Are you one for New Year’s resolutions? I’m not usually. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about search engine optimization (SEO), and I have some suggestions for webmasters or marketers who aren’t sure whether their website is well optimized. Here are 12 suggestions that you can use to make your website more attractive to search engines – not because there are exactly 12 actions that will ensure your website will be found and recommended by search engines, but because there are 12 months in the year.
In order to get this out the door (posted to the blog) sometime this week, I’m going to break this into two parts. Six suggestions are below, and six will follow in part 2 of this SEO series.
Why SEO matters
But first, let me indulge in a word of advice: If you think you don’t need to worry about search-engine traffic to your website, you’re wrong. If you want people to see your website, SEO matters to you. That’s even true in the association and non-profit worlds; you might think you have a captive audience, but you don’t. Even among members who pay dues or make contributions to your group, you have many, many people who turn to Google (or Bing or Yahoo! or…) when they’re looking for information – even information they could get from you.
Try this experiment: Look at your website analytics and find out what terms people are using to find your site from search engines. I’ll bet that your organization’s name or acronym is among those terms. What does that mean? It means that even when people know they are looking for you, they often go to their favorite search engine to find you. So believe me when I say: Everyone has competitors for their audience’s time and attention, and everyone with a website should be paying attention to search optimization.
Your SEO challenge
Try this for a New Year’s resolution: Tackle one of the following challenges each month this year (remember, six are here, six coming in part 2). If you do, chances are you’ll be getting more traffic from search engines at the end of 2013 than you are now, at the beginning.
- Violations and Accessibility: I’d like to start you out strategically, but in this case tactical might be best. Start by making sure you’re not doing anything that could get your website banned from search engines. Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors lists six key violations that can get your site penalized or even banned from search engines, and offers details to explain each. Audit your site to make sure you’re not guilty of any of these violations.
- KPIs: Define – or review, if you already have them – your website’s search KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Seem simple? Maybe. But actually this should take some strategic thinking. Typically, these relate to total traffic, traffic referred from search engines, and average ranking for your site’s keywords. Given the growing importance of your social media reputation as a factor in search rankings, I would suggest KPIs related to either shares on or traffic referred from social media sites. SEOMOZ offers some good recommendations to get you started. Once you’ve defined your KPIs, measure each one and create a report you can use to track them over time. Use this to benchmark your site before you continue with your search optimization efforts.
- Keywords: Define or review your target keywords – the words and phrases for which you are trying to boost your search rankings. These should be pertinent to your community/market, and specific enough to make sure the audience searching on them is the right audience for you. (My favorite example: If you are a printer or printing supplier, it might be better to target “lithography tools,” “lithography services” or even “lithography [name of your city or state],” rather than just “lithography,” which could relate to either commercial printing or fine art).
- Webmaster Tools: Make sure your website is set up to use both Google and Bing webmaster tools. This provides you a whole suite of tools and reports that can help to improve your website. Start with Google; it really is the giant. But you don’t want to optimize only for Google because you don’t want to be so dependent on one search engine that a change in its algorithm can become a game-stopper for your site.
- Site Map: Make sure you have a site map in place on your site, and that it is accessible to search engines. It should provide paths for search crawlers to find all of your content. The best approach may be an XML site map, which Google Webmaster Tools can help you build.
Bonus Challenge: You’ll earn extra points if you also provide your site map to website visitors in a format that is usable and easy to read. Link this into your website’s footer as a utility to help visitors find the content on your website. But don’t forget to keep it updated as you expand your site.
- Unique Page Titles (and Metatags): Audit your website to make sure that every page has a unique page title, both on the page and in the metadata. Page titles should be both descriptive and concise. It’s best to use your website keywords in them where appropriate, but avoid keyword stuffing. If you have a large website and need some help auditing the titles, the HTML suggestions page in Google Webmaster Tools lists missing or potentially problematic
<title>tags on your site.
That will get you started. Once you’ve worked your way through all of these tasks, move on to part 2 of this SEO series, where you’ll find more tips to help you fulfill your New Year’s resolution on optimizing your website for search engines. I’m also working on some posts about specific SEO tricks and tasks to help you implement these resolutions, so stay tuned.