Search Engine Optimisation

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is a term that is thrown around quite liberally in the world of website development. It is an integral part of moving your website up in the Search Engine ranks and is, therefore, essential for you to understand.

A Search Engine is a tool that is designed to look for specific information from all over the internet. Common Search Engines include Google, MSN, Bing and Yahoo! When you have a website, your goal is to move it up in the Search Engine rankings so that it appears as near to the first item as possible. This will increase your chances of people clicking on your site when doing research on the internet. It will also increase the demand from advertisers to have their products on your page, for which you will receive payment. The process of ensuring that your website moves up in rankings is called Search Engine Optimisation.

This is done primarily through the repeated use of the most common words and phrases that you expect people to enter into the search field. For example, the Kruger National Park will choose keywords and key phrases such as “game reserve South Africa”, “game parks”, “Big 5” “South Africa holiday”, “South Africa accommodation” and so on. These words need to appear throughout the pages of the site in order for the Search Engine to recognise them and move the page up. As a page becomes more recognised by the Search Engine, it will attract a number of links from other sites. Link building carries much weight in the ‘eyes’ of the Search Engine.

Other writing tips to ensure optimal Search Engine Optimisation include:

  • Using bullets and headings to break the text and including the keywords or phrases in them
  • Repeating these words three to five times in every page without sounding repetitive
  • Writing articles of at least 200 words each
  • Adding links wherever possible

The text has to be original to ensure that your page is not blocked by the Search Engine on grounds of plagiarism. This is taken very seriously and is not worth the risk.

Ensuring that your website becomes respected and used by the Search Engines in a way that works for your advantage is a time-consuming task that requires patience and innovation. However, it is well worth the effort as your service or product enters the global market through a trusted Search Engine.

Meta Tags

If you have had even the smallest amount of experience with websites, you have more than likely heard of Meta tags as they have always been spoken about when it comes to search engines and they have been around since the start of the internet.

What is a Meta Tag?

Meta Tags are pieces of information that a visitor to a website will never see. The Meta Tags provide information on the website for search engines and it assists search engines in evaluating and / or determining the subject matter of a website.

A few years ago, a large amount of value was placed in Meta Tags. Nowadays, their value or importance is debatable and in most conversations, you will hear people stating that Meta Tags are not as important. Many people abused the use of Meta Tags, by spamming a particular keyword or phrase for example, and as a result the algorithms on the various search engines don’t give them as much credibility as what they used to. Again, this is a debatable subject, so ultimately, you decide your thoughts on it.

Where do the Meta Tags go?

Meta tags are placed between the <head> and </head> tag. The most popular tags used are the “keywords” and “description” Meta Tags. These tags will have information placed in them that are relevant to the page.

What are the different Meta Tags and what do they do?

When explaining, we will again use our plumbing example as we have done in other articles.

The “keywords” Meta Tag:

The keywords meta tag, as the name states, keywords relating to the page. So, if we’re working on the home page of Plumber Jack, the keyword Meta Tag for the home page may be as follows:

Example:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”cape town plumbers, plumbers, plumbing, toilets, drains” />

The “description” Meta Tag

In this Meta Tag, you would place a sentence or even 2 sentences about the website and it’s subject matter or content.

Example:

<meta name=”description” content=”Plumber Jack is a Cape Town based plumber offering a range of services for your household’s plumbing needs.”>

The “Revisit-After” Meta Tag

As the implied by the name, this Meta Tag tells search engines when it must visit the website again to check for updates and can re-index the page. This tag is particularly useful for websites that update their content regularly e.g. website portals. Again, this tag can be abused, but if you are sure your content will be updated regularly, then use it to ensure the search engines visit regularly and your most recent updates can get reflected on the search engines.

Example:

<META name=”Revisit-After” content=”10 Days” />

The “Robots” Meta Tag

This tag gives the search engines direction. It tells the search engines which pages must be ignored, which pages should be indexed and whether a page should be crawled.

