SEO 101 — Search Engine Optimization Guide/Checklist
How to get started with Search Engine Optimization
The following SEO guide was created over a few years. I started my career with SEO back in 2008, I worked for healthcare publisher, global security software company, and provided SEO consulting services for tech companies and startups. During this time, I had a chance to interview over dozen of SEO vendors and consultants. This guide reflects the process that I went through with every new SEO client or project.
Comprehensive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy provides companies with great opportunity to be found by potential customers via Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines (just kidding).
Your goal is to ensure your website, product, and service offerings rank at the top of search engine results pages for relevant key phrase searches, and therefore are found by potential customers. You also have to pay a close attention to your conversion rates (it will help you understand whether you are focusing on right keywords/phrases).
Search Engine Optimization is an on-going effort. You will be able to achieve high rankings following the process that is designed to achieve maximum results.
1. Due Diligence
You need to conduct thorough due diligence to understand your products, services, marketing goals, and business, including a review of current and past marketing efforts, with focus on all past and current SEO campaigns.
1.1. Initial website analysis
The goal is to identify your website potential, major roadblocks and limitations, including current Content Management System (CMS) analysis (Wordpress for example has great SEO tool — Yoast). You need to analyze your domains, URL structures, images and other parts of your website to paint a complete picture of you website environment.
1.2. Marketing goal alignment
Whether your primary goals are generating leads, sales, or new product users, you need to ensure that SEO strategy is aligned with your marketing goals and target audience. Pages that your team optimizes for SEO should include clear Call-to-Action (CTA) because your ultimate goal is for visitors to become prospect or customer.
2. Keyword Research
The tricky part of creating a complete list of keywords for your SEO campaign is to understand the balance between search volume and relevance. The last thing you want to do is optimize your website for keywords that either irrelevant or with low search volume.
2.1. Identify highly searched and targeted keywords
Analyze what keywords and search phrases strike balance between search volume and relevance. Create a list of most important terms that should be primary focus of your company’s SEO strategy. Your team should have top 3-5 keywords that reflect what your company does and in most cases it makes sense to optimize homepage for these keywords.
2.2. Competitive analysis
Research, analyze, and benchmark your direct and indirect competition online and offline. Your goal is to seek opportunities that were missed or overlooked by your competition and prioritize “low effort — high impact” keywords and phrases. Simply search for keywords taht you like to be ranked high on Google and see what companies currently presented on the first page.
2.3. Geographic and regional analysis
Your products and services may be limited to a particular geographic areas and/or languages so you need to attract potential customers by optimizing your Search Engine Optimization strategy to reflect regional differences.
3. Keyword Mapping
Keyword Mapping will help your company stay focused in your SEO efforts. Assign top keywords to a most relevant and targeted pages on your website so your team will have a blueprint of the SEO structure that may be used for future website initiatives.
3.1. Keyword mapping and page relevancy analysis
The goal is to match pages on your website with targeted keywords so that your overall SEO strategy is focused. Assign a group of targeted keywords and phrases to every section and to most of the pages on your website. I suggest you create an excel spreadsheet with top 30-50 pages on your website and assign 3-5 unique keyword for each page.
3.2. Long-tail keywords prioritization
Long-tail keywords and phrases that do not fit current website structure or content need to be prioritized so that your marketing and content teams can get insights into the content topics with great SEO potential.
4. On-Page Optimization
Optimize your website by editing meta tags, H tags, links, images, videos and conduct a detailed analysis on improving your website information architecture and your content. Most important on-page factors:
4.1. Page titles
I have tested many different formulas and found this to be most effective:
Keyword/phrase #1 | Keyword/phrase #2 | Keyword/phrase #3 — Top Keyword/phrase for company — Company Name
For product page related to encryption the title can look like this:
Data Protection | Data Security | Data Encryption — security software — Sophos
4.2. H1 / H2 titles
Make sure you have at least 1 keyword/phrase that you optimize for in H1/H2 titles. Preferably to use all 3 keywords for particular page somewhere in the content.
