An SEO Checklist for New Sites
Hi everyone. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I have a special request from one of our users to talk about an SEO checklist for new sites that aren’t ranking yet. I’ve created a new website. I want to make sure I am doing all the right things in the right order, that I have got everything set up, and my website is not yet ranking. What are the things that I should be doing and maybe some things that I should not be doing? So, I wanted to create a brief checklist with this Whiteboard Friday, and if we find this useful, maybe we will expand it and do even more stuff with it in the future.
So, let’s run through. You have a new site that you’ve just launched. You are setting things up for success. What do you need to worry about?
First off, accessibility. What I mean by this is users and search engines both need to be able to reach all of the pages, all the content that you’ve created on your website in easy ways, and you need to make sure you don’t have any dumb mistakes that can harm your SEO. These are things like 404s and 500 errors and 302s instead of 301s, duplicate content, missing title tags, thin content where there is not much material on the page for the search engines to grab on to and maybe for users as well. Two tools that are great for this, first off, Google Webmaster Tools, which is completely free. You can register at Google.com/webmasters. The SEOmoz Crawl through the SEOmoz Pro Web App, also very useful when you are looking at a new site. We built a bunch of features in there that we wish Google Webmaster Tools kept track of, but they don’t, and so some of those features are included in the SEOmoz Crawl, including things like 302s for example and some thin content stuff. That can be quite helpful.
Next up, keyword targeting. This makes some sense. You have to choose the right keywords to target. What I want to have is if gobbledyzook – probably an awful word for anyone to be targeting, no search volume, just bad choice in general – but we want to be looking at, do these have good search volume? Are some users actually searching for them? You might not be able to target high value terms because you are also looking for low difficulty when you are first launching a site. You don’t want to necessarily shoot for the moon. Maybe you do on your home page or some branded page, some product page, but for the things that you know you want to target and you want to work on early short term, maybe some content that you’ve got, some feature pages for the product or service you are offering, and you think to yourself, I am not going to be able to target gobbledly, which is really tough, but maybe gobbledyzook. That will be easier. So, you can look at search volume, the relevance to the website, please by all means make sure that you have something that is relevant that is actually pulling in searches you care about, and low difficulty. If you have that taken care of, you have your keyword targeting.
Content quality and value. If you have a bunch of users coming to this page and they’re thinking to themselves, this doesn’t really answer my query, or yeah, maybe this answers one portion of it, but I wish there was more detail here, more video, more images, maybe a nice graphic that explains some things, a data set, some references to where they got this information. Not just a bunch of blocks of text. Maybe I am looking for something that describes a process, something that explains it fully. If you can do that, if you can build something remarkable, where all of these people change from “Huh, huh, what’s this?” To, oh, you know what, instead it’s “I am happy.” “I also am happy.” “This page makes me do happy. Yea, I am going to stick my tongue out.” If you can get that level of enjoyment and satisfaction from your users with the quality of the content that you produce, you’re going to do much better in the search engines. Search engines have some sophisticated algorithms that look at true quality and value. You can see Google has gotten so much better about putting really good stuff in results, even sometimes when it doesn’t have a lot of links or it is not doing hardcore keyword targeting, when it is great stuff, they are doing a good job of ranking it.
Next up, design quality, user experience, and usability. This is tough. Unless you have a professional designer or you have a professional design background, you almost certainly need to hire someone or go with a very simple, basic design that is very user friendly that you know when you survey your friends, survey people in your industry, survey people in your company, survey people in your ecosystem, that they go, yeah, yeah, yeah, this looks really good. I am really happy with the design. Maybe I am only giving it a six out ten in terms of beauty, but an eight out of ten in terms of usability. I understand the content on this site. It is easy for me to find things and they flow. There is really no point in ranking unless you are nailing these two, because you are not going to get many more customers. People are just going to be frustrated by the website. There are a few tools you can use on the Web to test these out. Five Second Test, Feedback Army, Silverback App, all of these are potentially useful for checking the usability user experience of the site.
Social account setup. Because social and SEO are coming together like never before, Google is showing plus ones and things that people share by default in the search engine rankings. Bing is showing all the stuff that has been shared on Facebook, and they are putting it above the rest of the content. It really, really pays to be in social, and social signals help search engines better rank things as well as having a nice second order effect on user and usage data, on branding, on the impact of people seeing those sites through social sharing and potentially linking to them. So social account setup, at the very least, you probably want to have these four: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Google+ is only about 25 million, but it is growing very fast. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are all over 150 million users right now. I think Twitter is at 200 million. Facebook is at 750 million. So at least have your pages set up for those. Make sure the account experience is the same across them, using the same photos, same branding, same description, so people get a good sense when they see you in the social world. You probably want to start setting something up to be monitoring and tracking these. You might want to sign up for something like a Bitly. I used to really recommend PostRank, but unfortunately they don’t track Facebook, since Google bought them, anymore. So it is a little more frustrating. The SEOmoz Web App will start to track these for you pretty soon. Once you’ve got those social accounts set up, you can feel good about sharing the content that you are producing through those social accounts, finding connections, building up in that world, and spending the appropriate amount of time there depending on the value you are feeling back from that.
