This is post is aimed at the small business who is looking for the first time to optimise a website and does not know the first steps. The following really lays out what would normally fall under the banner of an SEO Overhaul.
Once the SEO overhaul has been completed you would not expect this work to be needed again for the website for at least a year to eighteen months.
Search engine optimisation is the process of getting a website found on search engines in the natural listings for terms and keywords that will generate leads, sales or enquiries for your organisation.
There are a huge number influences on your sites position in the search engines for keywords, the following is a brief introduction to the first steps that should be taken when looking to optimise a website for the search engines. Optimisation of a website falls into the following categories:
Search Engine Friendliness – how well the website has been built so search engines find it easy to index
Website Content – the quality of the written word on your site (on the page in headings) so it relates to searches of your target market
Find out more about the concept of on-site optimisation by clicking here.
Links to your website from other websites which endorse in the search engines eyes what you have to say
This post lays out the content of a website search engine optimisation overhaul that I would undertake for clients, so whether you (1) have a brand new website (2) want to optimise an existing website (3) want to move over from an old site to a new site or (4) need pointers of what to look out for when employing an SEO consultant, hopefully this post should be a good starting point for you.
Off-site optimisation can be a tricky business. Find out more by clicking here.
1. Determine Search Engine Friendliness
Addressing the following points will ensure your website is easy for the Search Engines to index plus not penalised for being slow or containing duplicate content, all of which will help your future search engine rankings.
a. Site speed
Site speed is now a factor for Google rankings so make sure your images are not too big, that you have a fast server and are not employing lots on technology to slow your site sown.
Your site needs to be friendly to Google Spiders (the computer programs that index your site); you want to make your site very easy for the Spiders then the site will be indexed more often, you will have more pages indexed, and ultimately will help you rank better in the search engines.
If you are new to websites and SEO the following will probably mean nothing to you, its purpose though is to be a list of things for your web designer to check. There are many software programmes and tools that will automate the following checks (we use Website Auditor from SEO Powersuite):
Any broken links – this is frustrating for a user and Google does not like this either
Poor internal link structure, i.e. have to click through many pages to get to a page
Server and re-direction errors – codes such as 500 (Internal Server Error)
No sitemaps (HTML or XML) – sitemaps tell Google the pages on your site and therefore helps to make the spiders’ job easier
Problems with the site coding causing problems (HTML Validation, CSS Validation)
Missing or empty Title Tags
Too Long Title Tags
Duplicate Page Titles
Duplicate Meta Description
Duplicate rel=”canonical” code
Pages restricted by robots.txt
Pages restricted by X-Robots-Tag
Pages blocked by noindex meta tag
Pages using meta refresh direct
Find out more about effective website architecture by clicking here.
c. Duplicate Content
You need to make sure there is no content on your site that is duplicated on your site, or on other pages on the internet.
Google now only credits one page with content, so if your site has duplicated content or content that is duplicated from the web then this can cause your rankings to drop, or in extreme cases for your site to be completely de-listed.
We use a tool called Copyscape.com to help detect duplicate content, whether on your site or on the internet. Another way is to just copy and paste a paragraph from your page into Google and see what returns.
See what Google has to say about duplicate by clicking here.
d. Migrating old web pages to new web pages
It is very likely that your existing website (if you have one) does have some search engine optimisation value; this, therefore, needs to be passed onto the new site. The migration of old pages to new web pages needs to undertake by personnel with appropriate technical expertise, such as your web designers and requires careful planning, if this is not done properly your rankings could heavily drop for many terms.
Firstly you need to identify the pages on your existing site that have SEO value, we use the Website Auditor tool to do this to find out all pages that have Page Rank (Google’s metric for the value of a web page). We will then 301 redirect all the old pages with Page Rank of 1 or higher to the equivalent new page on the new site.
This is a task that requires careful planning; you should make sure the people you are using to do this for you satisfy you that they have a plan for the page migration and appreciate the importance of the task, you DO NOT want to lose the search engine optimisation value of your existing site or it could take you a long time to get this back again.
Find out more about this hugely important process by clicking here.
2. Build SEO Foundations
Addressing the following points will be a great kick start to your search engine optimisation:
a. Keyword research
Keyword research is the foundation upon which all of your search engine optimisation strategy is built. Keyword research is the process of understanding your customers, your audience, potential customers and identifying the words or phrases that they may use to find your products or services.
