Search engine optimisation (SEO). It sounds daunting, as though it’s a technical challenge that only analytics experts really understand.
In reality, there are some technical elements - especially as Google releases new updates to its algorithms which affect the way pages are ranked. Much of SEO best practice is based on inferences and extrapolation, since the exact details of search engines' algorithms are kept under strict secrecy. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend valuable time and money on hiring analysts to get your site to the top of Google’s rankings. Taking into account Google’s most recent Hummingbird update, there are a few guiding principles you can use to optimise your site with relatively little extra effort. Of course, there are plenty of excellent resources online offering tips and advice too: Moz and SearchEngineLand are just a couple.
It’s not about the keywords
When most people think of SEO, they think of the practice of keyword stuffing - throwing in the right keywords as often as possible so that Google, Bing, Yahoo! and the rest will count the number of times they are used and stick these pages at the top of search engine ranking pages (SERPs).
This might have been the case once, but Google caught onto that tactic several years ago. Now, search engines are far more interested in how keywords are used, if at all - they’re looking for relevant and interesting content that will be of value to the reader, and keywords should only be used in contexts where they flow naturally and seamlessly. If they are not integrated seamlessly into the text, it’s better not to bother.
...but do research them
Choose your keywords carefully after plenty of research. Ask questions such as whether the words are relevant, or whether they users will find what they are looking for on your site with these in particular. Type potential keywords into search engines and see what currently comes up - this will give you a sense of your chances of ranking strongly, as well as how the competition go about their keyword strategies. Then decide how valuable different keywords are and think about how to integrate them.
Natural and useful links
The use of internal and outbound links can really help to develop a structure that search engines love, but if it isn’t done properly it could see your event’s website penalised. If you’re organising an event which is under the umbrella of another organisation, or has external sponsors, avoid the temptation to link between the two at every opportunity - a couple of links in sensible locations will be enough.
Where you refer to outside sources such as research carried out elsewhere, it makes sense to link back to the external source. Older content is likely to be more favourable to SEO than newer content, perhaps because it implies a greater depth of research. Crucially, links should be interesting and relevant, as well as appearing natural - and if you link to the same site on more than one occasion, use different anchor text (the text in which the link is embedded).
Internal links should also only be used where appropriate, but it’s fine to use specific keywords for them on different occasions. Whether you link to pages outside or within your own site, don’t include too many - there is a finite amount of links that search engines will read, and featuring a huge number might see you penalised.
Make sure the page is easy to read
Search engines have their limitations. The way that “spiders”, or the mechanisms that “crawl” web pages, read and interpret sites is different to the way humans interact with them. Web design needs to take this into account.
For example, spiders can’t interpret audio or video content, which means that this type of content should always be accompanied by text that can be read. If you’re adding a video of an interview with one of your speakers, include a text transcript so the content can still be read - and the same goes for anything contained in Java or Flash.
Similarly, images cannot be read on their own without supporting HTML data. This means any pictures you choose to include should be in either .gif, .jpg or .png format so that you can assign “at attributes” in HTML describing the visual content. When it comes to text on the page, you also need to be using HTML.
Search engines don’t just read the content: they’re interested in the structure of the site, which impacts on how easy it is for users to navigate the site and how well spiders can read it. The best keyword and linking practices won’t make any difference if Google cannot find the page.
In this respect you need to avoid “orphan pages” - those which are not linked to by any others on the site - by incorporating every page into a logical structure. If there are so many pages it would be impractical to link to them all from the homepage, consider adding submenus or including them on the pages that are directly linked from the homepage. In addition, ensure your event registration system can be accessed with a single click at all times by making it clearly visible on every page.