This article provides an overview of what is involved when optimizing a website for SEO. For each area of work, I explain why you need to do it and how you can do it. If you follow all 11 steps outlined here, you should see your website traffic increasing over months from organic traffic.
If you have any questions about this, please reach out to me using the contact form or leave comments at the bottom.
1. Register your business with Google My Business
If you haven’t already, you should register your business with Google through Google My Business. This tells Google “Hey! I’m here and this is my business!” Once registered, your business will start showing up on Google searches and Google Maps. According to comScore’s 2016 Mobile App Report, Google Maps was the 4th most popular mobile app in 2016 by the number of unique visitors.
Keep in mind that Google needs to verify your business. Once you start the registration, you will need a verification code to complete. Google will send the verification code via postcard and it may take 5-10 business days for the postcard to arrive.
2. Create a sitemap and submit it to Google
Sitemap contains a list of all pages on your website and it is used to tell everyone what’s on your website. There are two types of sitemap: one that is intended for visitors and another one for machines like Google search engine, also known as the XML version.
For SEO purpose, you should at least have the XML version of your sitemap available. Once it is available, you can submit it to Google through Google Webmasters. Once submitted, Google will parse the sitemap file and start crawling all the pages and content on your website. Google will also frequently check the sitemap file for updates. So the sitemap is a must-have for all websites!
3. Register your website with local directories
There are many local directories where you can publish your business information. These include YellowPages, Infogroup, Acxiom, InsiderPages, and CitySearch. Search engines like Google and Bing will use these local directories to look for any consistency or inconsistencies. More consistent your information is – business name, phone number, address, website URL are all same across all directories – the better you will do on SEO.
You can use Moz Local to keep track of your business information across all local directories from one single source. You pay annual fee to use their service. But if you don’t want to pay, you can see use Moz Local to see how consistent your information is across the board and then manually update each directory yourself.
4. Research and use the right keywords
A lot of people mistake keyword with their business name. They think that their potential customers will use the exact business name on Google and find their business. If I have a business called “Seong’s Cafe” selling fruit smoothies, people who have never been to my cafe will not search for “Seong’s Cafe” on Google. They will likely search for “fruit smoothies in Tysons” or “best fruit smoothies in Tysons.”
What keywords to target all depends on the types of products and services you provide, industry you are in, and the market you are going after. For example, if you are a fruit smoothie distributor targeting businesses or individual interested in starting a fruit smoothie business, then you may want to target long-tail keywords like “how much does a fruit smoothie machine cost?” or “how to start a fruit smoothie business”
5. Ensure you have meta tags filled out
Meta tags describe what each page of your website is about. There are many meta tags but the ones you should have at minimum are page title and page description for each page of your website. So make sure that each page has unique and descriptive page title and description and also the keywords are present in those.
In addition, make sure to use a descriptive URL, H1 tags, and image ALT fields to reinforce your target keywords.
6. Optimize website for speed
There has been many studies published in last few years that looked at correlation between how fast a website loads and the visitor’s length of stay on the website. The bottom line is people do not want to stay on a website that loads slow. If so, they will simply go to the next website from Google results.
The general rule of thumb is that your website should load in two seconds. Two to four seconds is acceptable – but won’t give you competitive advantage over others whose website loads in one second – and anything at five or more is a serious issue.
7. Optimize for mobile devices
According to a mobile search report from hitwise, almost 60% of all searches were being done on mobile devices in 2016. I’m pretty sure this number will go up in coming years.
If you are using WordPress for your website, it is likely that the template you are using is already mobile-friendly. That may have been enough a few years ago but this landscape is continuously changing. How about images? Are they optimized for mobile devices? How about forms? Are they easy to fill out from small screens? Are the buttons easy to click?
You can test how mobile-friendly your website is by using their Mobile-Friendly Test.
8. Add new content and do it frequently
For each piece of content you add to your website, it’s an opportunity to tell the world about you or your business and increase traffic to your website. Blog is a great way to do so and I highly recommend it to our clients. It doesn’t have to be perfect, detailed, or fancy. As long as you are being honest with what you put out, and explain why you are writing it or why people should read it, it will do the job.
Also, when you publish new content, make sure to add keywords in meta tags as described above as well as internal & external links and images to reinforce the keywords. Blog posts can be short but writing it on a regular basis is important.
9. Share your content on social media
This is not a rocket science and maybe you are already sharing your content on social media. If so, keep up the great job. Regardless, keep in mind that Facebook and Twitter are not the only social media channels available. There are also Instagram, Linkedin, Google Plus, Pinterest, and YouTube. Each channel has its own distinct demographics and they will all help get your word out and generate traffic back to your site.
We recommend our clients to use their website as the central place to add content and then share on social media as opposed to adding content on social media directly. This is better because once they are on the website, they can view other pages, and also because you can track metrics such as conversions on your website.
10. Create external links
This is probably the most challenging part of SEO – having links pointing back to your site, your blog post, or anything on your site. While everything explained above is done by you and you have a complete control over them – it’s your website and you can do whatever you want – it isn’t easy asking others to create links back to your site since it is them who have to add links back to your site. Even if you do, there is a limit to how many people you can reach out and ask to create links for you.
However, what I’ve seen in the past that worked well with getting external links pointing back at you are:
- Guest blogging at other sites and creating links back to your site
- Creating a detailed step-by-step tutorial or guide to something useful in your industry
- Publishing a new study or findings that’s beneficial to businesses in your industry – whitepapers, case studies, etc.
- Creating quality content that is unique and focuses on a specific and detailed topic
Like the old saying goes, it’s easier said than done. Blogging itself is not for everyone – I found that out myself – and let alone creating quality, unique content or industry-specific step-by-step tutorial! But if you can find a great content strategist or a public relations firm, it will make the job much easier.
11. Migrate your site to SSL
In this original blog post from Google back in 2014, Google announced that they will give a boost to websites using a secure connection. For those who are not familiar with what this is, it is basically using HTTPS in place of HTTP in the URL. That extra S at the end means that the communicate between your website and visitors are encrypted through Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS).
Without going into too much details, it basically means that Google favors websites that are secure. If your website runs on HTTP and not on HTTPS, it is NOT secure. I’ve written a detailed blog article explaining why you must have your website on secure connection. Please keep in mind that migrating to secure website is not an easy task and you must consult an experienced web developer or reach out to your hosting company for help.
Hopefully this article has been helpful in giving you an overview of what takes place under the hood when a website goes through SEO optimization. It takes time and effort to succeed with SEO and start getting that organic traffic flowing into your website. But based on our experience, organic traffic from keyword searches had following benefits over other channels:
- Higher average time on site
- Lower bounce rate
- Higher conversion rate
Thank you for taking time to read this blog post and please let me know if you have any questions.