How changes to Google could affect your search ranking
As the most popular search engine, Google can have a big effect on the number of visitors to your website. They are constantly updating their search algorithms to provide the most relevant search results, but recently two updates in particular (codenamed Panda and Penguin) have been a hot topic because they caused some websites to fall dramatically in the rankings. For sites adversely affected by the changes, the effect is likely to be reduced visitor numbers, and corresponding reductions in sales, enquiries, etc.
Most websites won't be affected - or may even be positively affected by competitors slipping down the search results - but it's a good idea to check your website statistics (e.g. Google Analytics) just in case. If you are affected, you will probably see a sharp drop-off of visitors around April this year - one site we're working with saw a 40% fall in visitors between March and May. (But do compare your stats to last year - for some sites there is an expected seasonal variation.)
If you are affected, or just want to ensure you aren't in the future, the first thing to do is to stop any practices that Google would consider an attempt to artificially improve your ranking. Practices to avoid include adding excessive keywords to your pages or page titles and exchanging links with irrelevant sites in an attempt to increase your PageRank.
The best way to do well in the search results, according to Google's Webmaster Guidelines and blog post, is to focus on providing high quality content for your visitors - content that is complete, comprehensive and informative, not a shallow overview of a topic purely designed to rank well.
However, not all SEO is spam - there are still many steps you can (and should) take:
Use the keywords and key phrases that visitors are likely to search for rather than technical jargon. This may require some research - Google Keyword Tool and Google Trends are useful for that.
Use descriptive page titles and meta descriptions. Do include keywords, but use natural language and optimise for readability rather than stuffing in as many keywords as possible.
Use the page title in the links to each page - avoid link text such as "click here".
Include relevant keywords in your page URLs.
Encourage visitors to share your content on social media - this is a good indicator of quality content, as well as a way to get more visitors.
Get links to your site from appropriate reputable websites.
Create new relevant content on a regular basis.
The key is to focus on improving the experience for the visitor, not on tricking the search engines, and Google will reward you for it.
For an overview of all the ways your can legitimately optimise your site, download Google's SEO Starter Guide (PDF).
If you would like help with your search engine optimisation, call us on 01865 794009 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.