Who is this guide for?
This concise guide is for the small enterprise owner-manager or their webmaster who hasn’t the time or inclination to wade through a 400-page ode to SEO.
It covers the essentials of website optimisation with particular focus on those optimisations for which there is a business case. It’s not an exhaustive list: there will always be more to do; and the advice will always be evolving to meet new technologies and requirements.
This guide is concerned with the optimisation of websites rather than the separate, related topics of web-marketing and social media.
Although it’s written from our UK viewpoint, the principles should apply to any small business anywhere.
SEO and UXO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the structure and content of your website with the aim of moving it up the search engine rankings – in practice, this means Google, though the others should not be ignored.
User Experience Optimisation (UXO) is about improving the User Experience for visitors to your website, mostly via the function, structure and content .
But what is good for the search engines may not be good for the visitor and vice-versa. If your website gets to the top of Google, but is impossible to find your way around, then you have fallen at the second fence.
Ultimately it’s people who buy your products or services, not search engines, so UXO is just as important as SEO.
The assumption is that your website is commercial and therefore you are prepared to spend some time, money or both on getting it right. The web is not staying still, so you should have a budget for keeping it up to date.
Ideally most of your SEO and UXO should be built into the initial design but, for one reason or another, this may not have happened. Even if your website is perfect at launch time, the web moves on – witness the growth of mobile Internet use right now – and so it will need work, probably on a monthly basis, quarterly at the absolute outside.
How your browser displays web pages
Without getting too alarmingly technical, there are a couple of things it is useful to know:
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the most common language for coding web pages. In practical terms there are three flavours of HTML: HTML4, XHTML and HTML5. Any references to HTML in this guide focus on HTML5 because commercial imperatives – think mobile devices, SEO, video – will drive its adoption as a de facto standard even though its status is currently ‘draft’.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are used to control presentation. This allows the separation of content (the words and pictures) from the presentation (the layout of the page, colours, font styles etc).
How we arrived at some of our suggestions
There is nothing like trying to write your own search engine to realise the problems the search engines face in digesting content on the web. Writing a search engine is hard (google that snippet if you want to try yourself) but we should say it’s not, nor ever has been, our intention to take on Google, Bing and Yahoo. We are, however, interested in niche markets which is why we took a look at constructing our own web crawler with a view to returning specific information.
Technique – how to see what a search engine sees
The reasons for needing to do this will become clear as you read through the SEO and UXO tips in this guide.
The search engine reads each page of your website as plain text: this is called the source code, though frequently it’s actually the amalgamated source code that the web server has put together from the various sections (eg top banner, navigation, footer) and the body of the page.
To see what the search engine is reading using your browser, open a web page and go to View Source: right-click (possibly ctrl-click on a Mac depending on your mouse type) in a plain part of the web page and then left-click View Source. This is how you will be able to see the declared audience language codes, the hidden meta data and the use of heading levels.
Where you come across this reference in the text of this guide, replace it with your own website address when following the tips.
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