Let your SEO marinate…7 activities to do when beginning a new SEO campaign

Performing search engine optimization is like marinating a good steak, chicken breast or even your favorite vegetables. The gratification is delayed and all of that love and attention that you give early on will really pay off down the road. In the case of a good food, this will be later that night when your guests are raving about your secret marinating genius. For SEO, this will be weeks or months later when your search engine rankings begin to improve for your favorite (target) keywords and then when you start to get more visitors and customers.

If you’re starting a new SEO campaign, here are 7 things that can’t be rushed at the last minute – you have to let them soak in for full effect.

1 Get a good and thorough keyword list early on

Narrow your area of focus down to a manageable niche or geography. Then do a thorough job of keyword research including: brainstorming how people find this item, asking customers how they search, looking at competitor’s keywords on their sites, seeing how the top-ranking sites (for important keywords) are positioning themselves and by using keyword research and discovery tools (see our list here) or you can join the conversation here.

2 Set up your site structure to support this new initiative

If it’s a whole new site, make sure your logical groupings of keywords (I call them keyword clusters) fit logically into the flow of your site. Also, make sure you have landing pages focused on your target customers for your target products or services. You’ll need to do good on-page SEO on this page, have compelling content for your prospects, have a clear conversion path and you’ll focus on getting your internal links pointing here and trying to get inbound links to these landing pages. If you’re just starting out, you should use a search-friendly content management system such as self-hosted WordPress to help with your SEO and to make it easy to input content on a regular basis (without having to give your techie friend too many steaks).

3 Get your tracking in place

You want to have a baseline measurement for these three things:

  • Website traffic. If you have a new website or haven’t had analytics in place yet, Google Analytics and Piwik are both free Website tracking software packages which are fairly easy to install for technical types, so trade your favorite technical friend a steak for the help! This will help you measure visits to your pages, time on site, source of traffic (search engines, links from other sites, etc.), keywords used to find your site, geographic location of visitors and more.
  • Backlinks – Since getting links to your key pages are key to SEO, you need to check your current backlinks using backlink analysis tools (check this site in late September for our list of recommendations).
  • Indexed Pages – If this is a new Website you’ll want to regularly checked your indexed pages to make sure the site is being indexed by the major Search Engines (mainly Google and Bing*).
  • Keyword Ranking – Very important. To measure incremental improvements or declines in SEO you have to track your target keywords and how you’re doing in the search engines. Manual effort here really becomes too painful (and nearly impossible) – againcheck this site in late September for our list of recommendations (WIP!).

4 Start blogging

This sounds like a trite truism but the fact is, content is very important for SEO. It allows you to use your keywords in various contexts and to use different long tail (or more niche or obscure) phrases which can help your site be found by just the right people. Content takes time to marinate with the search engines. Pour more and more on and let it soak and the search engines will begin to pick it up. Also, good content (particularly blog content) is what people like to link to. This will help your SEO even more. Blogging is part art and part science and the art part takes time to learn (or to find “your voice”). So start early so you’ll be decent by the time people start showing up at your blog.

5 Set up alerts for your main keywords or subscribe to RSS feeds of top industry blogs

To keep your blog fresh, make sure you’re up with recent industry or target keyword-related happenings and writing. Set up Google Alerts and/or subscribe to key industry blogs via RSS or email. You can write about some of these happenings, share key resources with your readership or even potentially comment (with valuable thoughts) on the blogs of other industry players.

6 Do basic on page SEO with your website content

Make sure you page title tags include your target keywords, your media is optimized for keywords (pictures, video or files – e.g. PDFs) by using keyword-rich file names, alt tags (where appropriate) and good descriptive and keyword-rich surrounding content. Make sure you link within your site to other relevant pages. Also, beef up your content based on your target keywords and make sure headers include keywords if that doesn’t make the flow awkward.

7 Develop a link-building strategy and get as many as you can moving forward

Find sites that rank high for your target keywords. Using backlink evaluation tools, find out what key sites are linking to them. Put them on your target list for link acquisition. Find the industry associations or directories that you need to be on. Put them on the list (and submit to them right away if it’s a no-brainer, free and not a spammy looking site). Look to key customers or partners (especially if they have high PageRank) for getting links to your site. If you’re focused on locally-focused business, submit your site to Google Places and Bing Local and consider other local players such as Yelp! (social reviews) and sites like CitySeach and Superpages (local directories and internet yellow pages sites). Submit your site to the right category in the Open Directory (can be valuable for SEO if you’re lucky enough to get a link). Once you get your target list, submit to the sites that take submissions and get creative about getting links from the others. Links back to your site definitely take a long to soak in (to get and for the search engines to recognize them) – especially the directory listings. It’s best to do as much of this as early as possible.

With these key steps in place your SEO strategy will be marinating well, even if you need to focus on other things and come back to your search engine optimization work later. Just like preparing a good dinner, sometimes the most flavor will come when you set (early) and forget for a while.

*Note: As of August 2010, Yahoo has begun using Bing’s search engine results so Bing’s index is the primary index for Bing and Yahoo’s search results

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