Category Archives: Google Search

Advice for SME’s Working with SEO Agencies and Web Developers

I have had the (dubious) pleasure this week of working with a couple of sites that I didn’t build and don’t host.  So I’ve come to realise a) how lucky I am that I’ve never had to deal with ‘page builders’ (oh boy do they slow sites down!!) and also b) to see a couple of common problems that can arise when site owners don’t have enough understanding of the solutions they are paying for and developers and agencies don’t take the time to explain (for whatever reason).  The result is these two gems of information which I’m sure will benefit small business owners who are buying web development or digital marketing services.

1. Own your Google Analytics data and understand how to manage access

Your business data is so important.  As a business owner you need to understand how you can share or allow access to your Google Analytics data.  Others may have a different view but my view is that the data belongs to the  business owner.  I’ve seen a few instances where agencies have set this up on a new Gmail address on behalf of the client and then grant access to the site owner.  Whilst this can get things set up fast and doesn’t require the client to have to use tech (yes this does slow things down sometimes),  I don’t think this is a great solution for anyone.  My personal view is that Google Analytics accounts need to be setup with the business owners email address (even if they are not tech-savvy because these days it’s easy enough to walk someone through the steps via TeamViewer or similar).

Why is this data useful? Digital marketers use analytics data to measure the success or failure of marketing strategies, to compare past and present metrics and to ensure your marketing is budget efficient.  The process is 1) Set up a Google Analytics account 2) Add some tracking code to the website 3) Verify in Google Analytics 4) Grant access to those who will be managing your digital marketing.  Think carefully about who has the right to add or remove users when you do this.  One of the sites I recently took on had granted access to an SEO agency, and when they cancelled the service the agency actually removed the business owners access to their own data and deleted the Gmail account!  We managed to get access to the data again of course but this is a situation that shouldn’t happen.

Set up your Google Analytics Account here (Click ‘Analytics’)

If you already have a Google Analytics account check who has access via this tutorial.

2. Understand WordPress theme and plugin licensing

I don’t use these myself during builds but for better or worse many of the lower cost solutions for websites will be built using a pre-purchased theme with a little customisation and a page builder.  Visual Composer is one I commonly see in these kind of websites.  If this is the case there may be a theme license or plugin licenses to consider.  A license gives you access to updates.  If you don’t have updates,  your site becomes vulnerable.

Sometimes the web designer will have a developer or agency license and they pop that in which is great as long as you are still working with them.  As soon as that relationship ends then you might be left with an unlicensed version that you are unable to update with no clue what to do next.

So when you are commissioning a website build with a website supplier, ask about the licensing.  Questions such as:

  • Is this a custom WordPress solution or a pre-purchased / pre-built theme?
  • Will I need to buy a license to get theme updates?
  • Will I need a developer to install updates to the theme?
  • Do I need to buy any licenses for the plugins you are using?

An agency or developer license is probably OK if you have a good relationship with your supplier and a long term service commitment.  If your web site project is just a quick build with no ongoing relationship then my view is you should consider buying the theme and plugin licenses directly and raise this point with your developer (hopefully they will already tell you this).  It’s often not possible to transfer licenses if your developer has purchased them in their own name.

Search Engine Position

When a search engine is used to find information there are often many sites that match the search criteria. These are sorted in order of the most and least relevant sites that match the query and returned as a list to the user. The most relevant listing will be at the number one position. Search engines use complex algorithms to decide which sites should be considered relevant and these algorithms are updated quite frequently.

In general, your search engine position is influenced by factors such as the quality of your site content, the type of listing you have, the number and quality of external links into your site, your industry, your online competition, the keyword phrases targeted and the different search engine ranking algorithms. As you can see there are many aspects to consider.

Having a search engine friendly, optimised website with good quality content usually does the trick but if your online competition is fierce, there could be many sites competing for the same keyword phrases.

Link Campaigns To Improve Position

One of the most effective ways to raise your search engine position (particularly in Google) is to increase the number of external links to your site. Links from industry authority sites are considered the best. To increase the number of links into your site from other sites, look for sites that share the same target audience as yours and request a reciprocal link that will benefit you both. Avoid swapping links with low-quality sites or ‘link farms’ as these are generally not beneficial to your site.

Maintaining Your Search Engine Position

When competition is tough you will often see your online opposition changing their strategy to find ways to maintain their position and this might bump your site further down the search results page. If you absolutely must have a number one position then prepare to review your strategy regularly.

Measuring Success with Website Statistics

What does search engine friendly mean?

Search Engine Friendly Design

Search engine friendly design ensures that all the important parts of your site are easily accessible by search engines. When a search engine visits your site for inclusion in a search index, it doesn’t actually ‘see’ the site. Search engines automatically read the code that is behind the visual interface and use this information to log what your site is about. This code can be easy to get to or difficult and in some cases impossible. If your site code doesn’t contain information that is relevant to what your site is about then your site won’t be very effective in search engines.

