2018’s almost here, and search engine traffic will continue to play a growing part in nearly all businesses’ success in the months to come.
Why? Because the vast majority of people perform research online before making a big purchase, and more often than not they’re turning to search engines to get started. 43% of all website traffic comes from SERP (search engine results page) referrals. And thanks to ad-blocking and things like ad blindness, people are 8.5 times more likely to click on a result that appears organically on the SERP compared to a paid ad.
Even small, local businesses have a strong incentive to ensure they follow at least some recommended SEO best practices. Reportedly, 56% of all mobile searches come from people looking for information on local businesses, such as its address, phone number, directions to get there, business hours, reviews, etc.
For these reasons and many more, it’s absolutely critical that you make a strategy to audit your current SEO practices and set goals for improvement in the months ahead.
Ready to get started? Here’s a handy SEO Checklist you can use to keep track of all the moving parts.
And if you’re having trouble getting it all under control, remember you can look to an experienced digital marketing company in Atlanta to help you out!
__ SEO Basics: Assembling All the Right Pieces
The following elements of SEO strategy — and the tools you need to do them — are 100% necessary. They should be adopted by businesses of all categories, sizes, and scopes. Even if you never write a single blog post or Alt image tag in your life, you should still perform the following tasks:
__ Create a Robots.txt File
A robots.txt file is a document filled with code that search engines and other internet-based services use as instructions for your site. Without a robots.txt file, you may not have your site indexed, which means it won’t be brought up in search.
Visit Google’s robots.txt overview for more instructions as well as a tester tool.
__ Create a Sitemap.xml File
Your sitemap serves as a reference tool to search engines. It can affect things like crawl priority for pages, meaning that you instruct the tool to re-index certain pages first.
You can create a sitemap file quickly using a tool like this one, and then upload the file through Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
__ Utilize Google Search Console/ Bing Webmaster Tools
Google Search Console helps you control important items, like how often your site is indexed (crawled) by the search engine, whether all your content is visible, and whether you have critical errors that should be addressed. Bing’s Webmaster Tools offer a nearly identical function but tailored to the Bing search engine.
__ Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics tracks incoming search traffic for your website and other data, like how much time users spend on each page. This data can teach you important insights. For instance, a page that gets a high click-through rate but also a high bounce rate may have a misleading title or may be too lean on information.
Google Analytics is free to use. You can learn how to sign up for the service and configure your website for it here.
__ Decide on Whether to Use a CMS Like WordPress or ModX
A CMS (content management system) is a web-based application that streamlines how you create, upload, monitor, and edit content on your pages. One of the most popular CMS tools is WordPress since it’s free, but there are a number of other good CMS products to consider.
Why use a CMS? Because it can dramatically simplify control over technical page elements, like your meta description, title tag, and others. With plugins like Yoast, you can also predict how effectively you’re using keywords.
You don’t have to use a CMS, but the process of installing and configuring one will make your life dramatically easier. Check this action item off once you have decided what direction you’ll take.
__ Check Your Site Pages’ Loading Speed with Google PageSpeed Insights
Page speed affects both SEO and user experience. People — especially mobile phone users — are impatient, and will generally back out of pages that take more than 5 seconds to load. Google also uses page load speed as a subtle component of your overall ranking factor.
Review your page speed and get tailored feedback with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
__ Check to See That Your Responsive Design Works Properly
Over half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, and that number is only expected to grow. Ensure that your site can accommodate these users by employing responsive design principles. If you don’t, Google could penalize your SERP ranking.
You can check your website for proper responsive design and mobile accessibility with Google’s Mobile Friendly Test site or the Search Console.
__ Look for Broken Links and Bad Code
A “broken link” leads to a 404 error page as opposed to its intended target. Broken links happen most often when content links to a page that is later removed or has its URL changed.
__ Request and Install an SSL Certificate to Change to HTTPs
The use of HTTPs websites has grown in public favor and ranking influence compared to HTML. Read our comparison of HTML vs HTMLs to learn more, including how to make the switch.
__ Perform an SEO Check Through Google Search Console
Google Search Console can analyze your website pages and generate reports based on the health of your SEO practices. Look specifically at:
- Structured Data
- HTML Improvements
- Manual Actions
- Blocked Resources
- Crawl Errors
- robots.txt Tester
__ Claim Your Google My Business (GMB) Page
Your Google My Business Page ensures that all of the most important information about your business appears directly in search. It can also help you control your appearances on Google Maps if you are a local business or one that accepts visits to your location.
Even if you don’t have people visit the office, you want to claim your listing so you can consolidate important business information and monitor your reviews.
__ SEO Best Practices: What to Do If You Want to Rank
All of the above practices ensure that your site fits the bare minimum criteria of accessibility for both the average user and search engines’ indexing “spider” bots.
But if you actually intend for your business to rank for key search terms, you need to go beyond the basics. You can use the following checklist to establish policies and procedures for creating new content and optimizing existing pages:
__ Make a List of Priority Keywords
Certain keywords form the foundation of your SEO strategy. They are the most important keywords to associate with your brand or business, and assuming you have only moderate competition you should be able to rank consistently for them.
If you have fierce competition, you may have to rely on adding a few descriptors to your priority keyword phrases. For example, if you are having trouble ranking for “scented candles” you can look for “handcrafted scented candles” or “100% soy scented candles” or “handmade scented candles.” You can also focus on your locality to help avoid being strong armed by powerful multinational competitors.
