Exploring the Dark Arts of SEO: Search Engine Optimisation Part 2

November 29, 2012

So lets recap what we’ve covered so far. Firstly, to begin thinking about SEO, we need to begin thinking about actual search terms – keyword phrases – that people are typing into Google to search for the kind of information that you have on your website. Secondly, you need to think about who your target audience is. What kind of information are they looking for? After you have done this, it’s time to brainstorm some initial keywords that you think are relevant for your target audience. But the keywords that you think they will be using might not be what they are actually putting into Google! If you put your intial brainstormed list into an online keyword generator such as Google’s Keyword Tool you can find out the keywords that people are actually using, and it may come as a surprise! I did this for my web site – http://www.drummedup.org – and found out that the keywords I thought people were using to find information on my site, they actually weren’t! For example I thought that people would be using the search term “West African drumming” but I found out that this phrase only had 260 searches per month. The term “African drumming” had 2,400 searches per month – almost 10 times as many! I also thought that people would be searching for the phrase “drumming tuition” but I found that “drumming classes”, “drumming lessons” and “drumming workshops” are all far more poplular phrases than “drumming tuition”.

But the popularity of keywords being used in search terms isn’t the whole story. For successful SEO you need to think about your competition as well. Searching for rival web sites that have optimised the key words you might want to optimise for your web site is a good way of working out whether it is viable for you to optimise for those key words or not. There may simply be too much competion on those key words to bother. A good indication of whether a site has been optimised for a particular key word or phrase is to do an ‘allintitle’ search on Google. This tells you if the key word or phrase has been used in the page title – what you see at the top of the browser or in the browser tab. To do an ‘allintitle’ search on Google, just type in allintitle: followed by the key word or phrase in inverted commas, e.g. allintitle: “african drumming”.
My research using the Google Keyword Tool told me that there are 6,600 searches per month on the term ‘African drumming’. So should I optimise for this? Doing this search: allintitle: “African drumming” told me that 25,600 other sites are optimised for this term. My site will be drowned out by the competition. However, the key word phrase “African drumming rhythms” has 110 searches per month according to the Google Keyword Tool, and when an ‘allintitle’ search is run on that phrase, only 178 other sites are optimised for it. Bingo! A much better level of competition.

By the end of my last blog post I had my list of keywords that I wanted to optimise for my web site. I listed all key word phrases that had less than 2,000 sites optimised for them. Here they are:
keywords_final

So now I have my list of keywords to optimise, what do I actually do with them? There are over 200 factors taken into account by the algorithms used by Google and Bing. Far and away the most important is external links to your web page – an ‘off-page’ factor. There isn’t much control over this but we’ll look at a few ideas later on. Let’s now look at the 7 most important factors that you have control over on your web site – ‘on-page’ factors.

The 7 most important places to put your keywords (but not necessarily in order of importance…):
URL / web address
Page title
Meta name = description tag
Heading tags
Body text
Image ALT tags (3-5 words) and image filenames

I optimised all these elements on my web site. So where was my web site a couple of weeks ago (15th November 2012) before search engine optimisation? I used the search term ‘African drumming north east”. Here’s where it was in the Google rankings:

rankings_1

My site was ninth in the ranking of ten on the first page of Google, which means that it will receive less than 2% of all available clicks. To make it even worse, the page is not even about the group, it is about all the other drumming groups in the north east! So, let’s go through everything I did to optimise it and then see if SEO has made any difference to the ranking of my site on Google.

URL / web address
Ideally, you should use separate words, and separate the words with a dash rather than an underscore. So for example whatsoninnewcastle.co.uk would be treated as all one word, which obviously people would not enter as a search term in Google, whereas whats-on-in-newcastle.co.uk would be read by Google as four separate words and map onto search terms much better.

How I used Search Engine Optimisation on my site’s URLs was as follows:
“drummedup.org/who_we_are” became “drummedup.org/drummed-up-info”
“drummedup.org/teachers” became “drummedup.org/drummed-up-teachers”
“drummedup.org/drum_with_us” became “drummedup.org/drum-with-drummed-up”
“drummedup.org/contact” became “drummedup.org/contact-drummed-up”
And so on.

