To continue the quest for collecting good SEO infographics here, I’d like to share another one with you. I recently got an email from a company called Subtle Network that designed an SEO infographic for PointBlank SEO and asked me if I could share it on my blog. And here’s what I’m doing here, with [...]
SEO (search engine optimization) usually consists of setup and maintenance work. Major part of the process below outlines the setup steps. Most of the time the primary goal of SEO process is to increase the number of visitors via improving rankings for target key terms in major search engines. However, not all visits result in conversions. That is why it is also important to think of what people do once they land on the website (i.e. conversion optimization).
SEO process: 7 steps to quality SEO
In this SEO process I look at major steps that should be taken into account when developing a new website. This step by step SEO guide is mostly applicable to new small business websites.
- Step 1: Think about your product
- Step 2: Keyword research
- Step 3: SEO implementation
- Step 4: Search engine submission
- Step 5: Baseline performance snapshot
- Step 6: Link building
- Step 7: SEO maintenance
Website SEO: Think about it, step 1
This is the first article in the series “Online marketing and SEO, launching a new site“. Today I want to talk about the first and the most crucial step in any SEO endeavor: think about your product and SEO.
Even before getting into keyword research, looking at the tools and trying to understand what people are searching for, it’s crucial to make sure you clearly understand what you’re selling. These are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What it is that I’m selling? What are the 3-4 word combinations that can clearly describe my product?
- Who’s my target market? What’s my target market’s decision making process?
- What are the companies that sell similar product? How are they referring to their product online?
Feel free to talk to a friend or colleague to come up with relevant terms for your product. However, don’t fall into a trap of thinking that people are using the terms that you would use. I will address this in my next post: Keyword Research. For now, the goal is to come up with a list of a few terms that describe your product according to you, your friend, your competition.
Website SEO: Keyword research, step 2
Now that you have a list of terms gathered by brainstorming, talking to friends, customers, looking up online, let’s look at a few major components of the keyword research process.
Filter the keywords
The bigger the initial list the better. This will give you more variations of terms that refer to your product. Before you go into grouping the terms first make sure you eliminate all irrelevant terms. You can do it by running your list through tools like Google Keyword-based Search Tool.
It’s very likely that your initial bulk keyword list will be significantly shortened by the tool you use. That’s ok, just make sure that the keywords that are left are relevant to your business. Some tools like Wordtracker will give you suggestions on other relevant terms. Make sure you get through the list of recommended terms and only keep the most relevant to your product. Keep in mind that those terms should also have at least minimal approximate monthly searches number.
Group the keywords
By now you’ve cleaned you your initial keyword list. It’s the time to group the terms. In most cases your product has several variations / types / sub-products, etc. It’s helpful to divide your list into logical groups. For example, here’s one way of breaking the words into groups:
- SEO Services: seo, search engine optimization, organic search, natural search, etc.
- Paid search Services: ppc, paid search, adwords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, SEM, etc.
- Email marketing Services: email templates, email management, email marketing, etc.
Once you have these logical groups, it helps to run those through a keyword research tool. This will allow you to determine the terms you want to focus for each product. For example, for SEO Services page, the focus will be SEO Services Calgary instead of search engine optimization Calgary.
Finally, once you have the focus terms for the pages, it’s time to prepare the SEO implementation document. First it helps you to keep things organized. Second, it helps to communicate your SEO strategy to a web developer who will be implementing some of the technical things.
Different SEO professional will have different format for the implementation document. Some will have it as a Word Document, some will use a spreadsheet. I use an OpenOffice Calc to prepare a spreadsheet. Here’s an example of a SEO implementation document I use.
I hope this gives a bit of a shape to your keyword research process. Next up is an article about implementing your SEO strategy on your website.
Website SEO: Implementation, step 3
Now that you have all your pages in the SEO implementation sheet, let’s look at a few critical implementation components. This article is for you if you plan to implement things on your own. If you have a developer that can do it for you, it’s enough to just pass him / her the implementation sheet.
