Before diving into any new website build, the smartest thing you can do is conduct comprehensive research and planning. And it’s important to be strategic regarding more than just site design and development. Your new website needs a thoughtful SEO strategy in place before you start building in order to ensure it’s poised for optimal search engine performance. Leaving SEO as an afterthought to be addressed only just prior to launching your new website leaves way too many missed opportunities on the table and can often result in ‘too little, too late’.
The Evolution of SEO
SEO has undergone so many changes in its short history that it’s imperative to stay up-to-date on the latest evolutions in order to ensure your website successfully achieves your goals. What worked when you launched your old site 5 years ago won’t give you the best outcomes today.
In the early days of SEO (mid 1990’s-mid 2000’s), site optimizers performed all kinds of SEO tricks with keywords and backlinks, which worked for awhile. Then in 2011-12, Google rolled out the Panda and Penguin updates to penalize those who were using these misleading methods like keyword stuffing, link farms, purchasing backlinks, and hidden text. This is also when Google got more sophisticated by evaluating search keyword intent rather than just keyword content. Then came the Mobile Revolution as cell phones and tablets became the devices of choice over desktop or laptop computers, which changed SEO’s focus even further.
Today the Mobile Revolution continues as more and more web traffic continues to flow through mobile devices as time goes on. New developments like voice search have also affected SEO as well as social search. Content is still king, even when it comes to SEO, so having high-quality, relevant, engaging content will do you the most favors when it comes to your website’s search engine performance. But content will become increasingly diversified moving forward, meaning content types like infographics, videos, gifs, and even mobile applications will be considered by search engines to be “quality content”.
Looking for an SEO partner to update your website and improve your rankings? Contact August Ash today.
SEO Checklist for Your Website
So what do you need to consider when developing your website’s SEO plan? Make sure you check the following boxes as you optimize your new site for search engines.
1. Optimize Your Website for Speed
Website speed is one of the factors Google has officially announced they consider when it comes to ranking your website. Things you can do to increase your website speed:
- Use PNGs for graphics and JPEGs for photographs and make them as small as you can without compromising visual quality, making sure they’re compressed for the web.
- For images that you use repeatedly on your site like the logo, buttons, or icons, use CSS sprites to save load time.
- Audit server response time for any issues with slow queries or routing or not enough available memory. Try to keep server response time under 200ms.
- Leverage browser caching.
- Use a content distribution network (CDN) to distribute the content delivery load.
- Only use redirects when absolutely necessary since each redirect increases page load time.
- Check your website speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool.
2. Design and Develop Your Website for Mobile-Friendliness
Mobile-friendliness is another factor that Google has released an official statement on in regards to how heavily it affects search engine results. Ways to make your website mobile-friendly:
- Build using responsive design which makes use of flexible images, layouts, and style sheets.
- Test all website pages and functions on multiple devices, multiple times.
- Use the viewport meta tag to remove auto-zoom and control content size and scale.
- Use high-resolution images.
- Use a minimum mobile font size of 14px. 12px is acceptable for labels or forms if necessary.
- Make all buttons at least 44 px by 44 px.
- Make the website “top-heavy” by including all of the most important content at the top of the page so visitors don’t have to scroll or browse endlessly to find it.
- Use Accelerated Mobile Pages.
- Use media queries.
- Don’t use Flash.
- Use standard fonts.
- Test your website’s mobile-friendliness using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
3. Create High Value Content Before AND After Launch
Why does the quality of your content matter for SEO? Because SEO’s ultimate goal is to attract search engine traffic to your website, namely, from Google. What is Google’s goal? To provide the most relevant, high-quality, and useful content to readers. Therefore, by creating high-quality content you increase the chances that Google will rank and show it. Ways to create valuable content for SEO:
- Do keyword research on Google, in social media, forums, and blogs to see what words your customers are using to talk about your products and incorporate these into your website content.
- Perform market research and identify your primary buyer personas in order to write content that speaks to them, answers their questions, addresses their unique pain points, and offers them the benefits that they desire most.
- Always keep content focused on your customers and their needs as opposed to selling.
- Create content for each stage of the buying cycle: Awareness, Consideration, Evaluation, and Purchase.
- Make sure the content on your website is organized in a logical way that makes it intuitive and easy for readers to find.
- Diversify your content. Create a variety of content types like product or service pages, blog posts, infographics, videos, checklists, guides, slideshows, etc…
- Keep each webpage hyper-relevant to a specific topic.
