If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in SEO. If not – wow, are you in the wrong place.
This is going to be a high level overview of what you need to get started to optimize your (brand new) site for Organic Search in 2017. This is not an all-inclusive list but this will get you started in the right direction.
Note: This list assumes you’ve already thought about your presence (eg: local vs. national search, etc.) and are starting with a brand new website that isn’t completely screwed up already.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Site’s Tech Is Not Awful
Attention: This is the most important step. Do not screw this one up.
I’ve said this, Google’s said this and many technical SEOs and digital marketers have said this but if your site takes like 12 seconds to load, your images aren’t optimized, you haven’t optimized your crawl budget, your site isn’t responsive, you don’t have a sitemap, haven’t checked your page crawlability and fixed other aspects of the technical side of SEO, nothing else you do is going to matter.
If, for some reason, your ancient garbage platform won’t let you do the things, either migrate your site to a platform built in this century or give up on SEO because you’ll just be throwing good money after bad.
I’m going to say it one more time for emphasis because I still see some people trying to ‘do SEO’ on horrible sites.
If you don’t fix your technical SEO first, anything else will be a waste of everyone’s time. You won’t get the results you want and you just wasted everyone’s time and energy trying to ‘optimize keywords’ for a site that never even had a chance to rank.
Step 2: Create Quality Content
Now that your site itself isn’t a steaming pile, you need something to put on it. This is where the ‘fun’ begins if you’re an SEO. Here’s why:
As an SEO, ‘How do I get started?’ is usually the first thing I get asked.
That’s good! That shows interest.
As an SEO, ‘So, I’ve got this big, long list of keywords I want to rank for! Go make that happen! Keywords! Number one, right? That’s SEO, right?’ is usually the first thing I get told.
That’s bad. Real bad.
Look. You need to just stop with the whole ‘keyword rankings’ thing, OK. All of you. Just stop.
That’s old school. That doesn’t work, not the point of SEO OR GOOGLE and wouldn’t help your business anyway. Seriously. Stop annoying SEO professionals with your ‘keyword research’ amateur hour nonsense.
We may not tell you to your face (usually because we just need to keep a job which means keep the client happy) but when you say the phrase ‘keyword research’ in 2017, a real SEO is going to immediately know you have no idea what you’re talking about and we internally eye-roll at you SO HARD.
Basically, saying ‘focus on optimizing keywords’ to a real SEO in 2017 is like going into an emergency room, finding a doctor, begin demanding they bring you a ‘crash cart!’ and screaming ‘I NEED 10CCS OF BLOXYDOMYCIN STAT!!!’
We know you just read some 15 year old website and now you’re just saying things you really don’t understand. It’s Ok.
So what do we do instead? We do what Google told us to do again and again and again.
We create quality content that is useful to searchers, answers questions people actually ask and that people want to read.
We write content for readers, not spiders or bots or whatever else you think enjoys you dropping your ‘keywords’ in the same paragraph fifteen times in a row are.
Also, I’m 100% with this guy. Y’all need to stop calling it ‘SEO Content’ – it’s just ‘content’. That’s all it is. Content done right is content done right. ‘SEO Content’ sounds like a bunch of keyword stuffed crap from 2005. That’s not what we’re going for.
Step 3: Markup, Internal Linking & Meta Data
Now we have a solid technical website with useful content on it that people actually want to read and engage with. Here’s where we get a little technical again.
We now have to mark up the content with code to tell search engines what this stuff is and where it goes, put some internal links on your pages to help the spiders get around your site and even add some dreaded meta data to your site to make sure all bases are covered.
Structured Data Markup, either Schema.org or JSON-LD is going to most likely be the hardest and most time consuming step of this process but its totally worth it. If you’re not a technical type and you dont have an IT team that can help you with this, you can find lots of great guides online on how to do this, JSON-LD schema generators and other information about how to get going. You can even find guides on how to deploy your schema via Google Tag Manager, although, for large sites where you need dynamic calls like on product pages, you still might want to enlist the help of a professional just to be safe.
Once that’s done, you can start planning an internal linking strategy. This doesn’t have to be hard, the basic guidelines is that no page should be more than three clicks away from the homepage, don’t stuff your anchor text and link to internal pages because you don’t want to waste time putting internal links to your landing page. There are lots of great guides on this as well.
