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"seo" category

The website that grew - part 13

2nd April 2014
Categories: ads, seo, tWtG

(for previous installments, try the tWtG category)

With a working website, and Google ads bringing in traffic, the orders started coming in.

Hugh reviewed the Google ad performance with Kate after two weeks of running the campaigns.

There was an ad saying:

Cheeseboard calculator

Calculate your ideal dinner party cheeseboard

Fine cheeses shipped direct

There was also one saying:

Online cheese shop

The finest world cheeses

Direct to your door

Thanks to the way Hugh had set up Google Ad reporting, they could see that although the first ad was getting dozens of clicks, it was generating relatively few orders. It looked like people wanted the cheeseboard calculator without buying anything. So they "paused" the first ad and added a second "active" ad as follows:

Luxury cheeses

Direct to your door

From our shop in Abingdon

Hugh suggested a new review in a fortnight's time, although after the initial couple of reviews, they would not be so frequent.

Meanwhile the team in the shop had started putting on a bit of content in a 'cheese blog' and they were looking at how different keywords brought people to the site. It turned out that many visitors were locals searching for "french cheese", and because of a blog post on French cheese, and the way in which Google suggested search results from Abingdon if you were using Google from within that town, the website turned up on page 1 for that phrase.

How grown up is your online marketing?

25th March 2014
Categories: marketing, measurement, seo

Some of the Oxford Web team had a great session with Ned Wells from Cicada Online today, looking at the "maturity" of various facets of our online marketing.  For example, with the measurement of the online marketing that you do - is it in a "baby" phase - all trial and error - or have you put a lot of thought behind it and aligned it with your business objectives?  Energising stuff!  Do get in touch with us or Cicada if you want to investigate these topics for your business.

Google data highlighter

5th March 2014
Categories: content, google, seo

If your website is full of useful information, there's a new way of getting that information to your customers before they've clicked the link to your site in Google's search results - called "Google data highlighter".

Using the highlighter tool, you can tell Google more about the data on your website, so that it can present it in a so-called "rich snippet" in search results.

To start with, you specify a starting page for a data set - say, for example, your news page.  Then using Google's preview of your page, you highlight elements such as the title, date, author, and categories, and Google tries to find other pages set out in the same way.  Once you're done, Google will start using this data on the next crawl - so be prepared to wait a few days before seeing the new search results.

We've gone through this process with the Oxford Web blog - what do you think of the results?

Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird - should I worry?

28th October 2013
Categories: google, seo

SEO "Experts" want you to worry about Google algorithm updates. They want you to think that nasty bad old Google is making changes that will affect you, and only those clever Search Engine "professionals" can dig you out of that hole.

The latest "update" is an improvement to the the search engine's handling of questions, and of its understanding of the relevance of your search or question.  Actually Google is updating its software all the time, and the "update" is basically a round-up of a set of changes which Amit Singhal announced on Google's 15th birthday.

Google search results are of course very different to Yellow Pages, and not all pages can be the top 10 most relevant pages for a particular phrase.  When people say they've been "attacked" by Google, and try to pick on an "update", it's really like saying that they've been attacked by the motorway, when they're going at 65 and another car happens to be going at 70.

What can we expect from Hummingbird?

Hummingbird is about users - Amit Singhal talks about looking for works of art and comparing genres - or comparing food ingredients, and the idea of remembering "context" - i.e. what you just asked about.  In other words, "search" is becoming more of a conversation than a single question.

In a nutshell, the Hummingbird update is aimed at giving users answers to their questions - rather than putting your competitor above you in natural search listings.

Sow what can we learn from Hummingbird?

If your service or product answers a question, and more people are going to be asking that question because of the update, then why not ask that question on your website? 

So for example, if cheese is your thing, your website should use questions like "where can I buy cheese?" and not just statements.

This approach isn't the official line on Hummingbird, but it makes sense that you adapt (or gather, grow) your copy to include the phrases people most often use.

For more SEO advice, follow the "seo" link at the top of this article. Enjoy!

Are you paying too much to get traffic to your website?

19th September 2013

A lot of people talk about search engine optimisation when what they mean is getting traffic.

