There are two main areas in which work can be done to improve your website's performance on the search engines. The first, and an essential prerequisite, is for the website itself to be properly optimised for the most relevant keywords and phrases for your business. The second is to harness the power of the Internet itself to make your website stand out from the crowd.
If your business is regional rather than national or international, and relies on local custom, as for example a local plumber, electrician or driving instructor, then you are in luck. If your website is properly optimised for your main keywords and location, then you should find that your website does well for regional searches without much extra effort, though the size of the area and the competition will of course be a factor. An example of a local search would be "Electrical Services Buxton" or "Driving Instructor Lancaster". Putting in a little extra effort however may give you the edge over the competition, depending on how well your competitors have done their job.
If you think that your website is not doing as well as you expected for a particular search term, then contact your web designer who will be able to check that the search term has been included in the optimisation. Choosing key search terms can be quite complex and you may have inside knowledge about your region or profession that would not be immediately obvious to someone outside that profession.
If you are in a more competitive market, such as holiday properties, or are looking to achieve a good position on a national or international level for your keyword searches, then most likely you are going to need to put in more work before you can reach the top pages. If for example, you have a holiday cottage in a prime tourist area such as the Lake District or Cornwall, you will be up against not only your direct competitors but also a growing number of online agents and directories, all with much larger websites (the more content your site has, the more the search engines like it) with large advertising budgets.
There are many ways to use the Internet to improve your search rankings, and we've listed here some of the more common ones:
Backlinks are when another website has a link to your website on one or more of their web pages. The most important criterion here is to note that the search engines like links that appear to be natural. They will penalise a website that looks like the owner has purchased a number of cheap low quality backlinks and any benefit from such a strategy is likely to be short-lived. By natural links they mean somebody has been so 'wowed' by the usefulness or informative nature of your site they naturally want to link to it.
Backlinking has had some bad press recently after Google demoted a lot of sites that had a lot of low quality backlinks pointing to them. However having the right kind of backlinks can still benefit your site, provided the link appears relevant and looks natural and genuine.
If you have a business membership of some kind, check to see if you can get a link back from their website. Internet shopping sites can look to see if they can get listed on their manufacturers' websites, and you can look for complementary businesses who would be willing to exchange links with your site.
This is where having a Content Management System (CMS) really comes into its own. The search engines like content and with a CMS you can build extra pages and add new information and news to your site on a regular basis, all of which will help to get you liked by your customers as well as the search engines. The search engines also like sites which are updated regularly.
Generally speaking the more you participate with other resources on the Web the more popular you will become. Think about joining some of the main contenders such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and setting up pages or company profiles. But be prepared to put the work in, it's not enough to create a Facebook page and then forget all about it, you need to build a following, add new posts to your timeline regularly and share with as many people as possible.
It is very easy to integrate your website with your social media campaigns by linking it to your Facebook page or Twitter feed. You can also have 'Share' buttons on your website which visitors can click to share your web page on their Facebook timeline etc.
A Google Maps entry is easy to set up and is particularly useful for regional businesses or any business where people might search for you in a regional location, such as holiday properties. Google map results often come up in searches made by region, and if you have a Google map entry and your address or location is relevant, there is a good chance you will appear in these results. Also people may specifically search Google maps for a service, in which case the map of that area will pinpoint any relevant businesses in the location.
Customers often ask about using Google Adwords. Basically if your search words are not too competitive, you shouldn't need to advertise on Google as your website will come up in the results in any case. If you are dealing competitive search terms it may help, but your Adwords campaign will need to be carefully crafted in order to be effective and could very well be expensive. If you are planning to do this yourself, you need to do your research very thoroughly, or you can employ a specialised marketing professional to manage your campaign for you.