On SEO (and SEO Spam)
"Search Engine Optimisation" or SEO for short is a regular topic raised when we talk to people about web sites. SEO is the art of getting your web site high in the rankings of the major search engines like Bing, Yahoo! and, especially, Google so that when potential visitors make searches appropriate to your site your site appears on the first page, ideally as the first hit.
It's also something about which we get a fair amount of spam for our own and our customers' web sites, both offering to help us with SEO and from people wanting to do "link exchange".
So what's this all about and why would you go to someone who offers search engine optimisation?
The first part of the question is easy: a lot of first time visitors for most web sites come not via entering a URL but via a search engine.
The big question however is do you need to go to an SEO specialist for help to get good positioning? We would hope that the answer, so long as your web site is well designed in the first place and is well maintained thereafter, is no.
So what do you and your designer need to do? At the very core is that you need content and it needs to be accessible to the search engine. So if, for example, your content is all in Flash it may look marvellous but if the search engine software can't easily extract the text it won't appear in a search. Here at The Hug we use a content management engine which is optimised to ensure that all your content is easily to search engines.
The second key element is links, both out and, more importantly, in. The search engine has got to be able to find your site in the first place, ideally by finding links to it from other sites it already knows about, and the more links it finds the more important it will consider your site to be, so the more highly you will be ranked.
This behaviour by search engines is what leads to the tactic of "link exchange" - so two sites agree to link to each other in order. Now if there's a legitimate reason to do that then all well and good, but historically it was (and still is) often abused. So an SEO advisor will try to persuade lots of other sites with better page ranking to link to their customers' sites. Sometimes the SEO advisor will even offer money in return for a link. But search engines have got wise to this and our advice is to avoid link exchange unless there is a legitimate reason to link.
But if there is then do link, ideally with links in the content rather than relying on a separate "links" page. And that's one of the first things we advise our customers to do once they've got their new web site live: contact all their partner organisations and encourage them to link their web sites to the customer's new web site.
This is an ongoing process. It's always worth trying to get more links into your site. So now we've got the new social media like blogs and Twitter if people are linking to your pages from there that's good news and to be encouraged. You can help with that process by having an actively updated news section or blog on your site and again we're very keen on doing that with sites we develop for our customers.
Finally there's some technical things you can do behind the scenes to make the search engine's life easier. Meta tags, which is the one everyone raises, are of very little value these days but a substantive title tag is useful and a site map - not the sort that a visitor can read but written in a language called XML designed specifically for search engines - helps the engine know how often to visit your site.