How to boost your SEO
I develop custom websites for small businesses, and the topic I’m asked about more than any other is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
Business owners want their site to rank highly in searches (by which they mostly mean Google searches) and they’ve heard of SEO, but they rarely have much idea what it is and what factors affect their ranking.
That prompted me to spend several months examining how Google’s ranking algorithm works, and how to use that knowledge to the advantage of small-business sites.
Let’s begin by facing the fact that everyone wants to be on Google’s first results page for their main search term.
Being found on that front page makes those visits to your site free (except for the time you spent optimising your site), whereas Pay Per Click – the other way to get on to the front page – means that every click costs you. Imagine you run an online art supplies shop.
Not the most competitive of markets, you might think, so you’d like to see your business among the top ten when a potential customer searches for “art supplies”.
Try it, though, and you’ll see that “art supplies” returns around 56 million hits. That doesn’t mean you actually have 56 million competitors, but a quick look at the list suggests that around 60 pages really are suppliers of art materials, so that’s a minimum of 590 entries you have to beat to appear on the front page for that search term – and there’s the key.
You’ve probably seen adverts from SEO firms that guarantee a front-page spot if you pay them several hundred pounds and leave them to weave their black magic.
You’ve probably seen adverts from SEO firms that guarantee a front-page spot if you pay them several hundred pounds and leave them to weave their black magic
I’m pretty sure that no SEO firm would guarantee front-page placing on “art supplies”, though – they’re more likely to get you on to the front page for “prolene plus series 007 size 00 paint brush” and then pocket your money.
However good those paintbrushes may be, they represent such a niche market that you’d need to get most of your product catalogue on the front page to make money this way.
But that isn’t all bad news, because the mystery surrounding SEO and the effort involved in implementing it has an upside: in many markets, most websites will have paid no attention to SEO at all, so it’s still possible to boost your ranking by taking the right steps. The important thing is to judge your efforts relative to where you’d have been in the rankings if you hadn’t optimised.
Check out the competition
The first step is to find out how competitive your market sector is in terms of organic rankings. One broad-brush approach is to see what the Google PageRanks are for the sites appearing at the top of the results; the higher these PageRanks, the better the quality of the pages as seen by Google.
The Google Toolbar will provide the PageRank of every page you visit, but I’d recommend downloading and installing the SeoQuake plugin for Firefox. Once installed, you’ll see SEO-related information about each site you visit within the search results.