloke a tenner, he'll link to my site from his three blogs'; 'By simply changing a few words of that person's popular article, I can repost it and get tons of Google love!' ...

Those days are gone. In 2013, Google's algorithms see all, like the Eye of Sauron, scouring your site for duplicate content, dodgy links, an overabundance of keywords and stagnant pages. The latest update is called Panda, but this is no cuddly mammal. It's a voracious, unstoppable force chomping through your data.

Panda aims to seek out and destroy duplicate content and reward sites with high-quality, unique pages. How does this affect you? Well, as an e-commerce website selling dressing gowns, for example, you might use a generic description of each product, ripped off the manufacturer's website. This makes you guilty of posting duplicate content and you'll be sent to the back of the search rankings queue.

Also, dyslexics beware. Sites are being downgraded as spam for containing consistent stylistic and spelling errors. Thousands of websites (most of them a bit spammy, admittedly) have already suffered a huge blow to their search engine ranking through such mistakes.

What are your visitors really looking for?

 

How to save your website from Google extinction? 'Good SEO always starts with keyword research,' says Drew Broomhall, head of search at Haymarket Consumer Media and former head search honcho at The Times. 'Say you're a retailer selling fridge-freezers. Each of your products will have umpteen relevant keywords - brand name, features, etc. But to get really sophisticated, you must uncover the keywords that capture people at different phases of intent.'

'Phases of intent' refers to the mood of, say, wannabe fridge owners: do they want to research, buy, or find out why it's not working? 'If people are trying to find the best fridge-freezer on the market, they'll type something like "best fridge freezer",' says Broomhall. 'If they're ready to buy, maybe "deal on fridges", or "2013 offers on fridges". For post-sales, it's more likely to be: "What does a flashing blue light mean?".'

If you create a meticulous content plan based around all these keywords, you'll be bumped up the Google Search rankings faster than George Clooney at the LIV nightclub in Miami.

It's also important that your content is unique and useful - so useful, in fact, that other websites want to link to it, tweet about you, Google+ you or Facebook it.

Guy Levine, founder of SEO agency Return on Digital, explains: 'Since Google grew up and left its adolescent views of keywords behind, its major deciding factor as to who goes where has been links. If you can get a good website to link to your website without linking back to it or having to pay it, Google considers that a "vote of confidence".

'In 2013,' he continues, 'the key strategy is to make sure lots more of those links use your company name and not just the keyword you wish to rank for. If you just focus on the link text "cheap golf balls", you'll be labelled a spammer.'

SEO is all about authority. If Google can see that your site is trusted by others and is generating a social buzz, you are one step closer to website nirvana: a page one Google Search ranking. All hail.

Keep it colloquial and chatty

 

Keywords still matter, of course. If you are writing about a new product launch, for gawd's sake mention it in the title. But be interesting. Instead of 'Widget launches with new 12-inch cable and LCD screen', try 'Widget wows with supersize LCD screen and a cable that goes on and on'. A colloquial, chatty tone always beats a dry, corporate line.

Obviously, if you're an organisation like Natwest, a 'Yo, check out this awesome new bank account' page is never going to happen. But do try to inject a conversational note into all your online output, no matter how homeopathic the dose may be.

And make sure your site works from a technical perspective. Is it fast? Are there lots of broken pages or pages that contain just one line of text? Are there loads of products in your catalogue but most of them are out of stock?

These are the things that frustrate users - and will frustrate Google too.

Ultimately, heed the wise words of Broomhall, SEO veteran and a man who has never, ever been kerplunked by a Google algo update:

'There are no tricks these days, no shortcuts,' he says. 'Search engines are looking for the same thing that users are. If you try and cheat, Google will know and you will be punished. And there's no Google Appeal Court once your site goes down the toilet.'

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