Getting traffic is easy.  But getting the right traffic - that's the difficult bit.

You can pay to get people to come to your website - that's what you're doing when you use Google Ads, and in effect it's what you're doing if you make any kinds of promises in an email or a link.

Some traffic is better than none, but not when you're paying for it and it's the wrong traffic.

Hook up Google Analytics and you can find out what people are doing on your site when they arrive from various sources. You can also associate a cost with a source of traffic. Are you getting the wrong people on your website because you've promised them something you can't really deliver (like the cheapest prices or the best stuff)?

Honesty means you filter out the visitors you don't actually want when all's said and done - so in your Google Ads, your meta-description, and your email links, talk about what visitors you really want - what their story is, and how it should perfectly match your story.

For example:

Oxford Web

We design, build, and develop websites for growing organisations who want to invest in digital marketing because it works.


Oxford Web

We help membership organisations drastically reduce their administration costs by building hard-working, top-notch websites.

Manage your keywords and stay relevant

19th June 2013
Categories: google, seo

Quite often new customers will ask us how to attain a more prominent position in search engine results.

Of course, often the real target is more sales. And sometimes it turns out that they are getting enough clicks but not enough conversions, and the first focus should be on usability.

But sometimes they do really need more prominence on Google - and the question is - "for which keywords?". At this point, we will undertake a keyword analysis, using various sources of information, to find out where to put most of the effort. Our e-news article on the "long tail" is useful reading if you are contemplating this kind of activity.

But how do you stay relevant?

Frstly, you need to understand what people are typing into Google when they are looking for your product or service. There are two kinds of information about what people are typing into Google - (1) internal - i.e. phrases which do actually cause your site to appear in search results (not necessarily on the first page) - this is supplied by Google Analytics now, so it's a real mine of information - and (2) external - lists of keywords suggested by search engines or other sites, which may not necessarily cause your website to come up. These lists are both important.


As time moves on, people may find different ways to describe your product. It may be that they are looking for new brand names which aren't mentioned on your site - or lookng for activities, consumers or suppliers of the product you sell, as a roundabout way of finding that product. Depending on your industry, you may need to get a new keyword list every 6 months or so and work out what to include in your site.


But when Google Analytics tells you that for a certain key phrase dear to your heart you appear on page 2 - but have never been clicked - you can do a lot more:

  • Improve your site's rank generally - this always helps, and we can tell you how.
  • Improve the relevance of one particular page to that keyword - without swamping the page.
  • Change the meta-description, so that what people see in the search results is enticing enough to make them click.

So if you're not reading that Gogole Analytics data every month or so - you may be missing out on opportunities.

The website that grew, part 10

7th March 2013
Categories: google, seo, tWtG

(for previous episodes, try the "The website that grew" category)

Nancy was surprisingly willing to trust Kate's judgement, but had a few questions.

"Can you tell me what factors might prevent the shop from taking 500 online orders every month?"

"I suppose - if people don't find us, or find a cheap competitor, or find a competitor's website easier to use."

"OK, those seem like they might be real difficulties."

"We're investing money with Hugh; he's going to make sure that the website is found."

"Hmm, it doesn't say that on the cost breakdown."

"OK, I'll ask him about that."

"And what about competitors?"

"We need to put effort into the website to make sure it's providing great value, great service, and it's unique.  I think we've learned our lesson there."

"But your job..."

"I'm going to get John and Martin on board.  They can make updates when they're not serving in the shop.  And I will check up on them at least once a week."

"You're very keen on this."

"Yes, I suppose I am.  Seeing what Hugh's done in the past, I can see us running a successful online business here."

Nancy asked if Kate had spoken to her husband John about the proposed developments.  Kate told her that she really wanted Nancy's agreement in principle first, and so Nancy agreed to go ahead with the idea as long as they had a manageable budget for search engine work, and if John was happy.

Hugh proposed a mixture of Google ads and what he called "natural search".  

Google ads appear on the right hand side of the search results whenever you conduct a search on Google, and sometimes at the top.  For your ad to appear, you must bid on a price per click - whether it's 10p or £1, it's your choice.  But you only pay when your ad is clicked.  You can make the ad appear for a number of different search phrases or partial phrases, and you can create different ads and watch how they convert into sales.  For example an ad that advertised your product as "cheap" may get lots of clicks but not generate any sales - so normally you will run diferent ads and compare their performance before whittling them down.

