You know the old carpenters’ saying, “Measure twice, cut once”? We all know it’s good to have a clear-cut plan in the beginning so things don’t have to be redone later. This does not just apply to carpentry, but it’s also true when you are working with website content and making an SEO plan. When launching a brand new site, or a revamp, it’s a good idea to have a well thought out SEO plan in place. Although search engines are always changing and SEO is ongoing work, it’s great to launch with a good base to compare future efforts. Then you can analyze your results as the site gets more established.
There are a lot of components when it comes to SEO. It’s not just one single effort that makes an impact, so it’s important to think of things holistically. Search engines can be unpredictable, and it takes a lot of work and effort to get to the top. There are so many nuances when it comes to SEO, so here a few tips to get you started with your launch plan.
1. Plan titles and meta data
Page titles are important to search engines and makes it clear to the user what the page content is all about. It’s very important that each page has a unique page title. Here is a sample format:
<title>Descriptive title goes here | Optional Category | Your Website</title>
Meta descriptions and keyword tags aren’t seen as something that necessarily affects rankings, but it’s still good practice to include them and search engines appreciate them. This is the text that is shown in the search result description, meaning this is the snippet users read to decide if they want to go to your site or not. Make sure that descriptions accurately reflect the page’s content and make sure that the description is unique for each page.
<meta name="description" content="This is your description. Make sure it accurately reflects the content on the page."/>
2. Check sitemap accuracy
Take a quick moment or two to look over your sitemap and make sure it is in the correct directory. Locations can vary, but chances are it belongs in the root directory. If you do not have one or want to learn more about creating a sitemap, it’s easy to get one set up. Sitemaps are important because they give search engines information about the URLs and they list the pages of a website.
Once the sitemap is set up, make sure it is connected with Google Webmaster tools, which then is crawled periodically by Google. Within Webmaster tools, you will see useful information listing statistics about how and when your website was indexed.
3. Detailed markup
Schema is basically an extra detailed rich snippet of HTML markup, often referred to as microdata. Although it is not a guarantee, it can have positive effects, and many have reported that this helped their rankings. It helps with searches and getting quality content to users. This markup makes it easier for search engines to parse and interpret the information and therefore serve relevant results to users based on their search queries.
This extra detail helps users make a more informed choice about the content that they are seeking. If it seems relevant to what they are searching for, it is good content that they intended and they will find what they expect. In general, being trustworthy and relevant will yield results when it comes to rankings.
Please note, this is not a quick fix or trick. It is worth investing time into it and making it a best practice so search engines can display your content and your users can find what they are looking for.
It looks something like this:
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Movie"> <h1>Movie Title</h1> <span>Director: Firstname Lastname (born month day, year)</span> <span>Genre</span> <a href="../movies/movie-link.html">Trailer</a> </div>
Be sure to check out schema.org to get markup ideas for other scenarios.
4. Plan content so it is unique on every page
You’re probably used to the DRY method in web design. The same goes for content – Don’t Repeat Yourself. Search engines like unique content, not duplicate content. The reason is that if there is duplicate content, search engines get confused. Content should not be “borrowed” from other sources or repeated on multiple pages. The don’t know which pages to include or exclude, which pages have more authority, or which should rank of content is the same.
Duplicate content may occur within page content, but as sites get larger, it’s also good to keep an eye on URL names. Sometimes tags and categories are culprits for duplicate URL names. URL naming should stay consistent and most importantly, all URLs should be unique.
5. 301 Redirects
Are you migrating old content to your new site? If so, you’re bound to have some redirects. Rather than just leaving old, unnecessary pages to fend for themselves, redirects send users to the new and improved page. Also, this lets the search engine know that you care enough and are paying attention to redirect old content. New pages will then be crawled and indexed and there is no need to worry about the old pages anymore.
There are different types of redirects. 301 redirects are used for new content purposes. You are telling search engines to pass the old rankings from the previous page to the new page. Taking a look at each page individually is important while also making sure that old links are redirecting to a page with similar content. Just redirecting all the old pages to the homepage is not a very good experience for your users. 301 redirects also benefit you because if you were ranking for any of the previous pages, you’ll pass that along to the new page.
What happens if redirects are overlooked? In some cases, it will have little effect on your SEO, but in some cases it could have a very noticeable effect, which is not good. The old pages that are not redirected will drop out of the rankings. If there are a lot like this, it does not look good to search engines and it could result in loss of rankings and traffic.
6. Give your site good content
This is the most important tip, but also the most difficult! That’s okay because it is a great challenge that will have great rewards. There is not a quick way to magically increase your rankings. It takes time and effort, but there is a lot of opportunity. Every page should be high quality, and yes, keywords are important, but it really is the quality that will serve you for the long haul.
You’re the expert, so now it’s time to shine. Here are some important content questions to ask:
- Will it help your users?
- Is it valuable and shareable?
- Is it original?
- Would you consider it to be thought provoking content?
It’s great to have the resources to produce a lot of content, but that is not always realistic. It’s better to produce less, but good quality content, than a lot of mediocre content.
When you have great content, how do you utilize its maximum potential? What types of content do you want to provide? We often think of content as pages that we read and write, but that’s only part of what can be provided. What about infographics, videos, podcasts, and photos?
7. Create a landing page
Even if you are not ready to launch, it doesn’t hurt to get something up beforehand. The sooner something is available, the better. Search engines like domains that have been around awhile. It doesn’t have to be anything too complex. A “coming soon” homepage with your contact information, compelling call to action, and an optional form will do. Also, if available, premium content in exchange for contact information has the potential to help you in your future efforts. Make your call to action count because these new contacts are a great way to build up your email list.
8. Publicize your content
What good is fantastic content if there’s no one to share it with? The more your users share it, the better. Share the content on your blog, email communications, social media outlets, and with other bloggers. You are adding trust with your community, which has a trickle down effect to the trust of search engines. By creating content that your audience wants to consume, you’ll build trust in your community and expand your following, and get your users hooked. Even before the launch, getting indexed and getting backlinks from other sources will give you a head start on your SEO efforts.
We’ve only scratched the surface of planning your SEO strategy. These ideas will serve you well before and after your site launch. There is no quick way to increase your rankings, it takes strategy and hard work. Thinking of your users first, and keeping the a focus on creating high-quality content is the single most important thing you can do.