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Organic Search Results
Search engine traffic is very important. Search engines, and Google in particular, are often thought of as the gateway to the internet; a search engine is the way that most people go about looking for information, products and services online. Whilst pay-per-click advertising and sponsored search engine rankings can be effective, many webmasters are instead choosing to focus on "organic" search results – climbing the rankings on the strength of the actual content of their site. Consumers tend to trust natural results more than sponsored ones, and rightly so; if the system is working correctly, organic search results are based on the actual merit of the sites listed, rather than on who can pay the most. Also, brands can be notable by their absence. If you were to do a search for baked beans, and didn't see Heinz on the list, you would probably be quite surprised, and it might damage your opinion of the brand.
The nice thing about organic or natural search engine optimisation (SEO) is that small businesses and personal site owners can compete with the big boys on this level. Whilst an individual may not share the huge advertising budget of a large corporation, it is perfectly possible to research good SEO techniques online, and apply them to a website for little to no cost. Often, large businesses will spend all their marketing budget on pay-per-click ads and sponsored links, because that's how they're used to marketing their products or services; this leaves plenty of room for others to step in and climb the search engine rankings by optimising their pages for natural results.
How does one go about increasing one's ranking? There are two broad factors which search engines, and particularly Google, take into account when indexing sites and returning results.
Content is the meat and potatoes of SEO. Simply speaking, search engines like sites with lots of high-quality, original, relevant content. This means that unique copy with a high density of relevant keywords is likely to improve your ranking.
If you want to be attractive to Google's spiders, the first thing you need to do is decide on the keywords you want to target. Try to choose keywords which are specific to your site's theme, rather than broad categories. For example, if your site sells lots of varieties of birdseed, you shouldn't try to target keywords like "pet" or "pet food" - for a start, the vast majority of people searching for those keywords will not be looking for birdseed, and also, it's unlikely, with generic terms like those, that you will be able to compete with well-established pet supplies companies. It would be better for you to try to target keywords and keyphrases such as "birdseed", "bird food" and "budgie food".
Once you have chosen your keywords, you need to start adding copy to your site which contains these relevant words. Make sure that you have at least 250 words per page, and be sure to target at least one keyword or keyphrase on each page. Don't just target all your keyphrases on every page; only use the ones which are relevant. The ideal "keyword density" is something like 3%, but don't bust a gut trying to get that exactly; just make sure that it's clear to both your human and electronic visitors what your site is for or about.
In case you're considering it, don't even try stuffing a page full of keywords, or constructing a "doorway" page. Search engine algorithms are wise to this kind of spamming behaviour, and may even ban your site if you attempt to use these "black hat" SEO techniques.
If your site doesn't lend itself to lots of written content as it stands, you might want to consider adding a section devoted to news and information about your theme. That way, you can add lots of copy which will not only raise your search engine rankings, but which will also be attractive to your human visitors, who will be interested in what you have to say, especially if you update regularly. You could also consider adding a message board or forum, on which others can post content for you (but don't rely on them using the keywords you want!).
Links are also an important part of your search engine rankings. Google's PageRank algorithm ranks pages by "importance", based on the number and quality of incoming links to that page. A link to your page from a complementary site (such as, using our example, a more general pet supplies store, or a bird breeder) is worth much more than a link from a FFA (free-for-all) page with hundreds of unrelated links on it, so paying for inclusion on this sort of page is a waste of your money, and can get you blacklisted by Google. Instead, you might want to consider swapping links with other websites. Remember that providing good-quality content on your site will make people more inclined to link to you naturally, as well.
There are a few more things to take into account when you are optimising your site for the search engines.
- Try to have a search engine friendly site design. This means that your pages should be logically linked to one another, every page should be linked to the home page and any major categories you have, and ideally you should have a site map. You should also try to optimise your html; make sure that, if you're using frames, you use the noframes tag to ensure that search engines will "read" all of your content.
- Don't try to use any nefarious techniques to boost your rankings. That means you shouldn't add pages of meaningless keyword lists, doorway pages, or cloaked text (text the same colour as the background of your pages). Not only is this unethical behaviour, but Google can tell, and you could be penalised if you are found out. Besides, these sorts of techniques often pull only confused, untargeted traffic – visitors who will use up your bandwidth but who are unlikely to buy anything.
- Don't neglect the meta tags. Although these aren't as important as they used to be, it is still worth getting them right. The title tag is the most important, so be sure to include keywords in it (rather than just the name of your company). The description should be helpful and again, keyword rich, and your keyword tags should all be keywords which appear in the copy of that page.
Natural search engine optimisation is free, ethical, and effective. It can build a lot of trust from your visitors, who will recognise you as important and relevant to their search requests. Good luck!
By Natalie Catchpole