Saturday 12 December 2009

Setting up a new site for SEO

Creating a new system for Search Engine Optimisation

When you are creating a new website the amount of time from conception to roll out can be anything up to a few months. I am talking here about custom built systems not Wordpress or blogger type sites that can be knocked up instantly.

You have the design work to be done, the back end to be developed, debugging and testing and any number of changes to accommodate for. This is usually an iterative process and once its complete and the site is live the owner will then concentrate on SEO by looking into viable search terms to target and trying to get back-links to the system as well as creating an online presence for the site.

The problem with this approach is that the SEO marketing is left until last and as we know with the major search engines they can be quite slow to react to changes within a site and Google will only update the Page Ranking for your site every few months. Therefore a good idea would be to move the SEO right to the front of your process so that you gain the benefits that time brings an online presence before the actual roll out of your site.

How would you go about this? How can you build up an online presence when there is nothing to present to the online world? Well here are some ideas that you can take onboard.

1. Get your domain purchased and ready as soon as possible.

2. Don't worry about features and functionality at this point as you will be doing this over the next few months as you site is being created. However once you have access to your webserver and your domain is ready put up a holding page.
This should be a pure HTML page that loads fast and contains lots of text describing your site and what features its going to be providing. Make sure the content explains that this system is coming soon and not ready yet. The content should not be a list of spammy keywords but it should contain various configurations of the search terms you want to target.

3. Make sure your holding page is laid out correctly with H1, H2 tags, paragraphs containing your targeted keywords wrapped in strong or em tags and links to other static pages. Do not use too much highlighted text but concentrate it on your key search terms.

4. If possible create static versions of the main pages that you are expecting to use on your finished system and link to them from your home page. For example if you are a catalogue site put up a static results page with a number of product items on it. Target your main sales items, the ones that you are hoping to sell the most of once the main site is ready. If you are going to gain SEO points for site age then you want those points to be related to items that will benefit you in future.

5. Make sure its clear that your site isn't ready yet and if possible have an email link or form where potential customers can put their names down on a mailing list to be informed when the site goes live. Or if you are a shop and have the ability to take orders offline ask them to contact you by email or phone if they see something they like. This way you can drum up interest before your site is ready.

6. Once you have a temporary website up you can concentrate on getting your real system ready without losing out on all the benefits of SEO that just having a site online gain. For example search engines such as Google will not even consider putting brand new sites at the top of rankings for certain search terms until a set period of time has passed. Known as a Sandbox this is to prevent spam sites from being created with huge numbers of backlinks taking all the top spots.
You may still be able to find your site in the index by searching for your domain or company name but other search terms which you are trying to target may not give you the desired result. Therefore having a temporary site up and running until your main site is ready is one way to get over this time delay as you really don't want your new site to suffer the sandbox on release date.

7. Search engines also see the length of time a site has been around as an important factor in calculating a sites authority. Remember site authority is important as when you get backlinks from sites with a higher authority than yours it helps boost your sites authority and also increases your Page Rank therefore you should aim to get backlinks in from sites with high authority but not link back as this may cancel out the benefit.

8. Remember Page Rank (PR) only gives an indication of the number of sites that link to yours. It doesn't say anything about the quality of your site in terms of content or the quality of the links that are pointing to you.
In the old days Page Rank was important as it was used as a way of allowing Internet users to rank the sites on the web as they would only be linking to good sites or so the idea went. However as with most ideas it was soon worked out that link farms and link exchanges could boost a sites PR which is why so many people still think that getting thousands of inbound links from anywhere is still a good thing.
I have no idea whether Google still considers PR on itself a useful tool but I have heard from many people that they don't. Because any site could get thousands of inbound links into them from link exchanges I am pretty certain that Google do not consider it that important in ranking otherwise all the top spots for most search terms would be taken up by spammy sites that offer nothing but ebooks or get rich schemes or other MLM BS.

9. Back links are important as Google still looks for sites that have good site authority that link to your site. If you are a new site selling custom widgets then you should aim to get backlinks from other widget selling sites or sites that relate to widgets in some way.
Having lots of backlinks from sites that have nothing to do with widgets won't help. Your PR may go up to a certain level but it doesn't tell Google that you are considered a relevant site in your field. Your site authority will go up when you have lots of sites in the same field as yours linking to you.

10. Backlinks are also important as they help get your pages indexed quickly by search engines. If you create a new page but have no inbound links to it then it may not get indexed even if the page is linked to internally or listed in your sitemap. I have found the quickest way to get a page indexed is by having some good quality backlinks to it from external sites.

