Before implementing SEO techniques, you’ll need to investigate the search market in which you’re competing for prominent presence. The initial research you do – including keyword research, competitive analysis, and link-profile analysis – is the most important step in the SEO process.
Write down your goal.
Why are you doing this? Why do you want people to find your site? What words might people type into the search engines to look for your company? How many other companies are competing for exposure in your market?
Research your chosen keywords.
Use tools such as Google External Keyword Tool and Google Insights for Search to get a sense of the general terms common in your search market.
Using what you learned from your preliminary keyword research, record what you believe to be the best keywords.
Be sure to consider terms with a lot of search volume, and specific keywords that are precisely relevant to your company’s web presence.
Analyze the current search engine results pages (SERPs) for your keywords.
Investigate and get to know your competition. Who is ranking? What do they appear to be doing effectively – and ineffectively?
Create a list of your competitors.
Use the information gathered from the previous step to create a list of competitors. You’ll use this to figure out how other sites were able to get into your targeted SERPs.
Find the sources of your competitors’ links.
Find the sources of links your competitors have and record them. You can use Yahoo Site Explorer to accomplish this, or go to Yahoo.com and type in linkdomain:yourcompetitorsdomain.com — this command will display a list of websites which link to your competitor’s site.
Search for your site.
Use the site command on Google, Bing, and Yahoo to see if your site is indexed; for example: “site:yourdomain.com.” If your site is not indexed, you need to figure out what’s preventing the search engines from crawling it. Be sure to also search the title tags of your most important pages to see if and where they rank. Record your results.
Sign up and verify with Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools.
This is an important step that will be important later.
Let Google Analytics run for two weeks before doing any SEO.
This will allow analytics to collect data and will provide you with a baseline. You should screen capture the relevant pages so you can track how your work has positively (or negatively) affected the site.
Evaluate the visual design of your site.
If the site drives people away, no amount of SEO efforts will help. If it doesn’t look good, find well-designed sites in your niche and learn from what they did right.
Check compatibility between browsers.
Visit your site using Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Remember to do this on both a Mac and a PC. You need to make sure your website renders correctly and won’t drive away users.
Create a new e-mail address specific to the site you are working on.
Use this address for all e-mails pertaining to your project. This is especially important for link building.
Look at your HTML code and optimize all of the SEO-related tags.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Primary objective should be achievable from the home page
• Keyword in title tag (unique for each page, include keywords)
• Keyword in H1 on each page
• Keyword in text
• Optimize URL architecture (www.website.com/birds/eagle instead of www.website.com/allanimals/?type=bird&species=eagle)
• Use 301 redirects if you rename pages.
• Information architecture — as few clicks as possible
• On relevant images, include keywords in alt tags and in filenames
• Nofollow appropriate links
Decide if you need a meta description.
Modern search engines are great at scanning the text of websites and displacing applicable snippets based on user queries. You’ll need to decide if you wish to rely on the algorithm or create your own description. We recommend that you make your own meta description for your home page and let the search engines figure out the rest. Remember, the purpose of making your own description is to convince potential customers to click on your link in the SERPs. So make it convincing and use your keywords.
Add your company address and phone number.
This information is essential to local search, so be sure to add it to every page. The search engines are smart enough to detect address and phone number formats. It’s recommended that you add the data to the footer of all of your pages in the following format (example is for an American company):
1111 11th Pl NE
City, State, Zip
Add a robots.txt.
This is important for two reasons. First, it allows you to specify exactly which pages major search engines can crawl. Second, by including a robots.txt, it makes tracking search engines easier because they always download the file before navigating your site. This characteristic differentiates the SEs from human visitors.
Add your business and website to the major search engines’ local listings.
This is paramount, since local search is likely to drive the majority of your traffic. These are the most important places to submit:
• Yahoo Local
• Google Local
• Bing Local
• Ask City
• CitySearch (data on this site feeds Ask.com and Live)
• Yelp (data on this site feeds Live and Yahoo)
Add your website to industry-specific directories.
To find the relevant directories for your industry, use the list of link sources you created earlier. Also, you can try searching for “(your local city name) business directory” and “(your industry) directory.” Be sure to record which directories you add your site to and the usernames and passwords you use. You should use the e-mail address you created earlier for directory registrations. Keep in mind that you must always think about maintaining your personal security.
Try to get the links your competitors have already acquired.
Use the list of link sources you generated from Yahoo Site Explorer and try to acquire links from those sources. This may be as simple as submitting a form or as cumbersome as e-mailing webmasters to find out their link-addition policies. Always try to get your keywords in your link anchor text.
Get more links.
Scour the Internet to find other sites that might want to link to your site (site:website.com “submit a link”). Remember the importance of the source of your links and the anchor text used. Acquiring many links from spammy sites with bad anchor text will help you far less than having a single link from an authoritative site with excellent keyword anchor text. Search engines like to see local links pointing at locally targeted websites.
Decide if utilizing social media sites is advantageous.
Is your business in an industry that could actively participate in social media? If so, don’t be spammy and be sure to contribute only quality and appropriate content. It’s much more expensive for a business to
fix a ruined online reputation than it is for a standard user. You may
also want to consider adding your business to professional networks such as Linkedin.
Create and submit sitemaps.
Create an xml sitemap, then log in to Google Webmaster Central and submit it.
Optimize your site from Google’s side.
Log in to Google Webmaster Tools and click on the tools menu. You’ll need to set the correct geographical target and preferred domain. In addition, you must decide if you want to enable image search. It may drive traffic to your site but the traffic likely won’t be useful.
TRACK AND IMPROVE
Take a monthly screenshot of Google SERPs for your targeted keywords and use rank tracking tools to maintain a sense of your organic reach. A screenshot is an easy way to gather a lot of information and is easier than categorizing, consolidating, and maintaining complex spreadsheets. The image files contain data showing when they were taken, so they’re easy to organize.
Create and maintain a spreadsheet of your rankings.
Be sure to update it monthly so you’re always aware of how you rank.
Continue to make changes, build links, and record your results.
This step will never be completed. You should strive to become number one on all your SERPs and get so far ahead of your competitors that they won’t be able to compete.
Charlie Ellis, is the SEO and web analytics specialist at MDG Advertising where he directs link-building, competitive analysis, digital brand development, and social media initiatives. His ability to articulate resonant marketing messages with power and authority complements his ability to simplify technical SEO skills into actionable insights. He has contributed to several advanced SEO panels at SES, PubCon, SMX East, and IMSB.