What has ensued is an almost 20 year-long battle of wits between website managers and Google where the one tries to find ways to game the system and the other tries to keep the system changing fast enough to avoid being gamed.
The constantly changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is what makes it hard to write a beginner’s guide post. If you happen to search online for advice, be sure to check the time stamp of posts and comments. Anything written before last year will be woefully outdated and useless to you.
That said, we’ve broken down the three stages of some rather timeless SEO advice that you can use to get yourself started. (Wondering why you should even bother? This is why SEO still matters.)
Before you create your website – take time to think about keywords and focus
In the day and age of start-ups, it’s so tempting to throw all caution to the wind and launch a business before taking the time to think it through. You come up with an idea, hit on the “perfect” name (hastily scribbled on a cocktail napkin), buy the URL, and throw up a website. BAM. You’re in business.
Well, hold up, tiger. That’s not quite how it works. In fact, that’s a great way to fail.
The start-up pace might be fast and you might be excited to get the ball rolling, but you still need to take the time to plan a few things out before you get to the website phase of your launch.
First, pick a good name. Yes, the one on your cocktail napkin can be a contender, but it can’t be the only one you consider.
Second, decide what your company is going to focus on doing.
While the SEO game no longer hinges on how many keywords you can stuff onto your home page and in your meta description (In fact, don’t do either of these things. You’ll be heavily penalized by Google.), taking some time to figure out what keywords are most relevant to your business idea will help you in the long run.
Gather some key people in a room and spend some time brainstorming keywords and focus. Not only will this help you with your SEO efforts, but it’ll also ensure that you’re all on the same page about goals and objectives before you get started.
Make a note of your top 6 keywords and set them aside.
Do a quick search to see who else is competing in that space. Can you out perform them? Can you find keywords that might set you apart just enough to make a difference?
Not sure you have the right keywords? Describe your business to a few of your ideal customers and ask them how they would search online for what you offer. Tweak your selected keywords accordingly.
Setting up your website
Now that you have a great name and know your focus, it’s finally time to start working on your website. Whether you’ve decided to do the work yourself or you’ve hired a website designer, the next part will be the same.
The goal of great Search Engine Optimization is to make sure that people searching for your site and your company find it. It’s also to help people who have no idea that you exist find you when they search for what you offer. To that end, your website design and content have to make it easy for search engine bots to know what it is you are selling.
When you set up you site make sure:
Each page of you site has a concise and relevant title.
Each page of your site has a clear, concise, relevant meta description that is between 150 and 160 characters long. This will be what Google and other search engines show as the description on their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), so make sure it does a good job of describing what the page is about.
Every photo on your website has a concise and relevant title and ALT tag. Potential clients might not see these, but search engine bots use the information to serve up pertinent results to searches.
Each page of your site has one H1 tag that speaks to what the page is about. Just one so the search engines don’t get confused.
You stay on topic at all times. Your website content should always be focused and on point so visitors and search engines never get confused.
You consistently deliver good, original content; new search algorithms are designed seek out sites that offer great original content and information.
After your website is live and business has launched
You’re not done with your SEO efforts once you’ve set up your website with the right meta descriptions, H1 tags, and great information. In fact, we could argue you’re only just getting started. The work we did in #2 is the foundation for the SEO work you’ll be doing after.
Setting up a blog for your website makes it easy to keep delivering great, pertinent useful content on a regular basis. It keeps your site fresh and gives search engines consistent updates to share all while giving potential or existing clients a reason to come back to your site often and to share what you’re doing with their personal networks. Make sure that your website’s blogging platform is equipped with an SEO plugin so that you can add the correct meta tags and information to each post you create.
Social media updates are another way to stay active in the SEO game. Search engine bots crawl social sites for mentions of companies and links back to products or articles. The more mentions a company gets, the more a search engine will consider that company relevant and important and the higher they will show in the SERPs.
These few tips will help you get started, but they’re only scratching the surface of the SEO iceberg. As you grow you might want to consider hiring an SEO expert to help you understand even more or to even take care of your company’s SEO needs for you.