Search screen on computer This Web Skills module on increasing the visibility of your website (SEO) will give you top tips to; understand how search engines read your pages, improve your sites SEO; build a link strategy and monitor your performance.

Search engine optimisation is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's unpaid (organic) search results.

The higher a page is ranked in search results and/or the more frequently a site appears in the search results list the more visitors it will receive.

Let's get started:

SEO Web Skills module content

1. What is SEO?

  • SEO is the strategy of increasing your website’s ranking in search engine results.
  • SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience.
  • This means making your pages as attractive as possible to search engines so that what you put on a page, how you put it on there and the way in which you structure your overall content lends itself to being picked up by search engine tools.

2. Search Engines - it's all about Google!

Search Engine URL No. of monthly visitors
Google https://www.google.com 1,100,000,000
Baidu http://www.baidu.com/ 564,000,000
Yahoo http://www.search.yahoo.com/ 350,000,000
Bing http://www.bing.com/ 300,000,000
Ask http://www.ask.com/ 245,000,000
  • Google's search engine finds 30 trillion+ unique URLs per year.
  • crawls 20 billion sites a day.
  • processes 100 billion searches every month.
  • Handles 3.3 billion searches per day.

August 2012, Amit Singhal, Senior Vice President at Google.

Google Analytics has been ranked as the most used analytics tool on the web with over 10 million websites using it.

3. How do search engines work?

A search engine operates in the following order:

  1. Web crawling
  2. Indexing
  3. Searching

Web Crawling

Search engines use spiders and robots to collect information about each page.

Spiders work by:

  • Read HTML from left to right – top to bottom.
  • Follow links on your page.
  • Place different emphasis on keyword placement.
  • Will not read CSS or Javascript.
  • May or may not be interested in Meta Tags.
  • Google use spiders to search every website and ranks them in terms of quality and relevance. Quality and relevance are judged based on the number of clicks, ‘inlinks/out links’, keywords and phrases, optimal page usage.

Indexing

Indexing is required for faster retrieval of the information collected by the spiders. Information is analysed and indexed based on principles from linguistics, cognitive psychology, mathematics, informatics, physics, and computer science.

The data is the text, graphics, and media on the page, for example, words are extracted from the titles, headings, or special fields called meta tags.

Searching

When we enter a query into a search engine (using keywords), the engine examines its index and provides a listing of best-matching web pages according to its criteria.

4. What can I do to improve SEO?

There are two factors which are important to improving your SEO:

  1. On page optimisation.
  2. Link building.

On page optimisation

You can write your web pages with search engines in mind:

  • Keyword research and analysis.
  • Page specific meta tag creation.
  • Title tags.
  • Alt tag optimisation.
  • Content placement.

Keywords

Keywords/phrases are vital to site optimisation. Use words and phrases that people will use in a search engine.

  • 50% of searchers use key phrases with three words or longer.
  • 30% use two words or longer.
  • 13% use one word.

There are various Google tools that can help to identify what keywords and phrases to use:

  • Adword tool– Whilst this tool is primarily for placing ads in Google it is also useful for finding out what key words will get the most attention in a search engine. For example, if you wanted to advertise an event on your website this would help you to choose which keywords to use for optimal presence.
  • Insights – Comparing  your phrases and search terms with each other. Eg – take five different keyphrases and compare them to see what rating they get and who is currently using them and the volume of clicks that they get.

Keyword placement

Place your keywords/phrases in the following places on your site:

  • Page titles.
  • Meta tags.
  • Headings.
  • Body content.
  • Text links.
  • Alt tags.

AdWords

The Business School currently have an Adwords campaign running for each of their courses/programmes which supplements organic search on Google and informs their SEO work. This work informs them what keywords people are searching for and what keywords convert how visitors are interacting with the site etc.

Through the increase in knowledge gained through the analysis of AdWords campaigns they hope to gain better understanding about their customers behaviour and tailor their SEO to exploit this.

5. Where do people look on a page?

Visitors look at:

  • heading.
  • paragraph.
  • order of words in sentence.

The Google spider reads from left to right. The importance of word placement on a page should be considered – headers and first words in a paragraph are primary.

