I should say from the outset that optimisation work isn't a service that I offer, but I do give clients basic advice, and build content management systems and ecommerce websites that allow that advice to be put into practise.
Truely effective optimisation is time consuming, and meaningful results are rarely instant. This means it's costly, and can be difficult to prove results. However, the basics can be applied by anyone. Changes can be drip-fed over time, so don't worry about getting everything right from day one.
There are two main criteria that google et al use when deciding where to place a site within their results. First : relevance of your site to the word or phrase being searched for. Second : inbound links, or the number, and relevance of other websites pointing to yours.
1. Your website's relevanceCopy
Writing copy so that a website is found is largely common sense, but it takes practise, and frequent tweeking.
Search engines are very literal, and so you need to feed them words that you think people will use when searching for your services. Often, simply writing about what you do will create sentences containing these crucial words, but you do need to craft it a bit.
You need to think about what services you offer, what words you yourself might use to search for those services, and then integrate these 'keywords' into the descriptions you write. If you make widgets, but the word 'widgets' doesn't appear anywhere on your website, how will people find you ?
The more copy you add, the more likely google will be to start seeing you as an authority on the subject.
Meta tags are hidden elements within the page, are defined in the head of the page to give an overview of that page's content. Often, the 'title' element shows up as the clickable link in search results, with the 'description' providing the words below.
Despite what some people say, I still find that the meta title and meta description elements, when optimised effectively, do have a bearing on ranking. Taking the time to craft individual meta titles and descriptions for individual pages, using relevant keywords, can often produce very effective results.
Featuring keywords in the filenames of your webpages will add relevance, although exactly how much is hotly debated. If you have an ecommerce website, configuring your product pages' url strings to maximise their relevance is a must.
For instance, a url of widgets.co.uk/big-widgets/our-biggest-widget is more effective than widgets.co.uk/products.php?id=1983625.
Page titles and the heading ( h1 etc ) tags
The h1 to h6 tags are html markup that indicate headings, in descending levels of importance, 1 being the most important. Identifying your page's headings with these tags tells google that these are important elements. Using good keywords as page titles boosts relevance.
2. Inbound linksGoogle ranks websites according to 'relevance'. If a number of highly relevant sites point to site X, and site X contains relevant copy, google will confer a greater ranking to site X.
It's like being introduced to someone by a good friend. You automatically put that introduction at a slightly higher level of trust, by inference. The level of trust depends on the nature of your relationship with the person who's introducing you. We humans do it subconciously, google is programmed to do it.
Inbound links can take the form of trade directories, suppliers, clients etc. Generating these links can be the hardest part of SEO, depending on what line of business you are in.
Quantity does count, but quality is most important. If you manufacture widgets, spending time slowly building up links from websites that mention widgets will pay dividends. Racing around harvesting links from people who are in no way related to widgets will be a waste of time and energy.
3. Cross linkingCross linking is the act of linking from one page on your site to another, using good keywords as the link words.
Creating a link to page about widgets by making the clickable word 'widgets', rather than simply 'click here', acts as a very specific signpost. You will see numerous examples throughout this site.
Google takes note when pages are linked to by words that contain relevant keywords, from pages that also, however obliquely, mention, or are related to, the same subject.
It all adds up to and reinforces greater relevance.
There is no point doing all this work if you cannot measure the results. You need to be able to identify where your traffic is coming from, how people are finding you, and what improvements or otherwise result from changes you make.
I prefer Web-Stat for everyday web traffic analysis. It is a simpler offering than google's, and I find it more intuitive and immediate. It's a monthly subscription service ( 30 day free trial ), a minimal fee, but there are a couple of features that I find extremely useful.
The feature I use the most is the 'Live streaming traffic' page, which lists visits as they arrive, in real time, and gives a breakdown of every page that visitor viewed, in path order.
Try web-stat for free