Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Your website is of little use if it can't be found. Customers trying to find you will likely use search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. As part of your web design project, your target search phrases will be incorporated into the site so it can perform well in search engines and achieve good positions in the search engine results.

SEO built-in

Every new website I build has basic search engine optimisation built-in. As part of the design process, you will be asked about your objectives for search engine performance and your ideas for the main search phrases that you want the site to target.

I can develop your search phrase ideas and review your competitors' sites.

The target search phrases can then be incorporated into the site – paying particular attention to the locations within each web page that search engines regard as the most important.

When the site goes live, it will be manually submitted to the main search engines. This is in effect a request that they come and "crawl" the site and log each page in their database. Some recently-launched sites have been crawled and started to appear on the first page of Google results for their target search phrases in less than a week. However, the initial crawl can take longer than this – sometimes even a few weeks.

Links

The on-page search engine optimisation is not the end of the story. It is important for you to build links from other sites. When your site is first crawled, Google will note that a new site exists and that it contains material about a particular subject. Google will also count the number of incoming links from other sites to your website. Google treats these incoming links like "votes" for how important your site is.

Well-established sites (like www.bbc.co.uk or www.amazon.co.uk) have very large numbers of incoming links from other sites. In comparison, a brand new site with very few incoming links, or even none at all when first launched, will generally not perform as well in Google – despite the presence of good quality content and the inclusion of key search phrases in each page.

Performing well in search engines is very much a competitive and dynamic issue. So it requires continued attention to the content of the site, the placement of key search phrases and increasing the number of inward links.

Beware link farms

Whilst inward links are generally good, Google does try to distinguish between genuine links and spurious links intended merely to trick the search engines into placing your site higher up the results. Some online directories and "link farms" charging you a fee for links exist solely to artificially bump up the number of incoming links to their clients' sites. Google takes the view that this distorts the search results and tries in various ways to prevent this happening. In extreme cases, Google can impose a "penalty", which in effect can banish a site from the Google search results for several months.

I'm very happy to discuss with clients the value of any particular links or link building opportunities. In general, if a specific site appears to exist only for the purpose of providing links to distort the search engines' results, then I would caution against asking that specific site for a link. Bona fide online directories like Yell.com don't fall into this category – whilst they can provide useful incoming links they don't exist solely for that purpose and are actually used by real users (humans!) when searching for products or services. A link farm tends to be more of a jumbled assortment of links to widely differing businesses – the sort of site that real users would never use.

Don't forget other sources of visitors

Whilst some sites will rely almost exclusively on search engines, don't forget that you can attract visitors to your site in many other ways. Conventional marketing techniques including advertising (online and offline), PR, mailshots (conventional and email), events etc can all be effective. Word of mouth is still extremely powerful and, for some sectors, can be the main driver of traffic to your site. Social networking sites can provide platforms for viral marketing. It is important to consider carefully how your website fits with your other marketing communications to ensure you achieve your objectives. Think of your website as an online brochure and think how you can get as many of your target market to view your site. Simply creating the site is not enough – you must attract visitors to it.

Google Places

Many local and regional businesses can benefit from having a Google My Business listing, since this can help them be found by users making searches including, for example, the names of towns or counties. Setting up your Google My Business listing is free. Google now includes Google My Business results above natural search results for many searches - so don't miss this opportunity!