How can I improve my natural listing position on Google?

There are of course huge numbers of people claiming to be experts in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), the largest Search Engine of all of course being Google.


However, the only real Google Experts, are those that actually work for Google right now.  They’re constantly trying to improve their search results, making them more intuitive to humans, and more like human rankings.


People will often find little loopholes on how to artificially improve your ranking position, with ‘black art’ techniques (things that will typically get your website blacklisted from Google, and therefore hidden entirely from view for at least 3 months).  So as I’ve mentioned before, do the things primarily for the human user.. and Google will follow.


So assuming that your website is already accessible to people with visual challenges (and therefore search engines can read it more easily too).. you’ve already made sure all your images have ‘alt’ text.. and of course you have lots of good readable text on each page (especially the homepage), etc.


Google likes a few key things in particular:

  • Old websites (so you must therefore be an ‘established’ business)
  • Websites with lots of good real content, related to the search terms (so you have something worth looking at, when the visitor gets there), especially content that’s updated, and added to regularly.
  • Lots of links to your website from other websites (meaning lots of people like it enough, to want to share it with other people)
So what is your speciality area?  If your business is about hair extensions, talk about it through your integrated blog.  Also, if you’re a geographically based business (ie in Reading), then talk about things going on locally too.


Typically, the more often you update your website, the more often Google (and others) will think it’s worth looking at, which means the higher up the natural search rankings you’ll appear.

So, for example, write about things related to hair extensions, or even anything to do with  hair!  i.e. your thoughts on the Royal wedding, any celebrities you see or know about with hair extensions in the press.. or even “if you’d like to have hair like ‘xxxx’ we have just the hair extensions for you”…  It doesn’t really matter what you blog about, just blog more!
If you can get your website talked about on related web forums (ie the types of forums your clients might read.. ie young mothers’ forums, rock, grunge, tattoo, etc..), with links back to your website, that will help too (try to keep it natural though, when mentioning your website).
You could also reply back on other people’s related blogs, with genuine comments (and links back to your website in the signature).  Any links through newspaper article websites, or the BBC would of course be very good for your natural search ranking.
Having a Facebook Group for your business, that people can ‘like’ is of course also a very popular choice these days, with links back to your website (and photos on your Facebook page too of course).
You could also try shooting a video of you doing what you do best.  Put this on YouTube.. and this can then also help a lot with rankings too (as Google owns YouTube, and seems to really like links from popular videos back to related websites).
All of the above should essentially be free!

Interflora Vs Marks and Spencer – Adwords row

Some of you may haven heard in the news today about the Interflora Vs Marks and Spencer row, over the use of the search term ‘Interflora‘:

This screen clipping was taken a few moments ago, and as you can see, in the ‘sponsored adwords’ listing, both Interflora, M&S, and ASDA are all bidding on the search term ‘Interflora’, in the ‘Pay Per Click’ ‘sponsored links’.

Firstly, from the people I’ve already spoken to today, there is some misunderstanding between paid listings, and natural listings:

  • Natural listings are the search results that appear with a white background, on every search results page.  Whereas sponsored listings are paid for advertising links (which may or may not take you to the product or service you’ve searched for).
  • Natural Search listings can be improved through having a great website, and naturally working on your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).  This are the most valuable placements to have, as many users will prefer to click on the natural links, rather than the paid links.
  • The PayPerClick (PPC) advertised listings, as seen in the above example (with the faintly shaded background) are the search results which either appear above, or to the top right of every search page. 
  • With PayPerClick, Companies can thus pay Google (which is part of the reason the stock value of Google is so high) to appear high on this listing.. the more you offer to pay Google for each person who clicks on your link, the higher in the rankings you will appear.

The minimum bid is 1p (or in reality it’s more like 2p), but there is no upper limit I’m aware of (you just need to work out the value to yourself of someone clicking through..

  • If you have a product that sells for £10, and you make £1 profit on each item: if 10% of the visitors to your website purchased one item, then the value to you of each click would be 10p (so you’d need to set your bid to a lower value to ensure you can still cover your costs, unless of course this £10 product is a ‘loss leader’ to help get customers to buy other products too).
  • However, if your product sold for £10,000, with a £2,000 profit margin, and 10% of the visitors who visited your site from your chosen search term, then the average value of each click would be £200, so the amount you bid on each click could of course be much higher.

This is the reason why companies cold call many businesses, and guarantee you ‘first page on Google’.. this is easy, if you pay enough for the relevant search term, you can appear as high as you like for those search terms.

However, the interesting thing about this case is that Marks and Spencer are using a worldwide registered trade-mark as a means to promote their own competitive services (even though the trademark phrase itself doesn’t appear in the advert, nor on the associated page with it).

