Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the science/dark art of getting your site listed as high as possible in the organic search engine rankings. The ‘organic’ ranking is the main search results on the left hand side of the Google (or Bing) page, as opposed to the Paid-for search results which are the ads that sometimes appear in the pale yellow box at the top and the column of ads on the right hand side. (see my tips on Google Adwords for more on those)
Google uses a secret algorithm to determine the order of results it will return for any given search term. Companies charge thousands of pounds to second-guess the algorithm and get you ranked as high as possible. Sooner or later, one of them will contact you and say they can help you get your site to the top of the Google rankings.
Ignore them! The algorithm changes all the time, and Google is increasingly punishing the sites that are trying to ‘game’ it for their own advantage – what’s known in the industry as ‘black-hat SEO’.
Why is SEO important?
Because it generates you free visitors. It’s that simple, and you rarely get anything in life for free these days. If your site is good then some of those visitors might become donors or fundraisers. There are plenty ways of paying to drive traffic to your site, but ranking well on Google could dwarf that number – for no cost at all. As well as being free, web visitors also trust the organic search results more than the ads.
Certainly to begin with, Google is going to be your biggest source of traffic (see my Analytics article for setting it up).
What determines how well your page/site ranks in Google (the first 2 carry the most weight)
- The more relevant sites that link to yours, the more authoritative Google will deem yours to be – and the higher it will rank it.
- The more the keyword appears in your site/page/domain name – particularly in the titles – the more relevant Google will think you are to that search term. This is why the choice of your domain name can be important.
- Publishing content on a regular basis is also an indication that your site is an authority on your subject and is providing fresh, relevant information.
- The older your site/domain name, the more weight Google will award it. Not really what you wanted to hear when you’re building a brand new site is it?
- The faster your site is, the better it will rank. This factor has a minimal effect at the moment.
What can you do to improve your ranking?
Check out my tips article for some simple steps that will help. Bear in mind that SEO is a long-term game. It can take weeks or months for you to see the results of your efforts so don’t be disheartened if you don’t see your site shooting up the rankings. If you’ve looked at the fiverr.com site already then you might have noticed lots of people in there who will help improve your ranking for just $5. Don’t – they’re all engaged in black-hat techniques that are likely to do more harm than good these days.
Making sure that your site (and especially the page titles and urls) contain the right keywords is the easiest and most effective thing you can do to help your SEO. This is why it’s good to get a basic understanding of SEO before you start building your site and adding content to it. You should also seek out any opportunity to get other websites to link back to yours – whether that’s in the local news, corporate sponsors or anywhere else. A link from a bigger, better site (like The Guardian or BBC) is worth much more than one from the South Yorkshire Times. Easier said than done though.
Black-hat SEO techniques include adding as many links back to your site as possible from directories, spurious comments on blogs, paying for links from other sites or exchanging them. They also include artificially stuffing your pages with keywords to improve your ‘keyword density’. They’re a waste of your time and they’ll ultimately be counter-productive because the Google algorithm is too smart to be hoodwinked like that.
Deciding which keywords to optimise your site for is an important decision. As a small charity you should be aiming at a fairly niche audience rather than expecting to be listed on the first page of Google for the search term ‘children’s charity’ for example. You’ll never compete with NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Save The Children etc. But you might rank for ‘Children’s charity Basildon’ if that’s where you work – and the word Basildon appears on various pages in your site.