Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website so that the search engines can find it easily, and so that it appears as high as possible in the search engine result pages.
The search engines are quite secretive about how their automated systems decide on the order in which websites will be displayed. Getting onto the first page of Google for a highly-searched keyword can have a huge impact on the traffic to a website, and consequently a huge impact on the income of the website’s owner. Because of this, there is a lot of speculation about the effects of various optimization techniques on a website. Much of this speculation is based on untested theories and industry hearsay.
There are a number of factors which definitely have an effect on the ability of a website to reach a high search engine rank. A handy guide to these factors (for Google) can be found here: SEOmoz Search Engine Ranking Factors. This is a survey based on the opinions of SEO professionals, although most of the participants presumably do test their assumptions.
There is agreement about the factors that have the most impact on the search engine ranking of a web page. Firstly, the domain name.
The process should really start before your website is even built, with the selection of search terms or keywords you want the site to rank for. For example, if you are a printer, you might want to rank for keywords (or keyword phrases) like ‘business cards’, ‘flyers’, ‘letterheads’ and so on.
Google has a free keyword tool, the Adwords External Keyword Tool, which can give you a good idea of the number of people searching for your particular keyword phrase every month. Like most keyword tools, it’s not particularly accurate, so you need to keep that in mind as you work with it.
With the keywords I mentioned above, we find:
(These are the results for South Africa)
An indication of the amount of competition (the number of sites ranking for the keyword) can be found by simply searching for the keyword phrase in Google. For instance, a search for flyers (selecting ‘pages from South Africa’) shows 49,900 results.
It’s important to understand how Google interprets the keyword phrase you type in. A phrase like flyers cape town will return pages which contain the 3 individual keywords in any order, anywhere on the page. If you wrap the keyword phrase in quote marks, like this: “flyers cape town”, you’ll get pages containing that exact key phrase – in this case, only 6.
Most Google users will be typing in the key phrase without quote marks. But Google tends to favour pages where the keyword phrase appears in the same order as in the search term. So if your page is optimized for ‘flyers cape town’, there’s a good chance that it’ll appear higher in the results than a page where the phrase ‘cape town flyers’ appears.
The Keyword Tool shows that there are 46 searches for flyers cape town every month – not very many. But if your web page shows up for that keyword term, it’s only competing with 6 other pages.