I’ve divided our checklist into four main areas – Profitability, Measurement, Content and Links.
Here I’m going to show you how to make sure you optimise the site in a way that will give you a return on your investment. Choosing the keywords with which your potential customers will find you is your very first step in the SEO process.
There are plenty of resources online that will teach you how to do your own keyword research. I think everybody’s approach to keyword research is different, but when selecting the right target keywords, one thing remains the same – making sure the keywords you want are going to generate you revenue.
Tools I use for keyword research:
Linkdex, SEM Rush, Google Keyword Planner, Majestic, Google Trends, Google Suggested Search
How does your business model affect keyword research?
Your business model will affect the type of keyword research you need to conduct. For simplicity, I’ve divided online business models into four camps, but businesses may fit into one or more, or there might be some overlap.
If you’re in publishing, and you intend to sell advertising space, then being able to fulfil orders for ad impressions is likely to be your primary objective. And for that, you need traffic (lots of traffic). So the approach to keyword research is to find those keywords with the highest volumes and target those. If you’re planning on writing news pieces then you might have to look at past trends for similar keywords and predict search volumes based on historic data.
Most businesses that engage in SEO are selling a product or service. For these, you can often enter the market on less-competitive terms that still have some search volume behind them. If you can convert at a reasonable rate, then search volume doesn’t matter and you can work on expanding your search visibility later.
Your business works by either using or selling leads that it generates. Therefore visitors are likely to arrive on periphery terms that aren’t necessarily the ones used by those who plan to make an immediate purchase. For instance, someone Googles ’dementia symptoms’, you might operate a site that gives free advice, but plan on selling the details of interested parties to dementia product retailers.
Something Brand New
It’s not unusual for me to be approached by a business which has a brand new service or product that as yet does not have a market online. In this case, it’s normally about targeting keywords around the problems the new product solves or as an alternative to an existing product.
How to conduct Keyword Research
Most keyword discovery tools fall into one of two types. Those that give you suggestions based on a seed list or those that generate a list of keywords that a site already appears for.
For tools that generate keyword ideas based on a seed list, here’s my approach:
Brainstorm a list of keywords which you think apply to your business and load them into your keyword suggestion tool. Export everything and manually work through the list ruling out anything that isn’t relevant to your business.
At this point, there are two main metrics to consider – search volume and difficulty.
Search Volume explained
Generally, keyword software will give you a search volume based on a monthly average. Some search engines will break this down month by month to give you an idea of seasonality.
Typically, 40% of all searches click on your result if you’re in position 1. The click through rates drop the further down page 1 you go, until they’re almost completely diminished.
Different software providers gauge difficulty in different ways. Some base their difficulty rating on the price you’d need to bid to get an ad for that keyword seen on PPC. Generally, the higher the bid price, the more competitive the term is likely to be.
Others look at the number of sites that use that keyword in the title of the ranking page, in the anchor text of backlinks, or the number of results that a search would trigger in Google search results.
If you’re entering a market where there are established players already optimising their sites, then you might use one of the tools that allows you to input a URL and then shows you the keywords they’re already appearing for. I generally look for the gaps in their SEO and, providing there is some volume there, I go for those terms first.
Analytics and Webmaster Tools (WMT) are the most likely tools you’ll use to measure the success of your website, but I’d also like to suggest a decent rank tracker so you can monitor the peaks and troughs in your rankings so you can understand better how the competition phase their SEO throughout the month/year. Before you start, there are a few things that need to be configured in WMT to get you off on the right footing.
The different settings in WMT are going to help you teach the search engine how to treat your site.
You need to set your preferred domain. Depending on your overall SEO Strategy, this is either going to be the root (’example.com’ minus the www.) or the sub-domain (www.example.com).
You’ll also need to set up a redirect (normally a 301) to transition traffic seamlessly from one domain to the other. My preference moving forward into 2016 is to use the root domain only.
Why does this matter?
Links into sub-domains don’t add authority back to the root domain and vice versa. If you think you might want to expand your business internationally in due course, your international SEO might get a huge boost if you’re able to push the link strength of your root domain into your international versions. International sub-domains don’t benefit in this way, whereas an international sub-directory structure will. However, choosing the root over ‘www.’ enables a degree of flexibility later on.
If you’ve chosen a generic Top Level Domain (i.e. non-country specific) then you’ll be able to set the exact country you’d like to target. By doing so, you can greatly narrow your site’s focus to attract only the traffic you can service.
WMT allows you to submit sitemaps in XML format – this gives the search engine a list of pages that it should visit. By creating a number of sitemaps, each containing specific types of pages, you’ll be able to monitor, much more effectively, where Google is struggling to index content.
