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Q&A: Search engine optimisation

Search engine optimisation SEOMost web users don't look beyond the second page of search results, so competition to get a high ranking on major search engines is fierce. But taking a few simple steps can improve the chance of your website being found

Chris Lake of ecommerce publisher and trainer Econsultancy explains how search engine optimisation can boost your Google rankings.

Which search engines should I try to get listed on?

Chris Lake (CL): "Google is the biggest shopping mall in the world and has over 90% of the search engine market in the UK and similarly high figures in most other countries. The other major search engines are Microsoft's Bing and Yahoo."

Will I have to pay to get to the top of the list?

CL: "You don't pay Google to get to the top of the "organic" results - those on the left-hand side of the page. You pay for the sponsored links on the right-hand side, the pay-per-click ads. Most firms will spend 90% of their budget on pay-per-click advertising, and give just 10% to search engine optimisers to get them a high organic listing. You should use a search engine optimiser to get you started."

How does my business appear in an "organic" result?

CL: "Google looks for words that match the search term typed in by the user. If these keywords don't appear in the text on your site, you are unlikely to be featured in the search result.

"Work out what keywords people are going to use to search for your products or services and include them in your site. Some keywords on the page are more important than others, such as in the headline or page title. Make sure the keywords you are targetting appear in the 'right' places on your pages including the page title and h1 tags."

How can I appear higher up in a Google search page?

CL: "Google counts the number of links you've got to your website which are relevant to the subject of your page, and ranks you accordingly. If you have lots of links to your site, it's an affirmation that it's good.

"The quality of the sites linking to you is also important. So if there is a link from the BBC website to your site, it's likely to boost your Google ranking substantially - Google views the BBC as an authority."

How important is web content to a high ranking?

CL: "Good-quality content is very important, because if your site is good people will link to it. It's worth budgeting to get it done professionally. Also, search engines need to access content easily, so avoid using Flash animation or images as search engines can't really make sense of them."

What common mistakes should I avoid?

CL: "Avoid using questionable techniques that were once popular to gain high rankings - such as reciprocal linking. Google can see through reciprocal linking for what it is - a shortcut to boost your ranking."

How can I tell whether it's working?

CL: "Google offers a free monitoring tool, Google Analytics, so you can see what people are searching for and adapt your site accordingly."

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