SEO friendly URLs
A few notes here. It’s been popular to keyword stuff your site folders, sub-folders and page names. As with all popular things, Google recognizes that site URLs get abused and may not like keyword stuffing. So, stay away from deep pages (more than 3 levels deep), because 2-3 levels are more than enough for most small business websites.
- Bad example: domain.com/search-engine-optimization-calgary/seo-services/link-building-calgary/link-building.html
- Good example: domain.com/services/seo.html
- Often ideal: domain.com/seo.html
As of recently, I’ve become a fan of shorter, but more specific page names, titles, URLs.
SEO optimized titles
Although a generally accepted length of titles is around 64 to 75 characters (including spaces), it’s not always ideal. Shorter titles mean that each word inside the title has more weight. Here’s an example that I hope helps illustrate the point.
- Bad example: Web Design Los Angeles, SEO, Internet Marketing, Calgary, Canada, Advertising Agency “company name”, Award Winning (because runs over length limit, cuts at “Canada”).
- Better example: Search Engine Optimization | Social Media Consulting Calgary SEO (because right at the length limit, but still appears a bit stuffed, and a bit confusing to search engine (“is the page about SEO or SMM?”)).
- Best example: SEO Services Calgary by “your company name” (because this makes it clear to a search engine that the company offers SEO services in Calgary region) .
Disclaimer: These example are taken from real searches. I do not intent to pick on these. I used these titles to illustrate the point. Also, my best example is a bit idealistic because sites with shorter titles are not in top 3 results. However, I honestly believe that things are going that way.
Update: as I keep seeing sites with only a homepage title (the rest is missing), I wanted to once again remind that you need to have titles for all your pages. This helps Google and other engines do the right thing when ranking your site. Also, make sure your titles are not identical across the whole site. Each page should have its own title.
Meta descriptions, that is, are n0t there for keyword stuffing. The role of a description tag inside meta is to be descriptive to a human. The reason is that, if you have content inside description tag, Google picks it to display in the search snippet. Here’s more on Google search snippets from Matt Cutts. As a result, make your descriptions:
- between 120 to 150 characters (including spaces)
- ensure that your description is understood by a human
- ensure that it’s descriptive enough that a person understands what to expect on the page
- feel free to mention your focus keyword once
Headings (h1, h2, h3, etc.)
H1 is the second most important element of the on-page optimization (after the title). Here’s a few rules I follow and it’s been working for me and my clients:
- make sure it contains your focus key phrase
- make sure it’s written in a human language (not for search engines)
- in terms of formatting, make sure the font stands out, so people know what the page is about at a first glance
- avoid long running H1′s, 4-5 words is enough most of the time
Internal / external links
Links are super important for two reasons: proper external links increase the authority of your pages, and well developed internal links help Google crawl your pages. Good links make life more beautiful for both people and search engine spiders. Here’s a few recommendations on links:
- Don’t even bother with “nofollow” tags. It used to help manage “Google juice” flowing to and away from your site, but not any more. Creating proper “anchors” and giving a link a destination URL is more than enough. Read more on SEO and Nofollow tag in one of my past posts.
- Anchors are super important. “SEO and Nofollow” in the previous point is an anchor, it’s a text that links out to another page. Make sure your anchors contain your focus keywords, especially for internal pages. For example, if you have a page explaining your SEO Services, the anchor should be “SEO Services”. Just call things their real names, don’t keyword-stuff, and you’ll be fine.
- A bit on external links. It’s ok to links out to external sites. Do not worry, you will not loose Google juice. In fact, linking out to relevant websites with proper anchor tags makes life simpler for both people and search engine crawlers.
Alts for your images
As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t have a lot of imagery on my site. There’s a couple of reasons for it: 1) images make site slower to load (as opposed to no images), 2) it’s an art to select the right image for the right things, and I believe that irrelevant images just eat up space. Having said that, I’m not against pictures on websites. If done right, images can significantly increase the appeal, conversions and revenues.
