If you are anything like most people, SEO can seem like the unwanted elephant in the room. You know your business needs to deal with it, but you don’t want to be the one responsible for this task. When most people think SEO, they assume difficult, complex, and time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be any of those things. In fact, you can learn SEO in 10 simple steps. All you need to do is lean in, listen, and apply the information you are given. While no two businesses operate the same, SEO is flexible enough to accommodate any need, desire, or shortcoming. Remove the elephant in the room and take your business to the next level!
Step 1: Setup
During the initial setup stage, you should prepare yourself for success. Just as a house needs a solid foundation before the framing goes up, so does your SEO strategy. The foundation in this case consists of tools like Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and Google Webmaster Tools.
Step 2: Site Audit
If you have an existing site, you will want to perform a site audit when starting your SEO. With each passing month, Google is becoming more stringent with its penalties, and rules are becoming increasingly cut and dried. The best way to ensure your site is in compliance is to perform a detailed site audit.
One helpful site audit tool is the Moz Site Audit Checklist. As a reliable source, this detailed checklist is great for examining everything from content and accessibility to site architecture and internal linking. Another good option is WooRank. This helpful website audit tool automatically checks and analyzes many items on the Moz checklist. While a site audit may take significant time and energy, it is completely necessary to SEO. Penalties for preexisting violations can be harsh and eventually undo much of the hard work you put into your site.
Step 3: WWW or Without
Surprisingly enough, a very important part of SEO depends on those three “w’s” you see in front of your site’s web address. If you aren’t careful, you could make a costly mistake regarding these letters. People often think this determines whether someone can arrive at your website by typing www.domain.com or domain.com, which is not quite the case. At its core, this is about how the search engines view your website and how links pointing to your site are treated. You can choose to go with the ‘www’ or without it, but it is important to choose just one. If you choose both, the search engines will view your website as two separate sites, which can badly damage your rankings and link quality.
Step 4: Keyword Research
Some experts go as far as to say keyword research is the most important part of SEO. It’s hard to argue with that statement, as there are plenty of statistics to back it up. If you are serious about SEO, you need to invest heavily in keyword research. For your site to stand out against the more than 100 billion Google search queries per month, you must appropriately optimize. That starts with keyword research. Everything else falls into place after you gain an understanding of what your audience is searching for. Here is a sampling of useful tools you can use to get started:
Step 5: Navigation
Navigation, as it relates to SEO, is important on two ends. First, it is imperative for visitors to be able to navigate smoothly and quickly through your site’s pages. Second, search engines need to find clear connections between individual links and pages.
To accomplish both of these goals simultaneously, you need to build a universal navigation. Do this by identifying why visitors come to your site, what your top exit pages are, and what search terms are used on site. Next, you should divide your products and key pages into categories with useful names. Finally, put those categories in the universal navigation and keep things simple. If you use drop down menus, they need to be in HTML in order for the search engines to read them. If your product pages have more than 20 items on a page, consider adding a filter for visitors to narrow their search.
Step 6: On-Page Content
While there is significant behind the scenes work that goes into SEO, you still need quality content for visitors to read and view. Google’s newest algorithm is putting a major emphasis on useful, high-quality writing instead of heavy keyword usage. Avoid keyword stuffing and instead use calculated, well-placed keywords. It is best to target one keyword phrase per page. As for the structure, each page should have a distinct arrangement and headings.
Step 7: Meta Tags
In order to understand the value of meta tags, you must think about things through the eyes of search engine users. When you search for something, how do you determine which result to click? You most likely analyze the first few results and read a few words from the title and accompanying description. As a site, you only have a limited string of characters to persuade a user to click on your result over millions of others available. That descriptive sentence is known as a meta tag.
Your site will see a noticeable improvement if you are able to properly attack meta tags. Each meta description should be around 160 characters and should include natural keyword phrases. It is also crucial that you include some sort of call to action. This can be difficult to accomplish in only a few words and requires careful planning and thinking. If you’ve done your keyword research and organized site content in an effective manner, it should all fall into place.
Step 8: Coding
Coding can be a difficult part of SEO for those unfamiliar with the topic. While you will probably need to find someone well-educated in coding to perform detailed actions, there is one area you should understand: robots.txt.
In simple terms, robots.txt is a text file that you put on your site to tell search engines which pages they are allowed to visit. While this code is not mandatory, it is very helpful in cases where you have pages you wish for search robots to avoid. Think of it like a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Thieves can still get in if they like, but most folks will leave you alone. It is important to make sure your robots.txt file is in the main directory of your site and is structured appropriately.
Step 9: Sitemap
You can have a beautiful, properly structured site, but unless people can view it, your hard work doesn’t mean anything. To get the maximum amount of traffic and visibility, your site must be indexed by search engines and directories, like DMOZ. Otherwise, the big guys, like Google, Yahoo! and Bing, are unlikely to find the most relevant page on your site to display (if your site is found at all).
Many techniques and tools promise to get your site indexed by search engines. However, the least time consuming and most reliable way to lead search engines and visitors through your site’s content is by creating a sitemap. With an HTML sitemap, visitors can quickly navigate the contents of your site and head to the most relevant area. Similarly, an XML sitemap is read by search engines to ensure the most relevant page of your site is displayed.
Step 10: Off-Page
In addition to the work you put into your site, you’ll need to spend some effort working off of your page. Focus on link building through content marketing, blog writing, guest blogging, infographics, site directories, and other tools that allow you to leave online footprints leading back to your site. Off-page efforts also include social media marketing. When properly used, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can be helpful tools in acquiring site traffic. Whatever you do, avoid black hat SEO techniques when it comes to off-page efforts.
Bonus! Build Trust
In addition to these 10 simple rules, you should understand the importance of building trust online by using Google+ Author Verification and WOT. These tools enable your site to build a healthy reputation and trust relationship with search engines and visitors. Registering your domain name for a minimum of 5 years also instills trust and indicates that you plan to be around for the long term.
SEO: You Can Do It!
Whether you have tried SEO in the past and failed or have never given it a shot, don’t be intimidated by the noise. There are thousands of help articles discussing the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of SEO, but you don’t need to learn everything at once. Follow these 10 simple steps and you will be well on your way to optimizing your site in a healthy way.
If you have any questions please post them in the comment area below and I will answer them as promptly as I can for you. Thank you—class dissmissed!