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SEO for beginners

E-commerce expert, Simon Horton of ShopIntegrator shares his tips on where to start with Search Engine Optimisation

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is essential to ensure your website receives a regular flow of visitors from potential customers. It's often presented as a magical art by those wishing to sell you their services, but with a basic understanding you can cover the essentials to make your website SEO friendly.

However, there's no quick fix - it's a long-term strategy aiming to improve your site's visibility with search engines and to generate increasing, ongoing and unpaid natural or organic growth in your visitor numbers. Compare this to a shorter-term approach of paying for ads, where your traffic boost disappears when the ad stops. First, you need to understand how your site performs at present. This acts as a benchmark. Add the free Google Analytics traffic monitor into your website. Only then will you know if your SEO work is having a positive effect over time.

The three most important SEO principles are:

1. Keyphrase analysis
Pick 15 to 20 words or short phrases you want search engines to associate with your website so customers searching on those terms will be matched with your site. The more one-of-a-kind the phrase, the fewer competitors there'll be, but at the same time, fewer people are likely to search for those terms.

Once you've thought up some good keywords, it's time to find out how many potential customers are actually searching with those terms. There's no point making your site stand out for something no one's looking for.

Again it's time for Google to help with the research. Sign up for a free Google Adwords account. Not to run an advertising campaign, but instead to use its in-built Keyword Planner tool to find the number of people searching for each keyword phrase.

In the AdWords dashboard go to the Tools tab and pick 'Keyword Planner' (see pic here). PIC 2 HERE Click the 'Get search volume for a list of keywords or group them into ad groups' section (see image) and type all your keywords phrases into the text box, one per line.

Then click the 'Get search volume' button. You'll see the numbers of people searching for your phrases each month so you can weigh up which of your keywords have most appeal.

2. On-page optimisation
The keyword phrases you've identified as having greatest interest are the words to include in your web pages. Search engines have clever ways of interpreting page content - that is, what's written on each page - so it's no good just listing your keywords over and over, as this will work against you. You'll also be penalised for duplicating very similar content across multiple pages.

Instead you'll need to write genuinely readable content that contains your keywords. Think 'Create for people, not for search engines', so when visitors find your page they'll be happy with what they find because it's informative and rich in relevant details, rather than moving straight on to another site wondering why your page was a match. Aim to write at least 300 to 400 words of relevant content per page.

If you want to get a bit more techy:
Add HTML meta tags into your web page code to add description, keywords and title tags to each page which are important to search engines. There's more info on meta tags here: http://www.w3schools.com/tags/tag_meta.asp
Add alt attributes to every image tag to describe the picture in text, so search engines know what the image is about and thus improve your rating. More information on image alt tags is here: http://www.w3schools.com/tags/tag_img.asp.

3. Link building
You also want to ensure that you're well connected. If relevant craft sites, blogs, forums and social media pages contain a link to your website, it helps search engines determine the importance of your site in the craft world.

Creating interesting, useful articles on your website increases the likelihood of others wanting to link to your pages. To attract people interested in your creations, start writing a blog about what you make and tips on how you make it. WordPress is a quick way to get set up with a hosted online blog and it's free.

Place links to your blog from your website and vice versa. And you also need to publish links to those posts on your social media accounts.

There's no magic in improving your visitor numbers. It takes time for SEO to work, but it's essential for your long-term success so persevere.

Simon Horton is the founder of ShopIntegrator, a hosted e-commerce plugin that makes it easy for anybody to add an online shop onto their existing website, blog and/or Facebook page without any coding skills, www.shopintegrator.com.

Follow @ShopIntegrator for all sorts of ecommerce tips and information