So, go ahead and use images you like but just make sure your images are size-optimized (the lighter the weight the better, but make sure the quality is still there too), and ensure that alt attributes are:
- descriptive of the image (so that blind people or those with blocked images can see what the picture is about)
- contain one mention of your focus key phrase (a 2-3 word key phrase that you use to optimize this particular page)
- not keyword-stuffed (4-5 words to explain the image is usually enough)
I hope this all makes sense. If not, please write a comment. Feel free to bookmark and share the article so that you can use it as reference when you’re working on your pages. Here’s a little bonus, an article I enjoyed, that will give you a bit more ideas on quicker time to top 10 results in Google.
Take a look at other SEO steps when launching a new sites. And stay tuned for articles on the next steps: search engine submissions.
Website SEO: Search engine submission, step 4
By this point you should have thought about your product, engaged into keyword research, and implemented SEO changes on your pages. Let’s now look at what you need to do to let search engines know that your site is out there.
Website submission to search engines is no longer as critical as it used to be for one reason: the only engines you need to submit are Google, Bing and Yahoo! (and very soon it’s going to be just Google and Bing). And those engines have spiders that will visit your site if a currently indexed site is linking to one of your pages. However, there’s a few things to keep in mind to simplify life for search crawlers and speed up your indexation.
First, you will need to prepare your website for search engine submission. It’s very simple. You need to ensure that you have a sitemap.xml file in your root directory (i.e. domain.com/sitemap.xml). The sitemap.xml will tell crawlers the structure of your site in a language crawlers understand.
- Let’s create the sitemap.xml file using one of a great free XML sitemap services. Please note that this tool is deal for smaller sites. Large sites with 1000s of pages will need to pay for the services.
- Once you got the sitemap generated, just drop it into your root directory. Once done, just check the result to make sure. Your sitemap (for search engines) should now be here: domain.com/sitemap.xml.
If you can drop the files into root directory you should be able to tweak pages as well. You will need this when verifying your website submission with search engines. You can do it one of two ways: insert a line of code inside <head></head> or drop a file into the root directory of your site (much like you did with sitemap.xml).
Second, once you have the sitemap.xml, it’s the time to let the search engines know who you are. Each of the major search engines has a Webmaster Central. That’s where webmasters talk to search engines. It’s a great idea to create an account with Google, Yahoo! and Bing so that you have access to their Webmaster areas. Submission process is pretty much the same for all 3 engines. Let’s take a look.
- Google Webmaster Central: Google calls it a one-stop shop for webmaster resources that will help with your crawling and indexing questions, see keyword usage and traffic information relevant to your site. Once you get in, find the button “Add a site”, follow instructions. One separate step I recommend is submitting a sitemap. You can find the submission button inside “Site configuration > Sitemaps”.
- Yahoo! Site Explorer: Does pretty much the same thing as Google. Click on “Submit your site” and follow the instructions. Again, submitting a sitemap.xml is a separate step that I recommend.
- Bing Toolbox: Yet another version of a webmaster central. Looks slightly different, especially after a recent update, but the purpose is the same and functionality is similar.
Again, submitting sitemaps, registering with search engines is not necessary. Search engines will come on their own (if somebody that’s indexed links back to you). However, based on my experience, submitting sitemap.xml helps to speed up the process, and helps you get on the same page (speak the same language) with search engines. Additionally, there’s a plenty of intelligence you can pick up from those webmaster tools about your website performance in search engines.
Thanks for sticking around for this one. The next step is about setting up analytics and creating a baseline report. This will help measure your SEO results in the following months.
Website SEO: Baseline performance snapshot, step 5
Although this step is not critical to increasing your search rankings, it’s very important to measuring your results down the road. You will have to know what works and what does not. The goal of this step is to create a starting point for measuring your SEO results.
First, let’s make sure you’ve got a website analytics installed. My first recommendation is Google Analytics. It’s free, simple to install (if you have access to edit pages on your site), very flexible and offers tones of insight into your website user behaviors. If you don’t have access to edit your pages, ask your webmaster. There are also companies like Squarespace that offer its own website statistics packages, so feel free to use those.
Second, you will want to create starting measurements of the following things. Of course, a new site will have all values = 0. But hey, 0 is a good starting point.
