For example, if you run a pet training tips website, you want your site to appear at the top of the results whenever a search user enters “pet training tips” into the search bar. Achieving these top rankings puts your site in front of as many eyeballs as possible, leading to an influx of new traffic—and potential new customers—to your website.
Unfortunately, simply writing good website content isn’t enough to secure these top spots alone. Not only are you competing against hundreds of thousands of websites online, you’ve also got to navigate the maze of ranking signals that the search engines use in their algorithms to determine where sites should appear in the search listings.
The following five rules represent only the briefest of introductions to the field of SEO. Start by applying these techniques to your site and then, once you feel comfortable understanding the theory behind these strategies, continue to seek out new opportunities to learn SEO and leverage the practice on your site to increase its search results visibility.
Rule #1: Make Sure Your Site Can Be Indexed
If you implement only one SEO rule on your site, make it this one!
To see why this is so important, you must first understand that search engines rely on automated programs known as “bots” or “spiders” to move between internal and external website links, storing copies of the information they find in the engine’s “index.” Given the size of the Web, these indexes are massively huge databases from which the search engines’ algorithms pull pages to appear whenever users submit search queries.
Because these programs are automated and travel through website links (referred to as “crawling”), it’s up to you to make sure their path is clear. If the search engines can’t fully explore the pages on your site (whether due to broken links, hidden content, or any other crawl issues), your content won’t be captured in the index and won’t be displayed in the natural search results.
The easiest way to identify issues that prevent the search engines’ bots from crawling your site is to set up an account with Google’s Webmaster Tools program. Once your site is enrolled, logging in to the program’s dashboard will show you a list of any “Crawl Errors” that should be addressed.
Rule #2: Focus on Both Industry and Branded Keywords
Next up, you need to be aware that the practice of SEO relies heavily on the identification of individual “keywords.” That is, the specific search queries for which you’d like your site to appear in the natural search results.
Again, keep in mind that the search engines’ indexing programs are automated, which means that they must rely on arbitrary signals to determine what your content is about and whether or not it’s any good. One of these signals is the presence of keywords in certain key areas.
Continuing with our earlier example, if you want your website to appear in the search results for the keyword phrase “pet training tips,” you can increase your chances by including this search query in several different places on your website (as in, in your title tag, in your headline tag, and in your body content).
But since you can’t possibly optimize your site for every single keyword phrase out there, webmasters must take a number of different factors into consideration when deciding how to allocate their targeting efforts.
As a startup, you’ll want to split your time between two types of keyword phrases: industry and branded keywords. Imagine, for a second, that you’re a startup accounting software firm to see how this principle plays out in real life…
- “Industry” phrases include broad, generic search queries, like “accounting software” and “bookkeeping program.” Getting your site to appear in the search results for one of these phrases will put your new brand in front of people who are already looking for the type of product you offer, even if they don’t yet know your company’s name.
- “Branded” keywords include phrases based around your company’s name, tagline and URL. As a startup, people might not be entering these queries into the search engines yet, but by optimizing your website for these terms, you’ll be well-positioned to receive additional traffic as soon as your startup gains brand recognition.
Rule #3: Choose Keywords Based on Search Intent and Other Metrics
In addition to choosing a mix of industry and branded keyword phrases, you’ll want to keep the following keyword characteristics in mind when determining which search queries to optimize your websites for:
- Search volume. Keyword research programs can give you an estimate of the number of times every potential keyword phrase is searched for each month. The higher this number is, the more potential traffic you stand to gain by ranking well in the natural search results.
- Competition. These same research programs will tell you how “competitive” potential keyword phrases are (that is, how many other sites have optimized their pages for these search queries). Unless your startup is particularly well-funded, avoid high-competition phrases and focus on keywords that are likely to lead to quick wins in the search listings.
- Search intent. Obviously, the keywords you choose to focus on should be related to your site’s mission. Don’t target the phrase “Las Vegas travel” on your pet training tips website, no matter how attractive its combination of search volume and competitiveness may be.
Once you have taken all of these different factors into account, you should have a short list of at least five to 10 keywords to target on your startup’s website. Then, add these keywords to your website in accordance with on-site SEO best practices described above and with those found on other SEO training sites.
Rule #4: Make Link Building a Priority from the Start
Another key priority for startups should be to start building inbound backlinks to their sites as quickly as possible, as both the number and quality of the links pointing back at a site plays a big role in its overall natural search performance.
A few of the different ways you can go about building these critical connections include:
- Providing guest posts for other websites that include a link back to your pages.
- Contacting sites that review products in your industry and asking them to include your startup’s offerings on their pages.
- Sending press releases to major news services whenever your startup has an achievement to celebrate.
- Disseminating viral-style content on social media networks (with the intention that it will be shared on your followers’ websites).
- Adding your website to any relevant business directories within your industry.
Of course, these are just a few ideas for building links back to your startup’s website. For others, take a look at my complete list, “101 Ways to Link Build in 2012” (don’t worry, all the techniques described in this article still hold up in 2013!).
Rule #5: Publish Awesome Content
Finally, one of the best things you can do to optimize your startup’s website is to publish awesome content to your company’s pages. This offers several key advantages:
- When you publish awesome content, others in your industry will link back to it naturally, minimizing the amount of manual link building you need to do.
- The more content you have on your website, the more opportunities you’ll have to get ranked for different keywords in the natural search results. This can lead to substantially more traffic than your original target keyword list can account for.
- If your content is good enough, readers will share it amongst one another in a viral fashion, quickly improving your young company’s brand recognition.
To ensure that any content you publish meets this “awesome” criterion, set aside enough time to produce great content and review every piece you intend to publish carefully before adding it to your site. If you are not confident that your potential content pieces will pass muster with your target audience, scrap them and replace them with higher-quality articles.
Clearly, as anyone who’s been engaged in the process of SEO for any length of time will tell you, these strategies represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to website optimization. If you’re new to the field, start with these five rules, but then make it a priority to learn and apply more in-depth techniques in order to skyrocket your startup’s natural search performance.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ekaterina Bykova
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