There’s no question that getting a new site live and into the search index is a daunting task. And what if you don’t know the search engine optimisation (SEO) tips and tricks that will get your site to the top? Not understanding the best SEO practices can leave your site in the dark which means no one will know you even exist. No clicks, no visitors, no sales.
The reality is – SEO isn’t rocket science. Sure, mastering the subtle nuances takes time and effort, but the truth is you don’t need to spend years learning the fundamentals to optimise your site properly.
So if you’re just getting started with a new website, this post provides the basic guidelines to getting a solid SEO start.
At the end of the article, you’ll be able to download our checklist to guide you as you optimise your site.
But before we get started, let’s answer this vital question:
What are search engines looking for?
Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing want to direct users to websites and content that is relevant to what they’re searching for. But how is relevancy determined?
There are four main elements that search engines look at when determining which site is more relevant and should show up higher in search engine results pages (SERPs):
- Content: Is the content relevant to what the user is searching for?
- Performance: Does the site load fast and does it work properly?
- Authority: Is the content useful enough to link to or do other authoritative sites use that website as a reference or cite the information that’s available?
- User experience: How does the site look and behave? Is it easy to navigate around? Does it look safe? Does it have a high bounce rate?
These are the most important elements you need to focus on when optimising your site. Here are the vital SEO steps you need to follow to make sure your site has what search engines are looking for.
Step 1: Choose a great domain name
Choose the best possible domain name for your site. When selecting this important piece of digital real estate, think about:
- Spelling: If your company name can be easily misspelled, then it can be easily missed too. While many people will look online and probably find you if your SEO is right, many others will find out about you through word of mouth so if your domain name sounds a bit too much like something else, they could end up missing you. So make sure your domain name is short, easy to spell and easy to remember.
- Branding potential. It’s easier to build credibility and links to branded domains as people will take a yourcompany.uk more seriously than keyword-keyword.uk which looks spammy and isn’t fooling anyone. A branded domain can help build trust online and also increase the value of your content. When searching for your domain, use an advanced domain search tool like the one we have at 123-reg that allows you to check if the name you want is also available on social media sites.
- Keywords. Having keywords you’re trying to rank for in your domain isn’t as important as it used to be. In September 2012, Google released the Exact Match Domain (EMD) update to prevent those poor quality keyword-keyword-keyword.com sites from ranking well simply because they had their main keywords in their domain names. So while it can’t hurt to register a domain with a keyword in it, you shouldn’t stress over it.
Make sure you also read our 6 top tips for choosing a business name to find out what you should be focusing on when selecting the perfect name.
What if you decide to buy an old domain instead of a new one? That’s cool too but if you’re buying a domain that has been owned by someone else, make sure that its previous owner hasn’t done anything shady to cause the domain to get penalised. Find out more about buying pre-owned domains and how to make sure there aren’t any issues you might inherit.
Now that you have a domain, start building your site.
Step 2: Research the right keywords
Before you start adding content to your new site, you need to do keyword research to find out which words your audience is using when they’re searching for your products or services.
The biggest mistakes people make with keyword research are:
- Choosing keywords that are too broad or generic such as “boots”. Going with short, generic terms is not recommended when you’re just starting out, especially if you’re in an industry where there’s a lot of competition.
- Keywords without enough traffic. A long keyword like “cheap flat pink leather rain boots women” might be too specific and you might lose potential traffic.
- Keywords that don’t convert or that aren’t relevant to your business.
- Trying to rank for one keyword at a time.
Only by doing a proper keyword research can you uncover keywords that:
- Have a high search volume – these are the keywords or keyword phrases that your audience often uses to search for your type of business.
- Have low competition. Instead of going with generic search terms like “boots”, choose long-tail keywords that are more specific such as “women’s rain leather boots” or “women’s black leather boots”. A smaller amount of results means you are more likely to rank higher in SERPs.
- Are relevant to the content on your site.
Use Moz’s in-depth guide to learn how to do proper keyword research that can help you uncover the keywords you should be targeting. You can also do SEO competitor analysis to see what your competitors are doing in terms of optimising their sites.
