Friday November 7, 2008

I often get asked advice about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques so I thought I would write a quick guide for the beginner. In this article I will mainly concentrate on optimisation for Google due to their share of the search marketplace.

Many SEO experts claim to have tricks that they often will not disclose but will get you guaranteed results. Such trickery simply does not exist, at least not in a fashion which can be used as a long term SEO strategy as any form of cheating is likely to get you blacklisted from search engines. SEO is however a tedious task so many people do not wish to do it for themselves. A possible route for success though is to contact an SEO specialist to help build your campaign and get you off to a flying start and then do some SEO for yourself and top up every now and again by using SEO professionals to keep you high in the rankings whilst keeping your costs down and ensuring you understand what you are paying for.

SEO in essence is all about formatting your content in a way which is accessible to search engines, ensuring your key phrases are visible within your pages to the search engines and collecting inbound links to your site.

Analysing your visitors

If you are going to all the trouble of using SEO you are going to want some way to analyse the results of all your hard work. If you currently do not have any web analytics software to track the visitors to your site install the Google Analytics tracking code on your site. Google Analytics is a reasonably well featured web analytics tool and best of all it is absolutely free.

Whilst were installing the tracking script for Google Analytics also install Google Webmaster Tools which is also free and will allow you to submit a sitemap to help Google index your site and track back-links to your site which we will be discussing later.

Choosing your key phrases

Choice of key phrases is very important. You are better concentrating on a small amount of phrases that you expect to occur in a lot of searches. The more specific your phrase the easier it will be to appear towards the top of the search engine rankings but the more unlikely people will search for the phrase.

It can be difficult to obtain statistics on the popularity of search phrases but I have found limited success using the campaign tool in Google Adwords which gives you an indication of the amount of traffic to expect for each key phrase.

On Page Factors

On page factors relate to how your page is structured and the actual content of your pages. This is the easiest part of SEO as you should have direct control of your site and it should be relatively easy to make a few simple changes that can have a big impact on the way your site is viewed by the search engines.

Page Path

Your page path IS important. Get your key phrases in there somehow. If your site is dynamic do not use the query string alone to distinguish your pages. Pages with URL’s like ‘’ just will not do!!! Use something like ‘’ ensuring that the URL contains keywords about the page.


Headings are also important so try to ensure that you don’t use images for headings and you put some of your keywords in heading tags on the page.


Make sure all of your internal links have a title attribute associate with them with some descriptive text and keywords about the page they are referring to. Also try to put your keywords actually in the link text.

Image ALT attributes

Make sure all of your images have alt tags and try to put some of your keywords in the tags.

General Keyword Density

Get all of your keywords in as many places as possible in your body text. Try to maintain the readability of your text but also ensure your key phrases are located as many times as possible within each page.

Page Freshness

Some search engines and particularly Microsoft Live like to see fresh content on your site. Try to keep your website up-to-date and keep updating your content to keep your site constantly evolving and your content fresh.

Off page factors

Off page factors relate to the amount of incoming links to your site and where these links originate from. Link building is a laborious task but is crucial to obtaining high search engine results.

Directory Submission

It is important to submit your site to online directories. Two of the most important are and the Yahoo directory. Unfortunately, Yahoo is expensive but dmoz is free and is the most important. The other business directories you find on the internet are still ok to have your links in but Google devalues them because of the amount of outgoing links. Depending on your type of business another paid service which might be worth a punt is to get a link from

Search Engine Submission

You need to submit your sites to as many search engines as possible. There are tools available on the internet to help you do this but in my opinion it is probably always better to use the tools to generate a list of search engines to target and do the submission by hand.

Back links and Page Rank

Generating a lot of good quality links to you site from valid sources on the internet can be a very time consuming process. One tool that is of great use here is the Google toolbar which once downloaded will help you to analyse the potential benefit of a site based on the pages Page Rank.

Page Rank is Google measure of how important a page is. Page Rank is displayed in the toolbar as a number from 1 to 10 on a logarithmic scale meaning that whatever level you are currently at, to get to the next level takes the sum total of all you previous work in gaining back links to your site all over again. Page Rank is important because Google use this to assess the importance of your pages. Page Rank is gained by obtaining links form other sites on the internet to your site. Nobody knows the exact algorithm used for Page Rank but enough is known about how page rank works to make some pretty accurate assumptions. At this point I am going to refer you to the Wikipedia article on Page Rank for some background reading as I don’t think I can explain it better myself.

A quick summary of what you should have discovered from the Wikipedia article:

  • Build lots of inbound links from lots of different sites.
  • Links from pages with a high page rank are better than those from links with a low Page Rank.
  • Links from pages that have lots of outgoing links are devalued since the outgoing Page Rank of the page is split between all outgoing links.

The link text is important on the links that are sent back to your site. Ideally the link text will contain some of your keywords, however, the link text should be slightly different as if too many links contain exactly the same text this will be seen as spam by the search engine and the link value will be degraded.

Another thing to note, especially when viewing your own Page Rank in the Google toolbar is that this value is not updated in real-time based on the back links you have gained. The value for Page Rank in the toolbar is updated via Google approximately every 3 months so don’t expect to see weekly or daily changes in your Page Rank.

Once you have started building your back links use Google webmaster tools to analyse the links that Google has noticed for your site.

How to get Back Links


Most industries have plenty of associations or even portals relating to your products or services. Joining these portals or associations will normally offer an opportunity to get a link back to your site from a site which is highly relevant to your target audience.

Blogs and User Generated Sites

There are an awful lot of blogs and sites that allow people to submit comments at the bottom of blog posts with a link back to their own site. Some of these sites do not provide page rank back by attaching a ‘no follow’ instruction against the user generated links but most do not. These blogs are an excellent way to get back links to your site. Please do bear in mind that these are peoples blogs you are commenting on so please don’t leave a simple comment such as ‘Great Post’ or similar. At least have the decency to read the blog post fully and leave a comment which expresses your views on the subject the writer was talking about.

One of the best ways to gain back links from blogs is to use the Google Alerts service to notify you of new content on the internet using your target key phrases. You can get this service to send you a weekly email meaning you can set a portion of just one day aside to read the blogs brought to your attention by Google and hopefully add some comments to the blogs with a link back to your own site.

Press Releases

Another really popular way of getting back links is to create press releases and submit them to all the free press release services on the internet. Make sure your article has your key phrases littered throughout it and has as many links as you can get away with to various areas of your site.


SEO is a laborious task but most of the work revolves around relatively simple concepts. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet to help you with your campaign if you decide to go down the DIY route.

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Written by Ross