Search Results

In this article I will explain what the search engines are looking for and what they don’t want to see. I will then show you how to get started on your way to search engine friendly optimisation for your website.

I see quite a few websites that don’t even have the basics that would help search engines to index their site properly and others that go over the top. Both approaches will be bad for your business so you need the right balance.

Google and other internet search providers are constantly tweaking their search algorithms in pursuit of the best customer experience (I believe Google are due for an update this month). Google like others want their visitors to get the most relevant results returned when using their search. If those results are not the most relevant people will stop using their search engines.


You may have heard about search engine optimisation (SEO), which is all about making the search engine believe that your site is the most relevant in the search results for particular search phrases. The thing is that SEO means making your site the most relevant to the search engines algorithms of the day which may not be particularly good for your potential customers. However, search engines are always evolving and in a few months they will have a new algorithm which could well see your newly optimised site falling down the rankings. Google and others put more relevance on the user experience of your site than they ever used to and I can’t see that trend stopping. So is it worth tweaking your website for search engines algorithms? Maybe, but never at the expense of the potential customer’s experience.

There are a few basics you need to get right but rather than spending time trying to make search engines happy, spend your time making your site the most relevant to users for the topic that they are searching for. Search engines will then rank you higher as they evolve rather than lower as they find you out. That is not to say that you shouldn’t prepare your website in a way that search engines like and this is what I call search engine friendly optimisation (SEFO).

What is a search engine looking for?

Let’s start with the purpose of your website. In most cases your website is there to bring in an income either directly by selling a product online or through advertising revenue, or indirectly by influencing people to connect with you to gain their custom. A business wants sales, a charity wants donations, an information website wants advertising revenue and even a personal website will be selling the person’s skills or other attributes. So the majority of websites are in it for sales and those that are not are inconsequential.

Now, what is the purpose of a search engine? The answer is quite simple, to provide the most relevant search result for their user. What happens if they don’t give the most relevant result? People stop using them and advertisers take their business elsewhere.

If your site is the most relevant for the search term a user enters then you will be ranked at the top of the first page. If it is not, you will rank lower down, maybe on subsequent pages or even not at all.

For many years now, companies have fought over that number one spot with digital marketing agencies promising to get them on the first page of Google for their chosen keywords. You can bid for keywords and Google will put the highest bidders in the top slots on its search result pages but that is search engine marketing (SEM). That is a bit of a crude generalisation as there is a lot of other metrics involved in SEM rather than just how much you bid but that is nothing to do with SEFO and is not covered here.

SEFO is about getting your site ranked naturally using techniques that, if done correctly, can only improve your position when search engine algorithms change.

The only way to get to the top ranking slots in organic search (i.e. not paying for it) is by manipulating how Google evaluates your website. Google is wise to the tricks that are being used to fool it, as are other search engine companies and they keep changing their ranking algorithm to give the customer the most relevant search results rather than manipulated ones.

In the past, these manipulative practices (which I won’t go into) will have helped you on your way to that coveted first page but now they get your site penalised. Google is wise to the tricks and if you continue with what they deem as bad practices, they may decide not to include your site at all or your site will be pushed way down the rankings. Where there is a will there is a way and if an agency is promising to beat Google in its rankings, they may do so in the short term but you will be the one that eventually loses.

Digital marketing agencies even saw an opportunity in that and now offer services to clean up your website of these bad practices of their own creation. By the way, not all digital marketing agencies adopted these bad practices and just because they offer a clean-up service, doesn’t mean they participated in these previously.

What can you do?

The only thing you can do is to play along and make your website the most relevant to your target audience that it can be, but don’t go over the top. Think to yourself, if I were Google, “how would I best serve my search users if they entered those chosen keywords”. Chances are it won’t be by delivering your website as it is, so the only way to rank higher is to make your website content the most relevant it can be for your potential customers (and there is a good chance they will be Google’s users).

Everyone knows that content is king now-a-days but it is not everything that Google is looking for. A well-structured website and web pages will help Google to index the pages appropriately. If it finds two pages with equally ranked content for a search term it looks for other differentiators and that’s where a little basic SEFO can help.