I know that Red Letter Days used to be very clear to their resellers, that as part of the agreement to resell Red Letter Day vouchers, the resellers were not allowed to bid on the search terms directly related to their brand (ie ‘Red Letter Days’).  However, in this case, M-and-S have not entered into such an agreement, as they are attempting to sell their own competitive product/service instead.

So it’s understandable for the case to now reach the high court.  Trademark and Copyright rows are rarely simple.
By my understanding, you are typically only allowed to quote someone else’s trademark; with their permission, if you are a licensed reseller of their product (ie Starbucks coffee), or for a news feature or similar.

But then, many trademarks/brand names have become a generic description of a product (ie ‘Tannoy’ rather than a ‘public address system’, ‘Hoover’ rather than ‘vacuum cleaner’, etc.) so in these cases, you could argue it would be ‘fair’ to associate your competitive product or service with such a name.

I look forward to seeing how the case continues.

What Content to Include

What to put on your website will of course depend very much on what you’re planning to do with your website. There are a few ‘standard’ uses for a website:

  • The Online Brochure – Essentially a digital version of the sort of brochure 15 years ago you may send out to prospective customers / clients. Containing general text and images (and maybe a few videos or audio files) related to promoting your business. The sort of website content that doesn’t need to be updated too often, but still gives a reasonable overview of what you / your company does.
  • The Online Shop – A digital version of all a high street shop, or postal catalogue shop, whereby all your stock / services are arranged in a logical way by category / type, with search facilities built in, online payment options, instant stock levels linked into your main database, etc.
  • The News Portal – Updated hourly / daily / weekly / whenever, with changes to your business and updates your customers / clients / followers may be interested in. Visitors can view the most recent news items, browse previous items, look back through the archives, etc. These services may also broadcast other items that may not be directly relevant to the broadcaster, but that may be of interest to the visitors (thus helping drive visitors to the website regularly).
  • The members’ area / subscription based services – The sort websites often attributed to ‘adult’ services (although it’s also useful for many other business models too), ie monthly subscription gives unlimited access to various photos / videos / documents, that users can then view or download, or subscribe to updates and similar. A good way to maintain a regular revenue, if you can provide content that users for that sector are interested in.
  • The link farm – An all too familiar site these days, whereby often ‘good’ domain names (purchased by domain name squatters and similar, or who brought up a popular website domain when it expired), who rather than having any useful content on, are simply a page of links, often computer generated (so not necessarily appropriate to the actual domain name), which link through to other websites who’ve paid to be on there (and who ‘pay per click’ for every user who travels through one of those links). Some ‘domain name registrars’ (ie GoDaddy) now use a link farm as their ‘free holding page’ when you buy a domain name through them at ‘x’ amount per year, and they then get paid for anyone who clicks on a link through their holding page, to competitor websites!

In general though, the following pages are normally a good guide to the basic minimum:

  • Main Index Page / Homepage – This will normally be the ‘front atrium’ for visitors to your website. Don’t just put a glossy intro on there (that’s sooo 2003), but contain all the main basic information about your business/company/profession that will encourage users to go further into your website (and provide the links for them to do so). Not all users will come via this page though, so make sure the rest of your website has links back to the main parts too.
  • Contact Us – a link to your main contact details (such as telephone number, postal mailing address, fax number, contact email address, online form). It’s REALLY important to put a contact link on every page of your website. You can never be sure when someone will decide they want to get in contact, and if you don’t make it easy for them, they may well go elsewhere.
  • Sitemap – This is a simply coded page, that provides a text link to all the main parts of your website (normally to about two levels down). It used to be this would help search engines find there way around, and similarly if your navigation wasn’t as intuitive as it could be, this was a good way users could go to where they wanted, directly. There is a new sitemap.xml document however, that’s designed primarily for Google, that helps a lot more with Google finding it’s way to all your main web pages. (As you may see from the link, it’s a little different to normal html, but thankfully there are free programs out there now that should generate this all for you, especially if you have your website hosted with Parlour Design).
  • About Us – If a new user visits your website but knows nothing about you, the ‘about us’ page or section should provide them with an overview, and reassurance that they wish to continue browsing through your website, and of course buying your products/services.
  • Terms & Conditions – Get some professional legal advice on this one. In general, the basic terms and conditions about the use of your website / products / services should be linked to on each page (normally at the base of the page). But don’t just copy and paste someone else’s: firstly it’s illegal (breach of copyright), and secondly most of the terms and conditions I’ve read on SME websites (Small and Medium Enterprises) are actually invalid under UK law because of various unfair/unreasonable terms they include!

