A step by step guide to improving your website ranking

To make your website bring in business beyond simply reinforcing a positive image of your company, it needs to appear within the first 2-3 pages of search engine results. However, getting in the first 2-3 pages is getting increasingly harder.
The reason for this is that there is an increasing number of websites, but also, search engines are getting smarter at deciphering where a website should appear according to the search request it is trying to answer. This is because competition between search engines to retain customers (the people doing the searching) is fierce, to this end they strive to produce the best and most relevant search results for their customers. This is a good thing for websites within an unusual market or offering a niche product or trading in a specific area, but not so for those that are not. So the answer to getting a higher search ranking is to focus your website very carefully, and be as specific as you can. For example if you are a company based in Loughborough who sell shoes, you would be better off focusing the whole or part of your website around the fact that you sell shoes in Loughborough, rather than focusing on shoes alone. If you are a small company that sells a product in a competitive marketplace, and sell that product across the whole of the country, getting higher in search engine results is much harder as you have to compete with big companies with big budgets. In this case, unless you have a known brand, your time, effort and money optimising your site should be minimal (but not ignored), with most of your time focused elsewhere.

Onsite optimisation is worth approximately 30% of your time, improving your rank with search engines and conversely getting your site even higher in search engine results requires 70% of your time getting external websites to link back to your site. This is called Offsite Optimisation.

What you should be aware of before starting or improving your website

There are various algorithms used by search engine to help them assess your site and rank them accordingly. The makeup of these algorithms is top secret, known only to the search engine company themselves. However, search engine companies do publish various guidelines, and with the help and knowledge of a fertile Search Engine Optimisation community, a number of elements of the search engine algorithms are commonly known.
The following is a list of some of those elements that are considered by the search engine algorithm;
Age of your domain name. This needs to have at least 4 years history with the search engine.
The number of websites that link to your own. You need to have a large number of websites that link to your own website and fewer links linking from your own website to external sites. This indicates to the search engine that your website is useful and contains good information.
The rank of the websites that link to your own. You cannot have a rank that is higher than any of the websites that link to your own. Your rank is diluted each time a lower ranked website links to your own. Your content has to be interesting enough to encourage people to link to your site from their own, or pass on the link to others.
How often your website content is refreshed. Content needs to be changed or new pages added at least once a month. When a Search Engine visits and indexes the content on your site it checks to see if there is anything new. If there is new content each time it visits, it will visit your website more frequently and give you a higher ranking.
Your metadata needs to match the content of each individual web page. If the search engine believes that the metadata you provide is relevant to the information of the web page associated to that metadata, your rank again will be diluted, and potentially the whole website may be downgraded.
Content is not repeated within your site, or taken from other websites. Search engines know if you have copied content from elsewhere as it timestamps content. If it finds content that is also on another site and it indexed the content on your site after the same content it has found elsewhere, it will downgrade your site. Make sure that your content is at least 70% unique.
Your website complies with the W3 coding standards. If your does not comply not only are you likely to be breaking disability discrimination acts, the Search Engine will struggle to index your site fully and may well give up part way through and consequently downgrade your site.
Make sure you do not have dead links listed. Search Engines do not throw away information about your website. For this reason if you delete pages that have been indexed by the Search Engine, these links will still exist, but will not longer work. Make sure that you inform the Search Engine that these links are dead. Search Engines do not want to present links from search results that no longer exist, it’s not good for their business or your own. You will be penalised for this.
Links to your website need to be relevant. 30% of optimisation is based on your onsite optimisation, the other 70% is based on what other websites/forums/directories/news services/social networking sites link to yours. Each website that links to you needs to be relevant to the page that it is linking to. Preferably, the quality of the website also needs to be as high as possible. You should also include a relevant keyword within the link for it to be effective, e.g. if you want to direct someone to a page on your website that is about luxury holiday villas, the link from the website to your should include the words ‘luxury holiday villas’ rather than a simple ‘click here’.
Bounce Rates. This is where someone visits your site and leaves without viewing other pages on your site. This is analysed by the search engine, and if it is high, the search engine will presume that the content is not relevant to the search term used by the visitor, or the site is not interesting by way of content.
Considering the above, you therefore need to think very strategically on what you want to focus on and structure your website accordingly. Think about what keywords are important and relevant, and make sure you use them within your site content, the metadata, and any links that link to your site.

