What is keyword analysis and research?

Assuming you know what keywords are, you know it's important to get them embedded into your website as effectively as possible. That way, when people search on those terms, your website will come up and hopefully you'll make a sale, or at least contact.

But many novice search engine optimizers overlook a step that comes even before this, and it's arguably the most important step of all. And that is choosing the correct search terms in the first place. It's all very well having an effective site that comes up on all your favourite terms, but what if no one else actually uses those keywords, only you?

The main reason this might happen is of course because no one knows your industry like you. For example, an insurance broker might sell 'professional indemnity', so they might insist using that as a search term. But the kind of people that need to go through a broker to get the product probably don't know the technical term for it. They're more likely to be thinking in terms of 'all the insurance I need to not break the law and end up unstuck'.

So how do you find out what keywords and phrases people are actually searching on? Well, we work on a basis of casting a net widely, drawing it in tight and then building on those foundations (if that's not too much of a mixed metaphor, with slight web pun thrown in for good measure - but I digress).

So first: brainstorm; we ask our clients to come up with suggestions and we jot down whatever comes into our minds as well (always trying to think like a customer), and then we use a thesuarus on those phrases. Another good source is competitor's websites - check out the sites which are doing well on some relevant terms you already have, and right-click 'view source' to spy on their keyword metatags - if they're still using them.

Once you have these terms, start feeding them into Google Adwords Keyword Tool to get an idea of the true picture. This incredibly useful tool will tell you how many local and global searches there have been on a given term and to a certain extent, how much competition there is on it (although I for one am eagerly awaiting this to be more defined). Rank your keywords by number of searches, but also keep an eye on advertiser competition.

Don't be afraid to abandon terms that turn out not to be searched on at all, or for which the competition is too steep (unless you have unlimited funds and time, in which case, go right ahead).

Finally, build your list back up from the suggestions Google makes about related terms that are searched on, that you never thought of in the first place. More often than not there are a couple of terms there that aren't intuitive to think of but are entered frequently. If you can focus on some of these, you'll have a much easier ride to that coveted Google Rank #1.

Keep an eye out for other useful tools that tell you more about the true popularity of keywords, don't just shoot in the dark!

Should I use html keyword metatags?

Using the html keyword metatag used to be the accepted way to tell search engines what your website was about. It was solely for the robots and they used the information to accurately index your site.

Unfortunately, due the abuse by spammers, who just stuff them full of words completely unrelated to the content of the site, the keyword metatag has fallen out of favour, to the point that Google completely ignores the keyword tag. However, there is some evidence that Yahoo and Ask.com still use the metatag information to assist them in their indexing, even if they don't use it as a primary factor.

As SEO is a matter of tapping away at every little angle, it's probably still worth putting them in; even if they only make a little difference, that's still a little difference.

However, don't rely on them, and don't expect Google to make any decisions based on them.

Some tips for writing your keyword metatags:
- Don't use more than 40 on any given page
- Always use plurals
- Don't bother using capitals or non-plurals
- Make sure the keywords also appear in the body text of the webpage

Natural SEO hints and tips for beginniners

A fellow web designer at a networking event once described natural search engine optimization as a 'Dark Art', and I really felt he summed up what I had suspected all along. Google are often cagey about what you can do to get to the top of their rankings, and not without reason - spammers will abuse any information they can get.

What should get you into number one position is providing a quality service or product for humans and a good website that is accessible to most visitors, and easy to read and use. Not stuffing the website full of keywords, building networks of pointless robot oriented directories and generally making sites which are unpleasant for human users.

However, there are some things you should be doing to take advantage of the search engine robots methods of figuring out the best time to display your site; because if you don't, even if you have the most beautiful site in the world, with childsplay navigation and heaps of free useful information - Google, Yahoo, ASK etc might not realise.

