The ‘holy grail’ of search engine optimisation (SEO) is that someone types in a search term (let’s say “women’s clothing”) and your website pops up at the very top of the results page quite naturally (let’s say Marks & Spencers or Next).  It sounds simple enough in theory but there are lots of things that get in the way of your website ranking top of the results.  Just type “childrens’ toy bricks” into Google and you’ll see what I mean (although arguably that Danish company have such huge brand recognition, they are cool with that).

Search Engine Optimisation is a huge subject and has become a sub-set of Marketing in its own right; agencies specialise in it and people spend plenty of time and money trying to achieving it. I can’t claim to solve all your SEO challenges in one blog (ten or twelve blogs perhaps?!) but I can highlight some things you can do yourself. I have picked out my ‘top 5 quick wins’ which are easy to address with little or no ‘webmaster black belt’ specialist skills.

Review your key words

What would you want potential customers to type into a search engine for your website to show up in their results?  There will probably several key words or, more likely, key phrases that you will want to rank for.  So how many times do those words or phrases appear in the text of your website, and in different combinations?  It’s not rocket science; if you aren’t using the language your potential customers will use, search engines won’t know to include you in the possible results.

Regularly update your content

Search engines want to ensure that the results they display are current and relevant; it keeps users coming back if they get quality results. To do this, search engines will index websites to make searches quicker; the world wide web is simply too large for any search engine to hold ‘live’ website information. (I am picturing a really, really large library and one small ‘librarian-robot’ trundling around, scanning all the shelves). This indexing might take place every 12 weeks or so – it does vary – and the search engine will compare the information it previously indexed against what it finds now.  If that information has not changed, nothing has been updated and nothing new posted, the search engine will conclude the data is becoming less current. It might leave 24 weeks before it indexes again, during which time it will show the website less frequently in search results. If nothing is new next time… well, you can see how this is going. Websites which are not updated are eventually tagged as dormant, rarely indexed and rarely shown in search results.

Is your website easy to use?

A website’s structure and navigation are – hopefully – something that was carefully considered at the build stage so the ‘skeleton’ should be fairly sound.  However, websites that have been around a while can start to get untidy; I worked with one organisation the back-end of whose website can best be described as looking like a Brazilian favela, it had had so many bits built on over the years.  After a while, this starts to impact on usability; too many clicks to get to a page, too many broken internal links, website searches producing irrelevant or outdated results etc. So, have a spring clean. Put your ‘customer hat’ on and visit your website like it was the first time. What needs cutting, moving or simply deleting?

Make quality links

Search engines – like most human beings – judge websites on the company they keep by looking at whose websites you have linked to. Search engines are smart enough to work out if it’s a genuine link (by comparing text on both sites, for example) so ‘link stuffing’ is not a strategy I’d recommend.  Reciprocal links, like a mutual referral, score well. Links to your social media are great – and embedding social media feeds can, of course, be a good way to keep web content updated. And internal links are just as important; if you talk about a ‘previous article’, add a link to it. Search engines see this as you providing helpful information to users and reward you for it.

Content is key

What’s a great way to keep your content updated, naturally include bona fide links and use lots of relevant key words?  Regularly posting articles, blogs or news stories on your website.  They needn’t be long: search engines need a minimum of about 300 words to effectively index a page but human beings, depending on the topic, can start to ‘tune out’ after about 600 words.  (This article is fast approaching 900 words so you can judge that one for yourself!). As Grandma always said, better little and often than feast and famine so set yourself a realistic goal and try to stick to it.

A final thought.…for now.

It helps to remember the mission statement of the world’s most used search engine, Google: Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  Like any other organisation, Google has customers to serve – its users.  Anything we can do that helps Google serve the information on our website to those looking for it will result in better search result rankings.