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SEO using Google tools

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SEO Using Google Tools
Jason Whittaker

::rintrah snippets:: 1. SEO Using Google Tools

forthcoming 2. Setting up a Podcast Channel for iTunes 3. Audio Editing with Audacity

SEO Using Google Tools

Jason Whittaker

::rintrah snippets::

Rintrah Books

Rintrah Books, Redruth, Cornwall 2010 This book may be shared freely under a Creative Commons licence so long as the author is attributed, but it may not be used for commercial purposes or modified without the author’s consent. For full details of this licence, go to: http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/.

Contents

Introduction Search Engine Basics and SEO Principles Google’s Webmaster Tools Using Google Analytics

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SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

Introduction

T

he vast majority of web users come to a site through a search engine, with Google dominating the market in the UK, North America and many other parts of the world. According to Hitwise (www.hitwise.com), in 2009 and 2010 Google accounted for between 70 and 75% of all searches by volume, followed by Yahoo!, Bing and Ask (these being the only engines recorded by Hitwise).
Month February January Google Yahoo! Bing Ask Total

71.35% 71.61%

14.60% 16.76%

9.56% 9.13%

2.55% 2.66%

98.06% 98.16%

Hitwise statistics for 2010

Google’s share of search traffic by volume has grown from about 60% in 2006 to more than 70% in 2009, largely by taking traffic from Yahoo! and Ask (Microsoft’s Bing has increased recently, but that is mainly because the company’s old MSN/Live search had seen its market share fall dramatically between 2006 and 2008 before being relaunched as Bing). Since July 2009, Microsoft has powered Yahoo! searches, with Yahoo! providing the sales force for both companies’ premium search advertisers. In effect, then, Microsoft/Yahoo currently accounts for about a quarter of the market with search engines other than Google accounting for some 4-5% of traffic by volume. As such, if you want to drive visitors to your site Google is the search engine that it is worth spending most time on. While Google indexes many pages automatically, that process can also be speeded up by paying attention to a few basic rules and also using free tools available to webmasters.

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Introduction

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the name given to how webmasters and content providers can improve the flow and/or quality of traffic to their sites. SEO is an important process for letting visitors know that your material is there, but it is also important that the right visitors come to your site: if they click off immediately because the content is not what they are looking for (something known as the bounce rate), this is ineffective for anything other than demonstrating an increase in hits. If you wish to guide visitors to other pages on your site, or direct them to advertisers or ecommerce stores, for example, it is important that visitors are not irritated by discovering that the site is irrelevant to their needs. The major part of SEO work consists of optimising HTML and writing in such a way that it will be indexed most effectively by a search engine. There is no real quick fix to improving the ranking of sites in Google - for long-lasting improvements, you need other sites to link into yours, which requires providing good-quality and relevant content to ensure that visitors will want to stay and return. So-called “black hat” strategies (such as link farming to spurious web sites that you have created, or spamdexing, that is repeating unrelated search terms in your pages) can result in sites being downgraded in Google’s ranking system. There is no need to indulge in such short-term measures if you want your site to rise in search engine ratings and stay high; instead, we shall look at the sorts of things that all web designers should consider when preparing their pages. In this guide, then, we shall consider ways of increasing the visibility of your site by using Google Webmaster Tools to improve how quickly and effectively Google trawls your site, as well as a more in-depth guide to using Google Analytics to examine how visitors come to your site, what they are looking for, and what you can do to improve traffic. Before exploring each of these, however, we shall take a quick look at how Google indexes its data with some brief guides to how you can improve search engine optimisation for your own web sites.

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SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

Search Engine Basics and SEO Principles

T

his guide will concentrate on using Google’s Webmaster tools and Google Analytics, but before turning to these it is worth considering how Google works to index a site and what basic things you can do to ensure that your content is searched as effectively as possible.
How Google Searches and Organises Data

Google performs three main operations when searching the web. It needs to: • Crawl a site (determine that there are pages to be searched). • Index those pages to compile a database of key terms. • Determine relevancy using its PageRank algorithm. Crawling is performed via an automated system called Googlebot, but there are simple tasks that any webmaster can perform to enhance the process. Search engine optimisation techniques aim to improve visibility of pages in Google. PageRank works by providing a rating based on the number of sites linking into a web site, as well as relevance of content.
SEO for HTML and Content

When creating a page, there are several factors that you should pay particular attention to in order to maximise that page’s visibility in a search engine: • Unique titles: especial importance is given to these via Google’s indexing and page ranking engines. Titles should accurately describe contents and be brief but informative. As well as helping Google, of course, such titles will also be appreciated by visitors to the page.