One of the most important things is the domain name. Using relevant keywords in picking your domain name makes a huge difference to how Google views your site. Some forums claim this is not the case, but research done by ourselves and other SEO experts offer evidence that keywords in the domain name have a big effect. Please note though - this does not mean you should abandon your company name and opt for a long string of keywords as your domain - it's all about balance. If you can get a domain name that contains keywords and still looks and sounds good to humans, great. But none of your SEO should sacrifice human users, or you're missing the point.

A second point of major importance is header tags: <>, <> etc. Google's robots use these to understand the content of the site. Try to make sure these are relevant and logically used, and contain keyword phrases where possible. The higher up the page, and the larger the header tag, the more importance Google will assign to it. Don't overdo it though, it's about relationships within your page. Put all of your text in header tags in an attempt to make Google think it's all important, and it will just dilute itself as Google will ignore all the header tags, taking you back to square one.

Another important factor is internal links. Make sure your links between pages include meaningful words and a logical structure. I.e. 'bookkeepingservices.html' is better than 'services.html' for obvious reasons.

That's enough to be getting on with for now. Add us to your feed reader and check back often for more web design hints and tips for an effective website.

Should I use music on my website?

Not unless you like making enemies.

Embedding music that automatically plays in your website is a fast way to irritate a huge chunk of your visitors, making them click the back button faster than you can say Arctic Monkeys.

Reason number one - lots of people surf the Internet at work, and the last thing they need is your music blaring out their speakers unexpectedly while the boss is chatting at the next desk. It's embarrasing and makes them look unprofessional.

Reason number two - many people are already listening to music while surfing the Net. So if your music starts playing over theirs, both sound awful.

Reason number three - what makes you think they like your music? Do you know your visitors that well, that you can be sure they have the same taste as you? And are in the mood for that choice at the time?

'But I give them a pause button!'
Even if there's a pause option, you'd better be sure your site really is special enough for them to take the time to search for an often fiddly cryptic little button, instead of just hitting the back button, which after all is huge and they already know where it is. Why bother when there's a million other sites out there?

The exception - if you're a band, you may have the closest thing to an excuse to having music playing automatically when someone hits your site, but in my opinion, it would still be better to confront them with a big play button, and give them the choice.

Arbitrary surveys of the individuals in my circles who use the Internet the most overwhelmingly suggest that they find automatically playing music intrusive, offensive and most will leave the site instantly on principle.

So, the negative effects far ourweigh the questionable benefits. You embed music in your website at your own risk.

Tips on Resizing Images with HTML

One of the most frequent mistakes we see beginner web designers make is not resizing images to the appropriate size, and relying on html tags to resize it on the fly.

This has a number of negative effects. One is that the browser isn't designed to resize images, so it can distort the picture, making it look bad.

More importantly however, it can mean that the visitor is forced to download massive files for absolutely no reason. This slows down the website, uses up bandwidth, and generally gives the user a bad impression.

So make sure you use image editing software to make your image exactly the right size before you upload it to the web.

What are reciprocal links?

To answer this question I'm going to start at the very beginning, to make sure no one gets lost. If you know some or all of this already, feel free to skip ahead. A link is a word or phrase on a webpage that you can click on, and it will then take you to a different webpage.

An outbound link is when you link to someone else's site from your webpage.

An inbound link is when someone else links from their site to yours.

Reciprocal links are when you agree with the other webmaster to exchange links - i.e. you link to their site and they will link to yours.

(An important note I want to make here, which may seem obvious but I have been asked a surprising number of times, is that you don't have to ask permission to link to someone's site. A website is by definition in the public domain - if someone is publishing information in the public domain, they can hardly then get upset if you point it out to people. Quite the opposite, as I'll explain below, you are doing them a favour. So don't waste their time by emailing asking permission to link to their site)

So why bother with reciprocal links? Well, apart from the obvious benefit that you could gain traffic from related sites that click through to yours, inbound links are the original basis for the Google algorithm, and therefore the Holy Grail for many Search Engine Optimisers. Google uses a 'democratic' system to rank pages, counting each link to a website as a 'vote' for that site. But it's not quite as simple as that. The votes of some sites have a heavier weighting, so for example: if The Guardian newspaper linked to you, it would count as a more important vote for your site than if your mate Dave linked to you from his wedding website.

