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Google's Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 24 April 2015 | Category: SEO

SEO guide

Back in 2010 Google created its Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide – a handbook full of information about how to ensure your website achieves and maintains strong search engine rankings. It is still as relevant as it was five years ago and whilst primarily aimed at web designers and agencies, it is nevertheless worth reading if you have your own website and want to know how to get more visitors.

To download a pdf copy, click here 

 This blog post focuses on some of the points within the guide. Firstly, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of web design – what we can do to ensure your website is optimised for Google and other search engines. Then we’ll look at how content you add to your site can help with your Google rankings. And thirdly, we’ll look at promotion and analysis; how you promote your site, and how you can analyse the results of this promotion.

Technical considerations – or ‘What we do for you’

The basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) are generally hard-baked into the code of your website. The two most basic factors are page titles which are declared using tags and a page’s description, declared using description meta tags.

A good page title will be brief and legible to visitors whilst also containing keywords which you think a potential customer might search for. “John Fish - Catering” might be an accurate page title for a homepage of a catering firm but people will likely search for services in their area, so “John Fish – Catering services in Bromley” would be better. Better still would be to drill-down further, highlight a particular specialism: “John Fish – Corporate and wedding catering services in Bromley”, for example.

Description meta tags carry out a similar function, but allow for more detail and more keywords. They are generally used to describe to a search engine what a page is for (e.g. homepage, about us page, contact page etc.) but there is leeway to include keywords and phrases too. Often the description meta tag will form all or part of the text-snippet under your site when it’s listed in a search engine, so getting it right is important.  

When creating a website we will hard-code title and description meta tags on static pages, and will ensure the website automatically generates them for dynamic content such as news pages. This way you can be confident your site will have the basics of SEO in place.

Intuitive navigation using text links is another technical consideration Google highlights in its Optimisation Starter Guide. Whilst the search engine analyses each page individually (hence the importance of title and description tags on each page), it will try to prioritise important pages and a simple and intuitive navigation hierarchy helps with this.

And what’s good for visitors is good for the search engines. Better navigation will ensure visitors are happy using your site and will at the same time increase the likelihood of Google finding all of your content. This is why planning robust navigation menus is one of the primary considerations when we design a new website.

Lastly, ensuring your website works on all devices is increasingly important. As of 21st April 2015, Google is rewarding websites which are mobile-friendly and penalising those which are not. All websites we build are responsive as a matter of course now – so they work equally well on mobiles as they do on desktop PCs and Google likes this!

Content is King – or ‘What you can do for yourself’

“Interesting sites will increase their recognition on their own”.

This is the first sentence in Google’s Search Engine Optimisation guide, and it’s true! Always bear in mind that increasing your Google ranking isn’t your ultimate goal but the means to an end. Your final goal may be getting more people to read your articles, more people to buy your products, or more people to pick up the phone and contact you. Having new, interesting articles appearing, up to date product descriptions, or content which encourages visitors to get in touch is the way to do this.

And when content creation is done well you end up with a virtuous circle. More content means more keywords for search engines to find, which means more visitors, which means more people sharing your content and trusting you, which incentivises you to create even more new content.

Whilst content creation requires little technical knowledge - just your enthusiasm, time and expertise - it is worth keeping in mind what potential visitors may be searching for and trying to include some of those phrases in your content. Striking a balance is important because you don’t want your articles or product descriptions to read like they were written by a man who’s just swallowed a thesaurus, but equally you should not pass up the opportunity to add key phrases to your content.

One approach may be to break your content into smaller sections, and use the keywords in headings. Creating your content with a dual readership path – allowing people who read in detail and skim readers to understand your salient points is good practice anyway. Using this technique to embed key phrases within headings will only enhance your content as far as search engines are concerned.

No website is an Island

Ten years ago creating a website, adding content and getting it listed in all the major search engines may have been enough to ensure your site stayed ahead of its competitors. However, it is now important that you treat your website as the central part of your marketing strategy but not the only part. Promoting your content offline, on social media, via newsletters and email marketing campaigns is vital if you want to maximise the number of people reading it. And if you run a consumer facing business – a high street shop for example – getting listed on Google Business is vital as it means your business is then shown on Google Maps and you can take advantage of location based search.

