I’m often asked the question, “Where do I start with SEO?” Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach, my answer is generally to find the biggest need for your site and start chipping away at it.
It’s kind of like paying off your credit card bills. Pay the one with the highest interest rate first so you’re spending less on interest and more on paying down your debt. (Or pay the lowest balance off first.)
Here, I want to focus on what those biggest needs really are. Of course, since I haven’t seen your website, I don’t know what your particular biggest need is, but I’ve outlined a handful below that are typical of many sites looking to jump into SEO.
If you’re engaging in SEO, whether internally or with a contractor or agency, take a look at these six areas to find out if they are a concern for you. If they are, they represent a great place to jump-start your web marketing efforts.
A lot of SEOs focus their efforts around keyword research. This research is the basis of almost all of your online marketing efforts, with a heavy emphasis on the on-page optimization of your content.
But for large sites with hundreds of pages, products or services being offered, it is implausible to perform a detailed optimization of every page on your site quickly.
Instead of waiting until you can optimize all those pages, you can start by taking a quick pass at them by optimizing a few key tags first. These include:
On each page, you want to make sure every tag is unique and representative of the content of that particular page. If you have anything from your keyword research that fits a page, use it.
A detailed optimization isn’t necessary here. It’s just about hitting the broad strokes. Move quickly, and move on. You’ll circle back around when you do a more thorough optimization of each page.
I’m often surprised by how many sites have pages with little or no content. The biggest culprits are the product category and sub-category pages for e-commerce sites. Typically, you want your visitors to see your products as quickly as possible. Content at the top can push those products down the page, causing some visitors to miss them unless they scroll.
There are plenty of ways to implement content while still making sure your top few rows of products are still visible without scrolling. See how Jo-Ann Fabrics accomplishes this:
The point is to ensure you get content on those pages. Many argue that people just want the products, and it’s true that many shoppers certainly do.
But a number of visitors are still in the research phase, and good content helps “sell” them on the value of your products. When you take away that content, you take away your ability to persuade your visitors to do business with you.
Write a short paragraph for each of these pages and get it uploaded. You don’t have to write an essay, nor do you have to perfectly optimize it. Again, this is simply about giving your visitors and search engines something to help them understand the value of the products on the page.
A lot of sites suffer from programming that causes duplicate content on multiple URLs. This is most typical of e-commerce sites that use visitor trail-based breadcrumbs, multiple-categorized products and product filtering options.
These systems often generate multiple URLs for the exact same content being displayed, whether it be product descriptions or even the same list of products. This content poses a problem for search engines, and it can be a problem for your site’s ability to rank well, too.
Fixing duplicate content issues can be a massive undertaking, depending on your specific site, but it’s well worth it in the long run. You’ll need to work out the details with both your SEO and a developer.
Never put this in the hands of a developer only. Developers often don’t understand the complexities of SEO and can cause entirely new problems while trying to fix this one.
Any changes made to your site navigation are often going to be complex but nonetheless important for jump-starting your marketing efforts. For many sites, the navigation focuses too much on the site itself and not enough on helping visitors find what they need.
The best example of this is when you see sites with a handful of product or service categories hidden under a navigation link that reads “products” or “services.”
Why doesn’t it make sense to do that? Because the number one thing your visitors want to see is what you offer. They are less concerned (for now) about contacting you, learning about you, understanding your philosophy, reading your blog and so on. So why do all of those get first billing in the navigation while the actual products/services are hidden under a menu link?
An easy way to improve the navigation on your site is to move each of your product/service categories to your primary navigation, as Kohl’s does on their website:
Everything else should be secondary (but not hidden). When visitors land on your site, they should be able to tell what you’re offering immediately by looking at your main navigation.
Site speed is an increasingly important issue for algorithms. They want to deliver sites that provide the very best customer experience, and site speed is a big part of that. Now I’m not talking about figuring out how to improve your site download time by a few fractions of a second, but rather taking care of the big wins.
As your site gets faster and faster, you soon experience diminishing returns — you have to balance time spent improving speed with the related gain. But if you’ve never done anything to optimize your site for speed, there is a good chance that a few good tweaks here or there could give you a substantial boost.
Your first goal is to simply ensure that there is no uncomfortable wait for your pages to load. As long as the delay from clicking on a page to it loading is bothersome, it needs to be fixed.
If you can get each page to load within a few seconds, you can be fine for a while and focus on something else. But for any more than that, a fix is in order.
Mobile devices are often the starting point searchers are using to engage with a website. Whether they are searching, researching or making a purchase, mobile use has been slowly overtaking desktop usage, making it an increasingly important aspect of web marketing — so much so that making your site mobile-friendly should be a first thought rather than an afterthought.
Many “mobile-friendly” sites are more mobile-patchwork than actually being designed for the mobile experience. This has to change.
To stay ahead, today’s websites need to be designed for mobile first and desktop second. Visitors must have at least as good an experience — if not better — on your mobile site as they do on the desktop. For an example, see Wikipedia’s site:
Failure to have a strong mobile site will result in fewer visitors finding your site through search and reduced conversion rates for those who do.
There is no universal place to start with SEO. It depends on what your site’s needs are. Of course, a site can have many needs, and you have to pick some starting point. If one of these six areas of SEO needs to be fixed within your site, I say that is the single best place to start.
By fixing any and all of these issues, you’re giving your website a more stable foundation. It’s on that foundation that the rest of your web marketing efforts will be built, and their success rises and falls on the foundation.