Search Engine Optimisation

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Search Engine Optimisation

SEO Defined

Search engine optimisation (‘SEO’) is the practice of improving website rankings in search engine results yielded by organic searches with the objective of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a website. The rationale appears obvious: the higher the search ranking, the more frequently a website will appear in search engine results, and the greater the number of visitors will be to the website. SEO is not confined to keywords but can also target images, video, industry-specific search engines or websites of a particular geographical area. SEO is to be distinguished from Search Engine Marketing (‘SEM’), which promotes a site through paid listings.

There is a strong technical aspect to SEO as a marketing practice. For example, most SEO services will consider the way different search engines crawl and index websites in order to remove any impediments, editing its content, HTML and other coding to maximise its keyword relevance. SEO techniques may also make use of back links or inbound links to increase traffic to the site, or ensuring a website is “search engine friendly” with attention to web design, website menus, contentment management systems, images, videos, shopping carts, and other aspects of the website. Hence SEO services may be offered alone or as part of a service package, for example, as part of a website design package or marketing campaign.

SEO may be an ongoing process that involves keyword research and development, competitive analysis, industry benchmarking, coding optimisation, submissions to search engines, as well as results reporting, all of which are improved as a business grows and changes.


Why SEO?

The number of internet users has exploded in the past two decades: from 16 million in 1995 to nearly two billion users in 20101. The majority of internet users find websites through search engines. Most internet users do not look past the first thirty results. And most internet users who use search engines do so with the intention of purchasing a product or service.

Online sales in the US are projected to reach $250 billion by 20142, while in the UK web grocery sales are expected to increase to £9.5 billion by 2015 from £4.8 in 20103. While 10 per cent of retail spending in the UK is online, by the end of the decade it may be 20 per cent4. E-retail sales grew 23% year-on-year in October 2010, with £5.2 billion spent during the month compared with £4.2 billion during October 20095. Britons use their credit cards to spend £6.4 billion online per month6.

The global E-retail trade is a £550 billion industry of which Europeans account for a third of spending7. While UK leads Europe for E-Commerce, a 2010 E-Society report found that there was much potential for growth elsewhere in Europe and that the UK was closely followed by Denmark and the Netherlands in terms of proportion of adults who shopped online8. Online sales have taken around a third of sales from the street and this figure is projected to pass 50 per cent sometime in the next decade9. In 2001 approximately six million people purchased online; in 2010, there are over 30 million E-Commerce shoppers in the UK10 Almost half of the UK population – around 43 per cent – purchase something online once a week or more often11. Total online sales for 2010 are estimated to exceed £56 billion, a figure that is expected to double to £120 billion by 202012. Virtually all market segments with the exception of some senior citizen and lower-income households use the web to research products13.

Some estimates have placed growth of the internet advertising market at 28% per year. When the growth of internet marketing is contrasted with traditional media – which grows at an annual rate of 5 – 10%, SEO is an essential part of any company’s marketing strategy. With a fixed initial outlay and some ongoing maintenance costs, SEO can consistently deliver sales lead conversion over the long term without developing reliance on more costly online advertising.

Optimising a site for search engines will ensure that a company is less likely to lose business to competitors. Many businesses with an online presence will have be utilising SEO as part of their marketing strategies. Businesses with first page search engine rankings have a striking advantage for obvious reasons. By using marketing channels utilised by other competitors, businesses can widen their online exposure to reach more potential clients.


What Does SEO Involve?

SEO has grown and developed from simply submitting an URL address to an engine to the complicated technical process that exists today. While early search engines were almost entirely dependent on information (such as meta keywords and descriptions) submitted by webmasters, search engines have evolved into sophisticated tools capable of distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant searches through the use of more complicated ranking algorithms.

The Google search engine, for example, considers off-page factors such as PageRank and hyperlink analysis in addition to on-page factors such as actual page content, meta tags, headings, keyword frequency, links and the structure of the site. PageRank is an algorithm invented by the Google founders to assign a numerical weight to a webpage based on the value and number of hyperlinks into the page. Thus, while content, coding and structure all play an important role, consideration must also be given to the types – and number – of hyperlinks to the website.

Using original content is one way of ensuring SEO. As previously mentioned, search engines are sophisticated tools able of picking up sentence structures and layout of copy (such as the use of headings). Optimising other aspects of the site, such as title tags, images, the placement of words and formatting of text will also impact SEO. Keyword research is essential – while the keywords potential clients will use may not be in doubt, factors such as competition and search volume must weigh in. For example, a website may be rich in a keyword that has very low search volume, giving a high ranking for a rarely used search. Alternatively, the keywords of choice are used by millions of other websites so a website is competing with all these other business. Conducting in-depth keyword research will assist with SEO.