The sitemaps we often recommend are, of course, dependent on your strategy, but might include:
- Static Pages
- International versions
If you spot an indexation issue you can use the Fetch tool to prompt re-crawling and then submit for inclusion within the index.
WMT shows you how users interact with your site whilst they’re still on Google. You’ll have access to (and I suggest you record these on a monthly basis):
- Average Rankings for specific keywords and landing pages.
- Crawl Errors (404s)
- Indexation Status (both within the Google index tab and from within the Sitemaps tool)
- Crawl Stats and Page Download Times
Analytics measures how users interact once they’re on your site. You’ll be able to see a number of dimensions and a number of metrics. Metrics COUNT something, and dimensions DESCRIBE something. For instance, a metric is page views (quantifiable) whilst a dimension might be organic traffic sources (descriptive).
Decide on some core metrics/dimensions to monitor and set up some goals in line with your business objectives.
Goals for measuring ad impressions
If the volume of page views generates your revenues then it’s sensible to set up some goals to record the effectiveness of certain traffic sources.
For instance, you should probably set up a goal to record visitors who create more than five page views per session. You might also set up a goal to record those who create more than ten, and so on. By understanding where those visitors are coming from you can target your SEO efforts much more efficiently.
Goals for measuring Sales
Many ecommerce platforms come with one-click analytics integration. If yours doesn’t, there may be some coding required to pull the right data into analytics.
Getting ecommerce set up in analytics is just the first step – next you’ll want to configure a goal funnel to measure user journeys so you’re able to see who is dropping out of the checkout process, and why.
Goals for measuring Lead Generation
If you’re planning on selling leads then you’ll be looking to measure anything that captures some useable visitor data, such as an email address.
That means setting up goals on download pages and contact forms. If you have a helpline or customer services number, then using an analytics compatible call tracking software will also allow you to see exactly from where each phone call originated and attribute it back to the right online channel.
When it becomes time to implement your keyword research, you’ll want to group keywords into semantically related groups, and implement the best keywords in your meta data (titles, descriptions) headings and body copy, as well as link internally to your biggest ’money’ term/page using variations of the keyword.
There’s plenty out there about writing optimised meta data, so instead I’ll share with you the most common issues experienced with titles and descriptions (both are important to get right).
Site search forms, paginated content, or pages with filter systems, are rife for creating pages with unique URLs, very similar content, but with the same title and description. By ensuring that you have either a canonical strategy in place, a way to control the robots’ access, or a way to automatically add something unique to the front of the title, issues can largely be avoided.
Page titles have a maximum pixel width, approximately 482 pixels, this indicates how much of the title will show in search results. This means that characters alone cannot be relied upon when writing page titles, as a ‘w’ will take up more pixel width than an ‘i’, despite them both being a single character.
Truncation is what happens as a result of a title being longer than this pixel limit. The search engine will effectively cut off the title at the maximum width, leaving you with an ellipsis. This can have a detrimental effect on your click through rates (CTR) as, without the ability to see exactly what they are clicking on and whether it is relevant to their search, most people will choose to click on a competitor site which has optimised their titles without truncation. This means that overall the CTR of a truncated title will be lower than those of correct pixel width, affecting your traffic and, in the long term, your conversions.
Truncated titles can also effect keywords being picked up by search engines. For example, if one of the keywords you are optimising for is at the end of your title of more than 482 pixels it won’t be recognised meaning you will not rank as highly for that keyword in search results.
The Screaming Frog SERP snippet is a fantastic tool for measuring your title and description pixel width, as well as providing you with a handy preview.
When your site goes live, unless you’ve done a lot of pre-launch marketing, it is likely that you’ll be short of link power. Links remain just about the most powerful ranking factor, and a steady stream of new, authority links is just what your site needs to get off the ground (and up the rankings).
The best methodology for link building for a brand new site is to do a little clique hunting using Majestic SEO.
Majestic is link intelligence software that will generate a report for you showing the common links to two or more competitors.
The sites that commonly link to your competition are MOST likely to link to you too. So take advantage of the fact that you can both build your own backlink profile and dilute the power of theirs at the same time.
You can repeat this process again and again by adding in more competitors, or taking a sample set of the links you’ve already found, and drilling down into their backlink profiles.
At this stage, if you’ve just launched a new site, our recommendation is to keep your anchor text to brand terms, naked URLs and ’universal’ anchors only. If you want to be in it for the long game, then hitting the money keywords with your anchor text is not a good idea until you’ve given the search engines a chance to see your site develop as a brand. You don’t want to risk a penalty.
Google alerts is a free service that sends email alerts whenever a new page appears that uses a specified keyword.
Set up alerts with yours or a competitor’s brand name.
Need some help with building your website? Get in touch with us to see how we can help.