However, Google is moving away from this method and it is only one of many ways of rankings websites that is in their toolkit. A reason for this is that some webmasters abuse the system and set up huge networks of websites, created simply for the purpose of linking to each other. They charge small webmasters a monthly fee and guarantee them high Google rankings, but this practice degrades the experience for visitors as they bounce from directory to directory, never reaching a final destination. Therefore, Google blacklists websites it discovers doing this.

Despite these caveats, it is still worth building a dedicated partners page or even section, which is unobtrusively linked to from your homepage, and having limited numbers of links to related sites listed, on the condition that they link back to you. Try to make a decent proportion of these 'deep' (not just to your homepage) link too.

Happy canvassing!

Tips on choosing a web designer

Pick us.

Only kidding; there's more to it than that.

Below are some hints and tips on what to do if you want to choose a web design company and don't know where to start.

1. Always get quotes from more than one to begin with, at least three is advisable, otherwise you have no idea of your options. An additional benefit of this is that you get an impression of how they work, and if you're likely to get on withh them.

2. Check out their previous work. In our opinion they should have a wide range of examples of websites they've made on their website for you to view without asking, which click through to the genuine website. However, if they don't offer it right away and you do decide to ask, they shouldn't have any problem providing you with a list. If a web design company can only show you one or two websites they've made, you've got to wonder why... likewise if they don't click through, how do you know the website really exists?

3. Check out their previous work thoroughly. More than just look at it for a second, use the websites. Are they easy to navigate, do they load fast enough? If they don't, chances are yours won't either.

4. Look at their website. A website is a showcase for all businesses, but for a website design company it's absolutely critical. If their website doesn't work it's an extremely bad sign. If their website is 'under construction' don't touch them with a barge pole. What decent web design company can't organise finishing it's own website?

5. Look for testimonials and recommendations. You could even contact their clients (you know who they are, you've seen their websites) and politely ask how they found the web design service. Most people will be happy to tell you if they've had good service, and even more keen if it was awful!

6. If there are any terms they use that you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask exactly what they mean. They should be able to explain in a suitable manner, taking into account the fact you're not a techie. If your designer can't explain it to you, there may be communication barriers later down the line, or they may just be trying to baffle you with jargon.

7. Make sure they can provide you with a clear breakdown of what is included in the contract. It's in both your interests to have it in writing to avoid disputes (often simply due to misunderstanding) after the project is underway.

8. They should be able to provide you with statistical reports on your website's performance, so you can see how many visitors you're getting once the site is live.

9. Check that they provide ongoing support, NOT on premium rate numbers or only via email or a list of FAQs, and not at extortionate rates.

10. Tech spec crib sheet for dummies (or just non geeks):

  1. What browsers do you support?
  • Ideal answer: IE6 and up, Mozilla firefox, Safari and Opera (these are the most common).
  • Bad answer: Cross-browser compatibility? What's that then?
  1. Do you use cascading style sheets and up-to-date coding methods?
  • Ideal answer: Yes, we use the most elegant script to keep the back ends of our websites light and Search Engine friendly.
  • Bad answer: We use tables to structure our websites.
  1. What SEO methods do you use?
  • Ideal answer: We use only honest, 'white hat' methods, including keywords, titles, descriptions, search engine submission, reciprocal links and Google Sitemaps & verification.
  • Bad answer #1 We don't do SEO.
  • Bad answer #2. We guarantee you top positions in Google for all of your keywords, using all the methods that are available.

Sentiva Website Launched!

We are proud to announce the launch of the Sentiva website as part of the rebranding of Simple Website Designs Ltd.

The new web design and development site and brand has been created to better reflect the changing focus and increased skills of our expanded team.

As a celebration of the launch, we're offering a bottle of Champagne in free prize draw - just fill in the form!

Simple Website Designs will continue to exist for the foreseeable future, but with a more limited scope. All emails and phone numbers will continue to be monitored.