• Web Usability: key to user experience
  • Once a user has found your web site, its usability will determine its success. User surveys suggest that user-oriented design, and well organised content, scores over funky graphics and innovative design. There’s a link, too, with SEO… Read more...
  • SEO: Climb Online or Fly With The Dove?
  • Lord Sugar’s decision to back an SEO start-up with £250,000 is a reminder of the essential roles of SEO and effective web management. Dovedale Design manages web sites and their SEO, freeing business owners to build their business. Read more...
  • In praise of Microsites
  • A microsite can used to complement a mother site, with a distinct character appropriate to its subject and audience. Among many other advantages are speed of rollout and the ability to give a discrete group control over character and content. Read more...
  • IE8 – Let’s Kill This Beast!
  • I came across today a web site dedicated to killing off Internet Explorer 8. My own experiences have taught me painfully why my first web design teacher referred to Internet Explorer as ‘the spawn of the devil’… Read more...
  • Responsive Web Design – what does it mean?
  • These days, web sites are accessed on a host of different devices, with a myriad of different screen sizes, resolutions, browsers and operating systems. From the very start of web design, there has been a need to ensure that sites […] Read more...
  • How should I measure my web site traffic?
  • Content is king for search engines, and well-structured navigation is high on user priorities. Regular analysis of a web site’s traffic can help maintain a well-structured, engaging site. But what metrics should we use? Read more...
  • Why WordPress?
  • I am unashamedly a fan of WordPress, an opensource blogging platform-turned-Content Management System, which sits at the heart of many our web sites. But “wait a minute”, I hear you say, “doesn’t ‘opensource’ mean free? How can something free be […] Read more...
  • Should social media form part of our web strategy?
  • It depends on what you are trying to achieve with your site, but for many sites, the answer is increasingly ‘YES’. Social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter for the purposes of this article) have become increasingly pervasive. Recently I read […] Read more...
  • To blog or not to blog
  • I am sure that we are all familiar with standalone blogs. Someone decides that they wish to express him- or herself on the Web, sets up a blog site and away they go. There are plenty of blogging tools and […] Read more...

SEO integral to effective web design – and vice versa

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) practitioners enjoy a varied reputation, for some sitting somewhere between snake oil salesmen and practitioners of Black Magic arts. As a business model, Search Engine Optimisation was thrust into the limelight by Lord Sugar’s decision to back an SEO start-up at the end of the 2014 The Apprentice series.

Google and other search engines work continuously to improve the search results delivered by their algorithms. In doing so, they look to weed out and penalise dubious practices. Gone are the days of ‘link farms’ and excessive use of low-quality articles to create back links, not that you would know it from continued e-mails from SEO ‘experts’ offering these services.

There’s no debate, however, about the importance of being at the top of Google’s organic search rankings. Some generally accepted stats:

  • organic search results achieve around 90% of clicks, leaving 10% for paid ads;
  • fewer than 10% of viewers proceed past page one of Google;
  • the top organic result generally receives around one-third of clicks, and the top 3 more than 60%.

Link Builders – beware the Panda!

Google's panda

In 2011, Google introduced a ranking factor, which became known as ‘Panda’, to its algorithm. This was followed in 2012 by ‘Penguin’, a further update.

Panda and Penguin are designed to identify a number of dubious techniques, such as excessive use of low-quality articles to create back links, and to improve the ranking of higher quality sites.

With Google now taking steps to penalise offending sites, the webmaster of such a site may expect to receive a communication along these lines:

Dear site owner or webmaster…
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

The message from this is, first, that one should focus on producing quality content, both on site and in articles containing links back to your site. And beware of marketers exhorting you to embark on an aggressive link-building exercise.

Google’s own guidelines state that “Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes…”. At Dovedale Design we welcome Google’s initiatives. We have always argued that a well-structured web site, with carefully written, regularly refreshed content is the essential platform for an effective web site.

Write Pages for Users

Consider carefully the terms for which you’d like to be ranked. Write content so as to place key words, phrases and tags effectively. Structure the page to ensure that the key message is immediately evident. If possible, give each page a central theme and set of keywords. Understand the requirements of search engines as best possible, but never forget that Google advises webmasters to write pages for users.

But what if your page then flies under the radar? Resist any first instinct to stuff more key words onto the page, manufacture additional non-natural links or similar practices. Rather, consider the CONTENT of the site, and the PEOPLE (rather than search engines) for which it is intended.

  • It is often surprising, when returning to a web page after a while, to see how many improvements can be made. Is your message clear and sufficiently prominent? Are competitor or similar web sites better and more useful? Is their contact information better presented? If so, make improvements, even redesign the page.
  • Research and revisit key words and expressions, and their positioning within your content.
  • If you have a Blog or News page, keep researching and delivering fresh, relevant content.
  • Build authority and trust in your products and services. Maybe through tools or advice, and even with external sources: a list of appropriate resources and links can add to the overall air of authority.
  • Analyse your traffic to see how your site is, or isn’t, being used. And not just traffic: Google lists a number of technical considerations, which impact the user experience, and therefore also its ranking. It cites page speed and web site load times in particular.
  • The bottom line is at all times to consider the overall User Experience, as this will contribute towards your Google ranking.

Top Google rankings for www.bssteels.co.ukWhat is described above is a continuous process. In another article, SEO: Climb Online or Fly with the Dove?” we demonstrate the top rankings achieved by Dovedale Design on behalf of BS Steels. These results are achieved by a process of structure, hard work and continuous evaluation of the site, its content and its rankings. There is regular discussion with the business owner, and every month a traffic and rankings report is prepared to check the overall health of the site, and to generate recommendations for improvements. Without regular monitoring, a high ranking this month may dwindle over time as competition muscles in, or the search engine’s methodology alters.

Off-page Initiatives

Whilst web site structure and content have taken centre stage, don’t ignore opportunities for off-page efforts, and to develop your web presence more widely. At one time the Page Rank of a site linking to your web site was known to be one of the key elements of Google’s algorithm; now there is debate over whether this is so.

The relevance of social networks and social media is debated topic, and of course the ingredients of Google’s algorithm remain a closely guarded secret. Towards the end of 2014 we attended a presentation by a social media expert in a leading City of London communications agency: he advised that use of Google-owned YouTube, and a current profile on Google+, ought to help at the margin with Google. Google Analytics tracks and reports on visitors to your website across social networks, so they are certainly paying attention to these channels.

Bing is rather more explicit in its guidelines: “Social media plays a role in today’s effort to rank well in search results. The most obvious part it plays is via influence. If you are influential socially, this leads to your followers sharing your information widely, which in turn results in Bing seeing these positive signals. These positive signals can have an impact on how you rank organically in the long run.”

One thing of which we can be sure, however, is that social media should not be used mindlessly. Choose the right channel(s) for your business and devise an appropriate strategy for your business and your resourcing.

Find out what we can do for your business today

Dovedale Design’s philosophy is to empower business owners to build their business, safe in the knowledge that their web presence is in good hands. We do warn clients up front that there are no guarantees so far as search engine listings are concerned. We strive to deliver efficient, high-ranking web sites which display a thorough understanding of the business and its needs. SEO is an important part of that package. Why not find out what we can do for your business today?