Basic search engine friendly optimisation

I’ve listed the minimum things to do although they are not in the order that they should be tackled but rather just grouped into sections. All mentions of additions to the head section of the page are for websites that are not part of a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla. A CMS will have a place to make these modifications or a plugin to add this functionality.

  1. Plan your website and pages – define the purpose of each page and what keywords it should contain

    Each page should have its own purpose for your website and its visitors. The overall purpose of each page is to win you sales but to a visitor the purpose is what they perceive. Even if the reason for visiting the page is different from what you intended the purpose of the page will be what you decide. If a page serves too many purposes then split it up and make more pages.

    Before you can do many of the optimisations on a page you need to establish your keywords. For each of the pages you want to see search engines index and show up in search results you will need to establish the keywords that will send people to your page. Think to yourself, how would my preferred visitor (potential customer) for that page get to it? That should then lead you to establish what that person would enter in a search and those are your keywords. There could of course be many different combinations of terms entered in a search that you want to get to your page but if you try to cover all things for all people, your page will have less value to all (and rank nowhere). Try to be specific and have a single purpose to each of your pages and that way you can make sure you include fewer but more valuable keywords. All keywords should appear in your page content at least once so if the keywords you have just established have not been included previously make sure you change your wording to include them.

    You know your customer best so you will know what they are likely to enter into a search but if you get stuck then you can use the tools available in Google AdWords (even if you don’t pay for advertising).
  2. Get the basic page structure right

    The page title is the title shown at the top of the internet browser rather than anything displayed on the page. Try to include the keywords that you are after in your page title but don’t go over the top and try not to exceed 60 characters (including spaces). In the code, it is added to the head section like so:

    <title>Pat Howe Web Solutions for website design and development</title>

    The title above is 57 characters. The page description is also important and whilst the visitor to your website does not see the description on the page, it is what shows up in the search results. If you don’t have a page description then the search engines will pick some words from within your page to describe it. When creating a page description, try to drop in as many of the keywords for that page as you can without going over the top (it has to be readable, not a list of words). 140 to 160 characters (including spaces or punctuation) is about right.

    <meta name=”description” content=”Pat Howe Web Solutions for professional website and application design and development services for individuals and small businesses at affordable prices.” />

    The description above is 154 characters. The other thing you can include in your head section are keywords but as keywords are ignored by all major search engines and hardly any of the more obscure ones they are not worth too much effort. The majority of search engines work out the keywords based on your page content so the only reason that I would use them is to remind me of the words I want to include in my content. Keywords are comma delimited and belong in a keywords tag in the head section of a page.

    <meta name=”keywords” content=”Website design, application design, web solutions, development, design, small businesses, business application, professional development, secure, domain names, hosting, Bedford, United Kingdom, free quote, Pat Howe, UK” />

    Last but not least, the name of each page (i.e. what appears in the browser address bar can be packed with keywords relevant to the page). For example:
    is better than:

    If the page name is dynamically generated from a database, then you might see something like:
    but it is better for humans as well as robots to read in a more friendly fashion as:
  3. Write customer friendly content based on your page purpose and keywords

    For each page you need to write content that gives the visitor the best possible experience for the purpose of the page using as many keywords that you have defined for the page as possible. Make sure you break your content up using the title tags (h1-h6) and images. All images need to have a text alternate (alt attribute of img tag). The alt tag should describe the image or the purpose it’s trying to portray but you can try to fit page keywords into the alt tags.

    <img src=”contactus.jpg” alt=”Contact My Web Minder for your free no obligation quote” />

    If you use images in your website navigation (i.e. a menu bar) then make sure these images have the appropriate alt tag referencing the navigational element.

    Try to also reference other pages in your content where it’s appropriate but don’t go over the top. These references should hyperlink to the relevant content. For long pages use the id attribute and link to other sections within a page. For example a hyperlink can link to a specific position in a page.

    <h2 id=”mysubtitle”>My sub title</h2>

    Then you can use a hyperlink to link through to that position.

