The Unofficial SEO Cheat Sheet
SEO (search engine optimization) has quickly become one of the most commonly used buzz words of the web industry. Fortunately, by adhering to some basic best practices of web content marketing, you can start to build your site's visibility on the search engines without ever having to google "SEO" again.
1. Be Strategic In Your Site Design
Websites are only as good as the user experience. Be sure to identify personas for your potential users (whether that means investors, consumers, etc) and plan/test the site based on what they'll be looking for as they navigate the website. Ease of use is key--when a searcher lands on a page geared towards someone else (they're looking for products/services, but they landed on the 'contact us' page, for example), make sure it's easy for them to navigate through the site and find the page they're looking for. Be succinct and maintain relevancy for the labeled topic on each page--and be sure you have focused, logical topics that are immediately obvious to users to keep them on your site.
2. Keep Content Unique
Search engines avoid duplicate content at all costs, meaning your website should have unique target locations for each and every piece of content--if your home page and your "About Us" page are linking to the same URL, that's going to compromise your rankings. Likewise, you'll also want to make sure your company's main URL is only accessible by either http://www.yoursite.com or http://yoursite.com. If both links work as-is (e.g. you don't see the URL change from one to the other when it launches), that's considered duplicate content--a simple 301 redirect will consolidate both into one unique target location and help to improve your rankings.
3. Limit use of Flash or flat graphics
4. Don't Get Spammed
Before you decide on a URL, run a domain background check to ensure the address wasn't previously used by spammers or associated with any unwanted keywords. This goes a long way in keeping your site off the search spam list, which will be more of a problem in the long run.
5. Start Using Analytics Immediately
Set up your Google analytics account and drop the tracking code onto your site as soon as it goes live. Even if you're not ready to start using the data, you'll want it to begin capturing site statistics right from the get-go. Once you're ready, you'll want to verify ownership using Google webmaster tools, which you can hook straight into your email for up-to-the-minute alerts on crawling issues or potential malware/spamming/hacking that could become a bigger problem for your brand if ignored. Make sure you also communicate back to the search engines by setting it up to fetch as Googlebot under the webmaster tools; this lets you see what Google downloads and allow you set it up not just to crawl your site, but to index for that URL--this way, when you update a page or add a new page to your site, the content becomes viewable to searchers much faster.
6. Use The "Right" Keywords
Say, for example, you're a hotel based out of Ocean City, MD. Instead of simply tagging your site with "hotel" (considered a "fathead keyword" for its popularity and common use) you'd be better off using phrasing such as "Ocean City MD Bayside Hotel" (known as a "long-tail" keyword which, though longer, has a better return on search results due to its specificity.) Focus on gathering users with specific keywords, rather than the general keywords that'll most likely get you lost in the mix. For more on why this is so important, check out this article on using targeted keywords.
7. Don't overuse keywords
Keywords are good in moderation, but don't solely rely on them to ensure a good user experience or relevancy. Your content has and always will be the main reason users are on your site in the first place; don't get caught up with valuing traffic over those users who are what you want. With that said, you'll want to include relevant keywords naturally in your text. Always keep in mind that your site isn't being searched by you, it's being searched by your users. You may refer to your brand as "nightlife marketing" while your users may be searching "bar marketing." Always go with search query terms that normal people (not just industry insiders) will use.
8. Be visible on social media
Social media allows you to diversify your approach to online marketing. Think holistically; create an identity on key sites (whether it's Twitter, Facebook, an industry forum, etc) and find someone in your office with authentic strengths. Have someone in your office who has a knack for Twitter? Have them manage your account. Is your copywriter a Facebook guru? There's your new brand manager for Facebook.
9. Define your conversion
The key to improving your SEO is to find out what works and what doesn't. Every page on your site should contain some kind of call to action--you want to give them clearly labeled links (don't say "click here," say "view products and services here" instead.) This not only helps you improve the user's experience as they progress through the site, but it gives you new ways to capitalize on the search results for your site. In the search results, the goal is to see more than just your homepage link--you want secondary links which (although generated algorithmically by search engines) are given much more visibility when you define a unique topic, title, meta description and (for non-dynamic content) filenames that include lowercase hyphen-separated anchor text for every link.