If you are starting out with your own business (New Year’s Resolution?) and want to make sure that your site is ready to go on the web, this is all you need to know. Success in online marketing is about so much more than just SEO. Today it’s about promotion, content, and marketing, along with SEO. The information out there about SEO though can get confusing and not applicable to your business and website at this stage, so I want to focus in on just the top technical things you need.
I’ve been working with some smaller businesses recently that there is so much misinformation out there. Time to set the record straight.
1. Install Analytics
The first thing to do at site launch is to install analytics and have it running from the beginning. I am not going to tell you which one to choose, but to date Google Analytics is still the cheapest and best solution for most small businesses. Just make sure you are tracking traffic from the beginning so that you can make informed decisions from the start.
2. Webmaster Tools (Google and Bing!)
There are going to be two majorly important weapons in your battle for the online space, one is analytics (above) and the other is webmaster tools. Modern Bing and Google Webmaster Tools are treasure troves of information about how your site is faring with the search engines. You will need to claim your domain and verify it using a number of different methods (back in my day all we had was a file load or a snippet on the homepage, and we walked home from school up hill in the snow …).
Verifying your site will give you all kinds of information like indexation rates (how many of your pages are in the index), what terms people are using to get to your site, who links to you, and any issues people and robots are having with your site. Take your time to get to know this area, it’ll be your best friend in the coming years.
3. Title Tags and Meta Description
When people think SEO, they think meta tags. Over 10 years of working in search means I have seen so many implementations of different meta data. The only things you have to have in the meta information area is the title tag and meta description. These two things make up the headline and body copy of what I call your “natural search ad copy” in search results. The title tag is the only thing we know that impacts ranking but the description is still very important to entice people to click on your result over the others.
Never duplicate the title or description across pages. Each page on your site should have a unique title and description. Using Google Webmaster Tools, you can identify the duplicate titles and descriptions very quickly with the HTML Improvements section.
4. Robots.txt file
This one file can make or break your site. It’s a command center to bots crawling your site including the search engines. The robots file is necessary to get robots to your XML sitemap file. It can help you in the future by allowing you to ban certain pages from being crawled and certain robots from crawling altogether. This can be helpful if someday your servers get overloaded with spammy crawlers.
But the wrong commands can ban the search engines from your entire site. Many people visit the robots.txt information site and just copy the example text for their robots file. The issue is that the recommended text bans the whole site from being crawled by all robots.
When getting your site going, all you need to have is a blank text file with this one line below and save it as “robots.txt and load it into the root folder of your site. Of course you will have to replace the URL with your domain and XML sitemap name.
If you are at all worried that something is wrong, you can test your robots file with help from Google.
5. No duplicated content
This rule is easy to say you will follow, but also easy to violate. Put simply, for every page that exists on your site, there should only be one URL for it. None of your content should ever have 2 or more URLs. This includes any dynamic URLs or syndicated content. Duplicate content is one of the major issues we see time and time again with almost every site.
If you want to see if duplicate content is an issue with your site, take one sentence in the middle of a page and paste it into Google with quotes around it. If you see a message like below, you have duplicate content issues.
Another tip off that you have duplicate content is a Webmaster Tools warning that you have duplicate title tags or meta descriptions. This section of webmaster tools is mentioned above.
6. XML Sitemap
Back in the day, you need an HTML sitemap to help users find content on a site. Today, that should not be necessary with a small and well organized site. What you really do need, however, is an XML sitemap. This is something only robots can see and is the guide to all the things on your site. It ensures that Google and Bing can find all of your content quickly and easily. It also lets you check Google and Bing Webmaster Tools to ensure your content is being indexed.
7. Local Businesses Only – Claim Your Businesses in Google+ Local
Many small businesses are local businesses. If you happen to be a small business, the most imperative thing to do is claim your business and add more information about it through Google+ Local. This part of Google has gone by a number of names over the years, but it remains the single most important source of traffic and business for most small businesses. I am far from a Local Guru, so check out this visual guide to the new Dashboard from Mike Blumenthal.
Once you have your business updated with Google+ Local, there is only one thing to worry about: reviews. Make it a part of your business to identify happy customers and get them to post about their experiences on Google+. People reviewing your site is the single most important thing you can do outside of having the listing.
Hopefully this helps cut through the clutter and gets you started on a new adventure quickly and easily. Have a great new year everyone!