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Google's Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

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