Just a note: Because of the length of this post, we decided to publish it in two parts, and Part 2 will be published next Wednesday, April 3.
There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your site featured in one of Google’s hotspots. It’s a coveted place to be. It’s a financially fruitful place to be. But it’s also a very difficult place to get.
Stiff competition and Google’s constantly evolving algorithms make mastering your SEO strategy an ongoing uphill battle. There’s no denying that making the investment in high quality SEO is worth it though. Here’s a few stats to back that up:
Three in four people never scroll past the first page of search results?
93% of visitors begin their online experience with a search engine?
But, if you have some experience with SEO and are familiar with basic terms, then this six-month guide is for you. From technical audits and content calendars to schema markup and link-building, this six-month plan will give you one simple objective to focus on each month. In no time at all, you’ll be armed with the information you need to give your organic rankings, traffic, and revenue a healthy boost.
April: Run a technical audit
Poor technical SEO practices can harm your rankings. It’s as simple as that. It can make your site uncrawlable, unindexable, and inaccessible, all of which affect how search engines view and place your website.
While there’s no such thing as a perfect website, there isa whole host of errors you can look to correct, all of which will help give your SEO metrics a boost.
Crawl reports: Carrying out a crawl report will help to identify things like:
Meta descriptions and page titles that are either too long or short
Meta descriptions and page titles that are missing or duplicate
Matching URLs and on-page content
Hint: if you’re new to the world of crawl reports, Screaming Frog is a reputable tool and offers a comprehensive free version.
HTTPS status codes: Studies have shown that HTTPS is now a very strong ranking factor which, suffice to say, makes it a must. So, if you haven’t already made the switch, there’s no time like the present - here’s a checklist to help you through the stages.
Page speed: The time it takes for your pages to load is another important SEO metric. As well as harming your rankings, slow load times can lead to a poor user experience and increase your site’s overall bounce rate, too.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool can be used to analyze your URLs. Within this, you’ll get a score (fast, average or slow), along with a list of issues that are dragging your page speed down. It’s worth noting some of these problems might be quite technical (like deferring unused CSS and eliminating render-blocking resources, for example) and may require input from a web developer or SEO specialist.
XML sitemap: A Sitemap is an XML file that lists the URLs for a site. Your XML sitemap is how Google and other search engines get around your website, discover your pages and subsequently rank them - if you don’t have one, you need one.
Your XML sitemap must be properly formatted in an XML document, follow XML sitemap protocol, include all your website’s pages, and be submitted to your Google Search Console (GSC).
To help you visualize the end product, here’s a snippet from one. And don’t be put off if you think it looks scary, in reality, it’s just a list of your page’s URLs along with the date they were last modified. Like this:
Most popular CMS’ have plugins that’ll create your XML sitemap for you. If yours doesn't, you may have to build it manually - check out this guide to find out how, and this one for a step-by-step look at uploading your sitemap to GSC.
For example, you know we’re always recommending Squarespace – and your sitemap is something else they help with. “Your Squarespace site comes with a site map using the .xml format, so you don't need to create one manually. It includes the URLs for all pages on your site and image metadata for SEO-friendly indexing. We automatically update it with any pages you add or remove.” (via Squarespace)
May: Conduct keyword research
There’s no denying keyword research can be laborious at times, but the more you invest in this stage at the beginning, the greater return you’ll likely get in the long run - so don’t rush it.
Your keyword research lays the foundation for your future content strategy. It’ll help you optimize existing pages, identify opportunities for new pages, and construct a well thought-out content calendar.
In addition, having a comprehensive list of long and short tail keywords - along with their monthly search volumes, ideally - will enable you to set-up your ranking reports, which play a pivotal part in monitoring your organic efforts.
What’s a long-tail keyword? A phrase containing at least three words that’s used to target specific demographics opposed to mass audiences. Long-tail keywords are more niche, have a lower search volume, and are less competitive.
What’s a short-tail keyword? A phrase including one or two words that’s used to capture large volumes of search traffic. For example, “social media” is a short-tail keyword, and “improve social media engagement” is a long-tail one.
How to conduct keyword research
There are lots of different ways you can go about gathering keywords relevant to your business, but the most complete approach is amalgamating several different methods.
Step #1: Brainstorm a handful or two of key topics related to your product or service. Using ourselves as an example, this might be phrases like ‘digital marketing’, ‘web design’, ‘social media management’, ‘email campaigns’ and ‘personal branding’.
Step #2: Get a few heads around a table and start to fill in some of the blanks based on what you think/know your customers are searching for. Using ‘web design’ as an example, this might be:
What is web design?
How does web design improve revenue?
Web design agencies in Greensboro, NC
How to find a quality graphic designer
Web design cost
How to do web design myself
Step #3: For more inspiration, drop the phrases you’ve accumulated from steps one and two into Google and see what comes up in their related search terms section:
Step #4: Scour your competitors’ sites and see what terms are trending throughout their pages. If they’re tapping into words you’re not and they’re relevant, you could be missing out and so they might be worth throwing into the mix.
Step #5: Make the most of free tools. For starters, you can see which phrases are already leading visitors to your site in Google Analytics, and then there are resources like SEMrush, Moz Keyword Explorer, Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool, Google Trends, Microsoft Bing Ads Intelligence or Wordtracker’s Free Basic Keyword Demand.
June: Make sure you're mobile friendly
It’s perhaps no surprise that mobile’s now the predominant platform used for searches. In 2018, the split sat at: mobile (49.06%), desktop (47.2%) and tablet (3.74%).
All’s not lost if your site isn’t mobile friendly- your desktop version can and will still be indexed. That said, if you’re providing a less user friendly experience to visitors, it couldnegatively impact your mobile rankings. Equally, organizations with streamlined mobile sites could potentially see an uplift in their rankings - and that includes desktop searches, too.
If you’re not sure whether your site’s mobile friendly, you can easily find out by using this tool. And if the outcome’s that you’re not already on the mobile-friendly bandwagon, here are 10 steps to help you make the move.