Step 3: Craft your content
High quality content is the cornerstone of your interactions with customers and how sites achieve top rankings. By content we’re referring to anything you publish on your site that educates, attracts and delights customers, such as:
- Web page content
- Blog posts
- Ebooks, white papers, and reports
- Brochures, tips sheets, and frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Sales pages
- Pictures, infographics and more
So now you have your list of keywords, you need to start writing your content and optimise it. Search engines will crawl your website and try to figure out what it’s about and then decide which keywords each of your web pages should rank for.
However, while keywords are important, make sure you write for your visitors first, and then for search engines. Your content needs to be fresh and enticing, otherwise you won’t stand a chance converting visitors into customers. Don’t ever sacrifice the usefulness and persuasiveness of your content for SEO-friendly content.
When writing your content for both users and search engines, pay extra attention to:
- Titles. Write catchy titles that grab your visitors’ attention.
- Keywords. Include relevant keywords that will bring people to your site.
- Quality. Your content needs to be unique and purposeful. The reason people come to your site is because they’re searching for information, for a solution to a problem so make sure you can provide it to them so they don’t go elsewhere. Find out what Google sees as high quality content.
- Freshness. Add new content on a regular basis. You can create a blog where you constantly share information your visitors might find useful, or you can share ebooks or whitepapers.
- Length. According to a Moz post by John Doherty, there is a strong correlation between longer content and the number of links a post gained. So if you want to get more people to link to your content, it should have more than 500 words.
Step 4: Optimise your code
While writing content for people is very important, you need to pay attention to how you optimise your website’s code so search engines can read your content too.
Let’s look at how you can properly optimise your site’s code and help your site rank higher in search engines:
SEO-friendly URL structure
URLs are another important element but often overlooked. If your URLs have gibbering numbers and punctuation marks or if they’re not accessible, search engines will have a hard time crawling them. As a result, search engines won’t be able to index those pages which means they won’t rank in search engines.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to achieve an SEO-friendly site URL structure:
- Consolidate your www and the non-www domain versions. If you type in www.example.co.uk into your browser and then you type in just example.co.uk and the “non-www” version does not redirect to www.example.co.uk, that means that search engines are seeing two different sites which is considered duplicate content. This isn’t effective for your overall SEO efforts as it will dilute your inbound links, as external sites will be linking to www.example.co.uk and example.co.uk. So what you need to do is to set your preferred domain, whether with or without www, and implement 301 redirects for all other versions of your URL which will redirect visitors to your preferred domain. It doesn’t matter which URL version you choose as long as you are consistent with it. Here’s how to do a 301 redirect on any platform.
- Avoid dynamic URLs. Dynamic URLs are ugly and don’t say anything about what’s on your page. So instead of a www.example.co.uk/?p=3355474 you might want to use static URLs like www.example.co.uk/topic-name. Not only will visitors be able to figure out what the page is about just by looking at the URL but you can also include your keyword there.
- Use canonical tags. These tags tell search engine bots which pieces of content are the original and which are duplicates. This way the bot will pass over the duplicates and only index and give link credit to the primary piece. To specify the canonical URL, you need to add the rel=”canonical” tag into your URL. Find out how to add canonical tags.
- Create an XML sitemap. Sitemaps are like a roadmap for search engines. They include every page on your site, making sure search engine bots don’t miss anything. You can use tools like the XML Sitemap Creator to automatically create a sitemap for you. Once your XML sitemap is created, you should submit it to Google Webmaster Central and Bing so that search engines can crawl and index your website more easily.
The title tag
Each of your web pages needs to have a unique title tag that describes what that page is about. Pay attention to the title tag because it’s what people see in search engine results when they’re searching for your products or service. In addition, the title tag also shows up in posts shared on social media sites like Facebook, for example. So you not only need to include your main keyword in the title but you also have to make it enticing enough to convince people to click.
