M.R. NEMETH DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER
2017 Guide to Optimize for Search: The SEO Checklist
june 28, 2017
Websites are your business. You create awesome content. You intricately architect massive sites. You lovingly create pixel-perfect designs that emotionally connect to your audience. You spend vast resources making sure everything is just right.
Now you’re ready to publish.
But wait! There’s more. Before you launch your site, you need to take a step back and ensure that everything is in order, so that your visitors have an incredible experience. Today, we bring to you the Brandcast SEO Checklist: the ever-evolving guide to optimizing your Brandcast site for search.
Before we go on, it’s important to note that while this checklist is designed specifically for the Brandcast Design Studio, it also represents SEO best practices, and will inform decisions and executions for just about any web platform.
The internet is a big place. Let’s make sure your site can be found:
1. Install Website Tracking
2. Setup Search Analytics
To get a deeper understanding of how search is affecting your visitors, you’ll want to hook up Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools). If you’ve installed your Google Analytics via Google Tag Manager, this step is easy. Simply use the “Alternate Methods” option and select Google Tag Manager verification method in the Search Console to get it going. Note, hooking up Bing Webmaster Tools is valuable as well, as Microsoft boasts 21.6% of the search market share. Check out Search Engine Journal’s writeup here.
This is also where you’ll submit your site for indexing, letting the search engines know where your site is located and helping along the process.
3. Keyword Research
Before beginning to plan out content and pages, it’s best practice to strategically define your goals. There are a lot of tools for this, with Google’s Keyword Planner being a longtime standby. It’s important not to take the results at face value, as the numbers are often all over the place. However, used as a relativity meter, it can provide good guidance.
Everyone wants to rank for Head Terms, but this is such crowded space that the likelihood of a new site showing up for coveted keywords is slim. Instead, focus your efforts at creating highly curated content pieces around less competitive Long Tail Keywords.
For reference, a Head Term is a keyword like “software”. It’s broadly applied, but well-defined (i.e., it applies to a large range of tools, but is different than “hardware”). A Long Tail Keyword would be something like, “Software that tells me what to eat and when.”
The value of Long Tail Keywords is that search results are specific and highly converting. While “software” may get 50,000 monthly searches in the U.S., it’s both unlikely that your site will show up for it anytime soon, and very vague, whereas a long tail keyword might get a handful of high quality visitors with specific, targeted intent.
The bottom line here: plan for head terms, but take advantage of long tail keyword opportunities.
4. Make a Competitive Analysis
It is always valuable to scope out competitors and audit their link profiles. This means finding lists of backlinks and identifying high value links and their target destinations. Moz has great research tools for this. By seeing who links to your competitors sites - and where – you can find hidden opportunities to expand your own link profile. Getting bloggers, high profile sites, and influencers to link back to key pages will have a resounding impact on your site’s optimization and search engine health.
5. Meta Sculpting
Ensure all your pages’ meta tags and URLs are properly aligned. If your business sells handcrafted furniture, and you want to create a catalog of your products, meta sculpting comes into play. Meta tags tell search engines the intent of a page and provide referenceable information about it, and can also be used as part of the content of your search engine results page (SERP) listing. Following our example, using “Handcrafted Furniture” in your page title, your URL slug, and your h1 text would reinforce the target keyword across the page and help search engines index the page appropriately.
In the Brandcast Design Studio, you can edit the pertinent metadata via “Page Settings”, available from the Studio menu. This makes it quick and easy to make edits across the site.
6. Image Optimization
Images get crawled and indexed in search, too. These often can open additional inbound doors for traffic to pour into your site. Using ALT image attributes and naming image files based on the keywords you want associated with that image help this tremendously.
The same rule as page titles and URLs applies here: name your images as specifically as possible. If it’s a picture of a purple pigeon, name the image “purple-pigeon.jpg”. Conveniently, this also make searching for the image both on your hard drive and inside the Media Library much easier, as you can search the library for specific assets by name. It’s one of those best practices that will help productivity across the board.
Additionally, make sure the ALT attribute is the same as the filename, again reinforcing the keyword theme. This can be edited directly in the Brandcast Design Studio Media Library, under “Alt Text”.
7. Curate Page Descriptions
Using page meta descriptions to promote products and services is an extremely useful tool. Meta descriptions show up in the search results page and describe the content of the page to users, encouraging them to click on your link.
If you want to run a promotion where products are 20% off through Saturday, you can use meta descriptions to convey that message through search. Have a special, limited time product you want to promote? Update the product page’s description with appropriate ad copy, and watch the call of urgency increase click-throughs to your site.
Meta description character counts should be no longer than 160 characters, or search engines may truncate the results. Best practice is to be descriptive and succinct.
Plan ahead, though; it can take Google up to 24 hours to index and display updated meta descriptions.
8. Create Engaging, Shareable Content
Don’t make pages just for the sake of capturing keywords if you don’t have enough to say about it. Thin or weak copy won’t necessarily help you rank for specific terms, and can drain company time and resources to produce. Instead, create deeply engaging and shareable content. If content is useful, it’s valuable. This will go a long way towards increasing your site’s relevancy in search.
There is no hard and fast rule for word count, but a minimum of 300 words per page is probably a good start. Additionally, don’t try to stuff the copy with keywords. Instead, write naturally, and don’t try to game the system. Remember, the more valuable and engaging your content is, the more likely your visitors will link back to it and share it - and this is the true secret of SEO; getting users to link back to you.
9. Ensure Your Site Is Responsive and Adaptable
How your visitors react and experience your page is vital to both retention and optimization. A mobile-responsive site will ensure your visitors have a positive experience, no matter what device they browse on. Similarly, if a page takes too long to load, you will lose visitors before they’ve had a chance to interact with your page, increasing bounce rates and reducing a pages ability to rank.
Fast-loading sites rank higher in Google search results, especially on mobile, so page performance is now more essential than ever. Luckily, if you’ve chosen to build and host your websites with Brandcast, you can rest assured knowing that you are publishing webpages with industry-leading speed and performance built-in.
By default, Brandcast websites are mobile-ready. Designed from the ground up to be AMP (Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative) enabled, Brandcast pages will load fast and adapt to any device. Additionally, Brandcast offers design precision by device, ensuring that your site looks exactly how you want it to on any screen.
In the Brandcast Design Studio, you can switch between different Device Modes to make changes and adjustments to your pages specific to particular device sizes. Designs will cascade from the top (your desktop design) to the bottom (phone), while permitting you to adjust your design at every step in between. If you increase the size of your body text at tablet portrait, your page will likewise get that larger text size on phone screens, though you can always choose to override it yet again. This way, your site always looks great, regardless of how your users are visiting it. Take the extra care to ensure that your site looks great on any screen, and your visitors will have an incredible experience. And incredible experiences always pay off.
10. Check For Crawl Errors
This is a big piece. Having a bird’s eye view of your site is paramount to success. As our sites grow in complexity, the likelihood that we have dead links and pages (404 errors) increases, as well as the inevitable likelihood of duplicated (or missing) titles. There are lots of great tools for this. At the very least, use Google Search Console’s “Crawl” tool to identify gaps. Additionally, you can use tools like Moz Crawl or Screaming Frog. They’ll produce a spreadsheet that you can use to identify and prioritize fixes. This is a healthy step to run often, as your site is always changing, always growing.
These crawl tools simulate a search engine's efforts to scan and index your site, attaching relevancies, associations, and more, in an effort to provide the best possible search results for users. By using them to identify gaps, you can correct site problems before your visitors encounter them.