Building Your SEO Strategy – First Steps

I first wrote this post for the Media Two blog Media Two Point {oh!}. They’ve been awesome enough to let me repost it here.

I’m live-blogging this month’s Raleigh SEO Meetup. This one is covering the basics & first steps. Phil Buckley, Media Two’s Director of User Experience, is one of the organizers of the group and the event.

Building a Strategy

Make sure what you have on your actual website is worth driving traffic to.

Start competing locally, then broaden your geographical target.

Always start very specific or target with keywords. Ex. Hotels in Apex in NC rather than hotels

What about AdWords (PPC)? Gets visitors to your site today. Everything else takes time.


You need to do homework first.

What exactly are you offering? If someone went to your site today, would it be easy for them to find what they want?

  • What sets you apart from the competition?
  • What makes you different?
  • Find how you want to position your business and exploit it.
  • Who is your competition?
  • How are they ranking for the keywords?
  • What are they offering?

Fill in the gaps with your business.

Onsite – The Website Pyramid

Technical: Building a great website

Bottom of the pyramid. Build a website that can actually be crawled.

Can search engines actually get to onto your website? Make sure you’re not blocking the website with robots.txt or meta tags. Use Google Webmaster Tools. In their lab section you can click “Fetch as Googlebot” to find out if they can access your site.

Run your site through intoDNS. If you find a lot of red x’s then call your hosting company to clean up the errors.

Make sure your CSS & code are clean-ish. Validate it with tools like and They will show you problems and can even help give you the clean code.

Check redirects and header responses. Any page that is live, you want to see header status code of 200 – “ok”. Missing pages should show up as 404 – “Not Found”. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect and tells Google to transfer the value of the original page to the new page; 302 is temporary and just place holds the value of the original page. Use or SEO Consultant’s http status code checker to check it out.

Make sure you don’t have duplicate pages. A webpage should not respond to both One should be redirected to the other so that Google will give the correct value to your site.

To make sure Google doesn’t crawl something, there is only one way that is 100% sure – password protect your test site. Google can not authenticate, so it can’t get by that. If you don’t do something the search engines may find your test site and index it, then when you go live you could have problems.

Don’t have a daisy chain of redirects. It will decrease the chance of the value passing all the way through.

Directories of your site should be logical. Users should be able to look at the URL and be able to tell where they are on your site. You don’t want to put every one of your pages at the top level. This doesn’t trick the search engine into thinking that all your pages have the same value. Also, have directories that make sense.

Make your site easy to use and navigate. Test this with someone who isn’t web savvy. Tell them the end result you want them to achieve, then watch what they do, and see how they experience your site. They should be able to know what you have to offer, and the conversion should take them just a few clicks.

Google has 2 goals: give the user sites that are relevant and give a good user experience. Part of that is is your site fast? You want your site to be quick. Test your optimization with websiteoptimization.comGoogle’s Speed Page andYSlow for Firebug (Firefox browser only). They’ll give you a grade and have a helper app to fix your site.

Content: Filling your website with relevant, valuable content

You want your content to be unique and high quality.

Choose and use your keywords well. Google’s Keyword Tool can help. Once you have the set of keywords that your customers are using, use them yourself. Stop using industry terms. Figure out how people are describing your product by telling someone about it and asking them to describe it back to you.

Write content for the user, not Google robots. Write naturally. Use variations. Make sure it sounds good when you read it out loud.

Structure content semantically. The first 100 words, bold words, italicized words are more valued. Header tags are used to split up your content with a logical progression. Font size determined in CSS is not recognized as different by Google. Make sure title is well-written, has keywords and is relevant to the content. Look at your page with the CSS turned off. Make sure what’s important is bigger. There should only be one H1 tag for each page.

Serve call-to-actions on a silver platter. Dumb it down; you don’t want people to pick other options. Make it really obvious what you want them to to, and then when they’ve decided to do it, make it really easy for them to do it. You won’t be able to sit with your customers and walk them through it. Use Google Analytics to set goals and paths to those goals. Google will tell you where people are leaving the funnel.

Stuff that’s not clickable on your website is lost opportunity because everything gets clicked.

Google travels by links. Give them ways to index your content. Examples are left-hand navigation and links within content. Links should include relevant anchor text.

Getting the word out, networking, marketing

How are you driving people in from the outside? Links are the big thing. Links are counted as a vote, but not all votes are counted as equal.

Are sites linking to you relevant? Are they high-quality? Where is the link placed on the page. The further toward the top are more valuable.

Make sure the links are followed. Links that are nofollow’d, traffic still goes there, but Google won’t pass any “link juice” through to the target.

How many links are on the page? The more links, the less value because the value is split between the links.

What keywords are used for that link? Google really pays attention to the rest of the page, but the anchor text should still be relevant. ‘Click here‘ is not helpful.

Look at your overall link portfolio with Yahoo site explorer. This tool will show you everything, so take a look at your competitors too. Yahoo has said they are going to phase Site Explorer out some day. Another tool is Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz. Does your portfolio look natural? Google wants to see natural links. Bought links are not natural.

Find out where folks hang out online (colleagues and customers). Go there and engage with them. Nine out of 10 posts on forums, blogs, etc. should not be about you or your product.

Data is your best friend

Set up Google Analytics to see what’s working on your site. By looking at this data, you can find opportunities to optimize.

Photo by: Erin Conigliaro