The internet is a wonderful tool.  It has revolutionised how we find information, communicate with others and purchase our goods. We can buy pretty much anything from anywhere, without ever leaving the comfort of our lounge rooms.  How good is that!  There’s nothing that can’t be found.  Or so I thought when I hopped on recently in search of a birthday gift for a friend.  It’s a gorgeous hand-made piece of jewellery.  I just know she’ll love it.  I saw someone wearing it and upon asking was told it was “off the net”.  And so my search commenced.

Now, I consider myself pretty adept at all things internet.  I design, build and maintain websites after all, that’s my business.  So locating the jewellery site should have been a breeze; as easy as typing in some key words. Voila! Up it should have come.  So why, after almost an hour of frustrated searching, couldn’t I find the store?

Firstly, if you’re in the business of selling, whether that be a product or service, you want to be found quickly and you want people to stay on your site don’t you?  If you’ve answered yes to both of these (and you should have answered yes to both!) your goal should be to achieve the number one ranked search engine position.  The premier site is more likely to be clicked on first, attracts the lion’s share of clicks – significantly more than that of its competitor at number two – and infinitely more than everyone else trailing behind.  So this position is your ‘holy grail’.  But getting there isn’t as easy as one might think.

We live in such as sophisticated, technologically driven world and we can be forgiven for thinking that the internet, with all its brilliance will see beyond our mistakes, over-riding them to miraculously give us what we want.  But in reality, the internet is an inanimate object that can only respond to the information we feed it.  It’s almost like the idea that ‘we are what we eat’.  If we put clean, healthy, relevant food into our bodies, we are rewarded with a healthy, vibrant and engaging self.  If we put rubbish in, well, a sluggish, underperforming and distinctly unengaging self is the best we can hope to be.  A website is no different.

So what is the key to maximising search engine optimisation? It’s all about the website and how it integrates with the overall marketing strategy of a business. Many make the mistake of viewing their website in isolation from other marketing strategies but a business and its website are not mutually exclusive.  They rely on each other and should be designed and implemented as a whole with the goal of achieving higher rankings through increased traffic drawn to the site by complimentary marketing strategies.

You cannot hope to reach and maintain the number one position without a website that the search engine rates highly.  When sites fare better than others it’s because search engines reward those sites that understand proper SEO requirements – cleanly built multi-page sites that are information rich with relevant key words, phrases and links. Sites that are dynamic and easy to navigate. In short, sites that encourage people to stay on them.  On the other side of the coin, search engines penalise sites that don’t understand, and by this I mean the site might be filled with lots of information, but information that is irrelevant to the content of those pages, overloaded with keywords and phrases, poor coding resulting in errors and slow loading,  sites that aren’t responsive to laptop, tablet or mobile phone displays, or single-page sites with little to keep the viewer.

What any business wants – and needs – is search engine compatibility: a site that is compatible with the way a search engine works, rather than hoping or expecting a search engine to mould to the site.  The success that comes with compatibility can only be achieved with a website designed and built by someone who really understands what appeals to search engines.

And don’t believe for a minute that quantity outweighs quality if thinking that pole position is arrived at solely by the number of clicks to your site.  There’s no faking it on the net!  Search engines track not only the number of clicks but their source, so if you’re madly clicking on your own site to improve rankings, you might be shocked to know that the search engine is watching. If it sees 1000 clicks to your site but identifies only 80 IP addresses (the specific numerical label assigned to each computer in order to identify it on the internet), your search engine will determine that it’s YOU, your friends and family that are doing the clicking. They may well take a dim view of your activities and there exists the very real possibility of being banished to the ‘also-ran’ pages of the internet wilderness until you can improve your game and play by the rules.  Now that’s got to be costly for your business!

We’ve reached the crux of the matter.  There’s much more to SEO than a pretty home page and a few key words.  Successful websites are strong and vibrant with a touch of mystery too!  Their home page doesn’t give everything away, rather it whets the viewer’s appetite encouraging them to click to another page and linger longer on the site.  This leads us to another important aspect – bounce rates – the number of people who exit after viewing one page.  A high bounce rate is not favoured.  Additionally, the best websites have front and back ends that are synchronised so that the site runs smoothly and navigating is a breeze.  If a site has been re-designed, it’s also vital that all previous versions have been deleted and redirected so there’s no confusion to the reader or the search engine. This means engaging a professional to ensure that your site is individually designed, built and maintained to your specific needs, well beyond your site’s ‘go-live date’ as opposed to the pre-packaged, ‘cookie-cutter’ DIY options that on the surface appear to offer everything you need until it all ends horribly when the site fails to meet your expectations; or worse still – your site fails completely leaving you with no one to turn to for help!

In today’s internet-driven world, your website is probably the most important marketing tool you have.  It should form an integral part of your overall marketing strategy, rather than be seen as a stand-alone component.  Achieving success on the web isn’t magic and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars either. Make sure your SEO is considered in the design brief for your website, not as an afterthought, by a company wanting to take thousands of dollars from you to mess with your site.

Search engines exist to provide a service and they want to provide the most relevant site that matches a person’s search criteria. How they rank your site depends on how well a website is designed, built and performs.  Short-cuts and trickery just won’t work – and what business can afford that? Optimising search engines requires thought, consideration and relevance.  Remember, it’s just like your body – what you put in, is what you get back. Invest wisely and ye shall reap the rewards.

Jane Mitchell – Graphic and Web Designer – Mitchell Creative