How to build/design your website

General Information

To actually make a website, you need to be able to draw upon skills from four distinct areas:

  • Graphic Designer
  • Programmer
  • Content Writer / Editor
  • Accessibility / Usability

Graphic Designer

This is about the look and feel of the website, its layout on the page, the choice of colours, the choice of images (both photos and graphic elements), the way it balances on the page, etc.

Proportionally, very few people are naturally good at design, with the most common design mistakes being to overcomplicate designs.

In general, keep things simple, and don’t be afraid of subtle curves.
Use a simple colour pallet (that match with your brand, and don’t clash with each other), keeps page sections in proportion to each other, use crisp powerful images, and don’t use too many fonts.

CSS Mania has a great selection of new and classic design layouts that may help inspire.

Color Lovers has thousands of colour pallets that work well on their own.
And don’t be afraid of using maths to calculate your proportions (ie 1:3 ratio, 1:4 or 1:5 ratios tend to be the maximum range for many elements within website design).

If you are going to design the website yourself, it’s normally best if you don’t have a natural flair for graphic design, to use one of the thousands of free to use design templates that can be found online, or with your web hosting providers.

Programmer

This is the element that’s all about the actual code of the website. The ‘source code’ behind the design.

For many websites, this would typically be the programming languages of html, css, and javascript, although of course there are many more.

html coding is a relatively simple process once you can learn the basics of the language. In general, you need to ‘close’ any ‘open tags’, and failure to do so in the correct order, is the reason why most websites seem to fail validation, or display the same on multiple web browsers.

If you use a right click on this page, and select ‘view source code’, you can see what html actually looks like of this page at least.

If you’d like to learn, attend a course at your local FE college, or buy a good book and work through the exercises. Having a good basic understanding of html can make things a lot easier when it comes to trying to ‘fix’ any problems you may have with your website later.

If you have made a start at learning html, WebDeveloper is a pretty popular forum for programmers to exchange thoughts and ideas, or help solve problems for each other. But don’t expect free support if you’ve not been making the effort to work it out for yourself first.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are an increasingly popular way to help display the design elements of your website.

These are most usefully held in an external file that multiple web pages can all reference at once. Thus helping reduce your bandwidth, and also making things far easier to change the design of your entire website by modifying just one file.

CSS did take a few years to reach the level that was originally intended of them (html was not supposed to be about design, but actual content). In the meantime, lots of designers were forced to use ‘tables’ to layout their content on a page.

Tables are for tabular data, not design, and should have been phased out of new web pages at least 4 years ago.

If you use tables to layout your web page, it may look fine and intuitive to a user who can physically see your website, however it normally adds a lot of confusion to someone using a character screen reader (ie a person with visual impairments), similarly, search engines can’t find their way around your website as easily either.

Tables may see like a good option for their apparent ease in diving the page up into rows and columns, but don’t be fooled. There is so much more that can be achieved much more easily using CSS for the design elements. 

JavaScript is the programming code that runs more like a traditional ‘program’ within a web page.

Again this is a useful language to learn if you want to add certain basic interactive features within your web page, without needing to use server side scripting languages like Pearl or PHP.

In general though, you normally don’t need it to build a website, although you may need to copy and paste the code from suitable providers, for things like ‘Google Analytics‘.

Content Writer / Editor

Professional Journalists, Poets and Authors are normally very good with words. Most website content however is written by non-professional writers who are either passionate about their subject, or are asked to write about it within their work role.

Have a quick look around and see what catches your eye. Normally large volumes of text that aren’t separated with headings or images, can put people off from even starting to read. Typo errors, spelling errors, and grammatical errors are also a put-off.

Before publishing your website, run a spell check, get your friends and/or colleagues to read it, and try reading it out loud. Or ideally get a professional proof reader to go through your website, and highlight any errors others may have missed.

In general though, try breaking up large amounts of text with headers, sub-headings, and images. Keep paragraphs small, and try to use the words within your page that you would like people to be able to search for and find within search engines.

For brilliant content, employ a professional copywriter to write it for you. You’ll probably be amazed how much they can do with relatively simple effort and changes.

Accessibility / Usability

Websites are included under the Disability Discrimination Act, and so need to be accessible to people with character screen readers and such like. Machines aren’t yet as sophisticated as the human eye and brain, so it’s important to take a few key steps to try and keep your website accessible.