Why? All of these changes made my URLs a lot more specific to the group and optimised the search term ‘Drummed Up’. I also made the changes because Google reads underscores as words running together e.g. drum_with_us is read by Google as ‘drumwithus’ and who_we_are is read as ‘whoweare’. Dashes make Google read words as separate e.g. drum-with-drummed-up is read by Google as ‘drum with drummed up’.

Title Tags
Title tages look like this: Title of Webpage. They go in the section of the web page. This is the information about the web page that goes in the browser tabs (e.g. Internet Explorer) or at the top of the browser (e.g. Firefox)

title_1

title_2

What is in the title tags is one of the most important on-page elements for SEO, behind body text and links from other sites. Google will index up to 255 characters in a title tag, but if you use more than 55-60 characters, Google cuts off the tile, like this:

title_cut_off

So the title should be less than 60 characters – including spaces – so that Google displays the full text:

title_not_cut_off

Don’t try to ‘keyword stuff’ your title, using lots of key words in the part of it that Google doesn’t display. Keywords after the first 70 words of the title are treated as far less important. Also, if you repeat a keyword more than twice, Google will penalize your site in its rankings, pushing it down the rankings as a result. To get the most benefit from your title in terms of SEO, put the most important key words at the beginning of the text in the title tag.

How I used Search Engine Optimisation on my site’s title tags was as follows:
“Drummed Up – Home” became “Drummed Up African Drumming Workshops in Newcastle”
“Drummed Up – Contact” became “Drummed Up African Drumming Workshops | Contact Us”
“Drummed Up – Teachers” became “Drummed Up African Drumming Workshops | Our Teachers”
And so on.

All title tags were less than 50 characters to make sure that they would be displayed in total and not cut off, and they were optimised for the keywords / search term ‘African drumming workshops’.

Meta name = description tag
The meta name = description tag is what Google usually uses to describe your site. Like the title tag, the meta name = description tag needs to be short enough so that it is displayed in full by Google. It must be less than 150 characters – including spaces – otherwise this happens:

description_cut_off

How I used Search Engine Optimisation on the meta name = description tag on my site was as follows:

Before SEO:
meta_before_1

meta_before_2

After SEO:

meta_after_1

meta_after_2

I made sure that the meta name = description tag was kept to 137 words, which ensured that everything in the tag was displayed by Google. I also made sure that the text displayed was a call to action and contained lots of verbs / action words. Calls to action such as ‘Join in …’, ‘Find out …’, ‘Connect…’, ‘Be informed …’, ‘Learn new …’, ‘Get involved …’ are all really important in attracting people to look at your site.

So why did I use these words: “Join in Drummed Up’s African Drumming workshops every Thursday in Newcastle from 6.30-9.30pm and play exciting African drumming rhythms!” Let’s go back to my list of keywords to optimise on my site:

keywords_final

The text is optimised for the following keywords:
African drumming workshops
African drumming rhythms
African drumming Newcastle

“Join in Drummed Up’s African drumming workshops every Thursday in Newcastle from 6.30-9.30pm and play exciting African drumming rhythms!”

There were two calls to action – “Join in Drummed Up’s African drumming workshops” and “play exciting African drumming rhythms”. It was also less than 150 characters so everything was displayed.

Heading tags
There are a number of different header tags. These range from

h1

which is the largest, down to

h6

which is the smallest. Any text that is inside these tags is treated by the browser as a heading and so is treated by Google as important. Text inside h1 and h2 tags is treated as more important than text inside h3 and h4 tags etc. Text inside the h1 tags is treated as most important of all. Unlike title tags and meta description tags, the text in these tasks does not have to be a certain length to be displayed. But as they are headlines they do need to be short and snappy.

How I used Search Engine Optimisation on my site’s heading tags was as follows:
“h1 Who We Are /h1” became “h1 Drummed Up – Who we are /h1”
“h1 Our History /h1 became h1 Drummed Up’s History /h1”
“h1 Meet the Teachers /h1” became “h1 Meet Drummed Up’s Teachers /h1”
“h1 Drum with Us /h1” became “h1 Drum with Drummed Up! /h1”
And so on.

Instead of using generic terms like ‘We’, ‘Us’ and Our’, I optimised the name ‘Drummed Up’ as much as possible.

