Ready to start working on SEO but not exactly sure where to start?
Whether you are a business owner or someone interested in learning more about how to implement a search engine optimization strategy for your site, this will serve as a great initial check-list on those first “Must Do’s.”
Audit the site. Is the site just now starting to create a search engine optimization strategy? Do you have a few SEO elements and tactics in place? If so, what? Take stock of what you are currently doing for your site.
Best Practices must be followed – and many of them are mentioned in this list. Let’s get started.
Content is the backbone. Make sure you write your content for the user first and search engines second. User experience is paramount. There are enough on-page and site elements that will help support your SEO efforts.
Design a custom 404 error page that will guide your visitor to a working page on your site. Don’t guide those visitors up error creek without a link paddle. Again, part of search engine optimization is about creating a great user experience.
Excel will become your best friend. Get familiar with it now, and start organizing your efforts, like keeping track of pages on your site, the keywords associated with the page, competitive analysis, and so forth.
Figure out your targeted audience if you haven’t already. Are you targeting local or national? This will be a factor in your efforts.
Gather pages that should not be indexed in search and create a robots.txt file. This file will live on your server and will tell search engines to not follow/index certain pages/sites.
Headings, or H tags, should be considered. The SEO value is minimal but still important and helps prioritize keyword importance on a page.
Inventory the pages on your site, and if it’s a site with thousands of pages, consider inventorying the highest priority pages that are key landing pages that should get the most attention first.
Just take it one page/task at a time. Organization is your pal. There are a lot of different methods and ways to optimize a site. Be sure to track what (and when) an optimization task was accomplished. This will help during an optimization revisit or measuring changes in a website’s performance. (Yes, you will revisit your strategy.)
Keyword research. Check out AdWords’ Keyword Planner to start brainstorming ideas as well as check on search volume and competitive analysis
Linking to pages within your site, whether it is external or internal, is a good idea and should be recorded and documented. With internal linking, vary up the anchor text, not always focusing on exact keyword matches.
Meta descriptions are a must. Although it’s not an element that affects rankings, the description is an important detail in search results to help attract your audience in organic search.
Navigation of the site should flow easy and be user-friendly. There should be a clear hierarchy present and not all pages should live on a single level.
Offer appropriate redirects when needed. If a page no longer exists, consider a 301 to permanently redirect that link to a new URL.
Pictures shouldn’t be ignored. Give thought to the name of the image file and give it an ALT tag. Don’t make them extremely big. Can you compress those files? By doing this, it will help keep your site speed up! Compressor.io is a favorite.
Quality is key. This is another friendly reminder to create user-friendly content that is shareable, unique and timely. This is a priority.
Reporting tools such as Moz.com can help you compile all of your link data and rankings. There are several useful resources out there, but Google Analytics and Search Console (formally Webmaster Tools) are some of the best. Bonus: they are free.
Sitemap is a user-friendly index of the entire navigation of the site. This could be help with those lost visitors that don’t know where to go. The second type of sitemap is found at letter X.
Titles of pages are extremely important and should be thoughtfully considered. Short and sweet is the name of the game. Put that keyword research to work in the title as well as the location and/or name of your business.
URL of a page. Including a keyword in the URL will provide another signal to search engines saying, “Hey, this is the main subject of the page.”
Very important! Although you may include keywords in various elements of the page (i.e., title, URL, ALT tag, etc) do NOT keyword stuff. No fun. Not at all. No one likes it. Search engines hate it … which leads us to W.
White hat tactics all the way! Avoid nasty black hat tricks (like keyword stuffing, cloaking pages, whiting out text on page) that will only result in punishment later down the road.
XML Sitemaps help facilitate the indexation of your site’s information. Check out the generator at xml-sitemaps.com. This is the second sitemap and made specifically for search engines.
You’re not done! Always revisit, stay up-to-date on algorithm updates, and be in the know. You never know what could pop up and turn a strategy upside down so be prepared. A few of my favorite sites for search news include Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal and the MOZ blog.
ZOMG! Get moving! SEO waits for no one so let’s do this!
Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Ann Ehnert has enjoyed working within the digital marketing industry for over 10 years, specializing in search engine optimization and enhancing the user experience. When she’s not focusing on digital, she’s enjoying adventures with her adorable daughter and supportive husband. Connect with Ann as she documents her journey on her blog, or on twitter @annehnert.