SEO projects require forethought and planning to obtain the best results, and SEO needs to be considered during and incorporated into, all stages of a website development or redevelopment project. For example, the site architecture (including the selection of a content management system, or CMS), the marketing plan (including branding concepts), and much more are affected.
We will discuss several aspects of how SEO projects start, including:
- Putting together an SEO plan
- Performing a technical SEO audit of a site
- Setting a baseline for measuring results and progress
These are the things you want to do at the very beginning of your SEO efforts for any website.
The Major Elements of Planning
As an experienced SEO consultant will tell you, you should incorporate your SEO strategy into the site planning process long before your site goes live. Your strategy should be well outlined before you make even the most basic technology choices, such as the hosting platform and your CMS. However, this is not always possible and in fact, more often than not an SEO professional will be brought in to work on a site that already exists.
Regardless of when you start, there are a number of major components to any SEO plan that you need to address long before you research the first title tag.
As we already suggested, SEO is a technical process, and as such, it impacts major technology choices. For example, a CMS can facilitate or, possibly, undermine your SEO strategy. Some platforms do not allow you to have titles and meta descriptions that vary from one web page to the next, create hundreds (or thousands) of pages of duplicate content or make a 302 (temporary) redirect the default redirect. All of these things could be disastrous for your
This problem also exists with web servers. For example, if you use Internet Information Services (IIS), the default redirects choice is a 302 a 301[permanent] redirect is essential for most redirect applications). You can configure IIS to use a 301 redirect, but this is something you need to understand how to do and build into your SEO plan up front.
Another critical factor to understand is the nature of the market in which you are competing. This tells you how competitive the environment is in general, and augmented with additional research, you can use this information to tell how competitive the SEO environment is.
Another method you can use to get a very quick read on competitiveness is using a keyword tool such as the Google Traffic Estimator (https://adwords.google.com/select/TrafficEstimatorSandbox) to see what your cost per click would be if you bid on your target phrase in a PPC campaign.
Where You Can Find Great Links
Getting third parties to link their websites to yours is a critical part of SEO. Without inbound links, there is little to no chance of ranking for competitive terms in search engines such as Google, whose algorithm relies heavily on link measuring and weighting criteria.
An early part of the SEO brainstorming process is identifying the great places to get links, as well as the types of content you might want to develop to encourage linking from other quality websites. Note that we, the authors, advocate pursuing few, relevant, higher-quality links over hundreds of low-quality links, as 10 good links can go much further than thousands of links from random blog posts or forums. Understanding this will help you build your overall content plan. The authors also have noticed a strong increase in text link spam being utilized by SEO
practitioners, in the form of mass-produced articles, forums, and blog postings with keyword text links in the name and/or signature.
At the time of this second edition’s publishing, Google specifically was still rewarding this behavior for many queries, allowing websites whose backlink profiles are overwhelmingly link-spammy to rank on the first page of results. The authors strongly believe that this dubious practice is ill-fated and will be targeted and flushed out by Google in the future. We do not recommend using this strategy.
The driver of any heavy-duty link campaign is the quality and volume of your content. If your content is of average quality and covers the same information dozens of other sites have covered, it will not attract many links. If, however, you are putting out quality content, or you have a novel tool that many will want to use, you are more likely to receive external links.
At the beginning of any SEO campaign, you should look at the content on the site and the available resources for developing new content. You can then match this up with your target keywords and your link-building plans to provide the best results.
Of course, most companies have branding concerns as well. The list of situations where the brand can limit the strategy is quite long, and the opposite can happen too, where the nature of the brand makes a particular SEO strategy pretty compelling. Ultimately, your goal is to dovetail SEO efforts with branding as seamlessly as possible.
Your SEO strategy can also be influenced by your competitors’ strategies, so understanding what they are doing is a critical part of the process for both SEO and business intelligence objectives. There are several scenarios you might encounter:
- The competitor discovers a unique, highly converting a set of keywords.
- The competitor discovers a targeted, high-value link.
- Weaknesses appear in the competitor’s strategy, which provides opportunities for exploitation.
- The competitor saturates a market segment, justifying your focus elsewhere.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition from an SEO perspective is a significant part of devising your own SEO strategy.
Defining Your Site’s Information Architecture
Your technology choices can have a major impact on your SEO results. The following is an outline of the most important issues to address at the outset:
Although Google now states that dynamic URLs are not a problem for the company, this is not entirely true, nor is it the case for the other search engines. Make sure your CMS does not end up rendering your pages on URLs with many convoluted parameters in them.
Session IDs or user IDs in the URL
It used to be very common for CMSs to track individual users surfing a site by adding a tracking code to the end of the URL. Although this worked well for this purpose, it was not good for search engines, because they saw each URL as a different page rather than variants of the same page. Make sure your CMS does not ever serve up session IDs. If you are not able to do this, make sure you use rel=”canonical” on your URLs.
Superfluous flags in the URL
Related to the preceding two items is the notion of extra junk being present in the URL. This probably does not bother Google, but it may bother the other search engines, and it interferes with the user experience for your site.
Search engines often cannot see links and content implemented using these technologies. Make sure the plan is to expose your links and content in simple HTML text.
Content behind forms (including pull-down lists)
Making content accessible only after the user has completed a form (such as a login) or made a selection from an improperly implemented pull-down list is a great way to hide content from the search engines. Do not use these techniques unless you want to hide your content!
Temporary (302) redirects
This is also a common problem in web server platforms and CMSs. The 302 redirect blocks a search engine from recognizing that you have permanently moved the content, and it can be very problematic for SEO as 302 redirects block the passing of PageRank. You need to make sure the default redirect your systems use is a 301, or understand how to configure it so that it becomes the default.
This post contains the content of book The_Art_of_SEO_2nd_Edition