This week I have a special request from one of the users to talk about an SEO checklist for new websites that aren’t ranking yet. I’ve created a new website, I want to make sure that I’m doing all the right things in the right order, that I’ve got everything set up and my website’s not yet ranking. What are the things that I should be doing and maybe some things that I shouldn’t be doing?
SEO Checklist for New Websites
Let’s run through. You’ve got a new site that you’ve just launched. You’re setting things up for success. What do you need to worry about? First off, accessibility. What I mean by this is users and search engines both need to be able to reach all of the pages, all the content that you created on your website in easy ways. You need to make sure you don’t have any sort of dumb mistakes that can harm your SEO.
These are things like 404 and 500 errors and 302 instead of 301, duplicate content, missing titles tags, thin content where there’s not much material on the page for the search engines to grab onto. Maybe for users as well. Two tools that are great for this, first off Google Webmaster Tools which is completely free. You can register at Google.com/webmasters and the SEOmoz crawl through the SEOmoz Pro Web app, also very useful when you’re looking at a new site. We sort of built a bunch of features in there that we wish Google Webmaster Tools kept track of, but they don’t. Some of those features are included in the SEOmoz Crawl including things like 302s for example, some thin content stuff. That can be quite helpful.
Next up, keyword targeting: This makes some sense that you have to choose the right keywords to target. What I want to have is if gobbledezok, probably an awful keyword for anyone to be targeting. No search volume, just a bad choice in general. We want to be looking at do these have good search volume. Are some users actually searching for them? You might not be able to target high-value terms because you’re also looking for low difficulty when you’re first launching this site. You don’t want to necessarily shoot for the moon.
Maybe you do on your homepage or some branded page, some product page, but for the things that you know that you want to target and you want to work on early, short-term, maybe some content that you’ve got, some of those feature pages for the product or service you’re offering. You think to yourself I’m not going to be able to target gobblede. That’s really tough. Maybe gobbledezok. That’ll be easier. You could look at search volume, the relevance to the website. Please by all means make sure that you have something that’s relevant, that’s actually pulling in searches you care about and low difficulty. If you’ve got that taken care of, you’ve got your keyword targeting.
Content quality and value: If you have a bunch of users coming to this page and they think to themselves this doesn’t really answer my query or maybe this answers one portion of it, but I wish there was more detail here. More video, more images, maybe a nice graphic that explains some things, a data set, some references to where they got this information. Not just a bunch of blocks of text. Maybe I’m looking for something that describes a process. Something that explains it fully. If you can do that if you can build something remarkable where all of these people change from huh? Huh? What’s this? To oh, you know what? Instead, it’s I am happy. I also am happy. This page makes me so happy. Yea, I’m going to stick my tongue out.
If you can get that level of enjoyment and satisfaction from your users with the quality of the content that you produce, you’re going to do much better in the search engines. Search engines have got some really sophisticated algorithms that look at true quality and value. You can see Google’s gotten so much better about putting really good stuff in results. Even sometimes when it doesn’t have a lot of links or it’s not doing hardcore keyword targeting, when it’s great stuff, they’re doing a good job of ranking it.
Next up, design quality, user experience, and usability: This is tough unless you have a professional designer or you have a professional design background, you almost certainly need to hire someone or go with a very simple, basic design that’s very user-friendly that you know when you survey your friends, survey people in your industry, survey people in your company, survey people in your ecosystem, if they go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. This looks really good. I’m very happy with the design.” Maybe I’m only giving it a 6 out of 10 in terms of beauty, but an 8 out of 10 in terms of usability. I understand the content on the site. It’s easy for me to find things and they flow. There’s really no point in ranking unless you’re nailing these two because you’re not going to get many more customers. People are just going to be frustrated by the website.
There are a few tools you can use on the web to test these out, so Five Second Test, Feedback Army, Silverback app. All of these are potentially useful for checking on usability, the user experience of the site.
Social accounts setup: Because social and SEO are coming together like never before, right, Google is showing plus ones and things that people share by default in the search engine rankings. Bing is showing all the stuff that’s been shared on Facebook and they’re putting it above the rest of the content. It really, really pays to be on social. Social signals help search engines better understand or better rank things as well as having this nice second-order effect on the user and usage data, on branding, on the impact of people seeing those sites through social sharing and potentially linking to them.
Social account setup at the very least you probably want to have these four, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus. All of those have got, well, Google Plus is only about 25 million, but it’s growing very fast. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are all over 150 million users right now. I think Twitter’s at 200 million. Facebook’s at 750 million. At least have your pages set up for those. Make sure the account experience is the same across, using the same photos, same branding, same descriptions so people get a good sense when they see you in the social world. You probably want to start setting something up to be monitoring and tracking these.
The SEOmoz web app will start to track these for you pretty soon. Once you’ve got those social accounts set up you can feel good about sharing the content that you’re producing through those social accounts, finding connections, building up in that world, and spending the appropriate amount of time there depending on the value you’re feeling back from that.
Next up, link building: This is where I know a lot of people get off to the wrong start and it’s incredibly hard to recover. I actually just got an email in my inbox before we started doing this blog post from someone who had started a new website. He emailed me, “I’ve got these 300 links and now I’m not ranking anymore. I was doing great last week. For the first six weeks after my launch, I was ranking great.” I think this person really went down the route of I’m going to get a bunch of low quality easy to acquire links and for a new site in particular it’s so dangerous because Google is just really on top of throwing people out of the index or penalizing them very heavily when their link profile looks really scummy. When you don’t have any trustworthy quality signals to boost you up, that’s when low-quality links can hurt the most.