"Natural search" refers to all of the results that are not advertisements.  Google will quickly run through the web pages it knows that are relevant to the search phrase that has been typed, and compare them, for importance and relevance, before displaying them in an order derived from that comparison.  To become more important and relevant takes work on the website copy and structure, and looking at how other websites refer to and trust the website you're trying to promote.

Hugh proposed a sliding scale of costs, starting with a small dip into Google Ads to test the water.  At last Nancy was happy with the proposed costs and Kate spoke to John.

John was happy too, so the work began.

A nice, high quality article - and money!

17th December 2012
Categories: gambling, seo, spam

When I dipped into my electronic post bag this morning I was surprised and delighted to find an email offering me money.

It wasn't in exchange for my bank details; it was from a very nice man who wanted to write a "high quality original article" in the form of a sponsored post on the Oxford Web blog.

As you may imagine, alarm bells had already begun to ring in my head.  What's going on is that someone who wants to get better rankings in Google wants to use a number of high ranking websites to create content to link to their website.

"What's wrong with that?" you may ask.  I'm a cynic with a lot of things, but the whole idea behind Google's "link juice" algorithm is that websites earn kudos by having other websites rate them highly and therefore link to them - not that they should pay for it and at the same time downgrade the level of content on my site!

I read on.

"Oh, by the way, I'd like to know if linking to a gambling website would be a problem for you..."

Yes - it would be.  And you can read more about why if you buy Graham Tempest (our customer)'s excellent novels - here!

And that link is free of charge...

Can SEO be bad for your website?

18th September 2012
Categories: google, seo


Let's assume that search engines work for users - that is, the search engines have the best interests of users at heart. If I search for "Oxford Web Designers" I want links to the best web design companies in Oxford, and if I search for "Aylesbury Cheese Shop" I want a cheese shop in Aylesbury. The search engines want to understand this, and their no.1 priority is to provide this information, before bombarding me with ads and other services - because without the quality information, there is no core service around which to hang the ads and the subsidiary stuff. 

Some commentators would like you to believe that this is not the case, and cite good evidence, but in the case of Google, ultimately, the overwhelming evidence - over the last 14 years - is that they believe in this core service.

When you run a search on Google, its job is to return a list of web pages in some sort of order. And the order is a combination of relevance to the search phrase and importance.

It's mildly complicated for a computer to find out how relevant a page is; it's immensely difficult for a computer to rate one website above another. It's difficult enough for a human, and humans can normally make use of more information - for example in rating the BBC website I use the knowledge I have about the BBC's offline activities (TV, Radio and so on). I also happen to have worked for the BBC (as a temp at BBC Worldwide, in my youth!).

Google has very little to go on in comparison, but over the years has added many measures to its measuring toolkit (also called its "algorithm" by some). So for example Google will find out about:

  • how long your website has been around
  • how much content you are adding to your website
  • how other websites rate your website, and how important those websites are

These major measures of importance are not a secret, and that's where the problem lies, because there's a whole industry built around tricking Google into thinking their customers' websites are more important than they really are.

And when I say "tricking", I mean cheating, lying, and generally spamming the internet with a load of junk.

For example, there are SEO people who generate thousands of robot-built pages in order to trick Google into thinking that a website's content is growing. Or SEO people who generate fake websites linking to their customers' websites.

When search engine people say they use "white hat" techniques, by the way, what they mean is "black hat". Nobody actually admits to being "black hat".

What they're trying to tell you with the "hat" business is that they're wizards who employ magic (that's a warning sign already), and that they're techniques generally fall under Google's radar.

But Google generally finds them out - as we know from the "panda" and "penguin" updates. And your website rank will suffer as a result.


Search engine marketing, done right, identifies what people are searching for when they want to find your product and service, and how to make your website genuinely more relevant and important.

If you're doing it right, you are not going to suffer, because, as all the evidence suggests, Google is genuinely interested in promoting relevant and important websites.