An example of this would be with a navigation menu. In general, search engines find it much easier to figure out plain old html text vs. graphical images of text.You may have noticed that many sites these days are using plain text for navigation rather than the fancy ‘roll-over’ button images of the past. This is happening as web designers begin to understand the importance of search engine marketing. If the graphics used as text are named appropriately (in the code) then a search engine will still be able to understand what the button is for but it’s likely to place more emphasis on a text link over the graphical link. If you absolutely must have an image based navigation bar then it’s wise to also include text links at the bottom of your page. This is just one example of how design can influence your search engine accessibility and position.

Is Your Website Search Engine Friendly?

If your site isn’t search engine friendly and optimised for relevant keywords, chances are your search engine position won’t be too good and your target audience might not be able to easily find your site. Do a quick test right now:

1) Think of a phrase that describes the main product or service your business provides. If you service a particular geographic area, include the name of that area, eg. brisbane suit hire.

2) Visit the Google Australia website, type your phrase into the search box and click the ‘Google Search’ button.

3) Next, try a Google Search using your exact business name.

Note that it should be easy for you to rank number one for your business name (unless it’s something very generic no one else should be more relevant to those words than you!).

Did You Get Good Search Results?

Was your site included in the Google Search results? Were you on the first page? While you were there, did you see your competitor’s website listed?

Google is still the current KING of search engines and a listing is absolutely essential for any serious commercial website.

You can submit your site for free however as long as there is a link to your website from another website that is already in the search index, your site will be picked up by Google pretty quickly and search engine submission won’t be required. Search engine optimised web sites with search engine friendly design achieve a better search engine position.

Now read about Search Engine & Directory Submissions…

Search Engine Marketing


What is a search engine?

A search engine is a tool that helps us to retrieve information from the World Wide Web. How?

Search engines rely on automated programs called ‘spiders’ (also called crawlers or robots) to traverse the World Wide Web, following hyperlinks (linked text) from web page to web page. These spiders collect and catalogue data from each web page and store the information in a database called a ‘search index’.

The major search engines have their own search engine spiders and create their own search index which is regularly revised to keep the information accurate and up-to-date. Did you know the individual crawlers actually have names?! Google’s web crawler is called ‘Googlebot’ and Yahoo’s web crawler is called ‘Slurp’.

Data collected and stored in a search index provides an overview of a web page. The page can then be quickly and accurately matched to a relevant search query and included in the search engine results page (SERP).

The goal of a search engine is to provide the most relevant match to each search query in as little time as possible.

The goal of a web page owner is to make sure their web page is matched to every relevant search query and included in the search results page when it should be. Search engine optimisation helps to make this happen.

What kind of information does a search engine collect?

A search engine cannot actually ‘see’ the way a human user can. A search engine finds out about each web page by ‘reading’ the code. (To see this code, visit a web page then choose ‘view’ and then ‘source’ from your web browser).

There are certain parts of this code that a search engine will favour. These are generally divided into two categories:

• ‘on the page’ content which is visible to a user. Eg the web page title, headings, text and links

• ‘off the page’ content which is information contained in the code that is NOT visible to the user. Eg ‘meta tags’ and ‘alt text’ (these are names given to specific parts of the html code that creates web pages).

The type of information that can be indexed from a web page will depend on how the page is written (on the page content) and built (off the page content). This determines what information is made available to a search engine.

Some web page content is difficult or impossible for search engines to access and index. For example, content that is purely ‘visual’ such as a picture of a word cannot be ‘seen’ by a search engine, therefore the typed version of a word is always preferable. Other types of content that a search engine cannot easily index include: dynamic content such as that generated by an online database, frames based web pages, content created with Macromedia Flash and content accessed via JavaScript’s.

The first step with search engine optimisation is to make sure page content is accessible to search engines so that it can be properly indexed. A web page that has been built with care for search engine accessibility is commonly called a search engine friendly web page.

How are search results delivered?

A web search is performed by typing relevant words into a search engine. These words form the search query (also called a keyword phrase or search string). Eg If someone is looking for a house to rent in Sydney they might use the keyword phrase ‘home rentals Sydney ‘.

The search engine then accesses the search index and returns a list of relevant sites in the form of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). There are often thousands of relevant web pages listed on the results page. For this reason search engine developers created rules for ‘ranking’ the results so they could be listed in order of importance to make it easier for the user to find what they are searching for.

These ‘rules’ are a set of complex calculations called search algorithms.

What is a search algorithm?

Search algorithms assign value to different parts of each web page and then work out an overall score based on how relevant the web page content is to the search query. Some search algorithms also take into account how popular the web page is based on how many other sites link to the page (especially if the linked site is of a similar topic). The best match takes the first spot on the search engine results page. This is often called a No. 1 ranking.

