Many friends have asked me for advice on optimizing their site for search engines so I thought I’d put together some notes here collecting the advice I’ve handed out recently.
1. The first thing to do is to get a Google analytics account and add the tracking code to all your pages. Unless you are measuring your current site’s performance you’ll never know how much you’ve managed to improve it.
2. If your site is a simple static site consider whether it would be better to create it using a content management system like WordPress than to try to do it yourself in HTML using Notepad (or some better tool). WordPress will mostly do the right thing for you in terms of building a search engine optimized site.
3. Next, go to Google Adwords and figure out what keywords you should care about. Start with the keyword phrases you think people might use to find your site and then use their keyword tools to expand those phrases to generate lists of keywords and their related volumes. Look at the local search volume for local services or the global numbers.
4. Use the Google Adwords downloadable keyword tool to generate a CSV of all the ones that make some sense to you or if you prefer a more graphical approach, try my SEO Keyword Search tool which can give you an idea about how they are related and how important each is.
5. Armed with a list of keyword phrases sorted by volume you are now ready to start crafting pages for your site that will be found by people using Google, but before you start writing pages, check your domain name. Is it really the best domain name for what you are offering. Sure it’s nice to have a fancy company name and a domain name that matches but will people be finding you by word of mouth or will they in fact be using search engines, email links, links from other web pages, …? If you plan to be the next Amazon.com one day, go ahead and use your fancy company name, otherwise, consider naming your site something highly functional that includes the keywords you want to be found using.
6. Make a plan for how you will map keywords to pages. How many pages do you need? What words should be optimized on each page?
7. Build your site pages. For each page, make a note (comment in HTML maybe) of the keywords for which you are optimizing that page. I suggest putting them in the HTML so you remember never to change them by accident. Using those keywords create an URL for the page, a Title, an H1 heading and ideally some bold text and some images with ALT text including those keywords. Create a meta keywords tag including just those words (arguably search engines mostly ignore the keywords meta tag now). Create a meta description that is actionable because this is likely to be the line your customers see in Google – use verbs, explain why your page is interesting, encourage them to click through to you. Don’t use the same description on every page on you site, make it relevant to the page it is on.
8. If you ever move a page that has been indexed, be sure to use a 301 redirect to transfer the user to the new page and to tell the search engines where to go.
9. Make sure all your pages are accessible through links on the site. A site map down the bottom of the page listing all the pages on your site is a good way to do this.
10. Use Google.com/Webmasters to check your site for mistakes.
11. Update your site frequently so that Google thinks that it’s newsworthy and so that they index you more often.
12. Consider putting your blog on your site (or using WordPress make blog and site the same thing with Pages and Posts as appropriate).
13. Get the free tools from SeoMoz, use them to check each page of your site to make sure you have URL, Title, H1, B tags all containing the keywords for that page. Make sure your meta description tag is what you’d want the user to see if they found your page in Google.
14. Once your site is keyword optimized now it’s all about inbound links from relevant sites but only ones that aren’t ‘nofollow’ on their links. SeoMoz has a toolbar for Firefox that will show you whether links on a page are nofollow. Visit relevant sites where you can comment and include a link back to your site. If SeoMoz shows the link backs in pink, don’t bother commenting, go find somewhere else that will give you some credit for your work in crafting relevant comments.
15. Do not pay for any links from directory sites or otherwise. Google and Bing discount them and may even penalize you for doing them.
16. Do list your business on Bing and Google local business listings
17. Some of the free press release sites and article sites can be worthwhile – write some articles and seed them, but check them with SeoMoz first to see if the links are marked ‘nofollow’.
18. Don’t do anything “black hat”! No hidden white text just for the search engines, no cloaking, no browser detection to show different content, …