SEO Game Plan

Having a fantastic website is good, but having people find it is even better.

For most websites, the bulk of their traffic come from Google. While no one can guarantee top placement on Google, there is a lot that one can do to improve the way both users and search engines rate your site.

The first point that Google makes again and again and again, is that you should focus on improving your site for users, not the search bots. That makes sense, because Google wants to deliver the best results for site users.

So focus on content. You want to generate quality content, and do it often.

Oh, and get a trusted professional to develop your website or online store.

Assuming all that is in place, the things you need to do to get the best possible results can be sorted into the following groups:

  1. Initial site configuration
  2. Things to do when creating content
  3. Ongoing link and reputation building

This guide is not intended to be exhaustive, but do this and you will be well ahead of the vast majority of sites.

Initial Site Configuration

A lot of this is work for the developer, but it also affects things like copy text, your choice of pages and web host selection.

  1. List the site on Google. And Bing. And a few more. Yes, I know this is obvious, but it’s where it all starts. And while Google is completely dominating the market, there are some regional and demographic differences. You should cast the web wider and it’s not a lot more work. Definitely get it on Bing.
  2. List the site on Google. Maps, that is. If you have a physical presence, you should have a proper entry on Google Maps, which links back to your website. Make the entry as complete as possible, including contact detail and business hours. This is also a great time to start looking at local business directories and other sites that will list your business for free. Some of these rank quite highly. While links from these types of sites are not always the best quality, think of them as giving you a foot in the door.
  3. Leverage your existing presence. Even if you never had a website before, many businesses already have some sort of presence on the web. This could be in the form of customer reviews, mentions on social media or even published interviews with people now associated with the business. Whatever it is, you can often get a quick leg-up by linking your website address with sites that already mention the business or individuals linked to it. And if you have ever published on-topic articles on other websites, it’s often worth exploring ways to get links from those sites.
  4. Create a sitemap. Once Google indexes your site, you want it to easily find every valid link. The sitemap is a structured document that lists the pages you want to expose, when they were last modified, how frequently you expect them to change and how important they are relative to other pages on your site. This obviously makes life easier for the search indexers and while nothing forces Google to follow your instructions, it gives you some direct input over how your site is seen.
  5. Create a robots.txt. Whereas the sitemap mostly tells web indexers what is in, the robots.txt tells them what is out. Yes, it’s important to exclude some pages. Perhaps some of them are only used in the context of other pages. Perhaps some contain mostly duplicated content. You can also limit specific web crawlers, but again: nothing forces Google to follow your instructions.
  6. Make it fly. Google is on record that faster pages get preferential treatment. The great thing about that, is that users feel the same!
  7. Go stateless. Cookies are valuable, but should not be absolutely required to make the site work and the content accessible. While it is unclear how or to what extent Google use cookies while indexing, they are actually on record to say that Googlebot works mostly stateless.
  8. Think mobile first. In many parts of the world, Internet traffic from smartphones now outstrip that from traditional computers. If your site doesn’t work well on mobile, you will probably get penalised on mobile searches and it may even affect you on the desktop as well. And don’t even think of creating a separate site for mobile; if someone shares a link to that killer post of yours, you absolutely want the link to work, irrespective of where it gets opened from.
  9. Use human-friendly URLs. Every page on your site should have a readable URL. URLs that contain only numbers or gibberish is bad for users, and doesn’t help web indexers match your page to topics either. Ideally, you should have a few carefully-selected keywords that relate directly to the content on the page. This is important to note, because the default WordPress URL scheme use only page numbers.

Things to Do When Creating Content

  • Create content. Again, starting with the obvious, but a site that contains very little, will be linked to very seldom. It’s important to create content and do it often and consistently. Not everyone can churn out spectacular work twice a week, but if you pick a schedule and stick with it, over time that body of work will grow and become more and more valuable.
  • Make it good. It’s not important for every post to be life-altering or award-winning, but it’s definitely worth spending a bit more time if you need to. To ensure quality, research what you want to talk about, pay attention to grammar, spelling and tone, and stay on topic. And spice it up as appropriate. Perhaps legal advice should not be humorous, but a lot of content can benefit from a picture, quote or quip.
  • Keep it good. Revisit your popular posts from time to time and update it for new ideas, research, technology, features, legislation or anything else that could improve it.
  • Link to your own stuff. For each post, try to include links to a few of your own related posts. You definitely don’t want the links to be annoying, but if you add the link in a natural way, go for it.
  • Keywords matter. Again, don’t create posts that are just there to list a lot of keywords, but – where natural – try to use keywords in the body text, link text and headings.
  • Let the world know. When you’ve written something, tell your mum! And while you’re at it, tell everyone else as well. Once you’re done sharing, that’s when you start looking at link building.

Ongoing Link And Reputation Building

  • Find link opportunities. If you can find similarly-themed posts that were heavily linked to, it’s often worth reaching out to some of the sites that linked to them. If your post is good enough, topical and not too similar, you could pick up some high-quality links.
  • Syndicate. Many large sites offer syndication opportunities for the right content. Even if they don’t offer links back to the original article, it could still raise your site’s profile or provide links to your other posts or social media profiles.
  • Play off the ball. Not every opportunity to build presence arise from your content itself. Community and forum sites are fertile grounds for building your presence and even for getting links to your articles out there. If you’re going to be sharing links, this is a great opportunity for restraint. The last thing you want is to come across as spamming the conversations, or disrespecting the community. Instead of just dumping the link and moving on, an in-forum summary with a link for those who’d like more detail is much more valuable. The link in the forum is not what you’re interested in, but instead the links that you get as a result of people going to your site because they found your summary helpful.
  • Advertise. Paying for Google Ads won’t get you more links, but being careful about keyword selection could yield links in the same way community sites can. Use the ads to get noticed, and your content to earn links.

For all of these, one can go into a lot more detail, but these strategies are doable, proven and represent best practice. Some companies promise instant results by using underhanded tactics, but those are much more likely to cause harm over the long term.

Ten very high quality links will always outweigh thousands of low quality, spammy links. That’s true for Google and people alike. And ultimately, it’s the people we’re doing this for, right?