You can see from the below screenshot that the hotspots (in red) are where people spend most of their time - the bulk of the activity is at the top left of the page around the headings and start of the paragraphs:

  Heat map showing where users look on a page for information

6. Writing for search engines

Page Title

  • This is really important and should be unique for each page.
  • It is given the greatest weight in search engines and should be 60 characters or less.
  • Important words should be at the front.  What you do, then who you are.

Meta data - Optimising Meta Tags through good use of keywords. On most websites this can be coded in html and contain detail about the page that is not necessarily displayed on the page but which search engines pick up.

Headings - Make sure your headings:

  • match with the page content.
  • include primary keywords.
  • are used in descending order H1, H2,H3 (Imperial's T4 CMS will not allow you to put headings in the wrong order).

Body - Make sure your content has:

  • primary keywords in the first paragraph.
  • low keyword density – don’t keep repeating the same words!
  • paragraphs with headings.

Indicate your location - If your location is important then make sure your location is clearly marked on your page. If a prospective student is searching for a course in London then Imperials address becomes very important.

  • Having ‘London’ in our organisation title helps.
  • This might also be relevant for an event or if your page is about how  great Imperial’s location is making sure you clearly state the location in the text.

7. Using images to enhance SEO

Google spiders ignore text that is set into a graphic. For example ‘Imperial College London’ in the College logo will not be read. Example of Imperial College logo

Alt Text

Alt text will be read by Google spiders and can therefore bolster page optimisation through the choice use of words to describe the image.

  • Alt text is crucial for accessibility.
  • Use informative descriptions which contain page’s keyphrases.
  • See how to add Alt tags in our adding images section of the Web Guide.

8. Make the most of your links

Keywords

Try to use your keywords in your links – employ your keywords as much as possible, links are a perfect opportunity to use them.

Hyperlinks - Google spiders look at these links and the relevance of the words that are used to rank the page. Inbound links can increase your page rank.

Do's:

  • words used in hyperlinks should be relevant and key to the page they are linked to.
  • give relevant names to links  as this meets with accessibility requirements. Find out more about writing links from web experts Nielsen Norman Group.
  • links and titles should contain your keywords
  • surround keywords with different, but relative and descriptive text.
  • Use internal links to link to College pages - this will increase page rank
  • Use external links to link to quality external websites - link quality is important – one link from a high quality website may be better than 100 links from low quality ones
  • Trade links where possible - this will increase the amount of visitors to your site, as long as you make sure the sites you trade with are respectable.

Don't:

  • Use words like 'click here’ they are not going to be relevant search criteria.
  • don’t over use your keywords - remember use surrounding descriptive text!

9. Keep your website up-to-date

If your website has not been kept up-to-date the search engines will assume it is not relevant and you will drop down the search lists.

If you don’t have time to refresh your pages you could consider pulling in information such as blogs, News, Events or Social Media feeds.

10. Analytics and monitoring

There are various ways to look at the website’s performance through Google.

Cached pages

To find out when Google last looked at your web page type your webpage URL into the Google search box.
Click on the green arrow which appears under the main link, and select Cached.
 

Green arrow that shows cached pages on Google search

Cached information showing on Google search You’ll get something like this: This is Google's cache of http://www.imperial.ac.uk/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 2 Mar 2015 15:21:34 GMT.

Links
  • To find out how many links there are to a website and who they are, type Link:URL e.g. Link:www.imperial.ac.uk/study.
  • To get a list of all other sites under a web address - type site:URL into the Google search box e.g. site:www.imperial.ac.uk/study.

Google Analytics

Before you start to optimise your pages take a benchmark using Google Analytics. You can check how many visitors and pageviews there are for each page or to see how your overall page group is performing on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

Once your site is optimised for SEO go back and check the number of hits after a period of time. This is a very good way to see how a newly launched website is doing.  As your pages exist within a larger site any changes will probably be very subtle.

11. Top Tips and further help

Top Tips for successful SEO

  1. On-page optimisation.
  2. Link building strategy.
  3. Use SEO tools to help you out.
  4. Keep refining and reviewing your performance.
  5. Get some help by contacting your Faculty Web Officer .

Join us for at our next Web Forum or get further help from our Web Guide FAQs blog.