  1. Don’t use images for text. In particular, titles, navigation links and headings should all be in plain text within the page, not as pretty images that look like text, just to try and keep the font in keeping with your design.
    Wherever you do use images for the purpose of enhancing the user experience of the page, always use the ‘alt’ tag within the code. This provides ‘alternate text’ if someone isn’t physically able to see the image, this should summarise what the image is for, or what it represents. You can also provide a ‘long description’ of the image on a separate page, with links through to it accordingly (ie if your picture tells a story about what you do, provide that story on another page, so that those who can’t see the image, can understand what you’re ‘trying to say without words’.
  2. Validate. This is such an important part of any web design, but is so often overlooked/ignored, to that website’s loss.
    Validation of your html code, is much like a proof reading of your website text. It makes sure you’ve written it properly, and that the code can be interpreted correctly by most of the major web browsers.
    For example, validation checks that you’ve closed all your html tags, ensures you’re using agreed standards of code, ensures you haven’t written in hacked bits of code that may only be recognised by a limited number of browsers, etc.
    Strangely enough, it’s very rare for me to visit a commercial website that does actually validate, as many web developers seem to be happy to leave it with errors because it seems to display okay in a particular web browser, so feel it isn’t worth their while trying to fix the problem.
    The two free validation tools I tend to use the most are:

    1. HTML (website coding) checker
    2. CSS (Style Sheets) checker

  3. Layout and navigation are two further areas that are easy to get right, but often forgotten by many designers.
    The layout of a website page needs to be clear, open, and intuitive as much as possible.
    There are various books written on the subject of the psychology of website browsing, where the eyes scan the page, etc. Normally, as you’ll see, most websites have a series of navigation links across the top, and down one side of the page.
    Typically, the company logo takes you back to the main home page. Similarly, every page should have a link to ‘contact us’, and your website ‘site map’ (and of course a link to your ‘terms and conditions’).
    If you want to highlight something, make the text bigger, or add a colour to it (or behind it).
    Images are great to helping direct people’s attention to certain links, but try not to use some form of cryptic code in your images, to represent the various parts of your website. Although the research shows that users can quickly find their way around once they get used to the representations, the main research shows you only have around 4 seconds to hold someone’s attention on your website, otherwise they go elsewhere.
    Keep your navigation links in plain text, using words that summarise what the link is for, and keep it in the same part of every main website page.

Search Engine Optimisation

I’m often asked about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and of course even more often hear of the huge numbers of people claiming to know lots about it, and will help you for a very significant price (without actually covering all that many aspects).

If you don’t already know, SEO, is the term given to designing your website in such a way (at the coding level), that it appeals to Search Engines like Google. Essentially, the more it appeals to the search engines, the higher up in the ‘natural listings’ your website will be, and therefore, typically, the more visitors and thus more business you’ll get.

For example, if you do a search for ‘Pole Dancing Reading‘ on Google, you’ll see it gives around 372,000 results. But right up there at the top, on number 1 of the listings, is one of my clients’ websites PurityPoleDancing for Pole Dancing in Reading. This is an example, of free, good natural search listings (and good SEO).

The Purity website for its first 18 months since the changeover, was getting an average increase in visitors, by 15-20%, every month, based on visitor numbers from the month before. This accumulates to an increase of over 450% in web traffic over the year!

There really are massive numbers of things you can do to improve the natural search listings of your website, some are good, and others will actually damage your listing and may get your website blacklisted and thus removed entirely for at least 3 months from Google.

Techniques are also constantly changing, and things that work today, may not work tomorrow. The ‘art’ to effective SEO is very much an art form in itself, and the Search Engines themselves generally don’t like to share too much on what they’re doing next to help improve their search results. The general gist is quite simple though:

  • Design your website for a human user, not a search engine. What you do then isn’t likely to upset your position on search engines over time, but actually improve it. (‘Tricks’ to help fool search engines to give you higher rankings, normally backfire in the near future).
  • Ideally, use simple html code for the content, and CSS for the design. That way, if you think of a character screen reader, on dial-up, trying to view your website: If they can find their way around easily, and read your content, it’s likely the Search Engines will too.
  • Keep the content relevant, and up-to-date, and add new relevant content regularly (‘blogs’ are great for this).
  • Try to encourage real people and well positioned websites (ideally reputable news sources) to link to your website because they want to, because of your great website content.
  • Don’t be drawn in to spending money with companies who phone you, offering to improve your Search Rankings by listing you on their website, etc. Bad links to your website, and bad links from your website, can actually damage your web reputation (and thus your visitor numbers).
  • Keep things simple, and write in clean English (or of course other relevant languages) with content that’s relevant to your website. (Don’t add lists of keywords, just for the sake of it to try and help with search rankings.)

If you’d like to learn some more detailed information about SEO, please feel free to get in contact directly.

I was also fortunate to find some nicely listed SEO tips on another website page recently, that’s worth checking out if you design websites yourself.