- Website visitors (the simplest thing to track through any analytics package of your choice)
- Number of pages on your website (check you sitemap.xml file)
- Number of pages indexed by Google, Bing and Yahoo! (search: site:www.domain.com)
- Number of links pointing to your pages / domain: there’s a few options here:
- Run your site though something like Website Grader, which is a free tool to check your overall website health. As a result of the check you will get an overall score (based on multiple dimensions). Just rerun the tool again in a month to see how you do.
- Check to see your current search ranking for selected key phrases using tools like WebCEO and Raven Tool. Both tools have free trials / versions, so make sure you both check current status and recheck in a month. Choose one tool for long term work. Going back and forth between tools takes time and gets on your nerves.
Last but not the least, it’s important to have goals. Having a baseline snapshot and a monthly goal draws pretty much a straight line to success. If you don’t reach the goal by the end of the month, it’s ok. Any information is good information, because it makes you think about improvement. Tweak critical things and keep at it month after month.
Website SEO: Link building, step 6
Link building is important because the more sites link back to you the more authority your site has in the eyes of a search engines. It’s like “it’s better when people tell good things about you, than when you go and talk about yourself”.
Not all links are created equal. These are some of the key things that differentiate links:
- dofollow and nofollow links. In other words, links that transfer
- one way, two way and even three way. You should be interested in one way links.
- links from directories, social bookmarking sites, blog articles, blog comments, etc. The more diverse your links sources are the better.
- links from quality, trusted, authoritative websites. These links you need! Although it may take awhile to get a link from an authority website, but it’s definitely worth it. For example your article gets published in TechCrunch. Or your product is cited in New York Times.
- links from general resources and industry-specific resources
Without getting into too many details, there’s a few things to keep in mind when linkbuilding:
- Pay attention to both quantity and quality, having said that quality of links is always more important. It’s way better to have one link from New York Times and a hundreds thousands of links from questionable directories.
- Make sure links that you are getting are from relevant resources (for the most part).
- Anchor text is super important. Anchor is linked text. A good anchor for an SEO Service company is SEO Service. Also make sure to differentiate your anchors. For example, instead of using just SEO Service use multiple anchors like SEO company, SEO Service, SEO Reports, etc.
- Take a snapshot of your current link profile (sites that link back to you). There’s a section on how to do it in my previous post on taking SEO performance snapshots. Once you have that base number you can track your month-to-month easily.
There are tools available that will help you discover sites to link to, monitor your link building activity and manage your link building process. Below are only a few options for link building tools.
- Backlink watch (Free): helps you monitor who links back to you, what anchor text is used and if it’s a dofollow or nofollow link.
- Link Builder tool from Wordtracker (Paid): I have not used it but for some reason I trust these guys. This is supposed to be a multi-purpose tool to help you run your link building program.
- Linkscape and Open Site Explorer tools by SEOmoz (Free): these two are free link building tools from a reliable vendor.
- List of tools at Search Engine Land (Free and paid): this is a comprehensive list of solid tools by a solid publisher.
This list should be sufficient. You can, of course, search Google to find more link building tools but I recommend you get to work of actually link building and NOT looking for better tools and evaluating alternatives. Believe me, I spent countless hours looking at tools only to find out that the link building work was not happening.
Website SEO: Maintenance, step 7
Once your site has a solid base: clear understanding of your product and the audience, strong keywords, proper SEO implementation, etc. it’s much easier to build on it. This article is about being consistent when we talk about online marketing and SEO.
Content development is about creating original and fresh content. This is exactly what shows search engines that your site is growing, contributing to the universe. This should be the key element of your SEO maintenance strategy. A few things to note:
- Articles frequencies: frequency of new content is important. Often it does not matter how what the time interval between updates is, as long as it’s regular (i.e. weekly articles is usually a good way to start). Once you’re comfortable with this frequency (and you start getting returning visitors for new portions of knowledge), you can start increasing the frequency to twice a week, three times a week and daily articles.
