Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Framework
Many people think organic / SEO traffic is free. I disagree. You don’t have to “pay per click” or “pay per impressions” or “pay per lead” but the notion that any traffic comes free isn’t true. It takes a lot of hard work, time, thinking, research, content creation, website builds, conversion optimizations, outreach, customer service interactions, social sharing (and more) in order to scale quality organic traffic. Even if work on SEO all day everyday, then there are still no guarantees that you’ll grow your traffic and sales to where you want. There are no guarantees in SEO. It’s a constant battle.
Another important slice is SEO can either be national vs. local (geo-based). Companies with local footprints need to pay attention to focusing on local markets both in terms of where they offer services, and how searchers are looking to interact. Even if you have a national business model where all business is either done directly on the web and or through a call center, you can and should still consider a geo-approach towards your marketing efforts by catering to local searching habit. An example is if someone queries “Plumbers in Nashville” you may want to rank for the keyword associated with that query and capture those clicks.
I think of SEO in 3 distinct buckets.
A. Technical Optimization – Your goal is for your website to be crawlable by the search engines. You need to have a clean technical architecture on your site so Google, Bing, and other search engines clearly understand what you’re offering their customers. After all, your customers are Google’s customers first. Google wants to make sure you have a website that is easily crawlable, so it can easily understand what you offer, and can communicate to the searcher. The list of technical items is large, and there are tools you can use like Google Webmaster Tools, SEOMoz, BrightEdge, and RIOSeo to help you be sure you’re site is in good technical shape. Some are free, some cost money. See my top list of things to work on so you can be sure your technical SEO is in order. The good news is if you adhere to these things, and use some simple tools, then you can manage by exception and address any issues that come up.
B. On-site Content – Once you have thoughtfully setup your web property so it’s crawlable by the search engines, you need to create relevant, authentic, and regularly updated content. If you do this, then you’ll show you care about your customers because you’re working hard and smart to think about their problems, and create great content and experiences to show you can solve them. When you research, think, talk to experts in your niche, and then produce relevant and authentic content (articles, whitepapers, interactive assessments, quizzes, calculators, videos, etc…), you show your customers that you care about their problems, their needs and what’s on their mind. Doing this can leads to engagement on your web property in terms of time on site, pages viewed, repeat visits, and conversions. Google and the search engines will know this, and you’ll be showing them that you’re offering value to their customers who will then become your customers. Over time, you can become a thought-leader in your niche and be able to establish a growth platform for your business. On-site content refreshes, and a regular blog should be integral to an on-site content strategy to help you rank for organic searches.
C. Social Media Content – Your Social platforms including Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and many others are the foundation of creating and communicating your brand to social networks, influencers, and people who are connecting with their networks to either share thoughts, ideas, and support each in search of solutions to problems. Social search (Example: people searching on Facebook for a product or service) is a growing area of the web and having a higher influence in terms of reach and engagement. You should commit to being active on your social media platforms by listening to people, providing ideas, relevant content, links with calls to action that drive to a web property, links to other social media properties, connections to thought leaders, references to valuable influencers and their thoughts, and you need to engage in dialogue with your followers and friends. Doing this in an authentic way will show your audience that you care about their needs, and similar to on-site content, you’ll be able to rank higher for organic searches. You’ll also begin to get traffic directly from your social properties and turn them into lead and sales engines for your marketing portfolio.
Technical SEO Checklist
I didn’t write the book on it, but studying the likes of Bruce Clay, Wil Reynolds and Larry Kim and implementing many of their best practices over the years, I’ve been able to stay on top of technical SEO. Here’s a good list to start with for either a build or an audit.
1. Set up a Webmaster tools accounts in Google and Bing; you’ll be able to understand how each area is set up and can manage and adjust where necessary.
2. Get a Moz.com, and/or SEMRush account to supplement your Webmaster tools accounts and also help you stay on top of competitors.
1. Header Section – Order your meta tags by Title, Description, and Keywords. Be clear and descriptive with what you write in each section.
2. Title tags – Create relevant descriptions that are approximately 55-65 characters including spaces.
3. Description tag – Create relevant descriptions that are approximately 156 characters including spaces.
4. Keywords tag – Best practice is to list them in order from longest in length to shortest, separated by commas. There’s debate about whether this it's necessary to include but it can’t hurt so why risk it.
