Despite its slightly tarnished reputation, search engine optimisation (SEO) is neither a dodgy tool nor a black art—it’s a skill, a science and an essential ingredient of any successful website. By Francesca Newby
Getting to grips with SEO can seem like a lot of work with no clearly defined payoff, but if you’re running, or planning to run, a website that is designed to bring in new business rather than simply service existing clients, then you just can’t afford to be without it.
At its heart, SEO is really quite simple. Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the umbrella term for the techniques used to drive traffic to a particular website. Essentially, it’s all about having good quality content that is fresh, relevant and original, and then presenting and marketing that content in a way that allows the people who might be looking for it to actually find it. In order to make your site readily findable, its content needs to satisfy the algorithm used by the search engine the query was entered into. The difficulty is that the parameters of the algorithms used by the major search engines are closely guarded secrets.
Establishing an effective and busy website is most definitely not a case of ‘build it and they will come’. Paid advertising has its place when it comes to attracting attention to your site, but research consistently shows that the majority of online searchers are looking for what the industry calls ‘organic’ results. That is recommendations made by other users, links from related sites and, most importantly, a result on the first page of their Google search.
Whether you’re looking to build a new site for a practice or to refresh an existing one, just how much you need to know about the detail and specifics of SEO depends on how involved you are when it comes to building and managing it. There are options that run from the entirely self-created end of the spectrum through to full-service firms that specialise in websites for dental and medical practices.
Do-it-yourself sites have never been easier than they are now, and readily accessible tools allow anyone with moderate tech skills to build a decent looking site. Companies like WordPress and Wix market a range of free and paid themes that simplify the design process and require little or no programming skills. What they do need in order to operate competitively is a variety of SEO and analytics plug-ins that enable you to implement the simpler techniques, such as key words and optimised URLs.
While the DIY packages offer increasingly sophisticated widgets for managing SEO tools, what they don’t provide is the skills required to implement them successfully. This is the gap that major hosting companies, such as Net Registry and Web Central, have stepped up to fill by offering stand-alone SEO marketing packages. There’s a lot to be said for the building block approach to purchasing the services you need to create, refresh or maintain a site. They offer a kind of bridging service for small-business owners who want to keep much of the process of creating a website in house without having to personally navigate the complexities of SEO.
One of the challenges facing small and medium businesses is how to take advantage of the benefits offered by good SEO without recourse to the marketing departments and budgets of large corporations. Opting for an SEO specific package is a good way to ensure that the underlying architecture of your site is solid and working for you rather than driving your page down the rankings. SEO plans are separate from the various site build and content creation packages out there; they’re about modifying content.
While there’s a lot we don’t know about the precise details of the search engine algorithms, one thing we do know is that content is key. However you choose to handle your SEO needs, it’s important to understand that, more than ever, fresh and original content is vital. Earlier this year, Google released Panda, its latest algorithm update, and one of its key aims was to beat the shucksters who had been gaming its system with key words inserted into irrelevant places, low-quality replicated content and doorway pages. The new standards are an effort to improve the quality of searches, but have also penalised a number of genuine sites.
“The point of a search engine is to assess and organise information and it’s quite easy to unwittingly post information on your site that’s actually detrimental to its ranking,” explains Oliver Bárány, online marketing strategist at Surf Pacific, a Queensland based company that specialises in building websites for the dental and medical fields. He says SEO specialists are certain that Google is measuring the availability of fresh, new content as part of its algorithm. “SEO is all about good, new content and we look after all content marketing, tying your FB page, blog and site together. It’s all about coming up on the front page of the search engine on a key word search.”
This is where the full service firms come into their own. Regularly creating and adding original new content to a website is a time-consuming business if you don’t know what you’re doing, and sometimes even when you do. Being able to hand over the responsibility will be more expensive than choosing to go it alone, but when done well, good SEO should earn its own outlay back in the first year. “Our clients went to university to train to be a dentist, not to learn marketing,” says Bárány. “A good site is not just there to look beautiful, it’s there for a purpose, and that’s to help the dentist get more business.”
3 keys for effective SEO:
It’s all about good content that is fresh, original and regularly updated.
You have four seconds to catch and keep the attention of someone who clicks on your link.
Networking and ‘introductions’, through associations and links, are vital to ranking.