__ Research Alternate Priority Keyword Possibilities
Priority keywords can come from your own company descriptors, but always take a moment to research what your most direct competitors do so you can consider alternate angles. The last thing you want to do is focus on a low-volume keyword like “haberdashery” when 99.9% of people are more likely to search “tailor” or “men’s suit shop” — even if “haberdashery” is in your business name.
You can find suggestions by entering a keyword phrase or a website address into Google’s Keyword Planner tool. Using the tool requires an AdWords account, which is free to create.
__ Ensure Your Site Navigation Reflects Keyword Priorities
If you have a business with multiple product lines or service areas, these form sub-categories of keyword priorities that you want to rank for.
Law offices are a great example. “Personal injury lawyer” is a main category, while things like “car accident attorney,” “spinal cord injury attorney” and “slip and fall attorney” are all sub-areas you want to rank for. If you have a landscaping business, you similarly want to think of “landscaping” as a main category and “drainage,” “tree service,” and “custom landscaping” as possible sub-categories.
Your sub-categories should be reflected within main pages of your site. This will aid navigation for visitors and also send stronger signals to search engines that your main brand is related to these smaller areas.
__ Find Contextual Related Keywords
Google’s search algorithm has moved away from perfect keyword matches and more towards context and semantic-related search. What does that mean? You can be the #1 rank for a keyword phrase even if you don’t use that keyword anywhere on the page. The trick is to use enough related words so that Google and other search engines understand the correlation.
You can find contextual keywords just about anywhere, but one of our favorite spots is right in Google search. Use one of your primary or sub-category keywords in search, and scroll to the bottom to find “Related Searches.” You can also type keywords into Google Trends to see popular related queries.
Alternate places to find contextual keywords include: a thesaurus, Wikipedia, Social Media Groups (ie LinkedIn, Facebook), and UberSuggest.
__ Set Goals for Keyword Appearances in Your Main Content and Technical SEO Elements
Now you should have primary keywords, secondary keywords (made from sub-category keywords or primary alternates), and contextual tertiary keywords and phrases.
Any major keyword groups should be reflected on your website’s homepage, or main services pages. If you have just a single scrolling page, ensure that subsections reflect the topic of each major primary or sub-category keyword.
Then, start inserting leftover primary, secondary and tertiary keywords into important site elements. In rough order of priority, these include:
- H1 Main Page Headings/Titles
- Title Tags
- Meta Descriptions
- H2 Subheadings
- Alt image tags
- Image captions
- Anchor text
- Bulleted and ordered list items
- Body copy (your main paragraph text)
Alt image tags are important because they feed information to the search engine, since images aren’t counted as part of text search.
“Anchor text” refers to the text used when creating a link. For instance, this text “What Every Google My Business Profile Needs” counts as anchor text. Try to always use related phrases when linking internally to other site pages instead of just saying “click here.”
__ Use Structured Markup to Earn Rich Snippets and Other Embedded Features
We just discussed rich snippets in a recent post. Suffice it to say that you should use Schema markup and other tags as necessary to increase the chances that your post will stand out in search thanks to extras like a thumbnail, a review, a calorie count or other information.
__ Improving SEO Through Regular Content Generation: AKA “What About Blogs?”
Even if you hit the main keywords you intended to reach on your main site, there are going to be tons of new ones worth adding. You will also want to reiterate relevance to search engines by regularly mentioning your primary keywords in text.
How do you make room for all of these keyword signals? Simple! Start a blog.
Blogs add to the amount of indexed content for your site. For example, a one-page site about “handblown glass Christmas tree ornaments” won’t have quite the same impact as a site that constantly discusses handblown glass Christmas tree ornaments through blog posts like, “How Does Glassblowing Work?”
People who visit your site actually want to read this content. Consider it your gift to them, so make it worth reading.
Here are a few tips to think about to ensure you’re taking the right approach:
__ Discuss Topics People Actually Care About, Especially Questions About Your Industry
Topics should conform to keyword goals but also to public interest. You want to create content that’s helpful, interesting and perhaps even entertaining for people.
You can determine topics to cover by looking to your most frequently asked customer questions. Tools like Answer the Public can also inspire you. If all else fails, write about some interesting recent news in your industry.
__ Maintain a Local Focus if You’re a Local Business
If you serve a local market, you want to remind people through your content that you are involved in the community. This can involve something simple like referencing people, places and recent events in your local town/city.
You can also really go all out by writing guides for local people and visitors that have relevance to your main service expertise.
__ Write Conversationally, Like You’re Speaking to Your Audience
Since you and I are becoming such good friends while you read this, we think you get the gist of what this means.
More seriously, reread your content before publishing to see if its logic is easy to follow, and whether it sounds like something your chosen audience would enjoy reading.
__ Remember: Grammar Counts!
Google weeds out content with bad spelling, poor grammar, and other red flags that it was written by a bot, non-native speaker, or otherwise careless person.
Also, make sure your keyword use is natural. Remember: Clickable, enjoyable content is more important than keyword use!
__ Expand on Your Content Over Time
Don’t just constantly cover new or recent topics on your blog. Instead, take the time to revisit old subjects or core subject matters related to your business. You can take these subjects higher — by getting into nitty-gritty technical details — or lower — by retreating back to absolute basics with a how-to guide that a sixth grader could understand.
Both types of content round out your repertoire and also further establish you as a subject matter expert.
__ Come to a Professional Digital Marketing Company in Atlanta if You Need Help
If you have any issues or questions while completing this checklist, we want to be your go-to resource! Contact us today with to continue the conversation, and be sure to take a look at our own SEO marketing agency services if you want us to handle any or all of this for you.
Good luck, and we at EverSpark Interactive wish everyone out there in Atlanta across the world Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a most excellent New Year!