What is Search Engine Optimisation?

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The main way to find what you are looking for on the web is by using search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask and others. Google is the most widely used.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is trying to get your website as high as possible in search engine listings, ideally being No. 1 on the first page of the results.

There are two parts to this technique:
  • Website Optimisation. Optimising the content and structure of your site so that the search engines will associate it with the keywords relevant to your business.
  • Link Building. Getting links from other websites to yours.

Website Optimisation

The exact details of how search engines judge your site is a closely guarded secret to protect the technology and try and avoid exploitation. They do however give you guidelines, the basic idea is that the search engines want to deliver a good user experience. They want to deliver links to websites that are appropriate to the keywords searched for by the user. So, in theory, the better quality your website, the better the user experience and the higher your ranking.

So how do you improve the quality of your website? A good website is easy to use, easy to navigate and contains appropriate and useful information.
  • There shouldn't ever be more than a couple of clicks from the information you want.
  • Page titles and headings should be appropriate and relevent.
  • Meta data (information contained in the underlying code of the page) should be appropriate and relevant to that page.
  • You should always know where you are in the website.
  • Your web pages should use valid CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML (HyperText Markup Language).
  • The web pages should follow good practice guidelines, for example: text should be easy to read e.g. not dark text on a dark background; images should always have appropriate descriptive text associated with them, avoid large chunks of text etc.

Link Building

Basically a link to your website from another website is like a vote for your website. If the website that links to your site is also highly rated then that link will count for extra. The more links there are to your website the more votes of confidence and the better its ranking.

"White Hat" and "Black Hat" optimisation

White Hat optimisation is structuring your website so it follows the guidelines set out by the search engines so that you are providing a quality experience for your users.

Obviously lots of website owners want to get their websites to the top of the results for their particular keywords. Some will try and take short cuts or trick the search engines into getting their websites to the top. They might do this by cramming their pages with repeated keywords in black text on a black background so that the search engine sees lots of keywords, but the user doesn't; or they may pay other websites to link to their site. These are called "Black Hat" techniques and the search engines take a dim view of them. They don't like them because they are trying to take a website to the top of the ranking by tricks rather than by providing a quality experience for the user, and they will find out if you are doing this. If the search engines discover your site has been using these techniques your website might be blacklisted and never appear in the results pages again. This is why you should be very careful when approached by SEO companies that "guarantee" getting you to the number one spot in the search engines. To start with no one can guarantee getting you to the top position in the results pages as nobody but the search engines know how their criteria exactly work, and the criteria are regularly changed, and if they insist they can the chances are they will be using Black Hat techniques.

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Mike Nuttall

Author: Mike Nuttall

Mike has been web designing, programming and building web applications in Leeds for many years. He founded Onsitenow in 2009 and has been helping clients turn business ideas into on-line reality ever since. Mike can be followed on Twitter and has a profile on Google+.