A genuine search engine marketing company will help you to:

  • Analyse the market
  • Create relevant niche pages
  • Structure the information
  • Build genuine content and links

And your website rank will not fail to grow.

The website that grew, part 5

2nd June 2012

For previous installments please see the tWtG topic.

Kate got back in touch with the first company she'd asked about search engines.  The managing director, Hugh, replied with the following:

Hi Kate
Good to hear from you again.  Can you come and meet us at our offices?  We're in a converted barn outside of Willowvale.  It would be useful if you prepared a list of what you want to achieve with the website.
Kind regards

Kate organised a morning off work and drove the 15 miles out of Aylesbury to find the Willowvale barns. Hugh's company, Willowvale Interactive Media Partners, was a 3-man company based in a long barn with one room. One of Hugh's colleagues made coffee and they sat down to discuss the "Smiths fine cheeses" site. 

Kate started to explain how they had contracted a search engine company to look after their "internet ranking", and that this company charged a fee every month, but Hugh interrupted to ask what the purpose of the website was.

"It's to bring in more business."

"Can you explain about what kind of customers you'd like to attract?"

"Anyone that buys cheese."

"Including people who buy cheddar at the big supermarket?"

"Yes, if we can change their habits."

"Do you want them to come to the shop, or are you interested in selling over the internet?"

"Shop at first - we don't want to invest too much until we can see what the website can do."

Hugh understood Kate's caution, but advised against trying to attract everyone to the shop. He introduced the idea of putting the shop on the "tourist map". Kate was very responsive to the idea, and they discussed a few new pages the website could have, in order to connect with Aylesbury-related searches.

Hugh also explained that changes at Google were shaking up the search engine optimisation world, preventing optimisers from improving a website's rank entirely through linking, and placing more emphasis on content. 

They got onto technical details.  Hugh asked how the content was updated.  In fact, Kate's brother Harry had built the site with Dreamweaver, and it wasn't easy for Kate to update, so they agreed that Hugh would change the website to use a content management system.

A week or so later, it was all set up, and Kate was able to add a couple of new pages designed at attracting tourists to "Aylesbury's famous cheese shop".

John was still not convinced.

The website that grew, part 4

28th March 2012
Categories: seo, tWtG

Part 4

Time passed, and the website was forgotten.  John took on some of Martin's ideas for improving the layout of the shop, but all in all, the shop simply plodded on.

At the end of one month, Nancy (John's mother and the shop's book-keeper) was going over the accounts and found the £100 paid to the search engine optimisation company.

"What's this, John?"
"Oh, that must be that company the missus hired to put us on the first page of Google."
"Is it working?"
"As far as I know, yes."  John paused.  He called through to the living room where Kate was enjoying a small glass of red wine: "Kate?"
"What is it, hun?"
"Is that search engine thing working?"
"What search engine thing?"
"That company you hired to put us on page one of Google."
"Hang on, I'll check."

Kate fired up her laptop and searched for "cheese shops in Aylesbury".
"Hey!" she called, a few moments later.
"What is it?"
"Looks like it's working fine, we're in the number 3 spot!"

John looked at Nancy and frowned.  Nancy frowned too.  "How is this helping us, John?"
As if having exactly the same thought, Kate appeared in the doorway.  "What are we expecting the website to deliver?" she asked.
"I probably haven't given it enough thought, to be honest." answered John.
"If we fail to plan, we plan to fail." Nancy murmured.

"OK", said Kate, how about we take it out of my brother's hands and talk to a proper web company?  If they're any good, they should help us decide what to do with it, and at the very least it should be sending new customers to the shop.  Half of Aylesbury doesn't even know about us."
"If that means spending more money, .. then I'm not sure." John ventured.
"Look, what if we halt the Google stuff for a couple of months but put the money aside for some website improvements?"
"I don't like to offend your brother, Kate."
"Don't worry about him; he'll be alright."
"OK, let's give it a go.."


  • When you have a website, have a regular review to ensure that it is working hard for your business.
  • Being no.1 on google is nothing without an effective website.
  • Take advice from more than one person about what makes an effective website.

What are Keywords?