A step-by-step guide to improving your website ranking

The following is an ordered step-by-step process on how to approach building a website. Before you start you need to decide where you are going to host your website, and on what type of system you want your website running on.
Make sure you host your website on the fastest server you can afford. Search engines increasingly measure this and will grade a website higher if web pages load quicker.
Visit your competitors and see what they are doing. Take note of what keywords they are using, what page titles they use, what metadata they use, and who links to their site, and what keywords are used for the links to their site.
You might want to skip this bit as it is very time-consuming. However, if you do analyse a competitors site, make sure what you are analysing is relevant, i.e. don’t analyse a page that is not relevant to your site.
Decide what sections you want on your website.
Decide how you want to split up these sections to create sub-sections.
Decide what pages you want in each section / sub-section.
Research each keyword and phrase that is relevant to the sections / sub-sections / Pages you require by using the following tool http://www.webconfs.com/keyword-playground.php and https://adwords.google.co.uk/select/KeywordToolExternal
If you wish to do more in depth research into what keywords are most appropriate for your needs, I recommend the following commercial (paid for) resource - Wordtracker
Using phrases that include keywords is much more effective than using singular keywords.
Based on the keyword research results that you have, check that the domain name is available and buy it. Try and have a keyword within your website address.
Many Search Engines will only start listing your website higher once it knows that the domain name is established – generally after about 4 years.
List up to 15 keywords and short phrases that describe each section and sub-section. Try not to repeat keywords from one section / sub-section to another.
List between 10 - 20 keywords and phrases for each page. The more focused and specific you are the better.
Using as many keywords that you can from the list of keywords, for each section, sub-section and page, write a description of up to 40 words. Only use the keywords on your list that relate to the particular section, sub-section, page that you are writing for.
Try and use keywords in your navigation buttons. Make sure the navigation system is based on a system that Search Engines can read (and then pickup keywords used within your navigation buttons).
Write a good descriptive title for each web page. Make sure that these titles have the H1 tag. The title must be short (6 or 7 words at most) and the keyword near the beginning.
Write the content for each web page and make sure it relates to the title. Use the keywords you have listed for each associated page. Make sure the content is focused on the title. Make your content interesting and useful by adding graphs, figures, useful data. Do not repeat keywords or phrases more than 10 -15 times within a page.
Content is king. What you write about on a page to page basis is important.
Where possible use keywords within the wording of your web site navigation buttons.
Add your keywords and description to the meta-data. Do not cheat. Do not repeat meta-data. If you have structured your site effectively, this should not happen.
Minimise the use of graphics where you can. This will improve page load time.
Make sure that you enter a description for the image, and use keywords where applicable.
Add links from one page to other pages using keywords within the link and the link description. This will help the search engine understand your structure further.
Where you can, add links from other websites to your own website. Make sure that the link contains relevant keywords and a proper link description that also includes keywords. Those keywords should also relate to the page on your website that they are linking to.
Add a social networking button and maximise the chance of people broadcasting your website address in their social networking sites.
Use video and stream it from YouTube.
Display your last Twitter / Facebook content within your site.
Keep content fresh by re-writing it once a month, or add new pages each month. A good idea would be to have a latest news section or blog.
Use a system for revolving content. This is a script that will change the content of a page according to changes that you wish to happen. The reason for this is that a search engine will visit and index your site. The next time it visits it will realise that the content has changed and decide to visit your website again, but this time earlier than it would otherwise. The search engine after visiting earlier than otherwise will realise the content has changed again, and so come even earlier next time. So by revolving your content, you will get the search engine visiting more frequently. It will believe that you regularly update your site, and so will grade you higher.
Make sure that each page on your website has a search engine friendly web address.
Provide a facility so that people can refer your site to friends (via a social network for example), make it easy for the visitor to place your site in their favourites.
Use RSS feeds and broadcast these to various RSS Feed services.
Make sure you have a sitemap and post these to Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine you care to consider.

Keeping it real

Getting to the top of search engine rankings is hard because it takes time. You can get to the top if you’re focused. You can also get to the top through more generic searches, but this is even harder are possibly not very realistic considering the competition. Each website is graded (ranked) by each search engine. The higher your website rank, the better your chance of appearing higher in search results.

Paul runs his own website development business with designs that focus on search engine optimisation (SEO). All SEO elements outlined above are included as part of Paul's web design package.
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