8 easy steps to improve your search engine rankings

I mentioned that I have been on a social-media-holiday-reading-fest. A key goal was for me to become better at SEO (search engine optimisation) for our own and clients’ blogs. SEO is writing website and blog copy in a way that search engines can find – and get you higher up Google rankings.

My next book was Search Engine Optimisation Secrets by Danny Dover and Erik Dafforn. But before I could understand this book, Danny told me to read a free ebook The Beginner’s guide to SEO by his former company, SEOmoz.

I wish I had found this years ago, it is a really excellent guide for anyone trying to understand what happens to your blog or website once it is launched.

Here is what I’ve taken from this – a lot of which I already understood at its most basic, but this guide is very good at helping you understand the whys.

1. How is Google viewing your website?

For most businesses, there is no point in putting content on your website if Google and other search engines can’t spot it. To see what the various search engines can find on your website, go to tools such as SEO-browser.com, the mozBar or Yellowpipe. These will show the text and links that Google and others can look at when they get to your page. If you have anything in Flash or Adobe, you will see that it is not visible at all.

2. A sitemap is important

I have never understood the importance of a sitemap – which sometimes appears as a dedicated tab on a website or shown somewhere as a small chart with all the pages and how they are linked on your website. But this helps search engines quickly find their way (or ‘crawl’) around your site and link to key pages. We need to add this to our own website.

3. Google wants content and relevancy

This bit we have got right. Google wants quality content relevant to the website and topics on that page. Our website with its client case studies and our blog which is written to help clients – and updated at least weekly – is all good for search engines. They should like these bits of our website!

4. Getting the right keyword for customer searches

We have recently started focusing on ‘social media for business’ as our keyword, but we really need to test this out. I read recently that for years airlines used to write about ‘low cost fares’ for their keywords – and it was ages before research showed their customers were actually searching for ‘cheap flights’. We are targeting business owners, professionals and marketing teams of universities and corporates – and I’m not confident I know exactly what they would search for when looking for advice and support.

5. How do you use keywords for search engines?

Apparently ‘keyword density’ used to be the buzz phrase for good SEO. SEOmoz emphasises it’s not how often the keyword appears that is helpful but where and how. These are some of their recommendations for using keywords (my team thought the whole list was a bit daunting that I did so these are just highlights – email me if you want the longer list!)

  • Use the keyword in the title tag at least once. Keep the keyword as close to the beginning of the title tag as possible – and 70 characters is the maximum that will display in search results. So I guess if we go with the ‘social media for business’ keyword as an example, then our title tag should read ‘Social-media-for-business-Northern-Lights-PR-communications-Yorkshire’.
  • At least three times in the main copy of a page – or more if relevant, but SEOmoz reckons it has little impact if used more
  • At least once in bold. I need to check this out further because they then say you can use either the or tag – which suggests this is not bold for the main text on a website, but again in the title tags etc
  • At least once – sometimes twice when it makes sense – in the meta description tag. This is the ‘snippet’ of text which is used by Search engines and shows up as the one or two-line summary under the company name, in a search

6. Anchor text needs care

They also say you should not put the keyword into anchor text when it points to other pages on your site or different domains. Anchor text is the word or phrase that you highlight for a hyperlink to another website – I’ve just done a hyperlink from the words ‘anchor text’ in this sentence.

7. Meta keywords are less important for search engines

According to SEOmoz, the meta keywords tag (again, you would fill these in on the admin system for your website or when uploading a blog) are no longer as valuable to search engine optimisation as they used to be. And they also say that meta refresh, meta revisit-after and meta content type are less critical to the process than they used to be.

8. URL addresses have great value in Google searches

URL addresses, which are the web addresses for a particular document, are of great value from a search perspective.

Put keywords into the address where possible. And make sure each page has a URL address that helps search engines and makes sense. An example of a bad URL address is where it’s the product code that goes into the address (eg BCHTWLRD1289) – rather than, say, ‘beach towel red’ (my mind is clearly still on holidays here!).

With my thanks to both SEOmoz and Danny Dover for their simple tips – would definitely recommend both these if you are also wanting to understand more about SEO.

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Victoria Tomlinson is founder and owner of Harrogate-based PR consultancy, Northern Lights. A former director of Ernst & Young, she started her career as a graduate trainee for Plessey and later with Bradbury Wilkinson, the banknote printers, travelling around the world to sell banknotes to foreign governments. She joined Arthur Young as part of their start-up marketing team and was made a director of client services on the management committee and managing a 100-strong division. Victoria sits on the boards of Bradford University School of Management, Northern Ballet Theatre and Common Purpose North Yorkshire. She is a Prince’s Trust mentor.