Ensure your URLs include at least 1 top keyword/phrase that you optimize for this page.I highly recommend only using “-” in URLs structure, do not combine all words together, do not use underscores etc. Good example:
4.4. Meta descriptions
Create unique page meta description for each of the top pages (descriptions should be between 150 and 250 characters).
4.5. ‘Alt’ & ‘title’ tags for images and links
When you have done basics and see results in the couple of months you can revisit top pages and improve technical SEO by creating meaningful ‘alt’ and ‘title’ tags for page links and images.
4.6. Create sitemap & robot.txt file
The best way is to make sure your sitemap created and updated dynamically.
4.7. Google Webmaster Tool
Connect your website to Webmaster tool and monitor search volume and errors. Address all website errors in timely manner, it will help you rank higher.
Use proper redirects, if you are removing page from the website or changing URLs, use 301 redirects (and other types of redirects where appropriate).
4.9. Content & intra-linking optimization
The goal is to ensure that linking from section to section and from page to page is done with best practices in mind in order to maximize your potential visibility on top of search engine results pages. Using fat-footers with many links to different sections of the website not only a good way to navigate visitors but also a way to improve your SEO by interlinking.
5. SEO Roadmap (optimization of on-going initiatives)
The goal is to design a roadmap around your marketing initiatives and provide tools to include SEO in your company DNA. Educate all website stakeholders on the primary issues which hamper a website’s ability to rank high on search engines.
5.1. Content calendar
Unique and fresh content is still one of the most important factors when it comes to SEO. Design your content calendar and incorporate SEO strategies in it.
5.2. PR strategy
Press Releases, if done right, is a great way to increase your rankings in search engines. The rule of thumb is to use 1 link for every 100 words in PR. When adding links to PR — underline meaningful phrases and link them to related pages on your website. AVOID using hypertext for such phrases as: click here, more details, learn more, and so on.
5.3. Social Media SEO Review
Social media presence provides companies with excellent opportunity not only to engage your target audience but also to support your website from search engine optimization perspective. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing place high emphasis on number of links and mentions that company receives from social media websites.
- create product and solution pages on your company Linkedin (Angellist) page with links back to your website
5.4. Optimization of your marketing assets
Optimize your marketing assets such as videos, white-papers, flash graphics, presentations to support your search engine optimization strategy. Keyword research can assist you with understanding search trends and can help you pick relevant keywords/phrases with high search volume.
6. Off-page Optimization (Link Building)
Link Building is one of the most important parts of successful SEO strategy. It requires on-going and focused efforts to achieve high rankings. Just a few years ago, the most effective way to increase number of back-links to your website was writing unique articles and distributing them to third party websites.
Today, I recommend companies focusing on their own content marketing strategy. When company create interesting and relevant stories in form of research, e-books, surveys, studies they have great opportunity to reach out to publishers and bloggers and therefore build backlinks in more organic way. Use your company’s expertise to improve SEO.
6.1. Marketing Campaigns with SEO in mind
Provide SEO support for all of your marketing projects whether it is new marketing campaign landing page, press release, new product page design, new product release, content calendar or blog review, and/or new market opportunities analysis. Ensure that your team’s activity online is optimized to the fullest according to your SEO strategy.
6.2. Content creation
Write unique content, including blogs and general articles, for distribution on outside resources across the web your website.
The goal is to distribute content with optimized back-links to your website across multiple related blogs and publications in order to improve your positioning on search engines. Google, Yahoo, and Bing assign significant weight to number and quality of links that website receives when calculating their search page results.
Distribution channels include but not limited to:
- Product Marketing & Product Reviews
- Video Marketing & Optimization
- Social Media & Social Bookmarking SEO
- Article Marketing
- Directory Submission
- Press Releases
- Business Profile Creation
- Industry Associations
- Blogging Marketing (guest blogging)
7. Track & Report
The last but not least — track and report on your SEO progress. Your reporting should include search engine rank changes for top 25-30 keywords, organic traffic numbers, and conversion data from organic traffic channel.