Search Engine Optimisation: A Case Study

Search Engine Optimisation: A Case Study

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Contents

 
Introduction

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Sitting in the top spots on Google for the keywords your clients search when looking for the service, product or information your website offers, has the potential to significantly increase profits. Here we outline how you can benefit from the latest search engine optimisation techniques applicable to Google’s ever-changing algorithm, using our client the Australian School of Motoring as an example. Read on to find out how to improve your Google ranking in less than ten days – and see a resulting improvement in the amount of business your website attracts for you! 
 
When you want to find a product, service or just information – where do you turn? These days, the answer tends to be the internet, especially Google. Businesses that hold one of the top Google rankings for search terms related to their market are at an advantage for this reason, and you can benefit too with some similar analysis of your area of expertise and carefully applied search engine optimisation techniques. There is no business that cannot benefit from this – except maybe Google themselves! 
 
 The Australian School of Motoring had tried unsuccessfully for years to attain high Google rankings for the most competitive key term searches in their market, despite being a very reputable business. Most businesses have at least a rudimentary idea of digital marketing, but at 2Excel we have specialised expertise in the performance of websites – a key factor in how Google determines rankings. Here we will show you the processes we used to help them achieve a better result in a short amount of time, so you can try the same with your website!
 
 
How Google Rankings Work 

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According to web traffic analysts Alexa Internet, Google is the most visited website in the world, with a whopping 40,000 hits per second adding up to over a trillion unique visits per year. Without even analysing the statistics, proof of its popularity can be found in the fact that it has become part of common language - you don’t search a term, you Google it.  As a search engine, Google aims to provide the most accurate results for each search term used. With 60 trillion websites on the world wide web, that’s a big job, and one they take seriously as their reputation depends on it – a reputation that has them achieving a whopping 93.7% of the search engine market share in Australia, according to analysts Clicky.
 
So how does Google rank all those pages? In short: it’s complicated – but we’re going to break it down in the simplest terms. They start by crawling the web, which basically entails a program visiting web pages and indexing them based on their infamous, ever-changing algorithm. Indexing involves listing all the websites for a particular search term. At this point you may be beginning to consider just how many search terms there are – this is what keeps Google developers up at night – suffice to say that their index is over a 100 million gigabytes. 
 
We know that Google’s algorithm works to rank pages based on search terms with the aim of providing the best quality results, so how does that work with so many websites and search terms floating in the digital ether? Google does not share their algorithm exactly as it would be too easy for unscrupulous websites to game the system (not that they don’t still try). What we do know, is that over 200 factors are considered. Here are a few that we consider a priority:
 
Site quality: Is the website a trustworthy source of information? Does the information match the keywords used and tagged throughout? 
Content: Does the website and its pages contain a decent amount of content? How often is content added or updated? This allows google to prioritise pages that offer the thorough, original and up to date information its users are looking for when they key in a search. 
Links: When your webpage is linked by a high quality source, this improves your ranking – the more quality content available on your site, the more likely you are to benefit from this. Adding relevant links to your pages is also factored, as by providing links to high quality content you are improving your credibility. Social media shares contribute to this factor.  
Site performance: Is the website’s server fast and efficient when it comes to response? Are images optimised? Is the site’s coding succinct and effective, or clunky and complex? 
 
 
How Search Engine Optimisation Works

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Search Engine Optimisation involves using an intimate knowledge of what works to improve Google rankings. When we here at 2Excel implement an SEO strategy for a company, we take into account all we know about Google’s algorithm, assess how the website in question stacks up against those factors and track performance to stay on top of how any changes we make effect ranking. Google is constantly updating its method of indexing pages, so tracking ranking fluctuations when applied to certain key terms is essential. This is a general outline of how we develop an SEO strategy:
 
Analysis: Analyse the website and its pages to determine what factors are negatively effecting your Google ranking. 
Keyword research: Research the most relevant keywords for your website, then prepare a plan based on what will be the most profitable. 
Optimise performance: At this point we’re ready to work on your website’s performance, ensuring it’s working the way it should be in terms of speed and functionality. 
Tracking performance: We keep an eye on your traffic and rankings over time. 
 
