A beginner’s guide to search engine optimization

The world of the internet is ruled by search engines. Your writing might be lovely, but it’s a shame if nobody reads it. How do you ensure that you appear high up in the search engines’ results list?

Well, to put it simply, you can’t. The big search companies, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing, offer advertisements that make your site appear on the results page, but savvy searchers have grown wise to this and tend to ignore it, or else they’re using ad-blocking browser plugins. The big three have grown wise to SEO tactics from the 90s – some of the more fun ones being huge lists of words in a font the same colour as the background and link exchange programs – remember those?

Nowadays, it’s generally agreed amongst SEO types that you need to do a few key things:

1. Make sure each page on your site has a title and meta description and that they are accurate. Meta keywords are useful too, but there’s a lot of evidence that they’re ignored.

2. Have an XML sitemap that tells search engines how your site works. How? Sort one out for free at www.xml-sitemaps.com/

3. Use simple URLs, so if your page is all about cats, try to use a URL like: yoursite.com/cats

4. Offer something unique and useful. The higher the quality of your content, the more likely people are to return to your site and tell their friends about it. The more visits you get, the better you’ll do in search engine rankings.

5. Include words and phrases people commonly search for. If you sell toys for cats, assume people will search using simple terms, such as ‘cat toys’.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find a more extensive introduction at Google’s Webmaster Central blog in their SEO starter guide.