Code optimisation is yet another element in SEO. Standard HTML code tends to be dense. Optimising a site’s HTML coding allows short loading times for search engines and thus encourage indexing.

In late 2009, search engines began introducing real-time search, shifting the emphasis to the latest content. To optimise a website for real-time searches, an SEO consultant may require updating and adding of fresh content to a website’s pages. 

Different search engines will have slightly different ranking methodologies. For example, Google, which dominates the search engine market with an estimated 60 – 90% market share, uses over 200 different criteria to rank websites. In general, Google favours sites with authentic and quality content as opposed to mere keyword-dense text. It also prefers sites with easy navigation, quick loading, and valuable and numerous off-site hyperlinks, such as those linking in from partner websites, information articles, and sites that record a large number of hits.

In addition to steering clear of spamdexing practices which may lead to website being penalised by search engines, SEO companies will smooth out a website’s coding, content and structure to help you obtain a good search engine ranking.


What are the Time and Cost Implications of SEO?

While an SEO consultant can optimise a website for page site rankings, time is an important factor for results to begin showing up on the search engine results pages. For a start, the time for a search engine to index a completely new site will vary depending on the popularity of the site, how easy it is to crawl the site, and the structure of the site itself with respect to how pages interlink. Google can take anywhere between 4 days to 4 weeks to completely index a site.

In addition, most search engines, including Google, look at how long a domain has been registered and how long the site has been live. Keyword density, being only one aspect of optimisation, is to be considered in conjunction with the age of the text – how long the keywords have been live on the website. So compared with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising or Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and depending on the competitiveness of the keyword field, SEO may take more time to yield results – anywhere from three to six months depending on keyword competiveness.

On the other hand, SEO does not require the constant cost outlays associated with SEM. Once a site has been optimised, the owner does not need to continue paying-per-click. Organic searches are “free” in this sense. Once a high level of visibility has been hit, SEO will continue paying for itself with minimal ongoing and maintence costs and provide excellent return on investment (‘ROI’) over the long run, needing only periodic tweaks, analytics reporting, and content refreshing to keep a website high on the search engine result pages. At that stage it will continue directing the right customer base to a website without further work.

It may be useful to consider SEO as an essential but longer-term marketing strategy while also investing in short-term SEM or PPC programs.


SEO Benefits and Results

The most self-evident benefit of effective SEO is that it will keep driving traffic to a website. It will generate attention and popularity which can be maintained with some costs, giving a higher return on investment over the long term than any other type of marketing strategy.

Effective SEO also targets the right kind of site visitors and allows businesses to target particular groups of visitors. Conducting effective keyword analysis helps fill a website with appropriate content. There is no downtime for a business with search engines and websites being active 24 hours a day, every day of the week. A company can create and maintain high brand visibility and a global reach for a relatively small investment. Pages will tend to load faster too, when coding and files are optimised, which can be handled by any designer with expertise in website optimisation.

In summary, from a ROI perspective, SEO is potentially the best marketing tool a business owner can implement for a business. It provides measurable results and allows owners  to target and connect with particular groups of visitors. With the exponential growth of the internet and the increasing dominance of internet marketing, SEO forms an essential part of any organisation’s drive to improve and maximise their customer base and brand awareness.

1 Internet Growth Statistics, The Internet Coaching Library, viewed 25 November 2010, <>

2 Forrester Forecast: Online Retail Sales Will Grow To $250 Billion By 2014, Forrester Research, viewed 25 November 2010, <>

3 Shannon, S., ‘U.K. Online Sales Set to Surge in Coming Years as More Shopper Use Web,’ Bloomberg, viewed 2 December 2010, <>

4 Ibid

5 ‘IMRG/Cagemini Sales Index: November 2010,’ IMRG, viewed 6 December 2010, <>

6 ‘£6.4bn online purchases paid by credit card each month,’ Sainsbury’s Finance, viewed 2 December 2010, <>

7 Neal, D., ‘E-Commerce Worth £550 billion in 2010’,, viewed 6 December 2010<>

8 Rigby, C., ‘UK Leads Europe in Online Shopping,’ Internet Retailing, viewed 2 December 2010, <>

9 Palmer, N., ‘UK E-Commerce Figures,’ SEO Clock, viewed 6 December 2010, <>

10 Ibid

11 Ibid

12 Ibid

13 UKB2C E-Commerce Report 2010, ReportLinker, viewed 6 December 2010,

Author: Amy Chen
Source: Internal
Posted on: August 17th, 2010
Category: Marketing

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