You need get many things right in order to even be in the race to be found. Here’s how to get your website found by getting the basics right before you invest in expensive SEO tactics, and time consuming digital marketing tactics.
1. Get the Basics Right
This is the vanilla stuff. If you don’t get this right, you are not even in the game and you have no chance of winning the race.
So, what do we mean about the basics? Well, this is largely the on-page, or technical SEO, as I like to call it. This is all about structuring your site correctly and making sure search engines can find it, and interpret it correctly.
Understand the keywords people will use to find your page
This is the starting point – every page should have a keyword or phrase in mind. Then, write unique, interesting content relevant to this keyword or phrase.
Never, ever stack your pages with repeated keywords to try and trick Google. Trust me, Google is not stupid and you will get penalised for underhanded tactics like this. If you honestly, hand on heart, believe the content you write is relevant, meaningful and provides value, then it’s probably okay.
Bespoke page titles and meta descriptions
Many content management systems generate default page titles and meta descriptions based on article titles and the first few paragraphs. Believe me when I say they are rarely, if ever, accurate. Don’t use them.
Take the time to write considered custom page titles and meta descriptions that accurately summarise your content in an engaging way. Be critical and ask yourself if they are enticing enough to make you click them in search results. If not, keep tweaking.
The page title and description should include your target keywords. Again, don’t try to artificially stack them, as it will backfire.
Make sure that your page title, including any prefixes or suffixes (e.g. ” – Your Brand”) is no more than 65 characters and your meta description is no longer than 160 characters. This will ensure that your full page title and description will be shown in full in organic search results most of the time.
Use heading tags to structure your page
Every page should have an H1 tag that relates closely to your target keywords and the content of the page. You have no idea how many sites we see that don’t have H1 tags or where designers have styled other tags to look like H1 tags… this is not good. Ensure every page has a relevant H1 tag and preferably other H levels too.
Other headings are also important as they give your page a logical, easy to follow structure. Use H1 to H6 tags to communicate to readers, search engines and other technologies how your content is structured.
Use alt tags on images
Again, this is so frequently missed when using many content management systems. All img tags should have an alt attribute. Period.
If you are missing alt attributes for images on your site, you are not making it clear to search engines what the image is about and how it relates to your page content. Be explicit!
2. Make Sure Search Engines Can Find Your Site
So, you’ve spent $30k and 3 months building a kick-ass site… you put it up and… nothing. No-one knows about it and no-one visits.
Once you’ve built your site, search engines must be able to find it. To do this, make sure you do the following.
Register Your Site
Both Google and Bing allow you to register your site with their search engines at webmaster.google.com and webmaster.bing.com respectively. This allows you to let each search engine know about your website. You will need to verify ownership, which is a pretty straightforward process.
Submit a Sitemap
Once you’ve registered your site, let each search engine know where to find your sitemap.xml file. This is usually located at yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml. You can submit your sitemap and check it for errors at the webmaster portal for each search engine.
Set a Geographical Region
It’s also important that you let each search engine know what geographic region you are targeting, so they can boost your search results for people in your target region. Don’t worry, if you are a global business, you can set this as an option too. Again, this is done in the webmaster portal of each search engine.
Register Your Business on Google Maps
This is particularly important if you have a business that focuses on local area, but is also useful if you have a head office that people may need to visit.
Registering your business on Google Maps will help ensure that your site appears in local search results, and allows people to leave reviews and upload pictures of your business.
To register your business go to business.google.com and provide as much information as you can. You will also need to verify your physical address. To do this Google will send a postcard to the registered address. This card contains a verification code that you need to activate your listing.
Once you are listed on Google Maps, it’s a good idea to ask some friendly customers to review your business. This is an easy way to establish some credibility and personality for your brand. Again, don’t try and be shady and get people to write bogus reviews. Google isn’t stupid and it’s not worth the risk. Being genuine and honest go a long way in life generally, not just with Google!
Make Sure Your Site Can Be Indexed
This is a simple but important step. Please, please make sure your website has a robots.txt file, which gives search engines permission to index your website.
You have no idea how many sites we’ve seen that have had their entire website blocked by developers accidentally using a robots.txt file from a development or staging server that restricts all search engines from indexing the entire production site.
It’s a simple thing – check it!
Add Structured Data to Your Site
Google does its best to understand your site, but you can give it some help by adding structured data. Structured data is a basically just a standard format for providing information about a page and classifying its content.
You know when you search for a recipe and you see those nicely formatted cards in the search results? Well, that’s done using structure data! There are many applications for structured data and, even if you aren’t a recipe site, there are plenty of other applications to help Google understand and display information about your company in a meaningful and relevant way.
At the bare minimum, your site should include structured data that provides basic business details, such as your address and contact details, and marketing information including your logo and social profiles.
3. Promote, Promote, Promote
So, you’ve built an awesome website with some great content, it’s highly search engine optimised from a technical standpoint, you’ve submitted your site to each search engine, so now the traffic will start rolling in, right? Wrong!
Despite all of your hard work to this point, you probably aren’t likely to receive much in the way of organic traffic yet. Why is this? But you’ve done so much hard work! True, but so have hundreds of other sites in your niche! Google doesn’t just know just how much better your content is than everyone else’s.
Recently, we did a huge amount of highly necessary technical SEO for a client (i.e. getting the basics fixed) and they wanted to know how long it would take for the results to kick in and rank them higher than their competitors….
My explanation was this… “Imagine you are Google, and someone searches for a term that is relevant to one of your optimised pages and your main competitor also has an optimised paged for that term, even though it’s not technically as good as your page. When returning the search results, Google notices that 1,000 other sites have linked to your competitor’s page and only 10 other sites have linked to your page. Which one do you think will seem like the best result to Google? Correct, it’s not your page! Despite all your hard work, they are still ranking higher than your site! Bummer.
All that technical on-page SEO achieves is that it gives you the right to enter the game. It doesn’t mean you get to win the game.
If you want to win the game, Google needs to think you are the most relevant. They do this by evaluating the number, quality and relevance of links to your page.
Put simply, if you don’t promote your content and get people to talk about it, you won’t win the game. Period.
Now, go start winning.