Building a great internet site is a wonderful achievement. But it could also be a complete waste of your time and money unless potential clients can find it. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one way to ensure your site is seen in the most crowded marketplace ever conceived.
SO WHAT IS SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION (SEO)?
To understand Search Engine Optimisation you must first consider how people actually look for – and eventually find – products and services on the web.
Research shows that more than 80 per cent of the world’s 290 million internet users (10 million of them in Australia) use search engines to find what they’re after.
There are many search engines available to consumers – the better known include Google and Yahoo! – but in general, they all work the same way. Typically a person will enter a keyword or phrase into the search engine and immediately receive a list of recommended web pages.
Internet users are impatient, which means they seldom scan through more than a page or two of search results, and generally only access sites listed at the top of the page. If you want to be seen, your site must not only appear on a list of search results, it must rank towards the very top.
Open a search engine and type in a word or phrase someone searching for your company might use – if you fail to appear in a prominent position, chances are your site has not been search engine optimised. Without optimisation, your site is about as effective as an advertisement floating in the middle of the ocean.
HOW DO SEARCH ENGINES RANK INTERNET SITES?
Search engines regularly dispatch ‘spiders’ or ‘robots’ (aka bots) to collect information on websites. Using an algorithm – a set of complex formulas or rules – the search engine evaluates each website’s relevance and then ranks it accordingly.
These algorithms are unique to each search engine, they are highly secret and they change all the time. But in general, they all obey a basic set of rules. That means it is possible to improve your chances of a better ranking by ensuring your website has the most appropriate content, and that the content is structured in a search-engine-friendly way – this process is known as Search Engine Optimisation.
Search Engine Optimisation is not an exact science. It requires trial and error, and there is never a guarantee of success. But without Search Engine Optimisation your website is almost guaranteed of not being seen.
Of course there are other ways of reaching potential clients. You could, for example, spend money to advertise on a search engine, and only have your advertisement appear when people search for particular keywords. That is valid way to increase your chances of reaching customers. But studies have shown people using the internet tend to trust and visit the free listings more than paid listings.
HOW DO YOU GET STARTED ON SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION?
First, you need to find out if your site is actually being indexed by a search engine.
Open a search engine and type your company name in the search box. If you appear in the results it means that spiders or robots have located your site. They will place the site into a memory bank and visit it from time to time to update their information.
If your site is not listed you could consider submitting your site to search engines. This will not guarantee that they will list you, but it won’t hurt to try. A word of advice – do not submit your site multiple times as this will only annoy the search engine people, and you need to be on their good side.
Some search engines will not accept submissions – they prefer to find your site themselves. And some simply draw their information from other search engines (a disclaimer should alert you to this practice), which makes it pointless submitting your site to them.
Once you are confident your site is being indexed, you need to identify keywords – these are the terms a potential visitor might enter into a search engine when looking for your product, service or company.
Finding the right keywords is a pivotal component of Search Engine Optimisation. There are applications that allow you to test each word by showing how popular it is and how often it is used – the result might surprise you.
A good way to find keywords is to visit a competitor’s website.