You have a product, company or service and you have a website. Maybe your site has been out there for years or maybe you just launched it. You tell your friends about your site, and then you get the response “um, I googled it, but couldn’t find your site…” Ouch. If your friends can’t find you and they are actively looking, you can be sure that potential clients, customers or other users have no way of locating your site. So are you going to just sit back and say “Eh, that’s the way the cookie crumbles?”
It may help to know that most people just don’t know where to begin, so you aren’t alone. There is a ton of information on SEO, but it is very easy to get lost in all of the details and quickly feel overwhelmed. In order to help clear the clutter, I have put together a list of the first steps to set you on the path for SEO greatness.
- Create a Google account. The next several steps all require you to create accounts within Google. You can use a non-gmail email for them, for instance firstname.lastname@example.org, as long as you set it up as a Google Account. You will get a confirmation email that you must click through before you can proceed to the next steps.
- Set up Google Analytics. Use your email address that has been cleared with Google to create a Google Analytics account. Be sure to take the tracking code provided during set up and add it onto every page of your site. We have put together a more detailed step-by-step instruction guide for creating a Google Analytics account that you can follow for help. Once you install the code, check back in a day or two to make sure you are actually tracking data. There is a lot of rich website information found in Google Analytics, and even if you don’t have much traffic to your site now, you can at least see where the traffic have is coming from.
- Set up Analytics Goals to track additional metrics. Are people able to download a whitepaper on your site? How about submit info within a contact us form or sign up for a newsletter? These types of actions can all be tracked by creating goals within Google Analytics. Think about your site and what additional information it might be helpful to have, and then create a goal for each of these.
- Open a Google Webmaster Tools account. Use the same login information that you did for Analytics to create a Webmaster Tools (WMT) account. From there, you will need to add in your URL and verify the website. We have written a quick guide to Google Webmaster Tools to help you along the way.
- Create an XML sitemap. If you don’t have an XML sitemap on your site already, be sure and create one as this will help you get indexed. There are several free tools out there to help you easily create it. We use GSiteCrawler most frequently simply because of habit, but I have used others and in the end, the result is the same. Once you have your sitemap, be sure to add it to your website and submit it within Google Webmaster Tools.
- Find, Review and Correct Site Errors. Review the reports in your WMT account to identify errors with your site. From there, correct any problems like 404-pages, etc. to make sure you are operating with a 100% functional site.
- Open a Bing Webmaster Tools account. Although Google has the lion’s share of search traffic, you can’t ignore Bing. You never know, without Analytics data, more than half of your traffic could be coming from this search engine. Set up a Bing Webmaster Tools account and submit your sitemap similar to the process you followed in Google. Also review error reports to make sure Bing is reading your site correctly.
Although, at this point, you haven’t yet done a lot of the heavy lifting required for SEO success, these first seven steps are already putting you on the right track and are the must-do’s before you go any further.
Now you are officially ready to start optimizing for improved rankings and traffic. Make sure you have put a little effort in determining a strategy before you dive in. Next, you will want to define your keywords, and then work to update your content as well as write new where necessary. From there, continue to work on building an internal linking structure as well as put together a plan for link building.
Although the big gains are going to come from these additional efforts, which are really the core of SEO, it is important to tackle the basics first. Without website data, you will have no way to verify what impact your additional efforts are having. What are you waiting for…get started!
Erin is an Account Supervisor at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.