Sales calls canvassing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services seem to be more frequent than cold-calls from recruitment companies these days. This article explains a little about SEO and search engines, why they’re important and how to make the most of them.

The scenario

Let’s imagine that you:

  • sell widgets
  • you’re based in Birmingham
  • your customers are other companies across the UK

You want to make sure that:

  1. If a potential customer uses a search engine to find a widget supplier, they have the best chance of finding you.
  2. If someone needs to know your phone number, and they search using your company name, you’ll be top of the list.

…in other words, you want to optimise your web site(s) for the search engines.

1. Identify your keyphrases

This is the process of picking key words and phrases that become the measure for the SEO success of your site. The best way to get started identifying keyphrases is to put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer and try to imagine what they would type into Google.

  • widgets
    Yes, fair enough. But thousands of other companies across the world sell them too, and many of them also do SEO, so you’re not likely to make it into the top 10 for that search term. (If nobody else sells your kind of widgets yet, they will do soon, so you need to stay ahead of the game!)
  • widget
    Not much different to the plural, so still a very competitive term. But I like your thinking – the search engines DO differentiate plurals, and some of your competitors may not have.
  • widgets birmingham
    Very good. Now apart from any widget sites in Alabama, you’re certain to attract prospects shopping for widgets from Birmingham, or widgets for Birmingham, or widgets shaped like Birmingham. This may help your competitors, your existing customers, and telesales outfits trying to sell you a new photocopier, but it won’t catch those prospects you’re fishing for. So merely describing yourself in a keyphrase isn’t too important, although it should be considered as it makes sure that your existing customers can find you.
  • widgets essex
    Now this is interesting – perhaps this might be the chosen search phrase of an Essex company looking to source widgets locally – exactly what you’re looking for. While you can’t optimise for every town and county in the UK, you can make sure your site is rich with news and page content. You attended that Widget Supplier Symposium last year in Essex, right? You sold a truck load of widgets to an Essex company last quarter? Make news items of them, or even a corporate blog. Your human audience probably won’t read it, but the search engines will. The more relevant content you have, the higher your chances of being matched for search phrases you can’t predict. (But use the site’s structure to keep it fresh and interesting for your visitors.)
  • aluminium widgets
    Excellent – not only are you being slightly less ambitious with your search terms, but what’s more you’ve cleverly targeted a specific area of your business.Also by picking a non-US spelling for aluminium (US=aluminum) you’ve eliminated US buyers and suppliers from your audience and your competition, which gives you a much clearer playing field. (If you sell to the US too, you will want to consider the US spelling separately, and perhaps make the most of the opportunity to have separate US and UK pages).

    As you supply several different kinds of widgets in addition to aluminium, you may need to consider certain pages of your site as “landing pages” – the ones most likely to rank highly for specific search terms. So for your aluminium range, it’s naturally more likely that a page you have extolling their virtues will rank higher for the search term aluminium widgets. So don’t just try and direct searchers to your home page by stuffing it with all your keyphrases. Instead make sure that your Products>Widgets>Aluminium page has just the right amount of occurrences, and that there are many other high-ranking sites talking about aluminium widgets linking to this page.


As I was writing this article (evening of 6th June ’06), I thought it would be a neat trick to give you a measure of the speed of search engines. I picked a topical but totally random word – getwellrooney – I checked that Google had no results for it, and put it at the end of one of the pages on our website. Check back usng the links below to see how the 3 top search engines stack up:

Google (2 days)
MSN Search (2 hours)

Lesson: Content is king. Your site should say everything there is to say about you, and everything significant that you’ve done. Then every relevant term that could be used by your target audience will be featured on your site. All news is good news!

Health warning: Don’t expect such instantaneous miracles! SEO should be measured in months and years. If you want better ranking next year, start SEO now. If you want better ranking next decade, start SEO now.

2. Linking

This is important. Really important. You can live without linking, but life is so much easier with.

Here’s my take on it:

Google (and since then, the other search engines too) use your inbound and outbound links to build a theoretical network reflecting real life.

If the world’s leading authorities on widgets have hyperlinks to your site, Google concludes you’re respected in the world of widgets, and pushes you higher up the rankings.

If there’s a sudden global widget crisis, and the does an article that has a link to your site, again Google concludes that people searching for widgets in future should be told about you.

In Google’s eyes the BBC ranks very highly. (And happily, that is reflected in global reality). While they may not be an authority on widgets, if they write about it, Google knows it’s important. So the link from their article on widgets to your site does you the power of good.

If your best friend happens to work at the BBC and sneaks in a link to your site from some obscure recipe page, it won’t be anywhere near as good, because Google knows that the recipe page has no mention of widgets. (But from it’s still good!)

So get inbound links from anywhere, but aim for contextually relevant, high ranking sites.

My Google-reality-analogy also applies to outbound links. These are links on your site that take the visitor elsewhere. Perhaps to or to that news article on the BBC site. Google sees that relationship, and it’s healthy.

However what is Google to think if it sees a link from your site to a dodgy porn site? It’s the SEO equivalent of a Daily Mail front page photo of you emerging from a late-night brothel.

Google’s more scientific explanation of their algorithm is here, but I think you’re more likely to remember mine!

3. Conclusion

Is that it?

No – there’s lots more to think about!
Things like validation, redirects, density, spiders,
Then there’s Adwords, Froogle, Base, RSS, affiliates, Local.
And Google-bombing, Google-spamming, Google-bowling.There are many books on SEO, thousands of websites and there’ll be an honours degree soon.

But you stick to making those widgets, and we’ll be happy to help with your SEO.