(Oh and a quick plug here! We can help with all of these things. We offer bespoke email marketing from design to distribution, can help set you up on Facebook, Twitter and Google Business and design a website which encourage users to share you content, and we also offer design for print services.)

Finally, using tools such as Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools can help identify which parts of your site are working well and which aren’t. We add Google Analytics to all sites we create as a matter of course. It allows site owners to see which search phrases are being used to find their site, which pages are getting most hits, whether AdWord campaigns are working effectively, how user behaviour differs between devices and much more.

Optimising website for search engines is a complex and inexact science but our experience with a number of clients over a number of years means we’re in a good position to offer help and advice. So, if you have any questions about this blog post or about Google’s Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

A reminder: Google loves mobile-friendly, responsive websites and is changing its search results to reflect this

Blog post written by Rob Henson | 30 March 2015 | Category: SEO

You have less than a month.

On April 21st Google will be changing its search algorithm, rewarding websites which make it easy for users on mobile phones to access content, and penalising those which don’t. And Google is being brutal – your website is either mobile-friendly, or it isn’t, and the search giant will either increase or decrease your website’s ranking on whether it passes their test. For businesses which rely on traffic generated by search, passing this test is therefore vitally important!

You can check if your own website passes Google’s mobile-friendly test by entering its address here:

If you passed, give you yourself a pat on the back.

If not, it's time to start thinking seriously about your users – those people trying to find out about your business, trying to buy from you, or simply trying to contact you – who are currently served a mediocre website on their smaller screens.

Novamedia can help, of course. We’ve been designing responsive website for a few years now, creating sites which are optimised for all screen sizes. See, for example, the sites we created for Munro & Forster, BYMT, Playing Up Theatre Company or Shaw & Sons.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can help you pass Google's mobile-friendly test, and ensure your website achieves the Google ranking it deserves, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll also be more than happy to appraise your current website and come up with any suggestions for improvements!

Related blog posts

Google lets people know if your site is mobile-friendly

Google lets people know if your site is mobile-friendly

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 26 November 2014 | Category: SEO

Google mobile-friendly tagStarting from last week and being rolled out over the next few weeks, Google has added a new label to its mobile search results to tell people if the page in the results is mobile-friendly.

In Google’s own words:

"Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. This can be a frustrating experience for our mobile searchers."

The label will simply say 'Mobile-friendly' and as it becomes more widely known, it is likely that a website that is not optimised for mobile devices will get fewer visits as people opt just to go to the search results that are labelled as mobile-friendly.

There are various criteria that make a site mobile-friendly such as:

  • Being able to read text without zooming
  • Not using unsupported software such as Flash
  • Making sure links are far enough apart so that they can easily be tapped

You can check if Google deems your site to be mobile-friendly by typing in your website's URL at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.

Oh and even more importantly, Google are also considering making this a ranking factor so that sites which are not mobile-friendly will be penalised in the search rankings.

Related blog posts

It pays to be responsive

You won’t sleep well with just one pillar

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 10 July 2014 | Category: SEO

We’ve had some success recently helping our clients with search engine optimisation or SEO and getting them legitimately to the top page in Google. This is all great and it will bring more traffic to their site and therefore more business.

Some of these clients take their marketing seriously and use various other forms of marketing and advertising to help them to procure more business. They have more than one marketing pillar holding up their business so should one fail to bring home the bacon, there are other marketing methods that will succeed and help maintain a steady flow of new business.

What worries me though is when a customer solely relies on just one pillar. And what worries me even more is when that pillar is SEO.

Don’t get me wrong, SEO can be valuable. Getting to the top of Google’s rankings should bring more traffic and therefore more business if you have targeted the right key words and phrases. Google is quite helpful in telling you what to do in order to help boost your ranking and how to make sure your site is relevant. But they’re not going to give away all their secrets and there’s no guarantee they won’t suddenly change the way they do things which will cause your site’s rankings to fall.