The options for the Robots Meta Tag are as follows:

  • Noindex – the page should not be indexed
  • Nofollow – robots should not follow any of the links located on the page
  • Index – this page can be indexed
  • Follow – this page’s links can be followed

Examples:

<META name=”Robots” content=”noindex, follow” />
<META name =” Robots” content=”index, nofollow” />
<META name =” Robots” content=”noindex, nofollow” />
<META name =” Robots” content=”all” />

The “Expires” Meta Tag

This tag gives the search engines information on when a page expires. So, let’s say for example you have a page that lists events throughout the year. If it’s June now and you don’t necessarily want someone visiting your site for an event that took place in February, this tag would tell the search engine that it no longer needs to worry about this page from the date specified. This tag is useful for pages that have dynamic content that is pulled from a database.

Example:

<META name=”Expires” content=”Tue, 01 Feb 2008 15:00:00 GMT” />

Summary

There are a large number of Meta Tags available. The ones mentioned above are probably the most popular ones used and that are available.
If you plan on using Meta Tags, don’t abuse them, use them as they were supposed to be used, and make sure you understand what each one is doing before implementing them.

IMPORTANT: There are so many Meta Tag generators out there now-a-days. A number of them could be useful, but make sure you are careful when using them and make sure the tags, in your mind, make sense and are relevant and NOT “spammy” before using them on your website.

Competitive Search Terms

If you are building a brand new website and search engine optimisation (SEO) is a key factor for your website, then it’s worth checking out how competitive the subject matter for your website is.

What would my search terms be?

You need to work out what you would like to be found for when someone does a search on a search engine. You need to consider different search term variations and test each search term on the major search engines including:

  • Google.com
  • Google.co.za
  • MSN.com
  • Yahoo.com

So, let’s use an example.

Previously, we covered South Africa Tourism SEO, but for this example we’ll try something more unique / general.
So, let’s say you run a plumbing business in Cape Town. In an ideal world, you may like to be found for the following search terms:

  • cape town plumbers
  • plumbers cape town
  • cape town plumbing company

So, you go to Google.com or any other major search engine and do a search on each of the search terms above. When the result is displayed, you will notice that the search engine will tell you how many results there are. It’s that big number that you want to keep in mind.

The larger the number, the more difficult or more of a challenge it may be to get ranking on the search engines – specifically for the search term you tested the results on. But, this is DEFINITELY NOT something to get despondent or upset about, but rather something to keep you informed and “in the know”.

When you start a new business, you consider who your competitors are. In the same way, you need to see who you are up against on the search engines.

What do I do if my search terms are very competitive?

There are a couple of things to do, but here are the top 5 things that we can suggest:

  • Have your website developed by a reputable web agency. Believe it or not, your site’s site rankings are also dictated by how your site has been built. This point and the point below are probably one of the MOST IMPORTANT points out of this entire Top 5 items.
  • Make sure you use a company that has a good track record when it comes to search engine optimisation. You don’t want to do the SEO yourself or have it done by a company who doesn’t know what they are doing. SEO can be a dangerous game.
  • Be patient and breathe deeply. Some sites can take up to a year to rank, so patience is definitely a must.
  • Consider alternative marketing channels in the interim until the site is ranking better.
  • DO NOT BE CONNED – no one can guarantee search results. There are tons of emails being sent out now-a-days with promises of getting you to the top ten. If you are interested in these emails, make sure it’s NATURAL RESULTS and NOT SPONSORED ADS (the results typically displayed on the right hand side)

South Africa Tourism SEO

Introduction:

The South African Tourism industry is probably one of the most competitive online industries in South Africa, if not the most competitive. Cape Town was voted Number 4 on the BBC’s Top 50 Places to Visit Before you Die list. And since we will be hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, everyone seems to be jumping on the tourism bandwagon.

So we will be taking a closer look at some of the more competitive SEO terms in South Africa and Cape Town, and why the Top Ten in Google rank the way they do – at least, what could be the factors, as only Google knows for sure.

What Do I Mean by “Competitive”?

Just by doing a few searches on the search engines, especially Google since they drive the most traffic, you will quickly see what I mean:

  • cape town hotels – 298,000 results
  • cape town accommodation – 245,000 results
  • south africa hotels – 8,130,000
  • south africa accommodation – 1,100,000

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of results being returned for those searches. Granted, 300k seems like a lot, but Google claims to have over 6 billion pages indexed. And some globally competitive terms, like SEO, return tens-of-millions of results. So why do I say they are competitive?