Search algorithms are frequently updated and are different for each search engine. For obvious reasons they are not disclosed however, basic information is published by each search engine in the form of guidelines and recommendations for we page developers.


What is search engine marketing?

The goal of search engine marketing is to raise the visibility of a web page in search engines and increase the number of times the page connects with its target audience online. There are basically four steps to search engine marketing:

• Search market research

• Search engine optimisation

• Search engine submissions (not required so much these days)

• Statistics analysis & strategy review

The key to effective search engine marketing lies in quality research. This is a critical step. Once the search market is understood a web page can be tailored for optimum results.

What is search market research?

Search market research is a process of information collection. Research results guide web page owners towards the most effective marketing strategy for their page. The type of information collected includes:

• whether your target audience uses search engines

• the size of the search market being targeted

• the competition that may be encountered within the industry

• whether competitors are web savvy or unaware of search engine promotion strategies

• which keyword phrases appear to be most relevant to the web page being marketed

• how often these keyword phrases are typed into search engines and

• how many other web pages are targeting the same keyword phrases

We have access to a number of tools that provide us with this information. Performing a sample search in the target search engine and analysing the results will also provide useful information. Most search engines report the number of web pages that match your query. This can give a pretty good idea about the kind of competition you’re up against and whether your expectations are realistic.

Choosing the right keyword phrases

Choosing the right keyword phrases to target is extremely important. That’s why search market research is required prior to optimisation. To demonstrate this point:

• Optimising your site for the keyword phrase ‘suit hire Brisbane ‘ might not be effective if research shows that 90% of your market is actually searching for ‘suit rentals Brisbane ‘.

• Ranking No. 1 for the phrase ‘elegant suit hire’ won’t be much good if research shows that there were zero searches for that phrase in search engines during the last month.

• Targeting the keyword phrase ‘wedding suit rentals’ will be ineffective if the web page does not actually contain relevant information about ‘wedding suit rentals’

A keyword phrase that returns 2,000 results is generally considered less competitive and easier to target than one that returns 699,000 results. In general, the fewer results returned for a particular search phrase, the less popular it is and the easier it will be to target. Don’t take this information at face value as the results must be placed in the context of your particular search market and strategy.

Single term keyword phrases such as the word ‘rentals’ are the most competitive and difficult to target unless you have access to unlimited resources for promotion. A search for the term ‘rentals’ will return results related to the rental of all kinds of items worldwide. Unless you can actually offer to rent any item worldwide, ‘rentals’ will not be a very effective keyword for your web page to target. A more appropriate (and less competitive) keyword phrase would be ‘suit rentals Brisbane ‘. Note that this also focuses your web page towards its exact market.

Where does search engine optimisation fit in?

Once research is complete, the most effective keywords to target are selected and a strategy is developed. The web page code is then adjusted to deliver this strategy. The web page is tailored so that it clearly targets the keyword phrases selected and is accessible to search engines. This process of adjusting a web page to apply research results is called Search Engine Optimisation or, SEO for short.

Site themes & site wide strategy

If a web page is supported by other web pages full of related information, a site-wide theme can be developed to raise the profile of a website in relation to a particular topic. For this reason, the more web pages optimised on a site the better. Many search engines will place greater importance on a web page that is part of a collection of relevant pages vs. a single relevant page that is part of a site which has otherwise irrelevant information. Eg a single page about suit rentals on a gardening site, will find it difficult to compete with a page that is part of a collection of web pages about suit rentals, on a suit rentals site.

Search engine registration

Once a web page has been optimised and made accessible to search engines it’s time to actually promote the web page by submitting it for inclusion in the search indexes. Manual web page submission is available from all of the major search engines via free services. A site is often included automatically if a search engine follows a link from another web page to yours.

Inclusion in a search index is never guaranteed however, if a site has lots of good quality, unique content, is well built, linked to from other sites and does not violate any search engine guidelines, it will almost certainly be included.

It can take quite a few weeks to get a web page fully indexed and for this reason, paid search engine submissions are available to speed things up. These days, paid services also have ongoing fees.

Once a page has been included in a search index there’s usually no need to resubmit unless changes to the page have been made and the search engine has not updated the information quickly enough.

[NOTE: In 2006, search engine submission is not required. A more effective option is to get a link from another web page to yours. As long as that web page is already in the search index, your site will be found via that link next time the search engine spider visits]

Reporting and analysis

The final step is analysis. Web statistics allow web page owners to track how a web page is performing over time and report information such as how many people visit a web page and how they found the page. Most web hosts provide a statistics package free of charge as part of the hosting service. If yours is not set up yet, contact your web host today! Analysing web statistics shows whether your strategy is working. Key indicators are an increase in the number of referrals from search engines via keyword phrases that are ‘on topic’ and an increase in the overall number of site visitors. If this is not happening, the web statistics can help figure out why and the strategy can be adjusted for better success.

© Alicia Laing September 2004

Updated 21 October 2006