SEO: The Race To First Place

March 15th, 2013 in Search Engine Optimisation, Web SEO

photoThe Cheltenham Festival has been hard to miss this week, with blanket coverage on Channel 4 and advertisements everywhere. The team at Image+ haven’t been immune to the excitement: in between developing websites, it’s possible we’ve been watching a few races online this week and having a flutter in the office. There’s a big buzz amongst the team – if not too many winners!

In part, our enthusiasm might be down to a certain amount of sympathy for the owners, trainers and jockeys who prepare so carefully for events like this. From stamina to speed, and jumping to sprinting, the team around a horse focuses on ensuring that every element of its race is matched as tightly as possible to the demands of the course it will be running. Huge amounts of research and work is put into understanding how a given horse might be given the best chance to achieve that coveted first place.

Put that way, horseracing is – and bear with me here – oddly similar to Search Engine Optimisation. This is a process we undertake for many of our clients, by which we assess their market, understand its demands – including what phrases customers might use to search for relevant services online – and then tailor the website in such a way that the biggest search engines place it pride of place on their results pages. This is a game only for experts: it’s detailed, difficult work, but done right can have huge benefits.

Google ‘Cheltenham festival’ right now and the top sponsored links feature the various bookmakers to whom this week is so important. The first natural link, of course, is to the website of the Cheltenham Racecourse itself, which has made the Festival a key fixture in its calendar. Newspapers are listed, too – search engines like nothing better than regular, constantly updated content – and before the first page is over the bookmakers are making a return. The presence of each of these sites – and their re-appearances as keyphrase-sensitive advertising on those newspaper websites – reveals something about the nature of SEO, from its key importance for revenue generation to the virtues of pay-per-click campaigns and the best means of achieving natural listings.

The bookmakers are a case in point: fittingly, they hedge their bets by investing in paid advertising, ensuring they are always at the top of the page, but also optimising their sites to achieve natural listings. Paddy Power, for example, features both as a sponsored and natural link on Google’s first page of ‘Cheltenham festival’ search results. Key to Paddy Power’s success, though, is what punters get when they click that link: visitors to the PP website are immediately exposed to a wealth of content, but also a user interface which is easy and enjoyable to use. All the SEO in the world won’t help if your website is poor – once the search engines have sent you visitors, it’s up to you to keep them.

I’ll be following the runners today at Cheltenham, cheering on one particular horse named after my home town’s theatre. I hope I’m cannier in my betting at the course itself than I have been online: when I won recently on the Paddy Power website, I found myself with £100 in my account – and gave it all back to them in the shape of further bets.

Now that is a successful website!