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Search Engine Basics and SEO Principles

• User-friendly URLs: descriptive URLs which offer some indication of content on a page are not simply easier for visitors to a site, but can be helpful to Google as well. As such, they are often referred to as “search-engine-friendly” URLs. • Meta descriptions: although meta keywords are not significant for Google, the meta “description” tag is useful and pages should include a short, accurate and unique description for each page. • Provide clear hierarchies and text links: for Google to crawl a site effectively, there should be obvious text links to all pages on the site and an obvious structure for sections. • Use headings tags: <h1> and <h2> tags in particular are extremely important sources of information to a search engine for indexing a page, and should be used to provide important information. • Text instead of images: using images rather than text to convey details such as names is a bad idea because these can’t be indexed so easily by Google, though it will search the ALT tag. Other guidelines for enhacing your site’s visibility in Google are the subject of this book, but it is worth emphasising some important features about writing with SEO in mind. Google cannot deliver visitors to your site if there is nothing to read, and for visitors to return again and again there needs to be compelling, updated content on a regular basis. If you wish people to visit based on particular keywords or types of information, then those words have to appear in your pages. More than this, however, write for maximum impact in the opening paragraph. Most readers scan headlines and opening sentences before settling on an article to read, and important words need to be as near the beginning of the page as possible. Rudyard Kipling’s “six honest men” (who, what, when, where, why and how) is a formula often used by journalists to provide a news story as concisely as possible, and is one worth using when writing introductions to your own articles where appropriate.

7

SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

Google’s Webmaster Tools

T

hese are found at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools. If you do not already have a Google account you will need to sign up before you can use this site and, once this is done, you are faced with a simple interface with a button to add your site (Figure 1.1):
Figure 1.1: The Google Webmaster Tools homepage

After adding your site, you will then be asked to verify that you are the owner, either by copying a snippet of code to the home page or by uploading an HTML file into the root directory (Figure 1.2). An important step is to aid Googlebot in crawling a site. While this happens automatically when Google follows links from a site, the process can be aided by submitting a site map, an XML file that lists all pages accessible to crawlers or users. The simplest way for this if your site uses RSS

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Google’s Webmaster Tools
figure 1.2: Verifying your site

feeds is to ensure that those feeds (which also use XML) are submitted via Webmaster Tools. If the URL for feeds for your site is http://www.mysite. com/feeds/, then you would add this address by clicking the Site configuration link under the Dashboard link, selecting Sitemaps and clicking the Submit a Sitemap button (Figure 1.3):
Figure 1.3: Submitting a sitemap

RSS feeds work well with dynamically generated sites, and Google will crawl through your pages shortly after they are updated. However, for sites with static HTML, it is also worthwhile creating a sitemap, an independent XML file that you upload to your home directory and then add to Webmaster Tools. A free service for generating sitemaps can be found at http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/.

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SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

Once a sitemap has been added, the next step is to ensure that Googlebot can access all areas of your site. If there are any pages or directories that you do not wish to be indexed, then a file called robots.txt needs to be uploaded in the relevent directory on your server. Selecting Crawler access will display any robots.txt files on your site or allow you to generate them if you want to prevent Google searching any areas (Figure 1.4): Figure 1.4: Generating robots.txt files

Webmaster tools can display useful features such as a list of keywords searched for by users, as well as statistics for the crawl rate (see Figure 1.5). While this can be customised by a webmaster, unless there is constant and rapid change of a site there is little to be gained from changing the crawl rate for a site (if a page is set to be crawled every hour, Google will probably index it less frequently than that; if the page is set to be crawled every week, it will probably happen more regularly). More useful for webmasters are the diagnostic tools which can indicate such things as crawl errors and HTML errors (for example, missing or duplicate title tags). These are accessed by going to the Diagnostics link at the bottom of the left hand side.

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Google’s Webmaster Tools
Figure 1.5: Crawl statistics

Once you have fine-tuned your site’s submission rate with Google’s Webmaster Tools, the next step is to monitor performance using another free service from Google, Analytics.