What are the benefits of having a top-notch SEO strategy? 
 
High search engine ranking: Work with Google’s algorithm to make sure you come up in the top results when someone searches a keyword related to your business.
Maximise traffic: Ranking high for keywords related to your business means increased traffic to your website, which generally lends itself to increased profits. 
The right traffic: It doesn’t matter that people are visiting your website if they have no need for your service or product. A targeted SEO strategy has the benefit of getting you traffic from people in your area, looking for what you provide. 
Cost effective: A good search engine optimisation strategy is cheaper than most forms of advertising, and according to statistics shared by Search Engine Journal – more effective!
 
 
Australian School of Motoring: Search Engine Optimisation in Action

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The Australian School of Motoring (ASM) is a South Australian business which offers driving lessons in the suburbs of Adelaide, as well as the Adelaide Hills.  In SA, learner drivers are required to complete 75 hours of on road experience, and hold their learner’s permit for 12 months if under 25 (six months if 25 or older). Upon completing the required hours and holding their permit for the required time, they take a driving test, and can attain a provisional license if they pass. According to the South Australian Department of Transport, Travel and Motoring, over 50,000 people are currently holding their learner’s permit. 
 
So, we have established that there is no shortage of potential clientele for driving schools in South Australia, but how did we help to maximise the share of this going to ASM? First, we assessed their current position, and how their current website stacked up against the previously discussed factors taken into account by Google’s algorithm. The ASM’s content was high quality, and they were obviously a very reputable business. So what was preventing them from obtaining those coveted top spots in relation to their search terms? We found the key to be site performance. 
 
Google shares some information on the performance related factors taken into account when indexing, but there is a lot to consider – especially if you are not particularly experienced in web development or search engine optimisation. Read on for a summary of the factors we assessed and improved for the Australian School of Motoring, which you can apply to your own website in order to improve your Google rankings. 
 
Step 1. Maximise Server Response Time

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Server response time is a very important factor to consider when you’re looking to optimise your search engine results. Essentially, this is the amount of time it takes for the server hosting your website to respond to a request from a browser (such as Google Chrome, Firefox). Server response is effected by a number of factors, including: 
 
• Server quality: When it comes to servers, you tend to get what you pay for. Cheaper servers will generally have a slower response time as they are simply not as powerful. 
• Traffic: The amount of traffic to your website is obviously a large factor – as with your personal computer, the more you stress the system with requests, the slower it moves.
• Website functionality: The more complex your website is, the higher the demand on your server. 
 
When we started developing a Search Engine Optimisation strategy for the Australian School of Motoring, we first had to gather statistics on server response time. We ran a tool Google provides called PageSpeed, which ranks the speed at which your website loads and assigns it a score from 0-100.  A good score is over 85, the average score is 82, and we have achieved a 97/100 at the time of writing. When we first began working with the ASM, their website loaded in 4.02 seconds, slightly over the 4 second standard considered satisfactory by the industry. At this time, we have managed to get that down to 3.8 seconds. These time differences may seem tiny, but they are hugely important, and every millisecond counts towards the score Google takes into account when ranking pages, as well as improving all-important user satisfaction. A site that takes too long to load is often abandoned to try another. 
 
Essentially, all site performance factors tie back to server response and thus page loading times, read on to find out the other methods we used to improve this all-important factor used by Google in determining page rankings. 
 
Step 2: Optimise Images 

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Images are the glue that hold a website together aesthetically. A picture speaks 1000 words, and they draw the eye immediately, giving users an idea of what the content on your webpage is about and whether they’re interested in it. Quality over quantity is key however – no one wants to view a veritable gallery, and images tend to be a large portion of the size of a website.  Ever visit a page where the content loaded quickly, but you had to wait while the images took a few more seconds to render? Since images are such a good indicator to users as to whether this website is what they’re looking for in terms of content, this can be just as damaging as a slow overall page loading speed. The speed, size and quality of images are all taken into account by Google in their everlasting quest to put the best pages in the top ranking spots, so optimising images is key to the technical aspects of search engine optimisation. 
 
We used a few strategies to optimise images for the Australian School off Motoring. First of all, we deleted images that weren’t vital to the aesthetic of the page. Rather than using an image file to encode text or as backgrounds, we used web fonts and custom CSS to the same effect, which have a much smaller impact on page size and server response. This did not affect the overall look of the website, which as a web design company first and foremost, is very important to us. 
 
Step 3: Minify Code
 
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Minifying is a technical term for minimising non-essential coding without losing any function from your website. As previously discussed, one of the many things assessed by Google’s algorithm to determine page rankings is site performance such as server response, but redundant and clunky code can also have a negative effect.  Codes are like the skeleton of a website, they’re hidden but essential to structure, design and function. Three of the most common coding languages are:
 
HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language): Creates the formatting and some features of content such as text, images, video and links. The backbone of your website.
• CSS (Cascading Style Sheet): CSS builds on the structure of HTML by dictating precise aspects of your website’s presentation such as fonts and colours. Features “style sheets”, which provide a shorthand way to give your website a cohesive look.
• JavaScript: This language is used to give your website function – any interactive or changeable features such as clicked links that automatically open in a new window are dictated by JavaScript. 
 
Coding languages are complex, even for people who have used them for years. When building a website, developers will leave comments in the code that they can refer back to later. This enables them to quickly locate the source of any problems that may occur or changes that need to be made. However, comments increase the size of the overall code, and removing can help to reduce the size of your web page, improving loading speed. Another way to minify code is to go over it with a fine tooth comb and remove any redundant elements, or to rewrite parts of it using a more succinct language – such as replacing large strings of HTML with a CSS external style sheet. You don’t have to do this manually; Google suggests some tools via their handy reference for developers that automatically minify your code. These include: 
 
HTML: https://github.com/kangax/html-minifier
CSS: https://github.com/ben-eb/cssnano
JavaScript: https://github.com/mishoo/UglifyJS2 
 
For the Australian School of Motoring, we were able to work on editing their code to be much more succinct, while maximising both style and function. Through this process, and a few others such as image optimisation as mentioned above – we were able to reduce their webpage size from 2.33mb to 891kb – thus reducing server response time and improving Google rankings as well as user satisfaction. 
 
Step 4: Prioritise Content Rendering 
 
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Each element of the style, content and functionality of your website has an associated code that effects rendering, the time in which your page and all of its elements load in the format your code dictates. Browsers load a website by first reading and loading the HTML, stopping to read or load any inserted elements such as images, CSS or JavaScript, then continuing on with the HTML. You want this to happen as quickly as possible, for the site to not only load content but to do it in a cohesive way, and this involves some tweaking and prioritising of the various coding languages. In this section we will continue to focus on the three most common languages for websites, HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
 
When it comes to rendering, you want the most essential parts of your website to load first. There’s no point having various widgets and plug ins load before the main body of the site – you want it to catch the viewer’s eye as soon as possible, before they can give it up as too slow or buggy, and look elsewhere. Essentially, you want your HTML to be structured in a way that prioritises the most important elements - generally content first, as this is the main thing visitors to your website are looking for.
 
CSS is handy because you can use what is referred to as an external style sheet which can be inserted into code through a small reference that can change the entire look of your website. You can also change small aspects of the website through inline functions. These features do effect rendering time, and you can in fact minify some parts without effecting function and style. Some aspects of CSS are not used all the time, for example parts of the code that dictate things like how the page is formatted when printed. This can be specified in the code, so these parts do not affect the time pages take to render until this particular function is utilised by those visiting your website. 
 
While JavaScript is great for building a functional, interactive webpage favoured by the Google algorithm, it can also significantly slow down the speed at which your page loads for viewers, effecting your search engine ranking negatively. Removing any unnecessary JavaScript and fine-tuning the balance between function and loading speed to maximise user satisfaction is the obvious first step. However, JavaScript can also be marked as asynchronous within the code, which allows those elements to load at the same time rather than separately, leading to a quicker rendering time. 
 
As we stated earlier, we took the Australian School of Motoring’s page load time from 4.2 seconds down to 3.8, and this was one of the ways in which we accomplished this. You will notice that the page is striking and just as functional as it ever was – but it renders quickly too! 
 
Step 5: Minimise Page Redirects

 
When a page URL clicked on from a Google search takes you to a different URL before landing on the page you’ve selected, this is called a redirect. Have you ever been out of the office and redirected your business line to your mobile so you can take calls on the road? A page redirect works in much the same way. You’ll notice if you’ve ever called a redirected phone line that it takes an extra few second to connect, and this applies to a website as well. Google does this to redirect users to their country’s Google URL, enabling them to track traffic from a part of the world as well as show country-specific headers on special events like Australia Day. The difference is, Google doesn’t have to worry about their Google ranking. You however, want your page to have as few redirects as possible, because they slow down page loading and as you now know, this will affect your search engine rankings. 
 
Unresponsive web design is often a reason why a site redirects. Your website is unresponsive if your main URL does not automatically resize or reformat to fit the screen of any user. For example, does a mobile user visiting your website have to deal with text that is too big, or not formatted for a small screen, requiring constant scrolling up and down, or side to side? Many businesses, instead of having one responsive website, have a URL for a mobile site that redirects automatically when a user is browsing from a mobile or tablet device, and this is highly inefficient. Mobile devices often have slower connection speed, so redirecting is going to have a significant effect on response time and therefore user satisfaction. Google’s algorithm takes responsiveness on mobile devices very seriously, as a huge number of people are taking advantage of having a world of information in their pocket to look things up on-the-go. 
 
For the Australian School of Motoring, we were able to minimize redirects so that they only applied to advertisements leading to the URL. You will notice if you view the website through a mobile browser or tablet, that it is optimised for any traffic. 
 
The Result

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We’ve discussed the strategies used to improve Google rankings, but how did these methods work out for our client, the Australian School of Motoring? We achieved top position in four different search terms!
 
“driving lesson” - up 84 spots to number 1
“driving instructors” - up 100 spots to number 1
“driving schools” - up 11 spots to number 1
“driving school” - up 14 spots to number 1
 
We also achieved second spot, up 14, using the keywords “driving school Adelaide.” We track ten keywords, and all were raised to the first page – greatly increasing the likelihood of a page visit. This result was achieved in less than ten days, and has so far been sustained for a month. The Australian School of Motoring was ecstatic, and while it is early days, they have seen an increase in bookings since then and are expecting this to continue to build. 
Some of the benefits the ASM has seen from the search engine optimisation strategies we’ve shared with you: 
 
• Website Traffic increased by 24%.
• Page views are up by 30%.
• Average duration spent on the website increased by 14% to two minutes, implying that it is attracting serious potential clientele.
• 10 new customers this month, and looking to increase this over time!
 
Conclusion

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Now you have some basic information on search engine optimisation, and in particular the website performance issues that are vital to achieving a good Google ranking. As we showed, a good reputation and nice content are important – but without optimising certain aspects of your web pages to speed up server response time, your Google rankings will still suffer. We know your website will rank higher if you implement these strategies, but are aware that some of them are more technical than others. If you need some assistance, 2Excel offers a 45-day trial for only $50, during which we will develop and enact an SEO strategy for you, as well as tracking the results. If after that time you aren’t satisfied with our service for any reason, we will return the small fee to you, and there is no commitment to becoming a paid client . Contact us today to organise a no-obligation consultation!  
 
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