|Posted by Mark Cantrell on June 30, 2012 at 4:25 PM|
Tips of the trade for surfing more hits
It might be just a way to promote its business, writes Mark Cantrell, but all the same Manchester firm the Eword has provided a handy insight into the cyber-alchemy of successful search
WHEN it comes to getting noticed, there's a lot of 'noise' out there in the Internet 'bazaar' and the crowds swirl maddening beyond the reach of our tinny voices. Some kind of amplification is a must - and that's where search engine optimisation (SEO) comes in.
Like many authors wrestling in the mud-pit of obscurity, the struggle seems nigh-on impossible at times; the methods for gaining firmer ground and drawing crowds our way are often bewildering, especially when we're trying to clear our heads ready for the next novel to gestate its way into the world.
SEO can come across as especially arcane. While it might seem like some kind of cyber-alchemy, the essence of it all isn't about discovering some kind of 'Philosophers Stone' capable of magically turning a leaden site into gold star destination: it's simply a set of techniques designed to improve how a site ranks with a search engine - and therefore its chances of being scanned by human eyes.
The techniques and tweaks can benefit every site - from the largest to the smallest - but as a subject SEO can be overwhelming taken as a whole. Broken down into digestible chunks and we start to make better sense of how it can benefit those of us who occupy a humbler niche in the labyrinth of the Internet. Sometimes, as the saying goes, less is more.
That's where the Manchester-based marketing agency The Eword has come in. The company has recently released the Manchester SEO Report identifying the companies with the best websites and ranks them accordingly.
"Over the last few months, my team has been reviewing businesses across Manchester," said the report's chief author - and head of the Eword - Al Mackin. "What we've found is that some websites are doing well, but there are huge numbers who are making mistakes or not investing in their websites. Google alone handles 2.3 billion searches every month in the UK and the smart companies are taking advantage of this market."
Now in itself this is just 'marketing fluff', you might think; great publicity for the Eword, sure, but the report is also a case study in providing real substance to the self-promotion. The rankings in the report are geared towards a purpose - demonstrating the effectiveness of a whole series of SEO techniques - and it also provides some handy tips and insights into how we Internet nobodies might emulate these SEO-savvy high-flyers identified in the report.
Okay, so that's putting it on strong, some of the sites examined in the report are massive 'volumes', regularly updated, and been around for years - all important factors in building up a good SEO performance, apparently - but we can at least improve our own performance.
Persistence pays off is one lesson in the report, as is the necessity of patience, since one of the factors underpinning good SEO performance is longevity. Some of the sites assessed have, as mentioned above, been around for years. The number of pages is another important factor. Growth takes time, after all, but not just the volume of material: quality and well-maintained pages also count towards a good ranking.
"Size is important to the search engines and small, 'undernourished' websites with a small number of pages on them don't often flourish and achieve high rankings," said the report. "Websites that are seen as resources generally do rank highly - Wikipedia and the Guardian are good examples - as the search engines believe that large amounts of content show a level of knowledge. Growth is just as important as size, and websites that are growing will often be looked upon more favourably by the search engines as growth signifies passion and interest."
These points probably don't come as much of a surprise, but the report also contains a few tips that might raise a few eyebrows among the non-cognoscenti of SEO. One of the potentially detrimental factors concerns the host. A website's IP address is a significant issue for a site's ranking performance but if it is hosted on a server alongside potentially thousands of other sites then it's rating with Google can be dragged down.
So there's much to mull over, here, as well as to apply if we want to enhance our digital presence.
To create its report the Eword assessed over 500 websites for top Manchester businesses, operating across 12 industry sectors: retail; hair and beauty; entertainment; financial services; media and TV; sports and gaming; not for profit; other business2consumer; property; legal; events and production; and arts and culture. These businesses were measured according to a set of 18 metrics.
The metrics covered different aspects of a website from an SEO perspective. These included the use of headers, the website's age, the number of websites on an IP address, the server location, Google PageRank, the number of pages indexed in Yahoo, content to code ratio, the number of broken links, outbound links, use of RSS feeds, the number of pages updated in the last month, and more.
Out of this, each website was awarded a score out of 100 to indicate the strength of performance in terms of SEO.
Top of the list was the Bridgewater Hall with a score of 92.4 per cent. Its success was attributed to factors such as its regularly updated content and links from quality sites such as the BBC and the local newspaper the M.E.N. (Manchester Evening News). The site beat off a number of contenders: Think Money (90.1 per cent) and The Lowry in Salford Quays (89.6 per cent).
Generally speaking, the arts and culture sector came out as the top performer with its average score of 70 per cent. Following on its heels came property (65 per cent), retail (64 per cent), media (63 per cent) and legal services (61 per cent).
High-flyers these sites and sectors might be, but the crucial message to take from the report is not to be disheartened - be realistic, be patient, apply the practical tips and we can all fly a little higher.
The Manchester SEO Report explains the theory and practice - along with the practical tips - a whole lot better than this author can convey. The Eword has also provided a handy infographic to help further illustrate the points, so check them out at the links below: