Committing to SEO best practices is a critical component for any business looking to not only grow online, but remain highly competitive in its market. An effective SEO strategy can significantly help a website gain a higher search engine ranking that will elevate viewership and branding. The continually-evolving SEO landscape requires persistent attentiveness to strategies and practices for prime optimization, which can be a daunting task. That’s why at Genious, we’ve compiled the following SEO checklist to add to our resources designed to help businesses start implementing an effective SEO strategy.
Search engines such as Google need to “crawl” or index a website in order to interpret and rank the content of the site, and an XML sitemap helps them to better understand the information that they find. When a search engine crawls a website, an XML sitemap helps to ensure that the search bot sees every URL available there. By creating an XML sitemap, it’s guaranteed that the engine picks up on the elements that are necessary for a high ranking, such as keywords, fresh content, and a page’s relevance in relation to other pages on the site. An XML sitemap can be generated using a variety of resource websites, such as http://xml-sitemaps.com/. The process also involves setting up a Google Webmaster account from which the sitemap will be accessed.
An effective SEO strategy also depends on thorough keyword research, which heavily determines the amount of desirable traffic to individual pages. A website with words and phrases that are seldom searched for will attract minimal viewership, while a site with optimized keywords that have been naturally integrated into the content will generate higher traffic. To determine the proper keywords to include on a web page, first access a list of highly-searched keywords in the market, which can be found at a resource like Google’s Keyword Planner. Among those listed, only choose keywords that are truly relevant to the specific page. Keep the value of “long-tail” keywords in mind, as well; these more specific keywords and phrases typically attract visitors that know exactly what they want and are ready to buy. Develop fresh content. Google now places greater importance on how frequently a website publishes relevant content. Regular additions to a site’s content not only draws desired traffic from customers, but it makes search engines take notice, providing a company’s website an edge over its competitors. Fresh content can come in various forms, including blog posts, press releases, new landing pages, regular video uploads and more. Given the continually-expanding quantities of well-written content on the Web, remember that viewers won’t bother to read anything that’s not meaningful or clearly communicated.
Meta tag descriptions are a form of back-end coding that can help a search engine, like Google, determine a website’s relevance and, if done incorrectly, can actually be a hindrance. Meta tags briefly describe what can be found on a website in less than 150 characters (including spaces), and will ideally contain a relevant keyword. It’s essential that a meta tag is an accurate description of what can be found on a site; if deemed inaccurate or poorly-written, the meta tag will likely be replaced by a far less engaging tag generated by the search engine. Meta tags should also be used to sell the company’s website! Use language that will drive viewership and always feature a call to action.
Best SEO practices emphasize that hyphens should be utilized to separate words when necessary for easier reading, and avoid spacing, overuse of underscores, and a character length exceeding 2,048. Of equal importance is a URL’s description, which should be brief, relevant, and ideally include a ranked keyword.
Fresh content on a website is great for SEO, but if it’s too brief it may not be all that effective. The general recommendation is that each web page should have at least 250 words of quality content. Anything less usually indicates that the writing isn’t that informative or beneficial to visitors, which can limit viewership and impact branding. Brief content also limits the ability of search engines to fully understand it and pick up on ranking keywords. Web pages and blog posts have traditionally contained 300-500 words, but unless the content is too short (approximately less than 250 words), quality typically trumps quantity.
Companies with strong SEO strategies understand the value of social media profiles, which can play an important role in driving rankings and enhancing reputation. Expanding your company’s social media presence in platforms that make sense for its goals (Genious is happy to show you which social platforms make the most sense for your marketing dollars) and promote links and content that are both shareable and of substance. When a link or post from a social media site is shared, its visibility to search engines like Google increases. Search engines also see frequently-shared links as a sign of a website’s credibility and popularity, resulting in a higher ranking. Social media platforms can also serve as another medium for associating ranked keywords with the company’s website. Are you posting fresh social content across all relevant profiles?
One of the best ways to reach a targeted audience is to optimize for local viewership. This involves optimizing a current page or creating additional pages that are specifically intended for customers in the local area (or in some cases, near each store location). Local profiles include key NAP information (name, address and phone), which search engines are able to easily crawl; they should also include locally relevant content, a Google + page for each location, and a way for customers to leave reviews to help boost ratings.
Link building—which demonstrates relationships between pages—should always be brand-oriented. This means that rather than focusing on the number of links that a company can publish on the Web to drive its ranking, it should concentrate on how each piece of content that is published will enhance the company’s brand and reputation. Thanks to newly patented algorithms like Panda, Google now tends to value quality of links more highly than the sheer quantity of them. Use relevant links from other websites to market the brand and boost traffic.
An Alt tag is a brief description of an image on a web page. While not intended to be visible to viewers, alt tags will appear if an image has trouble loading or is used by software that reads text aloud. Perhaps most importantly, an alt tag is the only way a search engine can recognize the content of a picture. When a search engine understands that an image features specific content, it can then rank the picture on an image-based search engine, like Google Images.
Each page of a website should include a heading (H1) tag, which is essentially the title that viewers will see at the top of a web page. As with meta descriptions, heading tags should be informative, concise, and possibly contain a keyword or phrase. Heading tags should aim for both ranking (via a keyword) and user experience. Remember that rankings aren’t just driven by search engine crawls, but also by actual viewer traffic. A site that prioritizes user experience, even in the smallest of ways (like with an H1 tag) will likely see positive results.
A press release is a highly effective means of improving SEO and, if lucrative, will result in a greater online presence via mentions in published news articles, etc. As long as a press release is truly worthy of publication (i.e., a company is making an announcement about an accomplishment, new location, new service, etc.), its release can be facilitated by a third party public relations firm and made available to a number of news outlets. It’s also wise to create a “News” or “Press Release” page on a website where releases can be archived.
As with social media, the more that visitors are engaged with a website and share its posted content, the stronger SEO ranking the site will have and, in turn, the stronger the company’s sales. This means that even though content may be regularly updated, fresh content is more effective if presented in diverse formats. Consider posting videos, podcasts, images, Infographics, Buzzfeed articles and more to drive traffic and demonstrate versatility in content creation. While blog posts are effective, diversifying content lets customers know that their level of engagement is valued.
Broken links spell bad news for businesses. Not only do they decrease the quality of user experience and cast a business in a poor light, but broken links are also highly frowned upon by Google and other top search engines. Their message: a highly-ranked website represents relevance, popularity, authority and quality—a website with broken links represents a website that isn’t regularly updated and optimized.
Search engines like Google tend to view duplicate content as a sign a company is trying to “cheat” its way to the top of the rankings through quantity, rather than quality. Duplicate content also makes it challenging for search engines to discern which version of the content should be ranked for query results. Be sure to review each page on the website for repeating content to avoid penalization.
Search engine optimization is an ongoing process that requires frequent evaluation and adjustment. Successful SEO depends on the assessment of web analytics. Ask the following questions: In the last week, has Web traffic increased? How many times was a link shared on social media? Were any meta descriptions replaced? Have overall ranking improved? Website analytics should be reviewed on a weekly basis and can be compiled using a third-party SEO service or professional software.
While an optimization strategy can be implemented by an individual company, it’s easy to see how the expertise of an SEO agency can provide the knowledge and insight, not to mention efficiency, that companies rely on to establish a truly effective online presence. Interested in additional SEO resources? Check out the Genious resources page for expert advice, helpful blog posts, and more.