What is SEO?

SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation”.  It means optimizing a website so that search engines will visit, index it and display that website when people search for particular ‘keywords’, the words they type to find things.  The most popular search engine is Google which is why many people concentrate specifically on trying to get higher rankings on Google.

At the time of writing (Aug ’09) Google Search has almost 80% market share, Yahoo! is the next most popular with approx 7%.

When you type a search phrase into Google, you get a list of results.  Everyone wants their site to be as high up that list as possible, preferably at number 1.

Getting there is the problem because there’s no rule that says ‘do this and you will get to number 1’; no-one outside Google can tell you exactly how it views, indexes and rates your site.  I read recently that at a search engine conference in London, 2 Google employees got up on stage to discuss it and even they couldn’t agree on how it worked!

Is it hard to get the number 1 position?

No, within a few weeks any decent website developer could get a specifically designed page high up in search engine rankings and probably to number 1.

However it will probably be for a keyword or phrase that is no use to anyone, for example “green turtlewax shoes”.  Try it now by clicking here and see which page is a No. 1 😉

Good SEO strikes a balance between search words and phrases that people will actually type into their search engine, and those that aren’t already being heavily used by other websites.

Choosing Keywords

Keywords can be single words or phrases.  For example ‘gemstone ornaments’ may be referred to by a web developer as a keyword, as would ‘car dealers in Aberdeen’.  A “keyword” then is any combination of words that people may search for.

Choosing keywords can be one of the most difficult aspects of SEO, and unfortunately for you, your website developer can’t do it for youYou must try to understand what your audience would type into a search engine in order to find your site. Very often, if you ask a company to help you with your SEO, they’ll ask you to list all the keywords you want to be found for (I do).

Unfortunately, you’re possibly the worst person to ask.  You may find it difficult to imagine what an “uneducated” audience will search for, because you know the finer points of your business, however you probably also want to be found for the “obvious” searches.

If for example, you sell computers, you’re likely to ask that you get ranked highly for ‘computers’, or ‘home PC’.  But that would mean you competing with PC World, Apple, HP etc., as well as thousands of other Computer journalists and resellers (not to mention eBay!), so it would be a pretty impossible job.

The best way to get good results is to look for a niche, although that can be as much to do with your Business Development Plan as website design!  Think about what makes your business different from the competition.

A good place to start is to think local.
your business + your location = a good keyword

Search engine optimisation is a gradual process.  If someone promises you instant results it’s likely that will charge you a lot of money and demonstrate some temporary success (or charge you an extortionate amount to keep you there).

Where do the keywords go?

Keywords generally go in three main places:

  1. In the code of a website, put there by the website developer.  You can see a website’s code by clicking on the View menu at the top of a browser window and then Source or Page Source.  It looks very different to the displayed page.
  2. In the website description – a short paragraph of text, possibly even just one sentence that describes your business
  3. In the content of your website (see below)

Website Description examples

Breaking news, sport, TV, radio and a whole lot more. The BBC informs, educates and entertains – wherever you are, whatever your age.
– www.bbc.co.uk

Official site. Shop online at Marks & Spencer for clothing, furniture and homeware, flowers, gifts, wine and much more.
– www.marksandspencer.com

Search engines take notice of this, because it should accurately describe what visitors will find in the website.

However, if you try to take advantage by “stuffing” the description with keywords so that it isn’t very easy to read, or it’s too long, search engines will penalise you!

Site Content

If you try to set up a website only with Search Engines in mind, then you will have limited success.  You may be able to drive visitors to your site, but you might drive them away just as quickly.

It’s important also to think about:

  • capturing someone’s attention quickly
  • how easy the site is to use
  • what will keep people on the site once they’re interested, and
  • what will make them want to come back, and keep coming back

The text that is put in the site is also indexed by Search Engines, so your list of keywords should also feature in the content of the pages that you write.


If you can get other sites to link to yours this will really help, particularly if those sites are already popular and feature in Search Engine results.

Obtaining links is one method SEO companies will use to push your site up results pages.  However, often these links will be posted on unrelated websites, and so may only have a temporary effect.  If it appears that you are “spamming” – just trying to post your link anywhere you can – search engines can, and will, penalize you for it.

Try to get links from related businesses, if not direct competitors, and reputable directories, yell.com for instance.  You need to pay for an entry in yell.com, but there are free directories available too.  Some will ask that you put a link to their website on yours, this is known as a “link exchange”.

If your site has lots of inbound links it indicates to search engines that it is popular (people want to link to it, or are talking about you).  Lots of outbound links can indicate that your site is relevant as you are referencing other resources on the Internet.

Submitting to Search Engines

Your website can also be submitted to search engines (such as Google and Yahoo!) and Internet directories.  It’s worth spending some time doing this.  You won’t see instant results, but in a few days or weeks the search engines will begin to visit and index your site.

I can help you with this, but this isn’t part of my initial website development quote (unless you specifically ask for it).

Should I pay for sponsored links?

You can pay Google, and other sites, to display a link to your site for specific search terms, or phrases.  It is debatable how useful this is, particularly for small companies.  These “ad campaigns” may work on the basis of pay-per-click.  You say how much you’re prepared to pay when someone clicks on your link (NB. not when someone buys something, just when they click on your link) and that amount is charged to your account.

You have to constantly manage your campaign to ensure the best results, and it’s easy to be tempted into paying higher and higher amounts for clicks.  I’ve heard of some companies paying £££s per click!

On Google you can set a daily budget, when the budget runs out your ads won’t be displayed until the next day.  You can also set times of the day, days of the week etc.  It’s a job in itself which is one reason why I would recommend you try this yourself if you’re interested in this type of campaign, asking me to do it may not be cost effective for you.


Keeping your site up to date is also important.  Yes a website that is never updated may remain in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for some time, but it won’t be as interesting to search engine “robots” (also called “bots” or “spiders”) as a site that is regularly updated.

A page update will trigger a robot to take fresh interest in the page, re-index the site and follow links.