A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 11 – SEO
Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah
Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 10 – social bookmarking”
There is so much to say about the so called “art” of search engine optimisation, usually abbreviated to SEO, that it’s hard to know where to begin. In fact, it’s such a diverse and misunderstood area that companies typically just outsource it to specialists who know the area well.
In simple terms, SEO determines where your online content appears in the listings that are returned when people are trying to find something using search engines such as Google. If you get it right, you’ll appear on the first page of results when someone types in terms relevant to your brand…get it wrong and statistics say that most people won’t even bother looking beyond that first page of results, so you’ll probably not be seen at all. So it’s important for ensuring you are you visible to the major search engines, where Google is still by far the leader, according to figures by Nielson.
Search engine market share, Dec 2011 / May 2011 (Nielson)
However, even if you do seek outside expertise it’s worth understanding some of the fundamental principles of SEO, so let’s start with the basics of why it’s important in the first place. This video explains it far better than we ever could in words:
That’s why SEO is so important! In fact, a lot of people now say that your brand is really what Google says it is, so don’t make the mistake of leaving SEO as the last thing to do on the tick list just because you don’t understand it.
“…a lot of people now say that your brand is really what Google says it is…”
Just in case you’re still not convinced, imagine your brand trying to make itself heard on the internet in the context of:
• 4 billion searches a day
• 175 million an hour
• 2.9m per minute
With those kind of numbers, you don’t want to leave it to chance as to whether someone is going to find your page in the mass of search results.
How do search engines work?
Most search engines work by storing information about many web pages, which they retrieve from websites using automated ‘bots’, also known as ‘web spiders’, that crawl over the internet looking for key tags, known as ‘meta tags’, found in the titles, headings and special fields of the HTML code for pages. This information is then stored, or cached, and used to determine when your site should be listed in a search result. Then, when a user enters a word or string of search terms into the search engine it examines these indexes to understand which websites provide the best match.
Of course, there is a lot more to it than just keywords and complex algorithms are also used to determine how important or popular your website is (such as Google’s ‘Page Rank’), which also has a bearing on how likely you are to appear high up a search result.
The search engines never explain exactly how their indexing programs work (to avoid people trying to cheat the system with very targeted SEO) and they are constantly updating their processes, but here’s a good overview video of the technology behind Google:
“…there is a lot more to it than just keywords and complex algorithms are also used to determine how important or popular your website is…”
So where do we start?
There are over a million tips on getting your website to appear on the first page of search results, but there are some fundamental things to do that will get you started:
1. Submit your website to search engines and list your site on social networks, including:
2. Have great content which is regularly updated!
3. Use title tags and descriptions. Most important is the description of your page, so make sure it’s relevant to your product (this is the description that appears in most search engines under a website listing).
4. Use ‘alt’ tags on your images – these are the keywords that appear when you hover over an image.
5. Get as many links coming into your site as possible, as this helps improve your SEO through increasing your Page Rank.
Have a plan!
If you are planning a new campaign or website launch, then the key things you need to do from an SEO perspective are:
• Research – have a think about what search terms or words you want your website to appear under in search engine results. Try typing a few terms in yourself to see what comes back and bear in mind you’re looking for no more than 15 words for your title tags.
• Get suggestions – Google has an amazing free tool that helps you research keywords in terms of how popular and competitive they are – click here to try it out.
• Implement your strategy by making sure your selected keywords are present in as tags on your page. However, be patient – you won’t see results straight away and it can take months for the impact of your SEO to kick in with the search engines. Changing keywords too often means you’ll never know what works!
Finally, be aware of the regulations around SEO for your region. In the UK, for example, SEO now falls under the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) can sometimes step in.
“…you won’t see results straight away and it can take months for the impact of your SEO to kick in with the search engines.”
Other countries will have their own regulations, but in general terms be aware of not ‘misrepresenting’ your product through SEO in the same way that you wouldn’t in an advert.
So, we hope that’s enough to get you started. You might still want to seek expert external help with SEO, but at least you’ll go in with a better idea of what you need. As always, Tweet us or add your comments below if you have any questions!
You can view the next part of this series on email marketing campaigns here.
About the authors:
Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 14 years, providing digital thought leadership to some of the biggest brands globally, also contributing to some of the best-selling books on digital, having been part of the start-up team at Amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been working in Healthcare winning over 15 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal is currently working at Life-Healthcare and can be found Tweeting here @sickonthenet and contacted on LinkedIn here http://www.linkedin.com/in/ahmedfaisal.
Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.
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