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SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

Using Google Analytics

A

lthough it is not necessarily used directly for SEO purposes, Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics/) is extremely helpful for monitoring performance. Sites are added in the Analytics dashboard (Figure 2.1), which in turn generates a short piece of code to be included in the HTML for a site, typically added before the final </body> tag of any templates.
Figure 2.1: The Analytics dashboard

To add your site to Analytics, click the Add new profile link in the top right hand corner of the dashboard and enter the URL of the site. Next, click the

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Using Google Analytics

Finish button. The final stage to allow Analytics to start collecting data is to select the Edit link next to your new profile: to the top right of the panel displaying information on your site you will see a link saying Check Status. Click on this to see the code that you need to copy into your site just before the final </body> tag (Figure 2.2). Once data has been gathered, a green tick mark will appear next to the profile in the dashboard.
Figure 2.2: Analytics code

The reports generated by Google include visits and unique visitors, the location of those visitors, sources of traffic (referring sites, direct traffic or that from search engines), the bounce rate for pages (that is how many visitors leave a site after viewing just one page), the time spent on the site, and which pages are viewed most often (see Figure 2.3). The reports can be customised to drill down to particular information in a single chart, for example new visits accompanied by the bounce rate of a site. The amount of data collected by Analytics is extremely helpful in terms of guaging overall use of your site, but we shall concentrate here on using it in conjunction with Webmaster tools for SEO purposes. In this instance, the most useful elements of Analytics consist of the reports on Traffic Sources

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SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

Overview (which shows how visitors are finding your site) and Content Overview.
Figure 2.3: Site profiles

The Traffic Sources Overview screen shows whether visitors have come to your site either as direct traffic (either by typing the URL into the address bar or from a bookmark in the browser), from referring sites, or through a search engine (Figure 2.4). Note: Analytics tends to treat only results from Google as arriving via a search engine (what it calls “organic”) so visitors

14

Using Google Analytics

arriving from other search engines such as Yahoo! or Bing will be listed as referrals.
Figure 2.4: Traffic sources Report

In addition to showing how much of your traffic comes from search engines (Google), the keywords section shows you what people are looking for, and so you can start to use this information in pages on your site, adding articles and titles that match up to favourite words or phrases being used by visitors. In addition, it is also worth spending time examining the Content Overview report, which shows which pages have actually been visited on your site, how many pageviews have been made and an average amount of time spent on each page. If you click through to the full report (the link is at the bottom of the page), you will see various columns providing information on pageviews, bounce rate (how many people leave immediately after looking at one page), how many people leave the site from that particular page (the exit rate), and the time spent. Clicking the header cell in each column will reorganise the chart allowing you to compare pages according to time spent, for example, or by bounce rate. The reason for paying special attention to this part of Google Analytics is that it provides you with important information on what visitors are looking for in your site. If certain articles gain a lot of hits or a lot of time is spent viewing them, these are obviously subjects that you should spend

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SEO for Beginner’s Using Google Tools

more time on when creating other entries for your site. Likewise, if a page is regularly contributing to a high bounce rate (or even a high exit strategy without time being spent viewing the content), this may contribute to the sense of your site as lacking valid and useful content and so could be worth avoiding in future or even removing. Another useful feature of Analytics is the ability to set goals for future targets. These include: • Setting a particular URL destination. • Extending the time spent by visitors on a site. • Increasing the number of pages per visit. The first of these can also be customised via “funnels”, a series of pages a visitor may have to pass through to reach a goal, for example by tracking whether visitors click through from a product entry in a catalogue to an online store. To set up a goal, click the Edit link next to the profile and, at the bottom of the screen that appears, click on the Add goal link and set a target according to one of the three criteria above (for example, you may wish to monitor how many people spend more than ten minutes on your site).
Figure 2.5

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T

he first title in the ::rintrah snippets:: series, SEO Using Google Tools is a concise, clear explanation of how to make best use of Google’s free Webmaster Tools and Analytics to drive traffic to your site and understand what visitors are looking for. The book provides a short introduction to principles of search engine optimisation before going on to show you, step by step, how to get the most out of these services. The ::rintrah snippets:: series consists of short, focussed guides on a particular practical and technical topics. The aim of the series is to enable readers to gain the essential skills they need to start work in a particular field as quickly and effectively as possible.

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