In the 1990s, we tended to discover new websites in one of three ways.
We might be told about them by friends. We might see them being advertised. Or we might find them in paid search listings.
It’s hard to imagine that search engines didn’t exist as we know them today. As recently as 2002, Yahoo! charged a fee to every company appearing in its listings.
By the early Noughties, startup companies like Google were attempting to bring some science to proceedings, by listing results in order of perceived relevance.
This was the birth of a process known as search engine optimisation, or SEO, where website owners and administrators tailor their content to be relevant to particular searches.
It’s no coincidence that BroadbandDeals.co.uk specialises in helping users find the best broadband deals. We chose our website address very deliberately, and we perform well in searches for this term.
That’s partly because the phrase ‘broadband deals’ occurs extensively through our site. But there are many other factors at play.
Understanding these complex (and often mysterious) rules serves as a beginner’s guide to SEO, for people wanting to launch a new website or make an existing one perform better.
With an estimated 90 per cent of website traffic arriving from search engine links, SEO isn’t just useful. It’s absolutely essential.
When you type a word or phrase into a search engine, it interrogates a database of websites it’s previously scrutinised, before determining which ones are most relevant.
This relies on an algorithm whose precise composition remains a closely-guarded secret, to prevent disreputable individuals trying to cheat the system.
Although these search engine algorithms periodically change, some factors remain universally important:
- How long the site has been live. Well-established sites are treated as more authoritative, whereas newer ones have yet to prove themselves.
- How frequently it’s updated. Topical or regularly-maintained sites are seen as more valuable, as they’re likely to contain up-to-date information.
- The amount of original content. Large volumes of text infer expertise, and people are likely to stay on the site longer – another factor which boosts rankings.
- The choice of top-level domain. In the UK, search engines regard website addresses ending in co.uk as more relevant. The opposite is true for foreign domains.
- The number of inbound links from other websites. If a third-party site thinks yours is worth linking to, it suggests your content is valuable.
- Whether specific terms appear throughout the site. Because it’s the main topic on our site, searching for ‘broadband deals’ is likely to bring you to our homepage.
- How quickly pages load. Most web traffic displays on mobile devices with sluggish connections, so fast loading is regarded as a favourable attribute.
How do I optimise my site?
Any beginner’s guide to SEO can only scratch the surface of an industry so complex it’s created an entirely new employment sector.
However, a few points deserve consideration, regardless of your site’s nature or purpose.
Firstly, keywords remain crucial. Use these liberally but in a natural-language way. Search engines can now identify overuse of keywords, downgrading guilty sites.
You can also use keywords and long tails (relevant phrases of three or more words) in page headings, image captions, site maps and many other places.
Software packages can assist with this process. Yoast is an addition to the WordPress site building platform, providing simple colour-coded suggestions for improving SEO.
Before launching a site, create a stockpile of blogs or updates which can be added on a weekly basis. Every time search engines rescan the pages, they’ll find fresh content.
This content needs to be original, since plagiarism of any form is an absolute no-no. If you’re quoting existing material, attribute the source with a weblink.
Try to build inbound links with external sites, either through referrals, guest contributions or sponsorship. However, avoid dodgy overseas firms promising to sell you lots of links.
Indeed, never try to cheat the system. The algorithms powering search engines are sophisticated, and they can downgrade or even blacklist sites from appearing in future.