SEO is unique in that respect amongst forms of marketing. If you’re using other marketing methods and they work then you don’t usually have to make any tweaks to what you are doing. SEO doesn’t work like that. Either you’ve got to keep on top of it or you risk suddenly finding your site not getting any traffic because its ranking has slipped.

But more importantly, make sure you’ve got many other marketing pillars holding up your business and please don’t just rely on SEO.

Only one pillar

It's only words, and words are all I have...

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 22 March 2010 | Category: SEO

Client to me: "I want my site to be number one in Google".

Me to client: "It already is".

Cue one of various reactions ranging from disbelief through scepticism to temporary misplaced delight at the thought that their site is at the top of the search results. And then the inevitable question: "What do you mean, it already is? When I look for it, it's nowhere to be seen. If you can show me my site at the top of the search listings I'll happily dine out on this fine Trilby".

This fictional exchange would, I'll wager, end up with the client feeling nauseous, forlornly looking down at half a hat.

To be fair, I wouldn't call in my winnings. Firstly, forcing a client to eat a hat is a guaranteed way of losing said client. Secondly, I did cheat just a little bit.

With the obvious caveat that your site has to have been submitted to and indexed by Google, you can see it at number one in the search engine by taking a unique phrase from the site and typing it in to the search box.

Take an example from the Novamedia website. Type into Google the following, including the inverted commas:

"Design and production of websites, from simple informational sites to database-driven content management systems"

You see. A page from the Novamedia website is the top result. (In fact when I tried, it was the only result but that's neither here nor there). Try it for your site and see how you get on.

Having demonstrated this, the hypothetical client then points out, of course, that they want to be number one in Google for a particular meaningful key word or phrase and not a sentence that no-one ever has, or ever will, type into a search engine and if you think they are going to munch on headwear following that tame demonstration then you've got another think coming. And it is usually at this point that we go from one extreme to another.

"I want to be on the first page in Google for 'restaurant'".

Well, you will certainly be somewhere in the 288 million results that Google helpfully tells you it can supply. (Did you know that if you decided you had nothing better to do than to scan through all of these results one page at a time and allowing 15 seconds per page, it would take nearly 137 years!).

Anyway, I would then suggest that maybe we ought to narrow it down a bit. So the client suggests 'italian restaurant'. Wow, that has really helped. You are now in the top 60 million results and, even with the best search engine optimisation in the world, you are never going to be on the front page or anywhere near it.

So we need to narrow it down a bit more. How about aiming for a top result based on the location of the restaurant? For example, 'italian restaurant petts wood'. Now that's given us more of a fighting chance – 6,350 results, nearly 1,000 times fewer than our last search, and the top two results are, strangely enough, Italian restaurants in Petts Wood, (my home town) and jolly nice eateries they are too.

What it comes down to is aiming for search phrases that are more targeted towards your business. It could be argued that the example above is to some extent spurious in that no-one is actually going to search simply for the word 'restaurant' on its own, but it makes the point.

What you want is quality traffic and not quantity. Think about what you do, where you do it, how you do it and who you do it for and aim to get traffic to your site based on the key words you come up with.

  • I am a web designer in Bromley (target the key words web design bromley).
  • I am a PR consultant specialising in healthcare communications in Central London (target the key words pr consultancy healthcare london).
  • I have an online shop selling aquatics products and we sell Eheim internal filters for aquariums with free delivery (target the keywords eheim aquarium internal filters free delivery for one of the product pages).

That third example is actually a real-life one. Try it in Google and you should see a result for Pace Aquatics (http://www.pace-aquatics.co.uk/product_detail.cfm?ProductID=10) very near the top of the search results. It's a site we produced and we worked carefully on our search optimisation.

Anyway, all that talk of restaurants has made me peckish. More later. In the meantime, why not follow us on Twitter to keep you updated on our blog posts.