5. Heading tags – The use of <h1>, <h2>, <h3> etc… should be used in the body of your content to signify heading tags for each section of your page’s ‘table of contents.’
6. Word count and quality – I’ve seen varying reports on ‘best practices.’ My best advice is be authentic, be relevant, don’t keyword stuff, and write enough so you can clearly articulate your offering and how it can solve the needs and problems of website visitors. Add value and cut out unnecessary jargon.
7. Keyword strategy – Research keywords that are aligned to the problems you’re looking to solve and the solutions you’re offering, whether it’s a sale or a service. You can use Spyfu.com, SEMRush.com, or your Google AdWords account and your Bing Ads Account to help find relevant keywords. I also like http://www.wordstream.com/keywords offered by Wordstream.
8. Duplicate content – Don’t do it. If you have content in one part of your site, don’t have the same content somewhere else. Google doesn’t like that and neither will your visitors.
9. Image Descriptions and Alt Attributes – Use them on all images to help validate your code, and be compliant with American with Disabilities Act. Make so you accurately describe each image.
10. URL Structure – Use dashes instead of commas. I won’t go too deep into this, but a pretty smart guy named Matt Cutts (he works at Google) is a great reference on this topic. https://www.mattcutts.com/blog/dashes-vs-underscores/
11. Absolute or fully qualified links – Make sure your links are http://www.URL structure. If you do this, there should be transparency with the search engine spiders and browsers regarding where the file is located, what it is about, and to show the domain tree hierarchy. This will help your crawlability.
13. HTML and XML Site Maps – Have them for Google and Bing and submit them to the search engines. Free tools can be used to create these and every page should have a link to the sitemap. Free tools exist to help you do this. http://www.web-site-map.com/
14. Robotos.txt file – This is a file that tells the search engine spiders what NOT to index. Even if you want the spiders to index your entire site, then you should create a blank Robots.txt file. For more information, Google has a good support article. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6078399?hl=en
15. Navigation and Text – Your navigation links should be text so the spiders can see it. Don't use Flash or Java.
16. Links – You should focus on earning inbound links and sharing outbound links with relevant websites and influences so you can attract quality traffic. Monitor these, and make sure you’re working on creating valuable relationships with the web community. Moz has a good article about link building strategy. I could never say it better than those folks. https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/growing-popularity-and-links
17. Server Configuration – You need (or your webmaster) needs to stay on top of server and redirect issues, including 404 errors, 301 redirects and others. Your webmaster tools accounts will help you stay on top of it, and if you can’t make the fixes yourself, then at least you’ll be armed with the ammunition to talk to your webmaster and developer(s).
18. Static index pages – Too many big changes too often can hurt your crawlability, and your rankings for key terms. Try limiting major architectural changes to your home page for example. Take more time up front to lay things out clearly and cleanly for both the search engines and searchers to limit it. Think about hierarchy in terms of content flow and customer flow.
19. Images vs. Text – We all like pretty pictures and diagrams, but search spiders do not. Where you can, use text over your images so the spiders can actually see what your image file is about.
20. Don’t SPAM – Follow what Google and Bing set forth in terms of their Webmaster guidelines and don’t try and “trick” the search engines to help you rank better for key terms. The days of black hat have been largely ineffective for a long time. Be authentic, be real, be value-add.
21. Check your site speed. Under 1 second load should be your goal. It’s possible but it takes hard work. Keep trying and use tools and the right developers to help get you there. This is especially important for mobile. Good tools to check out include https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/?hl=en and https://gtmetrix.com/
22. Mobile optimized – Desktop traffic overall is shrinking and we’re becoming a more and transaction-based society. Use your Google Analytics account to understand your visitor profile and make sure your site is mobile optimized, or build a site just for mobile. This will affect your load times, engagement, rankings, and overall SEO.
23. Crawlability – Back to Webmaster tools. Check it out regularly and see if you have crawl issues including broken links, duplicate content, etc. If you're website has crawl issues, then searchers will have trouble finding it, and your sales will slump.