4. Set Up Website Analytics and Tracking Correctly to ‘Measure, Monitor, and Improve’
Measuring website performance is integral to the ongoing success of your site’s SEO. Properly configured analytics allow you to access fundamental information about your website and customers, measure traffic and its sources, assess page popularity, glean keyword intel, and more. All of this information is valuable in making strategic decisions regarding changes to your site’s SEO. The following measurement tools should be installed (and properly configured) on your site:
- Google Analytics. Make sure you create a master view in addition to the default view in order to view filtered vs. unfiltered data. Implement IP filters for your office and other IPs that regularly access your website that would skew traffic numbers. Stay on top of referral spam traffic by implementing spam filters.
- Google Search Console. Verify your site in Google Search Console and submit your sitemap.
- Google Tag Manager. Set up site tracking through Google Tag Manager whenever possible, including event and conversion tracking.
- Remarketing Pixels: Install remarketing pixels for things like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Ads right away, even if you don’t plan on doing digital advertising right off the bat.
- Heat Mapping. Install a heat mapping tool like Crazy Egg or Hotjar to capture real-life snapshots of how visitors are interacting with your site.
5. Set Up On-Page SEO Correctly
On-page SEO is one of the most fundamental aspects of search engine optimization. It can help you rank well even without other SEO tactics in place. Cover these bases when doing on-page SEO:
- Perform keyword research.
- For each page, identify the specific product, service or topic focus and include this term in the title tag, URL, and image alt text. Also mention the term several times throughout the page copy.
- Keep metadata within current character limits. Title tags should be 50-60 characters long. Meta descriptions should be 128-150 characters. Image alt text should be kept to 125 characters or less.
- Do NOT use meta keywords.
- Use inbound and outbound links. Inbound links from a variety of high-quality websites help you rank higher in search engine results. Relevant outbound links help give search engines a more complete picture of your niche, increase the trustworthiness of your content, and improve the perceived quality of your site, all which play roles in your site’s SEO.
6. Complete Long-Tail Keyword Research and Implement
Long-tail keywords are keyword phrases made up of at least three words. They’re more specific and competitive than shorter keywords. They also make up 70% of all web searches. Incorporate long-tail keywords into your content. Here’s how to find long-tail keywords for your website:
- Start with seed keywords. These are the broadest, usually shortest, keywords that describe your business, product or service. (Example: shoes)
- Use a keyword research tool like Google’s Keyword Planner to find keywords related to your seed keyword. (Examples: tennis shoe, sandals, shoes for men, shoes online)
- Pick out the most in-demand and relevant related keywords. (Example: shoes online)
- Now search on the related keywords to find long-tail variations of this keyword. (Example: buy running shoes online) Incorporate these throughout the relevant pages on the website.
- Pay attention to the intent of the keyword. Is it an informational search? (what’s the best running shoe material) A purchase-oriented search? (buy running shoes online sale) A problem-oriented search? (running shoes holes) Keep keyword intent in line with your website page’s goals to achieve the best results.
7. Focus on Making Your Website a Platform for Growth and a Conversion Machine
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work hand-in-hand to maximize your website’s performance. While CRO’s goal is to increase conversions, and SEO’s goal is to increase traffic, CRO increases conversions by improving user experience. Since Google wants to provide the best experience to its users, by improving the user experience of your website, you are inherently improving your site’s SEO. Include these basic elements in your website’s conversion path:
- Clear and concise content targeted to your primary buyer personas.
- Easy site navigation and a clear conversion path.
- Clear and prominent calls-to action.
- Tracking to measure conversion path performance.
8. Update Your XML Sitemap
XML sitemaps make your website’s pages easier for Google to find. Remember that Google doesn’t rank entire websites, it ranks individual web pages. Update your XML sitemap following these steps:
- Generate a sitemap using a sitemap generator.
- Test your sitemap using Google Search Console’s Sitemap Tester.
- Submit your sitemap to Google on Google Search Console.
If you’re at the beginning stages of planning your new website, great; now’s the perfect time to get your SEO plan in place. If you’re already into building your new site, there are still things you can do to get your site up-to-speed SEO-wise. If you’re nearing the end of your site build and haven’t addressed SEO so far, you still have some time to implement a few SEO tactics, or formulate a post-launch strategy for retroactively getting some of these fundamental SEO pieces in place. If you’d like help formulating or implementing an SEO strategy for your new website, feel free to reach out. We’d love to have a conversation.