You’ve had a great new business idea, registered your domain name and started to build your website. How can you make sure it’s easy for Google and other search engines to discover and rank?
SEO is a long-term process and results are rarely immediate, but the first steps you take after you launch a new website can have a big impact on the website’s potential to rank in Google search for its target keywords and start bringing in traffic, leads and sales.
Get things right at the beginning, from an SEO perspective, and you’ll save yourself hours and hours of work further down the line fixing a website that wasn’t originally built with SEO in mind.
Below, we’ve listed seven first steps that you should take whenever you launch a new website to make sure it’s designed from the very beginning to rank for its target keywords and attract as much traffic as possible from organic search.
The structure of your website has a huge effect on its ability to rank. In order to rank effectively for your target keywords, you need to structure your website so that each page targets its own set of closely related, highly relevant keywords.
For example, pretend you’re launching a website for a men’s shoe shop. You sell a variety of different men’s shoes, from leather shoes and boots to sports shoes. You’d like each category to rank for its target keywords and attract searchers looking for a specific type of shoe.
This means breaking down your website’s structure into categories, with each category aimed at a different search keyword. Below, we’ve included an example site structure, with the homepage targeting the main keyword (“Men’s shoes”) and subpages for each secondary keyword:
Structuring your website like this has several benefits. First, it creates a clear theme and target keyword for each page on the website, instead of having one page target multiple keywords. It allows you to closely target each keyword on each page for maximum relevance.
It also allows you to further break down each category into subcategories. For example, if our example website sold several different types of men’s leather shoes, we could further break it down to target additional keywords with subpages:
This structure lets each page target its own primary keyword, as well as a set of secondary keywords. A website structure like this, with each page dedicated to its own set of keywords, gives each page greater relevance and improves its potential organic search visibility.
In the world of SEO in 2016, content is one of the most important on-page factors for helping your website rank. Before you start any active SEO efforts, it’s important to make sure your website has content that engages and helps its users.
Data shows that pages with 2,000+ words of content typically rank higher in Google search than pages with short, light content. Going into detail might take more time, but it has a positive effect on your website’s ability to rank in organic search for its target keywords.
Research also shows that long, detailed pages are more likely to get links than short pages. As time-consuming as it might be to develop long-form content for each of your pages as you build your website, doing so can pay for itself in a greater number of inbound links to each page.
A great way to think about your content is as the solution to someone’s need. We’ve previously written on using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a source of inspiration for your content. If you can solve a crucial need, your on-page content is far more likely to attract valuable links.
For optimal on-page SEO, include your target keywords in your content occasionally, but don’t overdo it. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect keyword stuffing, and it will usually lead to your website being penalized in the rankings for its target keywords.
Instead of stuffing keywords into your content, use them strategically. Add your keywords to H1 and H2 tags on your page. Add long tail keywords to H3 and H4 subheadings. Once you finish writing each page, double check it to make sure your keywords fit naturally into the content.
Your title tag is the text that Google will display as your page title for every search result, as well as the text that will display in the user’s browser when they visit your page. It’s important that all of your pages have title tags that are optimized for their target SEO keywords.
A good title tag should accurately describe the content on your page while mentioning the main keyword you’re targeting for SEO. For example, the “Men’s Leather Oxfords” page on our shoe website above would benefit from a title tag like this:
Men’s Leather Oxfords - Browse Shoes and Buy Online
This title accurately describes the content of the page (after all, it’s a list of men’s leather Oxford shoes) and tells users what to expect after they click through from Google’s search page. It also includes the target keyword (“men’s leather oxfords”) at the beginning of the title.
Here’s an example of how the title tag above would look in Google’s search results for someone that searched for our example website:
You can see that the keyword is right at the beginning of the title, attracting the attention of the user and showing Google that our page is relevant. Since our site is structured with each page targeting a specific keyword, “men’s leather oxford” is also highlighted in the page URL.
Google will crop your title tag if it’s longer than 60 characters, so make sure you keep your page titles brief and simple. It’s best to use your target keyword as close to the start of the title tag as possible for optimal SEO.
