Web Search & Marketing Newsletter: September 2010
Welcome to the latest issue of our monthly newsletter, which looks at the latest news and developments in the field of web search and online marketing.
This month marks 10 years since Web Marketing Workshop first started trading in the UK. In Internet years, 10 years has been a very long time and the online world has changed considerably since 2000. In addition to this, many companies now understand why they need to be marketing their business online, through search or related sites, and more recently through social media.
Back in September 2000, creating a website was the priority task, so that working out how to get visitors and what to do with them was not so important! The number of prominent search engines was higher then, since Google was still growing their market share following their launch in 1997, but optimising your website was rare and so those that did could get good rankings quite quickly and easily. Pay-per-click advertising had not really grown as a popular and commercial tool, and social media and networking was not even on the horizon.
We've listed a few other things that were happening 10 years ago here – some may not seem that long ago, others might be a distant memory! To mark these 10 years, we've decided to change the format of our newsletter over the next few months and consider 10 of the most common questions that have been raised over the years about online marketing issues.
This month, we review 10 common questions about Search Engine Optimisation and link building, and we provide our answers and explanations for these. Next month we'll look at pay-per-click advertising and Google AdWords. Then we'll consider 10 questions about website analytics and Google Analytics, and then our final issue in this series will look at the more recent trends in Social Media Marketing.
We hope you enjoy these issues of the newsletter and perhaps we'll answer a few questions that you've always wondered about! If not, and you have a burning question, please let us know and we'll respond directly to you.
On to this month's edition...
Common FAQs for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
So what is "search engine optimisation"?
Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the process of making planned changes to a website in order to target relevant search terms that will help it to rank higher in the "natural" or "organic" search results when potential customers are looking for a product or service. All search engines, including Google, will take into account many factors to determine how to rank web pages within the results for a specific search term, although the number and importance of these factors remains a closely guarded secret. However, companies that want to attract relevant visitors to their websites need to target the main factors that will make a difference to their rankings, including on-site factors (such as page content, title tags, site structure and page links) as well as off-site factors, such as links from other websites. More information on search engine optimisation can be found here.
Why is search engine optimisation important?
If you have a website, then you should give it every opportunity to rank within the search results that your potential customers might be viewing. The "natural" search results attract the highest clickthrough rates and companies don't pay for these clicks once they achieve a good ranking position, so SEO is vital to attract relevant and low-cost visits to your website. Search engine marketing is probably the most cost-effective and targeted form of marketing, and websites should be aiming to attract as many visits as possible from the most popular search terms, as well as from "long tail" terms (those wide range of very specific terms that may be used quite rarely but together can comprise a high overall volume of targeted search traffic).
How can the SEO for my website be improved?
There are a wide range of factors that need to be considered and some are easier to influence than others. All search engines operate in a similar way although ranking performance can vary between sites such as Google or Bing. Firstly, you need to ensure that your website is being indexed correctly so that every page has a chance to appear in the ranking results. You also need to have a design that allows this to happen and some good content, which is what the search engines really appreciate! You also need to determine the search terms that your potential customers will be looking for, and how these terms can be used on each page of the site. Most importantly, you need to identify the best search terms that will give your website a good ranking and drive relevant traffic to your site - which may not be possible for the most competitive terms in the short term, but there will always be others that can work effectively for your business.
How do I get my website "indexed" and how long will it take?
Whether you have a new website or one that already appears in the search engine results, getting all your pages "indexed" (added to the search engines' database) is vital. You also need to get new pages or updated content indexed as quickly as possible. This process is partly to do with the link structure within your site or from other websites, as well as how often your pages are updated. All the main search engines, including Google, provide a "webmaster service" where you can register your site and submit an approved sitemap.xml file, which can help to speed up the indexing process and allows you to monitor how often the site is being visited by the search engines. It should be possible to get a new website indexed within several weeks, and existing sites can have pages revisited from every few days to every few months, based on how regularly the content is being updated.
Why can't I get my site to achieve a high ranking on Google?