11. If you are going to pay for advertising on other sites then you need to decide what you hope to get out of the advert as most advertising system that run over multiple sites use JavaScript iframes to load the advert content. Therefore if you are hoping to get backlinks to your site you are going to be disappointed unless the adverts are loaded server side so that search engine spiders can crawl them. If you are just trying to get brand awareness or drive traffic through clicks then Javascript loaded adverts are fine.

12. When you do use images wrapped in anchor tags on your site or adverts on other sites that take this format you should make use of all the available attributes. With an image wrapped in an anchor you have 3 possible areas to add search engine friendly content. These are the title attribute on the anchor tag and the title and ALT attributes on the image tag. Make sure you put good search terms in all 3 places and try to vary the terms so that you are making the most of these opportunities. Do not just put the name of your site in the attributes e.g

title = "Strictly Software"

but add search terms e.g

title = "Technical advice and free scripts from Strictly Software"

and then alternate it on the other two

title = "Strictly Software technical blog and downloads for developers"

ALT = "Technical development from Strictly Software, free downloads and great code"

13. The ALT tag is used for when the image cannot be loaded such as text browsers. However because text browsers or image free browsers are very rare you can probably add more text than the recommended short description of the image that an ALT tag is for.

14. Use commas in your search terms and try to get multiple sentence variations out of one piece of text without resorting to a list of keywords. Search bots are quite clever and can spot spam a mile away nowadays so you should make your search terms readable but also combine 2 or more search terms. For example.

title = "free online tools from Strictly Software the best technical blog for downloads and technical advice for free"

Now as a human reading this you might think its a bit unreadable as its quite long however for bots who crawl your site they will see this and not be able to tell that its slightly wordy only that it's not a list of spam keywords. However once your page has been indexed you now can search on the following variations to find the page.

Free online tools
Free online tools from Strictly Software
tools from Strictly Software
Strictly Software the best technical blog
Strictly Software the best technical blog for downloads
technical blog
technical blog for downloads
downloads and technical advice
downloads and technical advice for free
technical advice for free

Obviously this is just a quick example but you see what I mean. Make the most of your title and ALT attributes.

15. Good content is the most important thing on a site. If you are writing a blog then short one paragraph articles are no good as:
  1. They don't look like authoritative examples of the topic you are writing about
  2. They don't offer you the option to highlight the various search terms and combinations that you are targeting without it looking like spam.
  3. They don't offer the reader much and therefore you are less likely to get natural inbound links.

16. META tags are not as important as SEO applications downloaded from the web would like you to think. Most search engines ignore the keywords META tag nowadays and the description tag is hardly used anymore on search engine results pages unless no other search term specific content can be found in the article. Page titles are useful for usability and offer another area to enter search terms specific to the page but none of these are as important as good quality content.

17. Make sure your page content is split out appropriately with H1 tags to denote the topic and then H2 tags for sub headers and so on. Search engines see content within headers, anchor text and strong and em tags as more important than the other content as you have specially marked it out for the users attention therefore the search engine will also pay more attention to it. Do not wrap all your content in headers or strong tags as this will be seen as spam so keep it to under 10% of the overall content.

18. Put all your important links towards the top of the page and try to keep the number of links on a page to under a 100. I have seen pages that contain 250+ links and the most important links e.g to the site index were at the bottom in the footer and did not get indexed.

19. If you have lots of CSS or SCRIPT content try to put these in external files and reference them as far down the page as is possible so that your main content is the first thing a spider comes across. Try to put all your CSS references above any SCRIPT references as the browser will stop rendering the page to load in external script which may cause a nasty effect. This is one thing I hate about Googles AdSense adverts as you have to insert the SCRIPT at the place in the HTML where you want the advert to display and depending on how slow Google is to load the content it can cause a horrible delay. I have tried myself hacking about with this but as of yet don't have a way round it so if anyone does please let me know!

20. Make sure all images have width and height attributes on them. This is so that the browser does not have to wait for the image to load so it can look up the actual size of the image before being able to display it. With a specified height and width it can render the whole page and put aside the correct space for the image before it has loaded. As page load speed is one of the things that Google is now concentrating on when determining ranking then it makes sense to make your pages load as fast as possible.

So there are some tips to utilize on your temporary site as well as the completed site. If you can make the most of the time that it takes to get your site finished by having a search engine optimised temporary site up and running and gaining SEO points just by being accessible then you won't have to try so hard once your real site is ready.

There are lots more things you can try and you should download the various versions of all the Search Engine Optimiser tools that are available on the web. Most of these tools do basic content analysis by determining how much of the content is specific to various search terms as well as looking for missing or non specific META and other tags. However good SEO is something that is learnt over time and once you know the key aspects to look for its just a case of trial and error. Check out your competitor sites and see how they have optimised their pages, who is linking to them and what search terms they rank high on then try to target variations of terms that users search on but are not already saturated by existing sites. As with most things in life its mostly trial and error.


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