Attempting to implement an effective SEO on your website can be a fairly murky process for many webmasters. An even murkier question, “Where do you start?” If you’ve never implemented SEO on your website before, it can be a little overwhelming, and there is much you need to do.
Worse yet, what if you start off doing to wrong things-like implementing your optimization before you do research, only to find out six months down the road that your keyword targeting isn’t working). We don’t want that to happen, so I’ve developed an 8-step guide to help guide you as you work through your SEO campaign.
This guide will ensure that you cover your bases in an appropriate (and more importantly, organized) order. Below are the chapter headings, so feel free to jump around:
- Step #1: Begin Gathering Benchmarking Data
- Step #2: Identify & Overcome Crawlability Issues
- Step #3: Research
- Step #4: Keyword Benchmarking
- Step #5: On-Site SEO
- Step #6: New Content Identification & Targeting
- Step #7: Off-Site SEO
- Step #8: Review, Report, Tweak, Repeat
#1: Begin Gathering Benchmarking Data.
This should be the first step with every effective SEO campaign. If you think about it, how will you ever know if your SEO is working if you don’t measure some statistics at the beginning of the process? If you don’t measure key things up front, it’s sort of like flying blind.
Some of the things you should measure up front:
- Traffic Metrics – Website traffic is usually how most people measure the success of an SEO campaign. While it is very important, there are individual statistics within your analytics platform that are just as important. See my article, Total Visits Aren’t the Only SEO Traffic Measure That Matters.
- Inbound Links – You’ll need to measure the total quantity and quality of inbound links pointing to your website. Search engines view inbound links as a “vote” for your website, which they partially use to determine a website’s relative authority. Open Site Explorer is a great tool from SEOMoz that measure inbound links quality and quantity.
- Google PageRank (PR) – Google’s method of calculating a web page’s relevance and importance through the quality of sites linking to it, and a variety of other factors. The precise details of the algorithm are kept secret and Google continues to “enhance” its performance. The score is measured on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
- MozRank – refers to both SEOmoz’s general, logarithmically scaled 10-point measure of global link authority or popularity as well as an algorithm for computing that measure. It is very similar to Google PageRank, and is a very good measure of a website’s authority and trust. You can track your MozRank by downloading at installing SEOMoz’s SEO Toolbar for Firefox.
- Indexed Pages – Check each search engine to review how many pages are included in their respective indexes. This will give you an idea of the total % of your website that is included in the index. You can do this by visiting each search engine at typing “site:www.yoursite.com”, then recording the number of results returned.
- Domain Age – This is not really something you can control, however it is still good to have an idea where you’re at. Search engines tend to prefer older websites as they are deemed as more “trusted”. Now this isn’t always the case, but if all things are equal a search engine will tend to rank older websites higher. Like I said, it’s good to know this so you’ll know what you’re up against when trying to topple a competitor in the rankings.
- Website Grade – Refers to WebsiteGrader.com‘s proprietary algorithm for measuring the effectiveness of a domain. Although their algorithm weighs social media very heavily, it is still a decent way to understand if your website is at least in the ballpark in terms of effectiveness. In additon, it can help you knock out some of the above tasks a little faster.
- Term Extractor – A tool by SEOMoz that analyzes the content of a given page and extracts the terms that appear to be targeted at search engines. It spits out 1, 2, and 3-word phrases and may surprise you with the results.
- Term Target – Another one of SEOMoz’s plethora of awesome tools that helps determine how targeted a particular page is for a specified keyword by analyzing a variety of factors. I’d suggest picking some keywords and tracking how well your page is currently optimized for them. This way, you can see if your efforts improve the grade down the line.
In addition, if you haven’t already done this you should set up conversions and/or goals within whatever analytics platform you use. This is super important, as ROI is the bottom line of all effective SEO campaigns.
#2: Identify & Overcome Crawlability Issues.
This is easily the most important step of the SEO campaign. If your website can’t be crawled properly, then it can’t be indexed, which means that chances of people finding you through a search query a zip, zilch, zero! You’ll need to review your website to identify and correct all of the potential crawlability pitfalls.
Some things to look for include:
- Robots.txt file – Check it to ensure that you’re not restricting a web spider’s access to your website.
- Meta Robots tag – Review your Meta Robots tag to ensure that you’re not disallowing the indexing of your website.
- Poor link architecture – Review your website’s internal links structure to make sure that web spiders have access to ALL of your site’s critical pages.
- Framed Content – Review your website for iFrame’s or other framed-in content. This content resides on a 3rd-party server and therefore won’t be attributed to your webpage. This is very common with Auto Dealers, or other websites that may feature a dynamic inventory.
Remember, if you’re site can’t be crawled it doesn’t matter how good the content is—or how pretty the design.
It is very important to do your homework before proceeding any further with your SEO campaign. This doesn’t mean hitting the books, but it does mean a little bit of studying.
Things to look at:
- Keyword Research – Take a look at the different keywords options and answer some questions about yourself. First, what do you want to show up for? Second, what are your products/services? What are people finding your website for? What are people ACTUALLY searching for? Finally, does all of this sync up with your original suspicions or do you need to overhaul your keyword targeting?
- Competitor Research – It’s very important to review both your online and offline competition. You may be able to gain a bit of insight into potential SEO strategies based on what you find them doing.