Good things to do: Start with your business contacts and your customers. They are great places to get links from. Your customers are willing to link to you, Get them If the contacts that you have in the business world are willing to say, “Hey, my friend Rand just launched a new website.” Boom. That’s a great way of doing it. All your email contacts, your LinkedIn contacts, the people who you know personally and professionally if you can ask them, “Hey, would you support me by throwing a link to me on your about page or your blog roll or your list of customers or your list of vendors?” Whatever it is.
Guest posts and content: This is a great way to do good content, positive content production, and earnings leads back to that. Finding trustworthy sites that have lots of RSS subscribers and are well renowned and can give you visibility in front of your audience and give you a nice link back in you can contribute positively to those. I also like high-quality resources lists, so this would be things like the Better Business Bureau maybe. That sort of falls a little in the directory world, but something like a CrunchBase. If you’re a startup in the technology world, you definitely need to have a CrunchBase listing.
Image Source: HubShout.com
You might want to be on some Wikipedia lists. That’s probably a good place to get some visibility. There might be industry-specific lists that are like, these are heavy machine production facilities in the United States. Great, okay, I should be on that list. That’s what I do. News media and blogs. Getting the press to cover you. Getting blogs in your sphere to cover you. Finding those, emailing the editors, letting them know that you’re launching this new website, that’s a great time to say, “Hey, this business is transforming. We’re launching a new site. We’re changing our branding.” Whatever it is. That’s sort of a press-worthy message and you can get someone to look to you.
Review sites, review blogs are great for this too as they’ll sort of say, “Oh, you’ve got a new application. You’ve got a new mobile service. Maybe we’ll link to you.” That can be interesting. Relevant social and industry app account links. If I contribute something to the Google Chrome Store, if I contribute something to the Apple Store, if I am contributing something to a design portal, design gallery, all of those kinds of industry stuff and accounts that you can get are likely worth submitting to, worth getting your website listed on.
Then social media link acquisitions: This is obvious stuff when you spend time on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Google Plus connecting with people and over time building those relationships that will get you the links possibly through one of these other forms or just through the friendliness of them noticing and liking and enjoying your content.
That’s what content marketing is all about as well. These are great ways to start, very safe ways to do link building. They’re not short-term wins. These almost all of them require at least some effort, some investment of your time and energy, some creativity, some good content, some authenticity in your marketing versus a lot of the stuff that tempts people very early on. They’re like, “Oh sweet. I have a new website. I need to get 500 links as soon as possible, so I’m going to try things like reciprocal link pages. I’m just going to put up a list of reciprocal link partners and I’m going to co-contact a bunch of other firms. They’ll all link to me and we’ll all link to each other. It will be a happy marriage of links.” No, it’s not. It’s not a wonderland.
Low-quality directories: Search for SEO friendly directory. If it shows up on that list, chances are even in Google, Google is showing you a bunch of bad stuff. Someone was asking me recently on email, they said, “Hey, I really need some examples of sites that have done manipulative link building.” I was like, “Oh, it’s so easy. Search for an SEO friendly directory and look at who’s paid to be listed in those directories.” They almost all have spammy, manipulative link profiles.
It’s funny because you’ll go to those and I don’t know why people don’t do this but try searching for the brand names that come up in those lists. None of them rank for their own brand name. Why is that? Clearly they’re killing themselves with these terrible, terrible links, right? Low-quality directories, really avoid them. Article marketing or article spinning. I talked to you about that a few weeks ago on a blog post. Also a practice I would strongly recommend you avoid. I know it can work. I know there are people for whom it does work, but especially early on it can just kill you. It really can get you banned or penalized out of the engines and you just won’t rank anywhere if your link profile starts out spammy.
Paid links are another obvious one: Forums, open forum spams. Kind of going across the web, “Oh, look. Here’s a guestbook that’s open. Forgot to put on file. I’m going to leave a link there. Oh here, look there’s a forum that accepts registration. They forgot to close their no-follow off.” Anyone can leave a link. Even things like do-follow blogs, do-follow blog comments, man, it’s really risky. They’re linking to bad places a lot of the time and it’s usually manipulative people who have no intention to create something of value for the search engines. They’re merely trying to manipulate their rankings. Whenever you have a tactic like that it attracts people who have nasty websites and then Google looks at those and goes, “Okay, they’re linking to a bunch of nasty sites.” I don’t want to count those links or maybe I’m even going to penalize some of the people that they’re linking to. That really sucks.
Then link farms which are essentially setting up all these different systems of links that point to each other across tons of domains that are completely artificial, that link for no human reason or no discernible human reason and are merely meant to manipulate the engines. This type of stuff is very, very dangerous when you’re early on. If you’ve already built up a good collection of these types of links, you’re much safer.
You do have some risk in those first 3, 6, 9 months after you’ve launched a new site around doing wrong things on the link building front and getting yourself in a situation where you’re penalized. We see a ton of that through SEOmoz Q&A. I get in email. You see it on the web all the time, so be cautious around that. Hopefully this checklist will help you get your site to a nice established place and you can keep doing some great marketing and eventually win the internet. I wish you good luck with your new website. Thanks so much.