Now we come to something that I hate – meta data. I hate this not because of what it is but because this is another ‘little bit of knowledge’ areas that non-SEOs have and it causes them to think this is way more important than it is. I’m talking about your meta title tags and your meta description tags. Yes, you need them but probably not for the reasons you think. There are three major types of ‘SEO’ meta tags: meta title, meta description and meta keywords.
Meta Title tags are important because it helps search engines show what the page is about to searchers and it has SOME impact on search rankings.
Meta Description tags are important because if you write good copy here, you can drive clicks and stand out on the page. They have little to no impact on your search rankings.
Meta Keyword tags don’t do a single thing for anybody. They’re a complete waste of time and shouldn’t even be a thing on your radar.
Go here for more information that you could possibly ever want to know about meta tags but take my advice: create your meta title tags and meta description tags but don’t spend more than about 5-10 minutes per tag. They are not make or break for your site. Don’t waste one single second even thinking about meta keywords tags. Period.
Step 4: Backlinks & Citations
Now your site is all marked up and internally linked its time to get some external links…..
If you ever figure out how to do that without getting a Penguin penalty, let me know. I hate link building. Its the worst. It’s the absolute worst. I won’t even give advice beyond the standard ‘maybe, possibly try some outreach and influencer marketing but be super careful because that could be construed as asking for a link and then it won’t matter so…’
Yay, links. Get ’em. Somehow.
Citations. If you’re a local business or have a physical location where you service customers, you need to claim citations and get those that may already be floating around in the ether under control. This probably won’t be easy and can be SUPER time consuming but it’s worth it. I’ve written more details about this here.
Step 5: Social Media & Google My Business
While technically not SEO, there’s a relationship between SEO and social. What that relationship is right now is a huge matter of debate in the Social Media Marketing and SEO communities but really, who cares why? It works. That’s all you need to know.
Get your social media accounts that are suitable for your business, fill out your profiles completely, add the links to your website’s footer and mark them up with schema. Be active and engage with your customers. I’ve written a lot about how to do social right (and how to totally screw it up) and so have a lot of other people. Check those articles for details – just don’t hire your brother’s friend’s cousin’s kid that’s always on the Chatsnappingrams to do your social media marketing and you’ll be fine.
In terms of Google My Business, if you have a physical location or are a local business, you need this. If you do not have a location where you have customers come to do business, you do not. It’s as simple as that. If this applies to you, claim it. If not, don’t. If you get this one wrong, you are going to do yourself more harm than good.
Step 6: Wait, Monitor, Optimize & Repeat
Pro tip: You can’t just ‘do SEO’ and be set for life. Shocking I know.
You won’t see instant results with SEO. You probably won’t even see week over week results with SEO. It can take months so sit down, relax and get ready for a long wait.
Not everything you do is going to work and sometimes Google will change the algorithm so the things that used to work yesterday won’t work tomorrow (e.g.: keyword optimization, the meta keywords tag, being janky and putting keyword text on the page that was the same color as the background and thinking you’re slick, etc.) so you can’t just ‘do SEO’. As I said, Google is constantly changing the algorithm and guess what – they’re not going to tell you when they do it. Or what they did to it. Or anything at all.
So, yes, you have to sit back and wait to see what happens and that could take a while. Once you see what happens with what you did only then the real work begins. This was all just the set up. The foundation.
Don’t forget, the ‘O’ stands for ‘Optimization’.
You need to constantly monitor your KPIs, track your results and figure out what’s working, why it’s working and how you can make that happen on a different page.
Oh yeah, I said ‘page’ not site. Google ranks individual pages, not entire sites. You didn’t know? This is why SEOs have jobs. Between optimization of new pages, current pages, content rewrites for Panda, landing page testing, citation cleanups, backlink monitoring and building and more, it never ends.
And I didn’t even mention the fact that there’s Rankbrain, featured snippets or voice search to consider.
Yup. It just keeps going.
The Bottom Line:
It can be constant chaos but the good news is that with organic traffic, unless someone does something stupid with the technical side, like blocking all your pages from the bots with a bad robots.txt file or something, there is never an actual ’emergency’. Things just don’t move that fast in Organic to make that a thing. There aren’t any ‘fires’ to put out or ‘blown budgets’ or anything like that. Instead, it’s a lot of ‘I just did all this work and I’m still not getting any traffic?’ and that’s just because it takes so long to actually see a difference.
SEO is basically a lot of hurry up and wait and as soon as you think you’ve got it, someone changes something or your competitors do something and you have to rethink everything.
For the entire life span of your site.
Welcome to the club.