The meta description is the short snippet of information that appears below your website’s title and URL in Google’s search engine results. Although meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor, it’s important to give each page on your website a relevant, keyword-focused meta description.
One reason for this is that your meta description can have a huge effect on your page’s CTR, or clickthrough rate. A detailed meta description will encourage users to click your result instead of a competing website, increasing your total share of search impressions.
Below, we’ve added a meta description to our example page on men’s leather Oxfords. You can see that the listing now offers much more detail about what users can expect to see, as well as a compelling reason to click through in the form of our free shipping offer.
Each page of your website should have its own unique meta description that explains the page in more detail and offers a reason for users to click. If you’re using WordPress, you can quickly add unique meta descriptions using a plugin like Yoast SEO or SEO Ultimate.
To enter your title tag and meta description, just scroll down to below your page’s content box and find the SEO settings area. Enter your title and meta description into the data entry boxes shown below:
Once you’ve built your website, developed content and given each page a unique title tag and meta description, it’s time to install Google Analytics. Google Analytics is free tracking software that lets you monitor how people use your website, as well as how they find it.
From an SEO perspective, Google Analytics is a great tool for spotting opportunities to further optimize your website for specific keywords. Installing Google Analytics as soon as you launch your website gives you data right from the beginning, helping you further optimize later.
Installing Google Analytics is simple. Just visit Google.com/Analytics and sign up using your Google account. Once you’ve configured your website in Analytics, you’ll need to paste your unique Analytics tracking code onto your website.
If you use WordPress, you can add the code using the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin. If you have a static HTML website, you can add the Analytics tracking code to each page by following Google’s instructions.
Once you’ve set up Google Analytics, it’s time to add your website to Google’s Search Console.
Search Console is Google’s platform for webmasters. It gives you access to valuable data about how your website performs in organic search, from the keywords for which it ranks to its search CTR for each keyword, total keyword impressions and other valuable metrics.
To add your website to Google Search Console, visit Google.com/Webmasters. Since your site is already linked to a Google Analytics account, you can start using Search Console without any additional verification process.
The two steps outlined above might not seem that important now, but they’ll become very useful when your website starts to rank for its target keywords and generate traffic.
Congratulations! With Google Analytics and Search Console configured, your title tags and meta descriptions optimized and great content on each page of your website, you’ve taken care of the on-page site of search engine optimization.
Now it’s time to move onto the next step in the SEO process: building links. A great way to start building links to your website is to reach out to your personal network -- friends, influencers and colleagues -- and ask them to help promote your website.
If you’re friends with bloggers whose content is relevant for your website, reach out and ask if they’d be interested in writing about you. If your website is newsworthy, contact a local paper and ask if they would be interested in reporting on you.
Struggling to attract the attention of bloggers and website owners? QuickSprout has a variety of email outreach templates that, while far from perfect, are useful for developing your link building outreach campaign.
Link building is a slow, gradual process, but it’s often easy to kick-start it in the earliest days of your website by making use of your personal network. A friend or two linking to your website is often all it takes to put it on Google’s radar and start improving its visibility for some keywords.
One great way to start building links is through guest blogging. Our guide to guest blogging is full of insightful tips on how to reach out to bloggers and earn the opportunity to write for them, building high-value links to your website in the process.
SEO is a long process, and it’s rarely enough to simply launch a website and wait as the leads, sales and revenue start to roll in. If you’d like to rank for competitive keywords, you need to put together a long term SEO strategy with clearly defined goals, milestones and objectives.
This strategy could involve content marketing, or it could simply be a matter of reaching out to website owners to highlight link building opportunities. There’s no one “right” way to do SEO -- since every website is different, everyone’s SEO strategy is ever so slightly unique.
If you’ve built your website and implemented the seven steps outlined above, you’re well on the path towards SEO success. As you start to generate traffic, stay up to date on the SEO metrics that matter for your website with our practical guide to SEO metrics.
Want to learn how to rank your site on Google? DMI offers an interactive Search Engine Optimization short course that teaches you the benefits of how your website content, mobile optimization and usability will improve your overall website performance. Discover how to build your SEO strategy and evaluate performance over time. Also includes free DMI Membership for six months.