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Thursday24 July 2014

Shine a searchlight on your site

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Now you’ve built your website, the next step is to optimise it for users and search engines

Your website has been lovingly crafted and packed with bon mots and choice images of your stunning designs. You have eschewed the pitfalls of potentially beautiful, dynamic but search-engine-unfriendly flash files and stuck to standard html coded content. However, your site still languishes in the secondary pages of potential clients’ web searches.

Search engine optimisation appears to be both a growing business and a dark art. It can be divided into two camps: those trying to optimise the end user’s experience (the white hats) and those who seek to subvert the way the search engine works to give undue prominence to a particular website (the black hats). Black hat techniques need to constantly evolve to keep up with search technology, so it is much better to spend time on the lasting benefits of white hat optimisation.

Costs for website optimisation services are not always clear without embarking on a dialogue with the service provider, but those that give an indication vary from £25 to over £100 per month. As an alternative — particularly if you have designed and built your own website — you might want to try a little search engine optimisation yourself. Here is a checklist of seven simple things to get you started.

  • Create short unique titles that are accurate and relevant for each page in your website.
  • Use the description tag to provide a succinct and relevant summary of the content of your page. Avoid using the same description over multiple pages.
  • Make sure the names of subfolders and the web page files are relevant and human-friendly. This will help make your URLs informative and memorable. Avoid capitalisation — users prefer the consistent use of lowercase only.
  • Make sure that your website has a clear logical structure and exploit this by considering the use of breadcrumb links. In addition provide a site map. Better still, two: one for your site’s users and a specially written XML file version to help search-engine robots find all the pages in your site.
  • Try to make sure the navigation of your site can be achieved with text-based links. While some search-engine robots can navigate JavaScript-based drop-down menus and animations, be aware that if this is the only form of navigation it could hinder full cataloguing of your website.
  • When linking between pages on your website make sure that the link is visually clear. Avoid generic “click here” text and make sure that the linked text refers directly to the subject of the linked page.
  • Make your images search friendly by giving them relevant file names and including a very brief description in the alt tag.

Remember though, that such technical niceties will come to nought if your website is incontrovertibly dull. It’s imperative that you are creating useful and interesting content for your audience.

And if you are doing something interesting, tell people about it. Actively promote your website though both offline media (business cards, letter headings etc) and online (writing a blog, maintaining a Twitter account or updating your LinkedIn profile page).

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