Body Text
Body text, also known as ‘content’ or ‘copy’ is the main text on your web page. Maximise the key words here but make sure that you ultimately write for your audience and not search engines otherwise your text will sound artificial or ‘spammy’, which will certainly put your audience off.

Examples of how I used Search Engine Optimisation on my site’s body text:
Previously on the home page I just had an image with no text, which from a SEO point of view is a really bad idea. I now have text on the home page as well as an image:

home_page

As with the Meta Name = description tag, this text was optimised for my list of keywords.

“Join in Drummed Up’s African drumming workshops every Thursday in Newcastle from 6.30-9.30pm. Learn exciting African drumming rhythms and play high-energy music! All welcome, including kids!”

The text is optimised for the following keywords:
African drumming workshops
African drumming Newcastle
African drumming rhythms
African drumming music
African drumming (for) kids

I ‘tightened’ and optimised the questions in FAQ page so that ‘drum’ becomes ‘African drum’ and ‘drumming’ becomes ‘African drumming’ as often as possible. Before:

faq_before

After:

faq_after

I added Keywords such as ‘African drumming workshops’ to the text wherever it sounded natural, e.g. on the Contact page :

contact_page

and the ‘Who We Are’ page:

who_we_are

Image ALT tags and Filenames
Images on web pages have ALT tags: e.g. img src= “photo.jpg” alt= “a photo of stuff”. These are words that display when the image cannot be shown by the browser for any reason. ALT tags are also used for accessibility as they are read by screen readers used by blind and partially sited users. ALT tags, however, also have a significant SEO value – so much so that sometimes the accessibility aspect of them (which they were designed for) is neglected or overlooked. It’s important that ALT tags are always used with screenreaders in mind first and SEO comes second. But it is possible to put 3-5 keywords in them and still make them accessible. Image file names also have SEO value. Use a keyword or two here instead of just an anonymous name such as ‘photo.jpg’.

Examples of how I used Search Engine Optimisation on my site’s image ALT tags and filenames:
Before, the image on the front page of my web site had the filename of “webfront.jpg”, which was a meaningless name. The ALT tag read “Members of Drummed Up drumming at the Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne”

front_pic_code

To optimise these, I changed the image filename to “african-drumming-workshops-newcastle.jpg”. I changed the ALT tag from the previously rather wordy one that did not contain any keywords to “Drummed Up African drumming workshops in Newcastle”

front_pic_code_new

Other examples of how I optimised my sites image ALT tags were:
“Mark barfoot drumming at the middlesbrough mela” became “Mark Barfoot Drummed Up African drumming workshops teacher”
“Alec Fox drumming with Manding Kaira” became “Alec Fox drummed up African drumming workshops teacher”
“Drummers” became “African drumming rhythms in Newcastle”

Other examples of how I optimised my sites image file names were:
“du_banner.gif” became “drummed-up-logo.gif”
“mark.jpg” became “mark-barfoot.jpg”
“alec.jpg” became “alec-fox.jpg”
“cu_house.jpg” became “commercial-union-house-newcastle.jpg”
“drummers1.jpg” became “african-drumming-rhythms-newcastle.jpg”

So … The $1 Million Question Has my SEO worked???

A reminder where my site on was on 15th November 2012 (before SEO) using the keyword phrase “African Drumming north east”:

rankings_1

So whereabouts is my site now – 29th November 2012 (after SEO) with the same keyword phrase?

rankings_2

Fifth, sixth and seventh in the rankings – not too bad. My site would now get over 10% of all available clicks. The page about other groups has gone, but the site’s home page still isn’t there. However, the whole site still hasn’t been crawled (Google does this once a month) so I’m hoping that the results get even better and I get to the top by next month. Watch this space!

UPDATE 10th September 2013:

SEO update

After almost a year, my SEO has really paid off and my site now occupies the top 4 positions in the Google rankings based on the search term “African drumming north east.” It now gets 84% of clicks and 77% of browsing time of all users putting that search term into Google, according to the Cornell University study I mentioned in my previous post. Researching Search Engine Optimisation and changing my site to optimise it was certainly a lot of effort, but it has definitely paid off.

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