    <a href=”#mysubtitle”>My sub title</a>

    The style of writing for the whole website needs to have a single voice that speaks directly to the visitor as a potential customer. Put a customer friendly experience at the forefront of your mind when writing content and only afterwards, see if you can replace any words or phrases with those keywords you identified earlier.
  4. Define which pages to index and those that shouldn’t appear in search results

    You can tell search engines what pages are relevant to index and not every page on your website needs to be included in search results. I’ve seen a website search for a company link through to their terms and conditions page. According to the search engine, that page had the most relevant information for the company name I entered. Not a very good sales pitch greeting a prospective customer with your legal stuff. You wouldn’t do that in the real world so don’t do it online. I tell search engines not to index my T&C or privacy policy as they are only interesting to people looking for those items if they are to become a customer but not before. So make sure you identify all the pages that don’t need to be included in search results.

    For each of these add to the head section (the head section is everything between the head tags: <head></head>) of your page.

    <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow” />

    Now for the ones that you do want to show up in search results (and to follow through any links on those pages) you can enter the following in the head section of your page. However, as the default for all pages is to index it and follow through all links then you don’t really need to include it (but it’s here just in case you were wondering).

    <meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow” />

    Search engines will index all pages unless you tell them not to and they will treat them all as equally important but you can have some say in that. Chances are you will have more than half a dozen pages you want to include in search results. Google will show up to 7 pages if searching for a company name so what are your top 7? These need a higher ranking in your sitemap.

    I list all pages in my sitemap, even those that are not to be indexed (although that is not necessary) and I rate them accordingly with 0.1 for those not to include 0.5 for normal pages to include, my home page as 1.0 and 0.8 for the other top 6 pages.

    If you don’t have access to a sitemap generator then do a search online, there are many free generators. They create a file with an XML extension which you will need to upload to the root of your website. Before you do that, go through the file using a text editor and change the priority values so that you have your best sales page (usually your home page) with a 1.0 priority, the other 6 top pages with a priority of 0.8 and all other pages 0.5 or lower. Here’s an example of a row of sitemap code.


    Make sure you are also only listing your pages once in your site map. Using a site map generator you might get both www prefixed pages and a version without plus the default page for a website might be listed two or more times. Search engines may treat this as duplicate content and penalise you for it. I usually chose wither to push all traffic to www so my sitemap only lists www prefixed pages and my default home page is used rather than my default website URL. There are other ways of pushing traffic to www but to help with this I include 3 lines of code in my .htaccess file.

    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^$ [NC]
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [R=301,L]
  5. Linking to and from other sites and social media

    You can’t really help how other sites link to you but if you are getting linked to by sites whose content is really unrelated to your business then it will be bad for your business if it happens too often. You can use Google Webmaster Tools (or Bing/Yahoo’s) to see who is linking to your site. If there are too many unrelated sites linking to you then it might be worth hiring someone to contact them and get you delinked.

    You can, of course control who you link to. Make sure you are only linking to sites that will expand your visitor’s experience of your page and never let them leave your site for the site you are linking to. For example a car mechanic website has no reason to link to a flower seller, well none that I can think of, so it will not enhance the visitors experience to link to it. What may enhance it, is a link to a used car parts trader but if that is the case, your link should include the attribute target=”_blank”. This makes sure that when the link is clicked the other website opens up in a new browser window or a new tab on modern browsers, leaving your page ready for the visitor to return to.

    <a href=”” target=”_blank”>My Web Minder</a>

    All of your pages should include an easy method to allow your visitors to share your content using social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I would also include links to your own social media channels, if not on every page, at the very least on home and contact pages.
  6. Make use of Analytics but beware of the EU cookie law

    You can’t judge the success of your changes or see what still needs to be done unless you gather information from your visitors. Every website should have some sort of analysis tool and Google provides its Analytics for free. After you have verified that you own the site, your will generate a bit of code to include in your pages. This can be pasted into each page or for dynamically built pages, can be as easy as just dropping it into the page footer.

    However, Google Analytics uses cookies so if your visitors primarily come from the European Union then you need to warn your visitors about your cookie usage and give all the relevant information.

That’s all for now. There are many other things you can do but if you get the basics right and keep your content the most relevant it can be then search engines will find you and your site rankings will improve rather than fall with each algorithm iteration.

Why your website needs search engine friendly optimisation (SEFO)

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