In the fifth of our se­ries about dig­i­tal skills, Tom May looks at how to op­ti­mise web­sites so Google and peo­ple will find them

Computer Arts - - Contents -

In the fifth of our se­ries about dig­i­tal skills, we look at how to op­ti­mise web­sites so Google will find them

Search En­gine Op­ti­mi­sa­tion (SEO) is both an art and sci­ence. It’s about en­sur­ing that when peo­ple search for a rel­e­vant term on­line – for ex­am­ple, ‘cheap ho­tel in Birm­ing­ham’ – your web­site ap­pears high up the re­sults page, in a way that grabs at­ten­tion and en­cour­ages click-throughs.

You might think SEO is some­thing you can hand over to some­one ‘tech­ni­cal’ once the web­site is de­signed. But rather than be­ing bolted on af­ter the event, it’s in­creas­ingly baked in to the de­sign process from the start.

“For brand new web­sites, SEO is def­i­nitely some­thing clients want to dis­cuss straight away,” says Mark Stringer, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Manch­ester agency AHOY. “And for those un­der­tak­ing a re­fresh, it’s usu­ally the next ques­tion af­ter the UI dis­cus­sion.”

Ex­actly what’s re­quested will vary from client to client. “Smaller busi­nesses and sole traders tend to ask about mar­ket­ing in gen­eral, or maybe even how to get on Google,” says Eji Osigwe, head of de­sign and de­vel­op­ment at Cedar­wood Dig­i­tal, also in Manch­ester. “Larger busi­nesses seem more aware of the ter­mi­nol­ogy and the kind of work in­volved, and so may ask for very spe­cific work.” HOW SEO WORKS There was a time when SEO was a dark art in­volv­ing tricks like ‘key­word stuff­ing’, which meant vis­i­tors were of­ten greeted by the mind­less rep­e­ti­tion of a phrase like ‘cheap ho­tel’ through a site. Thank­fully, in 2018, search en­gines are more so­phis­ti­cated, and so nowa­days the most fun­da­men­tal build­ing block of SEO is, quite sim­ply, to cre­ate a qual­ity web­site peo­ple will love.

“Strong, qual­ity con­tent that keeps vis­i­tors en­gaged – es­pe­cially con­tent in­formed by an up-to-date key­word strat­egy – will help you move higher in search re­sults,” says Eric John­son, di­rec­tor of ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign at 50,000feet. “Think of the win­ning for­mula as vis­i­tor time spent + high-qual­ity con­tent + key­words.” TECH­NIQUES FOR BOOST­ING SEO Spe­cific tech­niques can also boost your SEO fur­ther. One is to struc­ture the in­for­ma­tion on your site so it can be dis­played as a sep­a­rate sec­tion within your main list­ing. “Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions (FAQs) is a good ex­am­ple of high-qual­ity, use­ful con­tent that will get in­cluded,” notes John­son. “The next time you search on Google, check out the ‘Peo­ple Also Ask’ mod­ule, which dis­plays ques­tions that are sim­i­lar to your search; this will help you get an idea of ques­tions to in­clude in your FAQ.”

An­other im­por­tant thing to con­sider, es­pe­cially when it comes to re­freshes and re­brands, is 301 redi­rects. These little bits of code send both site vis­i­tors and search en­gines to a dif­fer­ent URL when, for ex­am­ple, a tem­po­rary cam­paign ends and you want peo­ple to visit the main site in­stead. Bro­ken links will get you pe­nalised on Google, so a solid 301 re­di­rect strat­egy is vi­tal to good SEO.

SEO is not an ex­act sci­ence, though, be­cause the al­go­rithms used by search en­gines like

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