A website can be a powerful marketing tool for your business. Notice I used the word: can. Investing in a new, well-designed website is a significant investment. However, a slick, fresh design does not equate to increased website traffic and lead generation. You see, your website can be one of your very best marketing tools for your company, if you take the necessary time to actively market your website, build it’s authority, and grow its online visibility.
More than likely, people who already know who you are will be able to search for your business and easily find you. The giant online opportunity, the opportuntity that can take your business to the next level and beyond, is getting people who don’t know about you, to find your website. They may not know who you are, but you just might offer the products or services they are searching for…and these are the people that you want to discover your sexy new website.
What can you drive new people to the website?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic from the free, organic, or natural listings on search engines–not paid listings such as Google AdWords. All major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing have such results, and their goal is to provide the most relevant results for users. There is a whole host of factors and signals that are taken into consideration. In order to be found for the phrases that mean the most to you and your business, it is vital that you take the necessary steps to put your website in the best possible position to rank well in search results and be found by potential customers.
SEO Checklist for New Websites
With that being said, I want to provide you with an SEO Checklist for new websites (and most of these suggestions can be applied to existing websites as well):
Do You Have the Right Content?
What I mean by this is…do you have the right content that can be found in search engines and drive people to your website? This is one of the most important steps in the process, and it is based on data. It is important to conduct thorough keyword research to determine what people are searching for; what questions are they asking; what services or products are they trying to find; and just how difficult will it be to get found for that search query. Once you discover what phrases offer the most relevant traffic potential, ask yourself: “Does my website have a page that specifically and thoroughly addresses that topic?” If not, it is necessary to create a unique page that addresses that topic. Then ask yourself, is that page worthy of being ranked first overall? If not, continue to work on it until you can honestly say “yes.”
Title tags continue to be an important ranking factor. This is something that is written into the code of a web page, and they are part of the meta tags that appear at the top of your HTML inside the <head> area. Title tags should tell search engines what your page is about…much like a chapter of a book, and should contain the important keywords you are targeting. Some things to keep in mind are:
- Length: They should be between 50-60 characters, or 516 pixels. Everything after that will get truncated.
- Keyword Placement: Your most important keywords (or the topic of the page) should be placed as close to the front as possible.
- Write them for humans: Avoid the temptation of keyword stuffing. For one, it’s not really effective anymore. Secondly, it looks spammy and people likely won’t click on it.
- Unique: Each title tag on your web site should be unique, and specific to that page.
While meta descriptions have little to no value as a ranking factor, it does play an important role when it comes to the click-through rate. The meta description is the brief description that dislays with your search result, and an enticing description can prompt a user to click on the link. Be sure to create a unique description for each page of your website, and you should keep it at 156 characters or fewer (including spaces).
Alt tags and image file names
Quality images can make a major impact on user experience, but search engines can’t decipher what an image is unless you tell it what it is. To do this, you need to provide an accurate (not spammy), descriptive alt tag for each image on your website. This is done within the code of the website. Also, you should also be descriptive when it comes to the file name of the photos. For example, if you have a photo of a baseball player diving for a ball, it is far better to have the image url be www.domain.com/images/baseball-player-diving.jpg, as opposed to www.domain.com/images/img_00031.jpg. This clues search engines in on the subject matter of the photo.
The url structure is another important ranking factor. Unfortunately, poor url structure is a frequent SEO issue…and can impair rankings and can even prevent pages from getting properly indexed. Search engines look for keywords in urls to help determine the subject matter. Dr. Peter Myers created a resourceful blog on the topic, and it does a great job of highlighting what to look for in an SEO-friendly url.
Open Graph Data
With social metrics becoming a bigger ranking factor, we want our pages to be optimized for social media as well. With regular HTML, Facebook’s scraper has to guess which content is important and which isn’t. Open Graph Data allows you to allows you to customize the title, description, preview image, display url and more.
Canonical tags should be used to prevent duplicate content issues within a site. If you have two or more pages that are essentially duplicate in nature, you should choose one to be your primary page. By adding the correct canonical tag to each page, it essentially merges the two pages into one in the eyes of search engines.
Install Google Analytics
This free tool is a must. It offers an endless amount of data tracking ability. It can tell you such things as the number of visitors to your site, how they got there (organic, direct, referral, paid search, etc.), where they are located (down the the city level), what keywords they used to find you, which page they entered the site, whether they are converting, and so very much more.
Install Google Webmaster Tools (now known as Google Search Console)
This is also a staple tool to install. This will alert you to technical issues with your website such as server and page not found errors. It also provides detailed reports on your website’s visibility, and how many impressions it is getting from Google search results. You can also find out who is linking to you, and what anchor text they are using. It provides a host of other helpful information as well.
Install Bing Webmaster Tools
Similar to Google Webmaster Tools, this set of tools shows you details about your site through the eyes of Bing.
Check for broken links
Xenu is a very helpful tool to check for broken links.
Implement 301 redirects
If you are replacing your old website with a new, redesigned website, it is extremely important to set up permanent 301 redirects from the old urls to the new urls (assuming the urls are different). This is crutial for a variety of reasons. One reason is that if one of the old pages appears in the search results, you want the user to get redirected to the new page, rather than being taken to the dreaded Page Not Found page. Also, if the old page was linked to by other websites, a 301 redirect will pass along most the of “link juice” or page authority to the new page.
Fix duplicate content issues
This has become an increasingly important issue for websites, as duplicate content (whether intentional or not) can significantly hurt a website’s chances of ranking well, or even getting indexed. Sites have even been penalized due to duplicate content issues. To avoid this, you will need to be sure 301 redirects and canonical tags are set up properly.
Create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
An XML sitemaps is essentially an outline of the pages found on your website. I use www.xml-sitemaps.com to generate XML sitemaps.
Create a Robots.txt file
A robots.txt file restricts access to your site by search engine robots that crawl the web. To see which URLs Google has been blocked from crawling, visit the Blocked URLs page of the Crawl section of Webmaster Tools. You need a robots.txt file only if your site includes content that you don’t want search engines to index. If you want search engines to index everything in your site, you don’t need a robots.txt file (not even an empty one). Learn more at Google Support.
Have an off-page SEO strategy in place
While on-page SEO is definitely important, it can only get you so far. Getting high-quality, reputable websites to link back to the content on your site builds the overall authority of your website and that specific page of content, giving it a far better chance of ranking well. The key, of course, it to have content on your site that is worthy of being linked to or socially shared because it provides value to the reader (whether it’s entertaining, informative, resourceful, etc.).Off-page SEO is not a one-and-done type of thing. It is an ongoing process of seeking out content opportunities, link building, social media, relationship building and online networking. Not to mention, it is constantly evolving, so keeping on top of the latest trends and information can be a task in and of itself.
This SEO Checklist will put you in a far better position to rank well in search results, driving new, relevant visitors to your shiny, new website. If you have any questions about any of these topics, or want me to help guide you through your pre-launch and post-launch SEO process, I would love to chat with you.