Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is something of a dark art. When people say search engine these days they really mean Google, who now control over 80% of the UK search engine market according to Statista. Since Google don't publish details of how they return their results, an entire industry has sprung up to help companies push their websites to the top of the results.
White hat vs black hat
Such is the mystique surrounding SEO that two of its most important terms sound like they've been lifted from Spy vs Spy. White hat techniques are legitimate methods for improving ranking such as writing content with keyword use in mind, using keywords in the page title, and proper use of heading tags. Black hat techniques are more dubious 'hacks' that may improve ranking today, but may lead to your site being removed from the results altogether tomorrow.
We only use legitimate techniques to ensure that your site is placed as high as possible without risking a blacklist.
If you don't have enough text - i.e. actual words - on your website, search engines won't know what your pages are about. We recommend that you have at least 200 words per page as a minimum, including on the home page. It doesn't need to be a single block of text, it might be split up into a number of boxes or into different sections.
However, don't just add words for word count's sake. The text needs to be relevant, not repetitive and needs to read clearly as natural English (or whatever your language you're writing in). A really long page will be slow to download: see page load time below.
Read more about how to craft the perfect page content in our blog about writing good web content.
Put simply, keywords are those words and phrases that your visitors will be entering to find your site. For example, if your company makes spoons, potential customers who are looking for a company like yours will probably enter search queries like spoon manufacturer, cutlery wholesale and tableware supplier. You need to make sure that the pages on your site are liberally sprinkled with phrases like these so that you are placed as high as possible in the results. These keywords should be used in your page title, page description and main headings on your page.
There are many online "keyword density" calculator tools available so you can check how many times particular keywords are being used on any given page. Make sure the list includes all the important keywords you've identified. Check also that no keywords appear wildly more often than others, to avoid your text seeming spammy. Your content should still read as natural English (or whatever your language you're writing in).
Sometimes the words and phrases that people use to search for a topic are not the ones you would expect. In fact, being familiar with a subject and knowing all the proper industry terms can be a disadvantage when trying to come up with the keywords that your prospective customers might use.
A useful tool for determining important keywords in your business area is Google Trends. It has a wealth of features, but we find it most useful for finding the relative importance of different keywords such as for solar power.
Keep it fresh
Google will check your site often and it notes how often the content changes. Your site will do better if there is regular, new and updated text and images. Focus on the home page, which is the only page the majority of your visitors will see. Feature your latest news story or blog post on the home page, and make sure you add these on a regular basis. You don't need to make changes every day, but every other week or so would be a good target.
In 2015 Google announced that it would be including mobile-friendliness in its ranking for searches made on mobile phones. Mobile versions of sites should be quick to load, suitable for use with a touchscreen and adapt to a small screen size (in portrait or landscape mode). Google has created a mobile-friendly test page so you can check your website passes muster.
You can read more about responsive design in our blog about web page size and layout.
Domain name and physical location
Contrary to popular belief, websites don't actually live in the cloud!
A website is just a collection of computer files which live on a web server connected to the internet. The address of the building containing that web server can matter: Google gives more weight in search results to websites hosted in the same region as the person searching. If you are targeting a UK audience, it's best to have a web server physically located in the UK. In fact, if you are a public sector organisation it may be a requirement that your website is hosted in the UK.
Our websites are all hosted in a managed, central UK data centre.
Similarly, domains suffixes can play a part, although they are not as important. If you want to attract UK visitors, you might want to opt for a .co.uk or .org.uk domain name. Your UK visitors will be more familiar with these type of website addresses too.
Page load time
Google gives priority to those sites that load quickly, so page size and load time are more important than ever. If your competitor's site loads quicker than yours, they're likely to be pushing ahead of you in the results page.
Page load time can be affected by a number of factors:
- your website hosting - if you have a very cheap shared hosting plan, you may find that your site loads slowly.
- the number and size of images on a page - make sure all images are resized and saved to the size you want to display them at. A 3000px wide image displayed at 300px will take just as long to download as if it was displayed at its original size.
- effects and scripts that are triggered when a page loads
- the sheer amount of data being sent to the browser - a very long page will take longer to load than a short page
Getting links to your site
This is the number one method of improving your ranking in search results, and perhaps the hardest to achieve. Getting high-quality sites to link to yours makes a huge difference to your results placement - but conversely, poor-quality site links can harm your placement just as much.
Issuing periodical press releases featuring your web address can be a good way to get news sites to link to you, which are typically highly-placed themselves. Posting messages on well-respected web forums is another tried-and-tested technique, especially since you can control the text of the link itself. One of the most important factors is the text used on the hyperlink, which Google uses as a keyword indicator.
Valued suppliers or customers can be a good group to target for links to your site. You can offer a reciprocal link to their website as an incentive, but only if it's relevant and a high enough standard. It's OK to be fussy about link quality! The text of links is important; suggest to linkers what descriptive link they should use instead of a link straight to the website address.
As an example, we include a link to our own site on every website we build, varying the link text from site to site but usually something like Web Design - Iteracy. This improves our search results placement and associates Web Design and Iteracy in Google's index.
Common SEO techniques
Here are some of the techniques we use to make sure your site is placed right where it should be - at the top!
This is one of the most important factors for placement in search results. Your page title (the text that appears in the title tags in your code) should sum up the page, giving search engines and users a quick summary of the page. The title of this page is Search Engine Optimisation : Iteracy which gives the user and search engine a four word summary of the page. Each page on your website should have a descriptive and unique page title.
Page titles need to be very clear and focused; we recommend no more than 65 characters. The most important words should be first.
The meta description is an opportunity to control what text is displayed in Google's search results. If you don't include one, Google will usually include a snippet from the page, but you won't have control over what text is used. Meta descriptions are normally shown in search results below the link to your page; they are not visible to visitors on the page itself.
Meta descriptions need to be fairly brief and to the point; we recommend no more than 160 characters. The most important words should be further left i.e. towards the start of the sentence.
Body text and headings
The text of your page should be written in clear, correctly-spelled plain English, but written with your keywords in mind. Note that repeating your keywords over and over has been proven to actually lower your ranking - the important point is that your content must be written in complete sentences.
Another important factor is the use of page headings, especially the H1 (Heading 1) HTML tag. This page uses one H1, a number of H2 headings and some H3 headings. Your page should contain a reasonable amount of text on the page - some studies suggest that very short pages are penalised. Finally, all images should have alt (alternative) text or deliberately blank labels.
The page URL (web address) is an important tool in improving your search result placement. Google looks at your page URL for search phrases, so a page like
will be placed lower than
In addition, your visitors will find it a lot easier to understand and remember! We recommend that your site doesn't have more than three levels of pages, that is more than three slashes in any URL.
The code behind your website pages should validate to the agreed standards. As a technical feature this is often overlooked by site owners, but every page should be accessible to disabled users and meet the W3C guidelines for standards. You can validate any page by going to the W3C Markup Validation Service. Read our blog about Accessibility for more information on this topic.
Links out to external sites
Not as important as links in, links out to external sites can make a difference to your search ranking. Linking to poor-quality sites, or selling links on your site has been shown to negatively influence search results, and links out to high-quality sites may improve your rank in the same way. This page contains a number of links out to high-quality sites.