How to Improve Your Website’s Search Engine Rankings
Without giving away too many trade secrets, there are several ways to increase the search engine rankings of almost any website.
Technical Adjustments to Your Website
Most websites contain relatively poor–quality HTML code, which often hinders the search engines’ exploration of a website. A few improvements to the code will usually help the search engines to:
- index the website more efficiently, and
- identify each web page’s keywords: the words or phrases you want the search engines to associate with each page.
There is normally scope for improvement to parts of the head section and the mark–up within the body of the page. The most important areas are:
The Meta DescriptionIf you don’t create a unique meta description for each page on your website, the search engines will generate one when they file each page in their database. A good, hand–made meta description will almost certainly be more useful than one generated by a search engine. You should summarise the essential subject matter of the page within the meta description, and use the page’s keywords. So if the page is about take–away pizzas in Shrewsbury, and if you want the page to appear in the search results when people type in ‘take–away pizzas in Shrewsbury’, make sure that you use the words ‘take–away pizzas in Shrewsbury’ within the meta description. You only need to use the relevant words once; a meta description like take–away pizzas in Shrewsbury, pizzas Shrewsbury, best Shrewsbury pizzas, takeaway Italian pizzas in Shrewsbury will probably lose you brownie points. Because the meta description is normally displayed when a page appears in a list of search results, an informative description is likely to attract more clicks than an uninformative one. Use no more than about 150 characters in total, including spaces.
The Title ElementIf you look at the top of your browser screen, you will see the words How to Improve Your Website’s Search Engine Rankings : Lab 99 Web Design. These are the words within the title element of this page. As with the meta description, you should ensure that it is unique, succinct and relevant. The title element should begin with the title of the page, followed if necessary by the name of the website. Use no more than about 70 characters in total.
The Name of the HTML PageThe name of a page should include all of the most important keywords. It is safe to omit unimportant words such as ‘a’ and ‘the’, but all the relevant words should be written in full, except for commonly understood abbreviations. The name of this page, (http://www.lab99.com/web-advice/)how-to-improve-your-websites-search-engine-rankings, is better than, for example, (http://www.lab99.com/)improve-search-rankings. Words should be separated rather than run together. When joining words, hyphens are marginally better than underscores. The extension doesn’t matter: antique-dealers-in-wigan.html is no better or worse than antique-dealers-in-wigan.php. In practice, it may not be worth changing the name of a web page; doing so will eliminate any search engine ranking points that it has accumulated, unless you also include on the web server a technical document known as an htaccess file. This is beyond the scope of this article; contact us for details.
HeadingsWithin the body of each page, the single most search engine–friendly pieces of HTML mark–up are the heading tags. Use these to bring your keywords to the attention of the search engines. Make sure to use them correctly: unless your website is using HTML 5, each page should contain only one
<h1>tag. Using the correct doctype will ensure that the search engines treat the mark–up appropriately. Don’t forget that search engines are blind; you can style a few words of text so that they look bigger than their neighbours, but this will only be noticed by the site’s human visitors. To convey the importance of the text to a search engine, you must use the correct heading tags.
Optional Extra: the Keyword Element
One thing that isn’t really worth bothering with these days is the meta keyword element. This list of suggested keywords was originally a way for a website’s owner to tell the search engines what each page was about, but of course it soon began to be abused. For a while, it was also used in order to identify alternative spellings of words within a web page. So if you wanted a page to rank for the phrase Oswald imposter in Mexico City, for example, and the page used the ‘imposter’ spelling consistently, you could have included the alternative spelling, ‘impostor’, within the keyword element to let the search engines know that the page was relevant to any searches which used that spelling. There is no longer much benefit to be had from this; search engines nowadays are pretty good at recognising (or recognizing) alternative spellings in English. You can use the keyword element if you like, but Google stopped paying attention to it years ago.
Spreading the Word: Links to Your Website
The biggest single factor in a website’s search engine rankings is the number of links to it from other websites. Links are treated like votes of confidence. The more links to each of your website’s pages, the better, provided that they are from relevant, authoritative websites.
External Links Must Be Relevant
Links from websites that have no relevance to the subject matter of your own website are very unlikely to have any positive effect on your rankings. Links from what are known as ‘link farms’, websites that contain little more than lists of links, will probably worsen your website’s rankings and may even cause your website to disappear altogether from the search results.
Some websites are considered by the search engines to be much more authoritative than others. You have probably noticed that Wikipedia consistently appears close to the top of Google’s rankings, even when a particular article doesn’t really deserve it. A link from a website that is considered to be especially authoritative, such as Wikipedia or an academic institution, will normally provide a significant increase to a website’s rankings.
Within a website of any reasonable size, internal links can be used to strengthen the status of individual pages. It can be difficult to attract links from elsewhere, but it is easy to link to other pages within your own website. Internal links must be relevant, and should not be excessive.
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About half of our business involves creating brand new websites. The other half comes from improving the appearance and search engine rankings of existing websites.
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