This really depends on the search terms you want to rank under, and how well your site is optimised. Many business websites now use SEO as a core part of their online marketing strategy, so the competition to get the top ranking positions on Google can be intense. However, every website should be able to achieve some good ranking positions and so your SEO strategy should aim to achieve the best possible rankings for your target market now, and then work towards more competitive terms in the mid to long term. That means you need to look at all the relevant factors that will help your site rank well, including the combination of search terms that your potential customers might be using. Achieving a high ranking for popular terms is not something that happens overnight and can take many months of development and testing, which may also require an investment in link building.
What are "Universal" search results and why are these important?
Over the past few years, achieving a high ranking on Google doesn't just depend on the traditional methods of optimising the content on your website. The introduction of "universal" search results by all the main search engines has meant that a user's search can often display results from other sources, such as Google Maps for local business searches, images or video results, news stories, and more recently blog posts and Twitter comments. You therefore need to consider optimising for these additional results as well, which can sometimes be an easier way of gaining search visibility and driving additional visitor traffic to your website.
Why are links a key part of an SEO strategy?
Links from other websites that point to your website can make a real difference to how well your site will rank for a particular search term. The factor of "link popularity" has been central to Google's success as a search engine and those sites that rank well are often there due to a high number of links pointing to their domain. This means that although you can have a very well optimised site for a range of search terms, you also need to develop this "off-site" factor to perform well in the search results. Links can also drive traffic from other sources, but most importantly they will indicate to Google, and to the other search engines to a lesser extent, that your website is a relevant and "respected" website in your target market.
How can I get more links pointing to my website?
Although links that point to your website are an important factor, they can also be a difficult one to influence effectively, which is one reason why Google uses these as a key ranking criteria, since links need to evolve over time and should reflect the relative importance of one website compared to another. There are a number of strategies to attract links, although you should avoid methods that Google may penalise, such as buying into text link networks. Adding links to relevant directories or sites that are relevant to your market is important, as are links from business partners or suppliers. Creating unique content or other features on your website that attract links from other sites are ideal, but often hard to achieve. Links from blogs and other social media sites can be good for generating site traffic, but the link value from these sites is often limited. More information about link building can be found here.
How do I measure the success of my SEO strategy?
The visibility of your website in the ranking results for your market's commonly used search terms is one clear indication that your SEO strategy is working. However, these ranking positions also need to translate into increased visitors to your website and, if the search terms being targeted are effective, good quality visitors that results in enquiries and new business. Reviewing your website analytics data (such as Google Analytics) is the best way to see the improving trend in search engine referrals from your SEO work and you can also see which search terms have been commonly used to find your website. This data, of course, reflects how your site is ranking and not necessarily how your potential customers are searching, so you also need to continually review search term activity and your site's rankings for these terms. SEO can require ongoing review and revision, the development of links, and the continual "raising of the bar" to increase your ranking positions for the most popular and relevant search terms for your market.
How much will it cost to optimise my website?
If you decide to outsource your SEO to a specialist agency then prices for the work can vary wildly and don't necessarily reflect expertise and quality. The quoted cost should be based on the expected hourly rate and so this will vary depending on the type of website you have, how many pages it contains and, importantly, which market and search terms you are targeting. You also need to consider the link development aspect of your website's SEO work and how much time might be required over a period of some months. The best approach is to get some quotes and compare the approaches of a number of SEO companies. We always provide an initial free website assessment which outlines how a website currently performs, what work should be implemented and how much it would cost in that instance. If you also want to develop your own in-house knowledge or skills, then we can also provide a variety of SEO training courses.
We hope that the above questions and answers have helped to explain or clarify some of the core issues surrounding search engine optimisation. If you would like any further information on any of these points, or would like us to answer any other questions that you have, please contact us now.
Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench
The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:
- Using social media for business
- Facebook introduces Places
- Google AdWords launches Enhanced CPC
- Online advertising passes $2bn mark in Australia
- Google launches small business blog
- Add replies to comments in Google Places
- Advertising developments on Facebook
- Google rolls out ACE tool to US campaigns