10 tips to boost search rankings

But sites should still be properly developed and curated from the start, regardless of various algorithm changes occurring in Web search today, advise market experts.

Businesses keen on search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to improve their site ranking should understand that it isn't just about analyzing the impact of or accommodating search algorithm changes only when they happen. They must also ensure their online properties and content are of high quality, say experts.

Adam Bunn, director of SEO at London-based search marketing agency Greenlight, said Google's Panda update does impact the SEO landscape but is "not something that most business need to worry about specifically".

"Panda only targets and affects a small minority of poor quality sites, and the things businesses need to do to avoid being hit by Panda are the things that any good business should be doing anyway," Bunn told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

In other words, he said Web sites should always be well-written and offer rich user experience to keep visitors "happy" on the site. These are the basic requirements for almost any online site, he added.

For example, the content should not repeatedly stick to one keyword and whatever message a business wants to put across to its audience should be clearly stated in the page title, meta description and URL (uniform resource locator).

Implemented Apr. 11, the Panda algorithm tweak essentially changed how Google's search engine ranks Web sites and was one of the company's various efforts to improve its search quality. In February, Google announced a strategy that targeted content farms or sites that duplicated content primarily to leverage search results-optimized purposes, as well as sites consisting of "spammy or low-quality content".

John Ng, director of digital marketing agency Mezmedia, noted that bumping up site rankings is not just about perfecting the art of search engine optimization. He said in an e-mail interview that SEO tips can be found anywhere, but these tips may end up "not really changing anything if a Web site is badly planned to begin with".

Ng and Bunn outlined 10 ways businesses should bear in mind when attempting to boost their site rankings on search engines. When contacted, Google and Microsoft spokespersons also referred to their online Webmaster tools that offer tips on optimizing site rankings on Google's and Bing's search engines respectively.

1. Create useful content for readers.
This should be the aim of any Web site, specifically since the drive behind Google's decisions to update its algorithm typically revolve around delivering content that is high-quality and relevant to users. Ng noted that writing original content is not easy and requires significant resources and time, but he reminded businesses of their end-goal.

"Give great info and folks will visit and link to your site, thereby increasing your page rank," he said.

He added that companies also risk the possibility of plummeting site rankings if they are found "cheating" by resorting to tactics such as content farming or link farming to increase their search rank.

2. Be unique.
"Search engines hate duplicate content," Bunn said, but noted that original content aside, businesses fundamentally have to think about the proposition of its site.

"Is it really any different to the hundreds or thousands of other sites offering the same thing? What makes your site remarkable? If your answer to this question is 'nothing', then you will struggle to achieve ranking success," he said.

3. Research the SERPs.
Search engine results pages (SERPs) nowadays are populated with many different types of content besides traditional Web links such as video, news, maps, images and shopping information, Bunn said. Hence, businesses must first find out what types of results tend to appear with their target keywords. For instance, he noted that for some keywords, optimizing for images or maps rankings are the quickest and easiest route to higher online visibility.

4. Keyword everything.
Ng explained that besides the actual text, other features on the site such as the URL, image names and links should also reflect the content by utilizing keywords that users would likely use while searching. The site will be more organized and better crawled by search engine spiders.

For example, by titling an image "healthy chicken.jpg" rather than "image001.jpg", the pictures will turn up on image searches, he said. Similarly, use a link that reads, "Our menu offers healthy options" instead of "To find out more, click here".

5. Don't use Flash to hold key content.
Search engine spiders cannot read Flash, Ng explained. So, even though Flash can be optimized for search, dedicating resources to do so is "usually not worth the effort", he said. Flash can be used to build fancy animations around the site, but not to hold the core of the site's content, he advised.

6. Measure it.
Metrics is a must for all Web sites and requires constant attention, Ng said, adding that there are various options available today including free ones such as Google Analytics.

"Watch your numbers closely. They tell you what your visitors are doing, which page is performing best, how long they are staying, which sites they are coming from and so on.

"Know what your visitors want, and give them more of the same. That's common sense," he said.

7. Optimize page-loading speed.
This component is more important than most people today think, according to Bunn, who noted that how fast a page loads has been a factor in Google's ranking algorithm since April 2010. "For maximum benefit, your pages should load entirely in less than a second," he advised.

8. Pay attention to bounce rates.
A "bounce" occurs when a user clicks on a Web site after performing a search, only to immediately return (or "bounce") back to the search results. Search engines collect bounce rates as data to validate their suspicions about the quality of a Web site or lack thereof, Bunn highlighted.

High bounce rates have become an even more significant issue now that Google allows users to exclude or block a site so it will not be seen in future search results, he said.

9. SEO does not exist in a vacuum.
Search engine optimization should be adopted as an integral part of a company's broader marketing efforts. Employees who are responsible for their company's SEO should be aware of the latest trends in the associated markets, channels and communities such as social media and television, and they can often "piggyback SEO on their other campaigns", Bunn said.

He pointed to U.K. insurance price comparison company Compare The Market, which in 2010 launched a site called "Compare the Meerkat" that tapped interest generated by its TV ads involving meerkats, as well as the increasing number of Web searches containing the keyword "meerkat".

10. Get help from an expert.
Bunn acknowledged that most Web development outfits know a bit about search engine optimization but it would be "unfair" to rely on them as experts.

He suggested companies sought out proper SEO expertise at the very outset of building or redeveloping a Web site, as it would save one a lot of money down the line.