This process also understands the opportunities and limitations of the keywords selected, and good keyword research will only recommend terms that will actually generate your site (1) web traffic and (2) business.
Keywords research should, therefore, be an interactive process between the clients, the SOE consultant and any other relevant stakeholder to ensure this process is very well covered. Skimp on your keyword research and you are shortchanging all of your optimisation efforts.
The purpose of competitor analysis is to understand what your competitors are doing so you can either tackle them head-on (if you have the resources to do so) or choose niche terms that they may not be targeting.
Part of determining the keywords that you will be targeting will be an analysis of your competitors. Using a tool called SemRush we will first identify the Keywords your competitors are using and their approximate search engine positions for these keywords.
From this and our previous Keyword Research, if we identify keywords we would also like to target, we will then analyse the backlinks to your primary competitors to determine how difficult it will be to also rank in the top three for that terms. More often than not a more comparative regional terms (pest control London for example) will take up to 6 months of sustained link building and SEO of your site to rank for that terms. This analysis though will give you a broad understanding of the resources and timescales that may be required to rank well for a particular term.
Click here to see some of the best tools currently available.
c. Site Structure and Taxonomy
For optimum search engine optimisation, no pages should be more than three clicks from the homes page. So the next stage of your SEO Overhaul is to determine the names and content of pages for your website and plot onto a site map as below. We find this is a useful process to go through with a client as it helps them to visualise how the content on the site goes together.
Never heard of a sitemap before? Click here to find out more.
d. Page Meta and Page Copy Written
Once the site map has been agreed, the next step is to write the copy for all the web pages which should include the selected keywords for that page; this will include:
Page file name – for example,/book-shop-glasgow.html (very important to contain keywords)
Meta tags (the information you see in the search results of a search engine)
Meta title – the name you are calling the web page for the search engines to see (very important to contain keywords)
Meta description (description of your page) has to be written well so people are enticed to click on your listing
On page copy – there needs to be your keywords within various headings and copy on your page, though this should be natural and written for your audience, not the search engines.
Whilst writing new copy will form part of an SEO overhaul, a good quality copy is also a key part of your sites ongoing SEO efforts. Google loves sites that are alive and fresh, so once the overhaul is over you should already be planning regular updates to content on your site, whether it’s via regular blog posts, posting video’s, new web pages etc. etc.
Find out more about META details and their importance by clicking here.
e. Set-up Google Services
Set up all the relevant Google services including Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Maps. If the client has a larger budget I will also set up the equivalent services with Bing and Yahoo.
Find out more about the benefits offered by Google Analytics by clicking here.
f. Site Map Submission
Generate an XML site map and manually submit this to Google via Google Webmaster Tools, this is just another little thing to help the Google spiders find and index with your website.
Are you unsure how to submit your sitemap once it has been created? Click here to find out how.
g. Directory Registrations
Depending on the clients budget there are many, many quality Directories (some paid some free) where we will register the website and organisation details. This is a very important first step in getting the search engines to trust your website, especially if you have a new site.
Depending on the clients budget and website ambitions this may also be the first stage of the off-site optimisation for a website which would include regular work on a monthly basis.
Check out some of the most important online directories by clicking here.
h. Stop – draw a line in the sand
If we are working on an existing site or moving from an existing site to a new site, before any work is done to the site we need to establish current performance, this includes:
Rankings in the search engines for all appropriate keywords
Detailed statistics relating to site traffic
The reason we do this is so fundamentally we can show the client where we have come from, and then show the progress and effects of SEO work that has been undertaken.
Click here to access some of the best current tracking tools.
i. Notes on the immediate aftermath of an SEO Overhaul
New sites vs. old sites – Google prefers older websites with long-established domain names. An SEO overhaul will, therefore, have a much quicker positive impact to a three your old website than it will for a brand new site. If you have a brand new website please be realistic, it may take two to three months till you start seeing your site traffic to picking up.
The Google Dance – if you are making modifications to an existing website, especially if you say make major changes to the copy on the home page, it is common that soon after these changes have been published that the sites ranking will drop soon. Have faith though, for as long as the SEO Overhaul has been done properly the ranking position will soon recover (say in one to two weeks) and usually recover in a better position than it was before.
So as you can see there is quite a lot that goes into a website SEO overhaul; any questions and comments welcome.