Until you complete this step, you should go no further.
#4: Keyword Benchmarking.
Now that you’ve done your keyword research and hopefully decided on some keyword targeting, it’s time to do a little more benchmarking. You’ll need to utilize rank checking software to find and track your positions in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP’s).
Some good software to track your rankings:
And now to the meat!
#5: On-Site SEO.
Solid On-Site Optimization is at the heart of every effective SEO campaign, and is where a majority of SEO’s spend a bulk of their efforts. Basically, “On-Site” refers to any optimization or tweaks that happen ON your website. There are a ton of things involved with On-Site SEO, and each thing has its own set up best practices. However, it usually boils down to a few simple areas:
- Page Titles – Webpage titles are probably the quickest and easiest way to make an immediate impact in search rankings and traffic. Focus on getting your site’s titles right and good results will usually fall in line.
- Quality HTML Content – Search engines love content! That’s all there is to it. Having scanable HTML content should serve to give search engines something to hang their hat on when determining your website’s authority. In addition, if your content is any good, users will appreciate it.
- Meta Description & Keywords Tags – Meta Descriptions are fairly valuable real estate as they typically show up under the title in the SERP’s. This makes them a good place for SEO purposes. Meta Keywords aren’t really used as a ranking factor by the major search engines anymore, although many SEO’s will tell you they’re the key to solid rankings. Watch out for those guys.
- Utilization of Heading Tags – Heading tags (H1-H6) should be utilized within the content to denote areas of importance on any given webpage. Every webpage should make solid use of Heading tags.
- Image Optimization – Optimization your website’s images by ensuring that they’re utilizing Alt attribute tags and good file-naming conventions will help search engines understand a little more about your website, and will help visually impaired users who need to utilize screen readers.
- Utilization of Link Title Tags – Link title tags are another small piece to the puzzle that serve to help describe the contents of any internal or external pages being linked to. They simply serve as another way to reinforce keyword density and page theme.
- Website Architecture – Ensuring that the website is fundamentally sound in terms of it’s coding, link structure, and overall architecture can really be beneficial from a usability standpoint. Ensuring the the flow of links and information makes sense will help you users, and what’s good for users is usually good for search engines.
Now just remember, these may not be the only On-Site factors that will influence your optimization, but in my mind they’re some of the most important.
#6: New Content Identification & Targeting.
When working through the On-Site Optimization phase, chances are you’ll be able to identify opportunities for additional content that could be added to your website. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Content Expansion – Did you find any areas of your website where the content could be expanded on a little bit? Remember, search engines love content, so if your website doesn’t have enough you may need a bit more.
- Content Separation – Ever hear of the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” A webpage’s content can sometimes fall into this problem, where the content is a bit too general and not specific enough. Did you find any pages on your website that could be split into multiple pages? Splitting them up can help ensure that each product/service has it’s own individual page—and usually results in a page that is more focused and targeted for a highly-specific keyword/phrase.
- Offline Opportunities – Does your company have any PDF’s, Whitepapers, etc. that aren’t currently online? Might be a good way to add a little more content to your site.
Website expansion isn’t always the answer, but the way I see it—the more content on a site, the more chances to be indexed and found.
#7: Off-Site SEO.
Effective Off-Site Optimization can serve as the backbone of an optimization campaign, and is where a majority of SEO’s fall flat on their face. Basically, “Off-Site” refers to any optimization or tweaks that happen OFF of your website that can affect how you rank.
Off-Site Optimization is usually the hardest thing about running an SEO campaign, but can end of being one of the most rewarding things that you’ll do. There are several things involved with a good Off-Site campaign:
- Link Building – This is the practice of acquiring inbound links to your website. Every SEO’s goal should be to NOT just to acquire a high volume of links, but links of high quality. This is easily one of the most difficult things to do for any SEO.
- Social Media Presence – This is the biggest black box for many webmasters, but the most rewarding area of your Off-Site work. Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook can serve to drive more exposure, customer interact, traffic, and more website authority down the line.
- Directory Presence – Ensuring that your website or company has a presence within the key directories is super important. There are several local, social, and niche directories that can help drive more exposure and backlinks. If you’re a local business, a good place to start would be Google Maps or Yahoo! Local.
- Video Sharing – Videos are a great way to drive traffic and may help your website or brand go viral, if they’re good enough! Try submitting your website’s branded videos to YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe and other video-sharing sites.
Remember, these are only a few of the opportunities that are at your disposal. This is easily the area where you can be the most creative (however creative an SEO can be), so you get it! Success in the Off-Site SEO arena is often determined by how much time and effort you put into it, and how much you want it!
#8: Review, Report, Tweak, Repeat.
This one is simple.
- Review – Continually review your site’s SEO to ensure that the tactics that you implemented today still work tomorrow.
- Report – Ensure that you’re continually reporting on your results, so that you can make future decisions based on real data and not hunches.
- Tweak – As you review your results, make tweaks to your SEO campaign as necessary.
- Repeat – Since SEO can theoretically go on forever, you’ll find yourself repeating almost every one of the steps along the way.
I will be continually updating this page as I feel the need to change or add content. It’s just the nature of the beast! I’ll be writing a set of Ultimate SEO Guides over the next couple of months that will be dedicated to providing you with best practices for every single aspect of an effective SEO Campaign.
Image credit: Forbes