This blog is two years old today. In that time, it’s gone from having no visitors to attracting around 1,900 unique visitors a day, and it’s allowed me to be visible on the Internet and to attract clients: earlier this week, I got a big contract (between 50,000 and 100,000 words) from someone who found this site via Google. My statistics now show that the most popular keywords to reach my site are "french translator", "french translations", "french translation" and "translation techniques". "naked", a keyword which is unlikely to bring either clients or people interested in language and was always top of the list until March, has dropped to fifth place. Then this week it was nominated for a Brighton & Hove Web Award in the "searchability" category: two judges analysed the 120 sites that were put up for competition and picked four which, according to them, were particularly well optimised for search engines. I had to face the facts: we’ve done quite a good job at making this site visible to the people I want to attract.
So what does it mean to optimise your website for search engines? In March, I noticed from my website statistics that the main keywords that people put in search engines to find my site were relatively irrelevant to my aim (getting work from people needing translations), and that my traffic was stagnating. I read a lot about search engine optimisation (SEO) on the Internet, talked to Jemima, and we decided to change the site so it was more likely to be picked up by Google & co. We concentrated on five aspects:
Keywords are crucial. I determined that people needing the services I offer would be most likely to enter "English to French translation/translator" into a search engine, so I decided to make sure this key phrase was used on my static pages without making the content too awkward. This was the main key phrase that I chose to concentrate on, but my blog entries obviously contain lots of other key words which are highly relevant to what I do.
Page titles and headers
My page titles all contain my main keywords. Before we changed them, I think they just said something like "Naked Translations, Céline’s Graciet website", which meant that it was less likely to show up when people entered "translation" or "translator" in their search. Now they read "Naked Translations – English to French translation", " ~ website of professional English to French translator Céline Graciet", etc. All the titles in my pages are between < h1 >, < h2 > and < h3 > tags, which makes it easy for a search engine to see what a page is about.
Entry titles
The titles of my entries are also crucial, as these are all individual pages which are indexed by search engines. They must be succinct and to the point, and indicate exactly what the article contains. This is good practice for writing for the web anyway, as people reading online are less tolerant of ‘clever’ headlines.
Regular updates
I asked Jemima how to attract visitors to my site when we launched it, and her simple answer is still valid: it’s all about content. Write regularly about things that interest people and people will come back and link to your site. Besides, search engines love websites that are regularly updated, so I understood early on that I really had to keep this blog going, even during busy times or periods when I was less interested in it. I also kept it solely on the subject of translation and language, so Google could see that the site was specialised in that area. I introduced the Guest Blogger feature as way to keep my material fresh and sustain my interest when it all seemed to be getting a bit stale. And in quiet times at work, I think about how I can improve my site.
Incoming links
Link popularity is hugely important within this context, and I’m often asked to add a reciprocal link to another site (you link to me, I link to you). I regularly turn down such offers, as they would mean compromising my content, which is crucial to me. I don’t think it’s a good idea, in the long term, to include things on my website just because search engines like them; everything that goes on my site must be relevant to me, my readers and my potential clients; SEO comes second. The sites that are listed in my links page are there because I like them, not because I’m trying to get links from them.
So this is how I managed to get good rankings for my website: I concentrated on writing good content on a regular basis, and tweaked a few things, mainly by adding keywords in the right places. It’s been a fascinating process and it even helped me in my work: a couple of clients recently asked me to translate their websites with keywords in mind, so I knew exactly what to do.
By the way, I didn’t get the award, it went to Responsible Travel, an excellent website which sells a brilliant product.