- Article length: there are many different perspectives on it. The average number of words in a good article varies from 400 to 700. Make sure it’s not too long (people have different reading behaviours online as opposed to reading books, magazines and newspapers). Make sure it’s long enough to convey your points with an intro, body and conclusion sections.
Once your article is written, it’s time to get it distributed. Yes, Google will eventually pick up on new content. However, distributing your articles once they are written make your content index even faster (usually within a matter of minutes / hours). There’s a few things that will help you:
- Ping services: ping is kind of like a “poke” on Facebook. It’s about letting search engines know that you’ve got new content. There are many services (paid and free) that will ping search engines for you. Here’s a list of ping sites I use in my WordPress. This ensures that every time there’s a post, a ping is sent to all those 40+ services. To learn more about pinging Google: ping services.
- Share + bookmark: If you’re using Wordress to produce and manage your articles like I do, you should have a AddToAny plugin installed. This plugin adds sharing / bookmarking button to the end of your articles. This way readers can save / bookmark or share the article for later review or to share with friends. Other blogging platforms should also have similar plugins. If you don’t have a blog platform like Wordress, Joomla, etc. you can use their non-plugin service at AddToAny. I use this sharing button to manually bookmark and share my new articles with the network of my social profiles.
- Online press releases: There is a few different services aimed at distributing your press releases online (PRWeb, Marketwire, Google: online pr distribution for more options). Your PR release is your new article. Before sending it in, make sure you follow all the guidelines (usually on a vendor website) as well as keep an eye on proper anchor formats to get the most out of those releases. This way of distribution will not only get you indexed fast but also will generate a number of links to your site. And, as a bonus, if your article gets published in a quality publication, you get the bragging rights.
- Guest posts are a good practice to have. Pick a few sites / blogs in your area of expertise, ask if you can send them your weekly articles. They’re usually looking for content and will be happy to feature yours. Then, start sending your articles to them on weekly basis. Not all of them will get published but the ones that do will be worth it. IMPORTANT: make sure each of your articles includes properly anchored link to your site.
Link building has to be periodic. It’s not enough to bulk-link-build in the beginning. It’s about gaining authority with search engines and the process is continuous. Search engines need to see that there’s consistent increase in the number and quality of sites linking back to you over a period of time. That is why gradual link building is much more important than one time. There’s a few things you can do here:
- Engage in link bait: Link bait is about creating quality content on your sites in hopes that the community finds it useful and starts linking back to it. In other words link bait is creating link-worthy content. There are a few things that characterize a good link bait article.
- Read and participate: As you read industry periodicals make sure you share your opinion (if you have one of course, don’t just leave a comment for the sake of link building, they will get deleted) and engage in conversation on blogs. Ensure that every time you leave a quality comment you get a quality credit in a form of a good anchor.
- Hire a link builder: I know, this is controversial. And many SEOs will disagree with this. Although I’m a firm believer in quality link building through articles and community participation, I still think that the number growth in links matters. At the end of each month I’m tracking both links I generated as a result of my community engagement as well as links that were generated for me by a lower cost provider. Time and experimentation will tell, but for now let’s leave it at that.
Analytics is super important, especially in the age of it being so affordable through Google Analytics. Establish goals (usually done at step 5 of my process. Use Google Analytics to check how you did this month. Make adjustments to your efforts as needed. Sometimes it’s better to leave things as they are for another reporting period. Some results may take time to show.
A few other things:
- Avoid drastic changes to your site structure (category / directory changes, page name changes)
- Read SEO resources to stay up to date on the industry of search engine marketing
This concludes my 7-step SEO process. I hope it was helpful in defining the key stages of SEO for your new website. One thing to remember: it’s all about creating quality content consistently. I encourage you to comment and add your observations to each of the articles in this series.
On-page SEO: Factors affecting rankings
This is a series of articles looking at key on-page SEO factors affecting search engine rankings. I took top 5 websites rankings for “calgary web design” on Google.ca and reviewed each of the websites for how well their homepages are optimized. Then I identified key on-page SEO elements affecting rankings and summarize what works.