Why a Professional Website is Like an Iceberg
By Adrian Mallett B.Eng. (Hons)
Over the years a steady stream of people has contacted us to ask if we could help them with the same problem. They have a website which they have spent time and money on and they really like it but the telephone never rings. Websites such as these are not much more than expensive, online brochures. They should be considered as luxuries rather than the investments they were intended to be.
Your showcase to the world
Your website is your showcase to the world but, fundamentally, it should also pay for itself. If your website incorporates ecommerce then it should sell your products. Whether that is by enabling your customers to buy online or by generating enquiries it should make you money. If your website advertises your services then it should be attracting the kind of potential customer who needs your services but has never heard of your company.
A common misconception with websites is they can be an asset even if it can only be found when searching for the company by name. Any website which is designed and built correctly should be able to do that as a matter of course. A much harder task is getting your website found for the kind of searches potential customers are using. The target search terms for your website should only contain your company name if it happens to be the same as your product or service.
The rise of website authoring tools
Over the last decade the range of authoring tools available to build websites has exploded. This has made having a website cheaper and easier for a much wider audience. There are lots of advantages to using website authoring tools such as WordPress or wix.com but there are also drawbacks. A higher proportion of published websites have had important steps missed in the design process simply because people were unaware of them. To put it another way; anyone can buy a pair of scissors and cut someone’s hair but that does not mean they will be any good at it.
Professional websites are like icebergs
A professional website is like an iceberg; the part you see actually represents just a small percentage of the work involved. The majority of the work is taken up with the process of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and creating high quality content. Building a fantastic looking website but ignoring SEO is like painting a masterpiece and then displaying it in a cupboard.
For a company supplying services or products which cannot be bought online a website can be thought of as an electronic foot in the door. Once a potential customer has contacted you the website has done its job. Without proper SEO the only way for the website to be successful at its task is by using paid advertising.
The main objective of SEO is to help potential customers find your website. Sadly, some of the more unscrupulous companies ‘specialising’ in SEO will tell you that the main objective is to get the maximum number of visitors to your website but that is simply not true. Focusing on getting a high visitor count is a low quality shot gun approach and will mostly waste your time and money.
The right kind of visitors
Of course you want plenty of visitors but you also need the right kind of visitors. For example, if you install driveways then using resources to attract people to your website who do not own a house is a waste. One visitor who is a potential customer is much more beneficial for you than a thousand visitors who are not.
The process of SEO
The process of SEO is the first thing to consider at the start of any website project and it continues long after the website is live on the Internet. Even a small amount of time spent on SEO in the early stages of design can save a much greater amount of time and money further on.
Here are the basic steps to consider for SEO before the work of actually building a website even begins.
Targeting the ideal visitor
Who is it you want your website to reach? Do you want people to buy your products? If so then what sort of person is most likely to do that? For example, if you sell toys then you have two types of ideal visitor. Firstly, you will want children to look at your products as they have a huge influence over their parents. Secondly, you will want to appeal directly to parents and relatives looking for presents. Each group will use different search terms so your website SEO should be designed to target all of them.
Search term selection
We put a lot of time and effort into selecting suitable search terms. It can be a difficult process in which experience really helps. Most search terms used on Google consist of two or three words. Using a single word is just too generic unless it is a very specific term such as a spare part number.
Also, the target search terms chosen should be achievable with the available resources. For example, if you have your own small business fitting UPVc windows then targeting a term like ‘double glazing’ would be a waste of time. This is because there are just too many large companies to compete with to obtain cost effective results. However, if you adjust the term to make it more specific, such as ‘double glazing norwich’, then it becomes much more achievable.
We have found over the years that optimising a website to target specific search terms has a beneficial effect for more generic search terms. For example, a few years ago we had a client who supplied solar panels. Targeting the search term ‘solar panels UK’ was way beyond their budget but by targeting more specific search terms we found that, over time, the company website climbed in the search results for ‘solar panels UK’ from the 50th page of results to the 2nd page.
The key parts of a page for SEO
Ideally each page should have a single target search term. Using a page to target more than one search term has the result of diluting the effectiveness of the SEO. Once a target search term has been selected it should be incorporated into four main areas on the page.
1) Page title tag
The page title tag is the part you see in the tab of your browser. The title tag should start with your chosen search term and be a maximum number of characters long. The exact length varies depending on whose advice you listen to but we currently aim to make our website title tags between 50 and 60 characters long.
2) Meta description tag
We recently took over a WordPress website where the previous designer had actually told the client that they had not bothered with any of the meta description tag entries because “Google fills them in automatically for you”. That is partly true in that if you have not specified a meta description tag entry then Google will try to use what it thinks is appropriate from the page content. However, it was very poor advice because using the correct entry for a description tag can really benefit SEO. The description tag is also used by Google in the list of results so a well worded entry can help persuade someone browsing the list to visit your website.
3) Page headings
Adding headings to your page content is important but it is also vital to ensure they are in the right heading tags and the heading structure is correct. There should only be one level 1 heading on the page and that should also contain your target search term. Subsequent headings should be in order so there should not be a level 3 heading under the level 1 heading without a level 2 heading between them. This is something DIY website designers often get wrong simply because they choose to set the tags for headings according to their styling. It is better to use the correct heading hierarchy and then update the styles to what you want separately.
4) Page content
There are two mantras we follow when considering website content from an SEO perspective;
- Google loves text
- Give Google what Google wants
Consider what Google wants to provide you with when you search for something. Their product is a list of links to websites which are relevant to your search and contain the information you are looking for. Google’s ability to do this is a major contributor to their success.
If you have plenty of content on your website and that content is structured it in a way which helps Google then you are more likely to be well placed in search results. Content should be written and laid out in ‘journalistic style’ to provide the best compromise between appealing to your human visitors and helping search engine spiders to catalogue it correctly.
Magic tricks for SEO
Finally let me address the prospect of magic tricks for SEO. There are no magic tricks for SEO despite the rhetoric found on a lot of websites out there. Good SEO involves attention to detail rather than tricks. Search engines spend a lot on money creating tools to help them detect what is known as ‘black hat SEO’ and it can get your website banned from appearing at all in search results.
If you think about it logically there can be no magic tricks for SEO which will work for any length of time. One client told us that his last web designer had recommended he buy domain names which start with the letter ‘A’ or the digit ‘1’. That way he would always be at the top of the results lists. That kind of tactic works in a printed directory such as the Yellow Pages but has no relevance to the Internet. Even if it were true then everyone would be doing it and with every domain name starting with an ‘A’ you are back to square one.
Lots of little things
In conclusion, if you want your website to be an asset then it must be found by the right kind of visitors. For that to happen your website should be optimised for search engines and that takes time and effort. I have barely scraped the surface in this article. If you are interested in learning more please contact us for a chat.
#ProfessionalWebsites #SEO #WordPress