The Jumpstart Guide to SEO

Jess Carson Headshot (2)By: Jess Carson

It’s true – SEO can seem like a hassle, especially to brands new to it. Some of you out there would probably rather bypass SEO or put it on the backburner than make it a priority. This could be a costly mistake.

There was a recent SEO case study performed between two entities under the same brand umbrella. One implemented proper SEO practices; the other was forced to push back SEO efforts in order to handle a CMS issue. The results were straightforward when Google rolled out an algorithm update in January: the properly optimized site was rewarded and the non-optimized site suffered. That’s just it in the world of SEO – you do or you don’t. You see an improvement in rankings or you don’t. There’s no middle ground.

So what do you do if you have no idea where to start and/or lack the budget to hire a firm to implement sound strategies for your company? Fortunately, there are steps you can take in order to jumpstart your SEO efforts, until you have the time and resources to contract an agency.

The Technical

There are a few things you need to make sure you have properly set up before even touching your content. The first is Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Without Analytics, you won’t be able to track your website data. You don’t have to know how to set up complex custom dashboards from the start, but the overall data the tool feeds you is useful beyond belief. It will also let you know if you need to refresh any of your current SEO efforts. Later on, it will give the agency you hire a great starting point for what does and does not work for your brand. Meanwhile, Search Console gives you more data about your website performance, right down to how your keywords (we’ll get to this in a moment) are performing. Link Search Console and Analytics together to get a nice base for your website data.

Also, make sure your site has a robots.txt and sitemap. A robots.txt file will help you tell Google which parts of your site you don’t want the search engine crawlers to access. These could be anything from certain image files and style files. If your site is properly optimized, you might not need a sitemap per se because the engines won’t have that much of a problem crawling your site. But having this file will ensure your site is being crawled in the manner it should be.

The Words

Next, you’ll need to create a plan for your site. What are your overall business goals? What are the kinds of words or phrases you want to rank for? How will consumers be able to find those keywords and phrases you want to rank for? Make a list of these words and phrases. This is your keyword list.

After you’ve made the list for this keyword research, plug in your keywords to Google’s Keyword Planner. This powerful tool is easy-to-use and very helpful. Not only will you see the average number of times (volume) people are searching for your keywords; you will be able to see the difficulty level of and the estimated bid for those keywords (great for if you incorporate paid ads into your plan down the line).

One of the most useful features of Google Keyword Planner for someone just starting out in their SEO is the fact that the tool will suggest similar keywords to the ones you submitted. This will assist you in finding optimal phrases for your site. You want to aim for keywords that have high volume and low competition. This “sweet spot” is where the best opportunity for your brand lies.

Off-Page Content

Now that you have your list of keywords you want to rank for (including your branded keywords), you’re ready to start putting them to work. You should start with your metadata. This includes your title tag, meta description, image file names, and alt tags for your images. Each of these should have keywords included.

Let’s go step-by-step:

  • Title Tag: You should aim for somewhere between 50 and 60 characters (punctuation and spaces included). Some agencies believe that up to 70 characters is agreeable but, in order for your entire title tag to be seen online and not truncated by Google, aim for the 50-60 character range. Make sure you include 1-2 of your higher volume keywords and your brand name in your title tag. For example, if your brand name was “Red Shoe Co.” and you were working on a page selling high heels, pumps, and other dress shoes, your title tag might look something like: Red Pumps, Red Pumps & Red Dress Shoes | Red Shoe Co.
  • Meta Description: This is what your page is about. You have more room in this section, but you should aim for somewhere between 150-160 characters. Make sure to have 1-2 keywords added into this section as well. Make these couple of sentences shine for the consumer. It is what they’ll see on the search engine results page (SERP), so you’ll want consumers to want to click on your page. Add in a call to action at the end of your second sentence. Using the same example as above, your description may look like: Enjoy our excellent selection of red heels, red flats, and other red shoes for your fancy nights out. See more dress shoes for women from Red Shoe Co.
  • Image File Names/Alt Tags: If you have images, you’ll need to give them appropriate names. Having an image file name like “img001.jpg” won’t do you any favors, but having an image named “red-six-inch-heels” is appropriate because Google will read it as “red six inch heels” and respond accordingly. Alt tags aren’t seen, but are another opportunity to utilize a keyword for the search engines.

As a note, these elements are the first line of defense for your website. Make sure you add these elements in with a strategy. Don’t just put meta data up without performing keyword research. Don’t guestimate. If something seems like it would have high volume, check. Never assume.

On-Page Content

You obviously need content on your actual page. You’ll need a strategy for this, too. You want to have at least 300 words of unique content on each page. This will keep the search engines from viewing your page as spammy or irrelevant. This content should be compelling and page-specific.  Remember, you don’t need to create content for you as a brand, you need to create it for the consumer. Make them want to continue through your site. The longer they stay on the site, the closer you’ll get to a purchase.

If you have the time to add in a blog, do it. This allows you to continually feed your site with fresh content, which is what Google needs to see in order to see your site as relevant. Don’t only talk about your brand, offer advice related to your product or industry as well. If a consumer feels like you’re actually trying to help them solve a problem instead of sell them on your product, they’re more likely to trust you and purchase for you.

Stay Informed

Follow blogs like the Moz Blog and Google’s official blog for news on algorithm updates or other changes that may affect how you perform your SEO maintenance tasks. Staying on top of these changes is the best way to ensure you don’t suffer a penalty by the search engines.

Don’t be intimidated by any of this. These tasks seem daunting, but they are simple to implement and, if you have a little time to spare, can boost your site visits and rankings before you ever have to spend a dime on an agency.

Remember, these tasks are only the tip of the iceberg and you will eventually need to hire a dedicated SEO staff member or incorporate an agency into your plans if your site’s optimization is going to reach its full potential.