21st March 2012
Categories: google, keywords, seo

Customers often ask if they can amend the "keyword metatags" or add "keywords" to their website.

Keywords have traditionally meant:

1. Words or phrases which people type in to search engines in order to find your website.

2. The keywords meta-tag, a hidden part of your web page which lists a number of keywords (in the hope that search engines will read it and use it to put your website first in the list as a response to people searching using those keywords).

Unfortunately, having your site appear on page one for a keyword is completely unrelated to the keywords meta-tag.

Did I say unfortunately?

This is really quite fortunate, because it makes websites which are really about those keywords (or themes) look a lot better than websites which are not about those themes at all.

So for instance, if your website has a page about lemon trees, which goes into depth about how to cultivate them and how many different types there are, then those clever search engines will identify that page with the phrase 'lemon tree' (and all sorts of other related phrases).

Google won't get any clues from the keywords meta-tag.  In fact, it ignores the keywords meta-tag completely.

Here's a link to Google's article explaining that keyword meta-tags are completely ignored: google says keywords meta-tags are ignored.

So if you want to be no.1 for lemon trees, what do you need?

  • An interesting, readable page
  • Links to that page (preferably from a variety of sources)

Interestingly enough, there are meta-tags which are useful, particularly the 'description' meta-tag, which appears in the list of search results when your site comes up.  Use this to 'entice' people to your website.

For more info, search our website for 'seo'!

The website that grew, part 3

8th March 2012
Categories: seo, tWtG

Some weeks went by, and a customer in the shop remarked "I tried to find you on the internet, but I couldn't."

John told Kate, and Kate did a search for "cheese shops in Aylesbury". She couldn't find "Smith's fine cheeses".

"A site's pretty useless if no-one can find it", she told Harry.

"But you just asked for a website!" he protested.

Kate sighed. "OK, but what can we do?"

"I've got a lot on at the moment. I think you need professional help."

But where to start? Kate had heard of cold-calling web optimisers and spam email from search engine cowboys. She wanted to get it right. So she decided to do a Google search and interview a couple of companies that came up.

She sent enquiries to both, and received the following responses:


"Hi Kate,

Thanks for your enquiry. We can certainly help. I would prefer to meet in person to discuss your needs and then put the right measures in place. Would you be available on Thursday of this week? I'm in town seeing another customer then."


"Hi Kate,

Thanks for your enquiry. With our strictly legal and white-hat optimisation techniques we can put you on page 1 of Google within 1 month, or you pay nothing! We charge £100/month for keeping you on page 1 for selected phrases; see our enclosed brochure for information on satisfied clients. Please reply with your list of preferred phrases and we will start straight away!"

Kate was not available on Thursday and liked the idea of paying a fixed price, so when she'd discussed it with John (who said "Gosh, well, if that's what it takes, I suppose we'd better bite the bullet") she engaged search engine company no. 2 and away they went.

Within a few weeks, the cheese shop was no.2 in Google for "cheese shops in Aylesbury".

Success! Or was it? Find out next time....


  • When you plan your website, write down all of your aims, and convey them to your web developer.

SEO and Social Media Workshops from Web Experts

28th November 2011
Categories: seo, social media

Are you tired of hearing about SEO and social media? So are we. But together with our friends at Cicada Online, we have put together a workshop for our contacts and customers, aimed at cutting through the hot air and getting results. The half-day session covers:

  • Understanding the opportunities from SEO and social media
  • Relating them to your business
  • Creating an SEO and social media action plan for your business
  • A credit for 4 hours' SEO work on your website

Workshops can be held on your premises, or at Oxford Web's new offices at Sandford Gate (from mid December 2011). Workshops at Sandford Gate will be delivered to a maximum of 6 people from 2 businesses and will cost £375+VAT per business represented.

By keeping the workshops very limited, we are able to concentrate on your needs - whether you want to focus on more traffic, expanding the reach of your business, or simply a better experience for your website visitors, we can give you the low-down, listen to your concerns, analyse your website's strengths and weaknesses, and advise on future actions.