So, when you write your title tags, make sure you:
- Have a unique title tag for each page
- Add your keyword in the title
- Keep your title tag between 42 and 60 characters, including spaces. This is just an estimate because it’s no longer about the number of characters but about the number of pixels the characters occupy. To make sure your title isn’t cut off, try not to go over 60 characters.
The meta description tag
The meta description needs to summarise the content on your page because this too will show up in search engine results together with the title tag. While it won’t help you rank higher, a well-written meta description can have a big impact on whether users decide to click through or not so it should be written to “sell”.
When writing your meta description, make sure:
- You create a different one for each page
- It includes your keyword
- It’s between 100 and 150 characters, including spaces
- It includes a call-to-action that entices people to click.
To exemplify, let’s use the .uk domain page from the 123-reg website.
Here is how the title tag looks like in the source code:
<title>.UK domain registration | Order your own .uk from 123-reg</title>
And this is the source code for the meta description:
<metaname=”description”content=”Get a shorter and memorable web address for your UK based business with the new .uk domain name extension.”>
Now, if we run a search for “register .uk domain” on Google, this is what we find:
And if we share this page on Facebook, this is how it looks:
Heading tags are used to visually break up the content into sections (from a usability point of view) and to tell search engine spiders what that page is about.
In HTML coding the header tags from h1 to h6 form a hierarchy. This means that if you skip any of the tag numbers (ie. jump from 1 to 3) the heading structure will be broken, which is not good for on-page SEO.
The coding should be something like this:
<h2>Secondary Heading 1</h2>
<h3>Sub-section of the secondary heading 1</h3>
<h2>Secondary Heading 2</h2>
<h3>Sub-section of the secondary heading 2</h3>
For example, looking at the source code for our .uk domain page, this is how the headings are organised:
<h1>.UK domain names</h1>
<h2>Why is .uk ideal for you and your business?</h2>
<h2>Who can register .ukdomains?</h2>
<h2>Why register .uk domain names?</h2>
When it comes to headings, make sure you:
- Always have a h1 tag on each page but never more than one h1 tag
- Add relevant keywords in all your heading tags
Search engine bots can’t see images so you need to help them by adding an alt tag for each image. This alt tag acts as a short description of an image and it can also be a great place to use your keywords and help increase your chances of showing up in image search results.
However, make sure the alt text is relevant to the image. For example, you shouldn’t label an image of a dog with the alt text “affordable online marketing services in London” as it doesn’t make any sense. Don’t try to trick search engines this way, as it could hurt your SEO.
This is a markup I recommend using to protect your content. I have friends who have discovered that the entire content of their website, word-by-word, has been stolen and copied and pasted on other sites. A good way to tackle this issue and prevent your content being attributed to other sites is to implement the rel=”publisher” markup on your site. Find out how to implement the rel=”publisher” Google authorship markup.
Interlinking refers to linking on certain phrases or words within the body text of your pages, to other pages, where relevant. If you take a look at this blog post or any other post entry on the 123-reg blog, you’ll see that we often link to another one of our posts or to a specific page on the 123-reg website. Basically, we’re linking to other resources that are relevant to a specific topic and that we believe you might find useful.
Why is internal linking important?
- It helps guide users around your website, to other content they might be interested in.
- It helps search engines better understand the relevance of the content on that page.
- It can lower bounce rate. If a user lands on a page on your site and quickly finds a link to something they’re interested in, the chances are they will click on it rather than exit the site.
Here are a few interlinking mistakes you should avoid making:
- Always linking on the same keyword or keyword phrase in hopes that it will increase rankings for that keyword. This is over-optimisation and can harm your SEO. Instead, try to use variations of your keyword.
- Over linking. Don’t link every third word on every page to another page. Only add a link if it’s useful and relevant.
- Broken links. Make sure you always check the pages you’re linking to so that they’re functional.
Step 5: Technical setup
Set up and verify Google Analytics
You need to measure the effectiveness of your SEO efforts and see how your website is performing. How many visitors a month is your site attracting? Which pages are the most popular? How much time are they spending on your site? These are just a few of the things you can uncover by using an analytics tool so make sure you set up your analytics software now so you can start collecting data right away.
