We've been seeing a lot of nay-saying, contradictory advice, doom, gloom, and controversy in the SEO community, especially when Google releases a major update. All of this noise can be hard for full-time SEO practitioners to follow, let alone beginners or business owners who need to understand what they are buying into.
However, SEO at its core is very simple, and it starts with your website itself. So how do you make sure that your brand-new site is viable for search?
Get It Out There
It is very tempting to postpone the launch until your site is "perfect." Developers are notorious for this, constantly tweaking and never releasing. The bottom line is that something is better than nothing. Despite the uncertainty about how or whether Google gives a benefit to older domains, it's clear that the sooner you have content in front of Google, the better.
A straightforward tactic is just to run with a simple WordPress (or equivalent) install while your all-singing, all-dancing website is under development. This way, by the time you launch properly, you will have already built traffic and a history with Google. You can even create your full website with WordPress, making the transition from your temporary site to the full one relatively painless. You can release early and keep adding to it.
Content, Content, and More Content
Content is the keystone of any SEO effort - indeed, of almost any web marketing effort. Google loves lots of content, especially text, and you need content to engage with your visitors. A site with just a few pages, even for the smallest of organizations, really doesn't cut it for search any more.
There are many ways to generate content on a frequent basis, but the easiest structuring is blogging. If you're having a new website built, ask your developer to include a blogging facility or something closely comparable (e.g., a knowledge base or news feed). You have to be able to add new pages as often as you like. A site that remains static is not viable for search.
Of course, the caveat here is that your content has to be both high quality and completely unique. Churning out puff is not the answer. Your writing needs to be clear and jargon-free.
There's a lot of debate as to how much Google looks at a site's design for ranking purposes, although there is little doubt that design is now a factor. Google definitely analyzes a page's structure, looking for sites that are too spammy or advertising heavy, and their human search quality raters can't help but take design into account, whether they mean to or not.
However, regardless of how Google treats it directly, design still matters. Why? Because rankings ultimately boil down to social factors: links and shares. Who wants to link to an ugly, cluttered site that looks like it was designed in 1994? Who wants to share it with their friends?
There's no need to be intimidated. Just to be clear, we're not talking about stunning, award-winning design. The big boys can afford that; most small businesses can't. What we are talking about is clean, simple design, with original graphics and plenty of room for well-spaced, readable text - no tiny 11-pixel-high text in a narrow column; no jumble and clutter of advertisements and call-out boxes; and definitely no generic pictures of successful businesspeople shaking hands.
The web is no longer a closed-off collection of small communities. People expect to be able to share content and respond to it, wherever they find it, and this goes for your site, too. Make your content easy for people to share on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and other networks that fit your niche. More importantly, create the kind of content that they'll want to interact with and share in the first place.
It should also go without saying - make it easy for people to contact you. Some people prefer forms, others like email, and still others tend to pick up the phone. Make all these options available and obvious on your site - and, crucially, make sure that all of your forms are easy to use and actually work! Test them frequently.
This may all sound rather daunting, but it becomes easier when you stop thinking of developing a site as a monolithic effort and start thinking in terms of having a site that can grow and develop as you need it to. Your website isn't a static object; it's not like a brochure that is printed once and forgotten. Websites work when you work on them. Schedule time with your site at least once per week, whether this means adding new content, improving old, testing functionality, or improving the design.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Rob Chant has been working as a freelancer on the web in one form or another for about 10 years, first as a designer and developer and more recently in SEO. He now runs a web marketing company focused on delivering SEO and related services to small businesses. His experience with both designing and building websites gives him extra insight into the SEO process.
Rob's always been a bit of a jack of all trades, however, and also runs his own netlabel, a small publishing company and has various other projects up his sleeve, on and off the web.
March 19, 2014