Marcus from Oxford Web and Ned Wells from Cicada Online will both be available throughout the workshops in order to cover the subject matter comprehensively.  Each company represented will also receive credit for 2 hours' work from Oxford Web and 2 hours from Cicada, which will be directed where needed most, following recommended actions from the workshop.

We will be publishing workshop dates shortly; meanwhile, for more information, please get in touch.

Is it time to put your products on Google Product Search?

25th November 2011
Categories: seo

Google Product Search is an automatic feature which is turned on when Google thinks you're searching for a product.  You may see normal web results for some way down the page, then a row of results for that product from different online shops.

You can also turn it on by clicking 'Shopping' in the filters you will see on the left hand side of the screen whenever you conduct a search.

Product Search is a great way to give your products more exposure, even (or especially) if you have a successul online shop with a stream of visitors, as it can put your products above similar products in search results, where you may not be above them in 'natural' search.

What's more, Google has just made some great improvements to product search:

  • multiple filters (left hand side) allow you do narrow your search down, even by category (Google tries to understand the categories your product sits in; it may not always get it right, but it's pretty close)
  • you can go to a single product and click 'compare prices' to see its availability in different stores
  • you can add products to a 'shopping list' (this doesn't place it in the store's basket; rather, this is like a wish list, and you can go back to your list any time and follow the links to the relevant online shop).

So if you're selling online, why wait? It's easy to set up, and if you need help, that's why we're here.

Why you shouldn't blog to improve your rank

22nd November 2011
Categories: seo

You may have heard from search engine specialists that you should blog to improve your search engine ranking.  

Do they never learn?

The best and only reason to blog is to communicate with your users. Users who may be your customers, your potential customers, your sponsors, your readers, your constituency, or one of any number of audiences you may wish to address.

It is those people who have to read your drivel, or of course your well thought out and informative discourse. Search engine spiders may read it too, but there is only one reason for this: to put it in front of other people.

Of course putting content on your website makes you relevant to more keyword searches, but if you're just putting junk up, then at what price?

Whats best, SEO or usability?

I was speaking to a search engine consultant today whom I respect, and he told me that, with an ecommerce customer he works with, simply making the website more usable (please see my blog articles 1 and 2 on usability) the site's search engine ranking for some key phrases improved hugely, and the subsequent traffic increased four-fold. Why would this be? Apart from the fact that changes were being made, and spiders love that kind of stuff, the web is for humans, and the search engine algorithms are designed to mimic humans, in order to make search results better for everyone. So the rule of thumb works: make your website better for human beings, and they will come.

Remember the panda

Earlier this year the 'panda' algorithm came into effect at Google HQ, making content more important than links in the game of 'how important is my website?'.  The only reason for this is that search engine 'specialists' were creating huge link sites in order to make their clients rank better, rather than improving the websites themselves.  There's a lesson here (again): make your website better, and people will come!

So by all means blog, much and often, but please write great content directed at your human website visitors, not keyword-splattered spider-fodder!

Google Analytics - Sources of Traffic

8th June 2010
Categories: analytics, seo

Once you've set up with Google Analytics (see the blog post), there's a wealth of information to explore.

The 'traffic sources' overview tells you how people are getting to your website. Within this, you can see what search engines and direct links brought people there.

Within 'traffic sources', 'Google (organic)' means that people used "Google search" rather than clicking on a google ad - preferable as you don't pay for organic links. If this statistic rises over time, your search engine optimisation is working.

Also within 'traffic sources', 'Keywords' tells you what people actually typed in to search engines to reach you. This usually gives a mixed set of results, some surprising and others not so. Using this may help you to brainstorm other words and phrases to work into your content in order to attract more traffic.

What is Google Analytics?

24th May 2010
Categories: analytics, seo

Google Analytics is a free tool from Google that can let you examine users' behaviour on any site.

It can be hooked up to Google Adwords, but it can also be free-standing.

Once you have signed up, Google will give you a small piece of code to place in the HTML of your website, which sends information back to Google. Using this information, Google can give you graphs and usage statistics, including a breakdown of referring websites and search engines.

You can also use Google Analytics to track goals - for example, downloads and forms being filled in. Attaching separate pieces of code to these events means Google can let you see how users are being funneled into these events.

To give it a try, browse to:

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