Google Analytics is a very good choice because it’s free, easy to set up and use, and provides loads of useful information about your visitors’ behaviour on your site.
Set up Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
The webmaster tools products from Google and Bing allow you to go more in depth and see things like:Who is linking to your site, what search terms are sending visitors to your site, whether your site has any issues that need to be fixed quickly, and more. Check out the beginner’s guide to Webmaster Tools to find out how to set it up and what valuable information you can find and use to improve your site.
Install an SEO plugin
If you have a WordPress website, make sure you install an SEO plugin to help you optimise your content. One of our favourites is Yoast. Why? Because it’s free, easy to use and packed with powerful features. Having an SEO plugin like this installed will help you meet all of the recommended SEO criteria while you become comfortable writing keyword-optimised content for your site.
The robotx.txt file contains instructions for search engines as to which pages of your site to ignore during the crawl. Basically, this file includes a list of commands, such as allow and disallow, that tells web crawlers which web pages they can or cannot retrieve. So, if a URL is disallowed in your robots.txt files, that URL and its contents won’t appear in Google search results.
Make sure you’re not stopping search engines from indexing your site. While some prefer to use the “disallow: /” command while their site is under construction, it’s important to remember to remove it once the site is ready to receive visitors.
Step 6: Build links
Links are an important ranking factor and continue to be a great indicator of what content is relevant and important.
However, it’s not about getting hundreds of links quickly but about getting quality and authority sites to link to your website. In 2014, your link building strategy should be about:
- Creating purposeful content (for example, guest posts or infographics) that is so useful and engaging that people want to link to it and share it with others.
- Promoting your content so that it reaches the right people who will be motivated to link to your content and share it online.
- Building relationships with influencers and convincing them that your content is of a high enough quality to share.
Find out more about the most effective link building tactics in 2014. And if you have some extra time on your hands, you could also read our post on how to build connections and mentions for your new site.
Step 7: Things to check post-launch
Usability is super-important for SEO and it also helps keep your visitors happy. Great user experience refers to a site that is easy to navigate through, with information that’s easy to find and useful.
Test your site’s usability yourself (or ask your friends), as if you were a customer. Check to make sure there aren’t more steps than necessary in the checkout process and that it’s easy to visitors to navigate through your site, to buy a product and to contact you.
Test your site speed
Site speed is an increasingly important ranking factor, so don’t forget to test your site’s speed and improve loading times if necessary. You can check the loading time for each of your web pages by using Google’s PageSpeed insights tool. If the speed is less than 90, you will need to make some changes such as optimising and compressing images, and eliminating white space in your site’s code and CSS files. At this time having a web developer is useful as you can send them a link to the site speed report and ask them to follow instructions supplied by Google in order to increase your pages’ loading time.
Check your mobile website
Having a website that works properly on all devices – desktops, tablets and smartphones – is extremely important. As mobile traffic is set to overtake desktop traffic, you need to make sure your site is mobile-ready and that there aren’t any issues. If by looking at your analytics you discover that a high percentage of your traffic comes from mobile or tablets, then you should make fixing mobile issues a priority.
Some extra resources you might find useful:
- Google’s search engine optimisation starter guide (PDF)
- How to rank guide from Moz
- Boost organic traffic with Google listings even if you’re not ranking #1
Your SEO checklist
You can download your SEO checklist here. Make sure to have it with you as you go about optimising your website.
If you follow these steps, you will see your traffic from search engines increase. But remember to be patient as it takes time for search engines to index your site and start ranking it.
Also, when it comes to SEO there aren’t any shortcuts. If you do anything shady to speed things up, you might get caught and get penalised, and it’s not worth it. The only thing you should focus on is creating a site that gives users what they’re looking for and optimising it for search engines so people can find it easier online.
The bottom line: It takes time and it’s a lot of hard work but if you stick with it and do it right, it does pay off.
What would you say is the most difficult task when optimising a new website? We’d love to hear from you so share your comments below.