Big Players:

When doing some travel research, either as r&d for a project, or as a tourist, you will see that the top 20 results of the search engines are almost identical for most general searches. These are the accommodation portals dominating. You will almost never find an establishment ranking for a very competitive phrase.

Why Do Portals Dominate?

Obviously no-one but Google knows the exact ranking factors, but many a SEO has speculated, and have done Case Studies, and multiple-site-and-search tests etc. No-one knows for certain.

But as you watch the Search Engine result pages across a few web searches, you will certainly see a few things that these “Top Rankers” have in common – and you can apply it across the board, not just in the South Africa Tourism SEO industry.

Domain Age
Almost ALL of these high ranking accommodation portals have old and trusted domains.

Domain Name
Almost all of these “Top Rankers” have some sort of keyword in their domain name.

Tons of Content
For years portals have been adding content at a steady pace, and have consequently built up a “reputation” with the search engines. The more on-topic content you have, the better.

Tons of Backlinks
Before we even knew that links were counted as a ranking factor (before the Florida update), people have been linking to each other. Back in the day, people were less cautious to whom they link, and consequently, link juice flowed freely in those days. Today, someone does not just link to you – you have to either earn your links, or ask for them!

Now What?

To fire up a site now and think you will be ranking for almost any term with “Cape Town” in it, can almost be called naive. Here is some ideas and advice when wanting to rank for more competitive SEO terms:

  • Try and acquire a keyword rich Domain Name
  • Constant Attention and Changing
  • Create New and Unique Content EVERY DAY
  • Make sure you have link-worthy content
  • Always try and think why people would link to you and adjust accordingly if possible
  • Always be on the look-out for marketing avenues for your site
  • Ask friends for links
  • Join a network and contribute

OR

  • Throw the Google rule book out of the window and do it the “Blackhat” way a.k.a Search Engine Spamming. This is no long-term solution though, and you might be thrown out of the Search Engines’ index – not something you want!

Examples:

SA-Hotels-Online:
Domain Age: 3 years
Domain Name: http://www.sa-hotels-online.com
Updated: Weekly
Industry: South Africa Online Hotel Accommodation bookings
Description: We have been trying to get SA Hotels Online to rank for “cape town hotels” and similar tourism keywords. The above article was written based on experience with this website in particular. Additionally, we have encountered this with many a client and other inhouse-projects.

Cape Town Hotel:
Domain Age: 1.5 years
Domain Name: http://www.cape-town-hotel.co.za
Updated: Monthly
Industry: Cape Town Hotel is similar to SA Hotels Online, and target similar tourism keywords, but does not rank as well as SA Hotels Online.

Conclusion:

There are obviously many, many more things that result in websites ranking better than others. From well-optimized web pages, to optimized content. Above is just what we have found mainly contributes to the domination of the accommodation portals in South Africa Tourism SEO!

Permalinks in WordPress

WordPress SEO Tip:

As you might have noticed, the Mammoth Blog uses the popular blogging platform, WordPress. WordPress is pretty SEO-friendly out of the box, but here and there is room for improvement. One of those things are the URL structures.

The default URL structure for WordPress looks like this: http://www.domain-name.com/?p=2. In this example your blog would be situated in the root. As you can see, the ?p=2 isn’t ideal for SEO purposes, as you want your post’s name to be in your URL.

Improving:

Follow the following steps:

  • In the Top Menu, click on Options.
  • In the Sub Top Menu, click on Permalinks
  • There are four radio buttons, you can choose any one of those, but we are building a
    custom structure.
  • Click on the “Custom” radio button, and in the please specify box type in: /%postname%/
  • Click on the Update button.

Very Important:

After you have clicked the Update button, you will be prompted to update your .htaccess. You cannot skip this step, otherwise all your current and future posts will return 404 errors.

Go down to the bottom of the page and copy the text in the textarea, and update your .htaccess file.

Conclusion:

All you posts should now have the following URL structure: http://www.domain-name.com/hello-world/.

Much nicer and way more SEO-friendly!