Next up, link building. This is where I know a lot of people get sort of off to the wrong start, and it is incredibly hard to recover. I actually just got an email in my inbox before we started doing Whiteboard Friday from someone who had started a new website and he is like, “I got these 300 links, and now I am not ranking anymore. I was doing great last week. For the first six weeks after I launched, I was ranking great.” I sort of did just a quick look at the back links, and I went, “Oh, oh no.” I think this person really went down the route of I am going to get a bunch of low quality, easy to acquire links, and for a new site in particular, it is so dangerous, because Google is just really on top of throwing people out of the index or penalizing them very heavily when their link profile looks really scummy. When you don’t have any trustworthy quality signals to boost you up, that’s when low quality links can hurt the most.
So, good things to do. Start with your business contacts and your customers. They are great places to get links from. Your customers are willing to link to you. Awesome. Get them to link to you. If the contacts that you have in the business world are willing to say, hey, my friend Rand just launched a new website, boom, that’s a great way of doing it. All your email contacts, your LinkedIn contacts, the people that you know personally and professionally, if you can ask them, hey, would you support me by throwing a link to me on your About page or your blog roll or your list of customers or your list of vendors, whatever it is.
Guest posts and content. This is a great way to do good content positive content production and earning links back for that. Finding trustworthy sites that have lots of RSS subscribers and are well renowned and can give you visibility in front of your audience and give you a nice link back if you can contribute positively to those. I also like high quality resource lists. So, this would be things like the Better Business Bureau maybe, that sort of falls a little in the directory world, but something like a CrunchBase. If you are a startup in the technology world, you definitely need to have a CrunchBase listing. You might want to be on some Wikipedia lists. Granted those are no-follow, but that’s still okay. That is probably a good place to get some visibility. There might be industry specific lists that are like these are heavy machine production facilities in the United States. Great, okay, I should be on that list. That’s what I do. News media and blogs. Getting the press to cover you. Getting blogs in your sphere to cover you. Finding those, emailing the editors, letting them know that you are launching this new website, that’s a great time to say, “Hey this business is transforming. We’re launching a new site. We’re changing our branding,” whatever it is. That is sort of a press worthy message and you can get someone to look at you. Review sites, review blogs are great for this too. They’ll sort of say, oh, you’ve got a new application, you’ve got a new mobile service, maybe we’ll link to you. That could be interesting.
Relevant social industry and app account links. If I contribute something to the Google Chrome store, if I contribute something to the Apple store, if I am contributing something to a design portal or design gallery, all of those kinds of industry stuff and accounts that you can get are likely worth getting your website listed on.
Social media link acquisitions. This is obvious stuff where you spend time on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, Google+ connecting with people and over time building those relationships that will get you the links possibly through one of these other forms or just through the friendliness of them noticing and liking, and enjoying your content. That’s what content marketing is all about as well.
These are great ways to start. Very safe ways to do link building. They are not short-term wins. These, almost all of them, require at least some effort, some investment of your time and energy, some creativity, some good content, some authenticity in your marketing versus a lot of the stuff that tempts people very early on. They’re like, oh, sweet, you know, I have a new website. I need to get like 500 links as soon as possible, so I am going to try things like reciprocal link pages. I am just going to put up a list of reciprocal link partners, and I am going to contact a bunch of other firms. They’ll all link to me and we’ll all link to each other. It will be a happy marriage of links. No, it’s not. It’s not a wonderland.
Low quality directories. You search for SEO friendly directory, if it shows up on that list, chances are . . . even in Google. Google is showing you a bunch of bad stuff. Someone was asking me recently on email, they said, “Hey, I really need some examples of sites that have done manipulative link building.” I was like, “Oh, it’s so easy. Search for SEO friendly directory and look at who has paid to be listed in those directories.” They almost all have spammy manipulative link profiles, and it is funny because you go to those, and I don’t know why people don’t do this, but try searching for the brand names that come up in those lists. None of them rank for their own brand name. Why is that? Clearly, they are killing themselves with these terrible, terrible links. So, low quality directories, really avoid them.
Article marketing or article spinning, I talked about that a few weeks ago on Whiteboard Friday, also a practice I would strongly recommend you avoid, especially, I know it can work, I know there are people for whom it does work, but especially early on, it can just kill you. It really can get you banned or penalized out of the engines, and you just won’t rank anywhere if your link profile starts out spammy. Paid links is another obvious one.
Forums, open forums, spam kind of going across the Web. Oh, here’s a guest book that’s open and forgot to put no-follow. I am going to leave a link there. Oh, here look, it’s a forum that accepts registration, and they forgot to close their no-follow off, anyone can leave a link. Even things like do-follow blogs, do-follow blog comments, man, it’s really risky because they are linking to bad places a lot of the time and it is usually manipulative people who have no intent to create something of value for the search engines. They are merely trying to manipulate their rankings. Whenever you have a tactic like that it attracts people who have nasty websites, and then Google looks at those and goes, okay, they’re linking to a bunch of nasty sites. Well, I don’t want to count those links, or maybe I am even going to penalize some of the people that they are linking to. That really sucks. Then link farms, which is essentially setting up all these different systems of links that point to each other across tons of domains that are completely artificial or link for no human reason, or no discernable human reason, and are merely meant to manipulate the engines.
This type of stuff is very, very dangerous when you are early on. If you have already built up a good collection of these types of links, you are much safer. You do have some risk in those first three, six, nine months after you have launched a new site around doing wrong things on the link building front and getting yourself into a situation where you are penalized. We see a ton of that through SEOmoz Q&A. I get it in email. You see it on the Web all the time. So, be cautious around that.