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April 27, 2011

The SEO Bucket List: 3 Things to Do Before Your Site Dies

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The bucket list: an itemized statement of all the things you want to do before you kick the can. Not too long ago, Bruce wandered into the writers’ department and said:

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“What about an SEO bucket list of things you have to do before your site dies?”

So here we are.

Now, this is not an exhaustive list by any means.

If I had all the space in the world to write and you had the attention span to read it, I could think of a handful of other things to add (hint, hint: stay tuned for additions to this list in future blog posts).

For now, let’s focus on three core areas that any website should have on its SEO bucket list:

  • A strong foundation to operate on
  • SEO-friendly design and architecture
  • Quality content and structure

1. A Strong Foundation for Your Site to Operate On

If your site doesn’t have a quality foundation to operate on, it can hinder your search engine optimization.

Two factors that search engines take into account when looking to serve up websites in the results pages are relevancy and usability. Search engines want to offer sites to their users that will provide a good experience for them.

Some things to keep in mind to ensure your site is in tip-top shape are:

  • Google confirmed site speed is a factor in its algorithm, so server speed is more important now than ever. One of Google’s missions is to speed up the Internet, and if your server is slow, your site could suffer in rankings. In addition to speed, other factors exist that could be hindering your server’s bill of health. Think about running a check server tool to identify potential issues.
  • A clean IP address. You might think your site is squeaky clean, but did you know your IP address has a dirty secret? That’s right. Unbeknownst to you, your neighbor is into some very shady things. Check to see if you’re in a bad IP neighborhood by running an IP checker like MXToolbox.com.

2. SEO Friendly Web Design and Architecture

First, you need clean code that’s easily crawled by the search engine bots; code is the foundation of your site. When designing a site, the code can sometimes work against your SEO agenda.

There are times when extra code is generated during Web design that doesn’t serve a purpose. Other times, code can push down the Head section of your Web page so that it’s not among the first items a bot crawls when it reaches the page.

This can confuse the search engine spider. So, what might look great visually can be a nightmare for search engines to try and crawl through to understand what the page is about.

Some things to keep in mind when designing an SEO-friendly website include:

  • Use an external CSS to define the look of the website, rather than inline formatting. Also, move JavaScript to an external .JS file to keep the code concise.
  • Look into programs that can clean up your code if it’s plagued with excess commands like Adobe Dreamweaver, if HTML isn’t your area of expertise. You can also aim to make your site W3C compliant; that way, you’ll know it’s up to par.
  • Consider using HTML 5 as an alternative to Flash. HTML 5 has solved the problem of implementing sophisticated design while at the same time being search engine- and mobile-friendly.
  • Make sure the site architecture and navigation is SEO-ready, including organized silos of themed categories based on keywords you’ve selected. When you silo your content, you keep groups of related ideas together to build themed sections of your site. This helps to build subject authority and clearly tells the search engines what the content is about. More on this later in the post.
  • Make images on the site crawlable. Ensure you have naming conventions for the images that are descriptive and also include important keyword phrases, when appropriate. This allows the search engines to understand and index the image appropriately, which can improve the chances it’ll come up in a Universal Search results page, and also give helpful descriptions for users, including the blind. In fact, including ALT attributes on your images is required by the American with Disabilities act.
  • Think about using an SEO-friendly CMS. Having a content management system that’s SEO ready can make the structure of your site compatible with search engines and make performing updates to the site a breeze. An SEO-friendly CMS like Pixelsilk, for example, can even allow for SEO-friendly Web design.

3. Quality Content with Good SEO Copy

If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the Google Farmer/Panda algorithm update and what that means to your site, start doing some research. The algorithm change rolled out earlier this year, and just this month, internationally across all English queries.

Panda

The algorithm is meant to target low-quality sites. At SMX San Jose 2011, the idea of “thin” content was echoed heavily. And while it’s been hard for people to put a precise definition of what quality content is, you know it when you see it – and you know it when you don’t.

In the Bruce Clay, Inc. February SEO Newsletter, we explored the idea of quality content. And while this was pre-Farmer/Panda, the principles still hold true: Web content should be relevant to the user, add something unique and of value and be authoritative on the subject.

Building relevance and authority starts with subject-matter expertise and is expanded upon through SEO tactics like content silos and copywriting.

You want to structure your site navigation in a way that supports subject themes based on the keywords that your audience is using when looking for products or services similar to yours.

By having primary topics (top-level landing pages or top silos) with supporting information for that topic (subnavigation or subsilos), your site builds authority on the subject matter.

Think of building your silos as you would write a report. You need a main thesis and supporting evidence all organized in a manner that is clear, easy to navigate and simple to comprehend.

This helps the search engine spiders crawl your website and understand what it’s about. It also gives your readers useful information about the products, services or industry you’re in. All in all, a win-win for both.

Once you’ve figured out how to silo your site, you’ll want to look into using SEO copywriting best practices. This includes creating quality Meta data and other on-page optimization techniques.

SEO copywriting is a delicate balance of writing for both the search engines and human visitors of your website.

At Bruce Clay, we follow a scientific-like methodology for on-page optimization that teaches our clients how to become authoritative to both the search engines and the target audience.

This is the happy medium. Search engines like Google will be pleased your website’s content is easily crawled, indexed and understood and that it’s also serving up the most relevant results for a user’s query.

What’s on your SEO bucket list? Please tell us in the comments below!





25 responses to “The SEO Bucket List: 3 Things to Do Before Your Site Dies”

  1. Adam Humphreys writes:

    Haha, oh how true this is. The right CMS can make or break a business. It was a long time before I polished Drupal 7 (newest version) and made it SEO friendly. It was absolutely brutal getting search friendly but it’s finally where it needs to be.

    Most companies make the mistake of going for SEO after getting a site built which costs them a great deal more than having it done right the first time. Fortunately, with most SEO professionals we’re able to implement page caching, compression, and other on-page optimization factors to make a site search friendly. This isn’t just important for search engines it’s for usability too. People are more likely to click through more pages if they load fast. Breaking the 2 page barrier means doing everything you can to make the user experience as friendly as possible and compression is a great start.

  2. Jessica Lee writes:

    Adam! What you’re talking about is something we see often as well. Are you directly involved in Drupal?

  3. Adam Humphreys writes:

    Ya, I’m implementing a patch for the Media module right now. Drupal and I have a very strong love/hate relationship. It’s been established as one of the most secure open source CMS platforms available and because of its scalable nature I’ve stuck with it. They refer to my work as SEO Kool aid lol

  4. Jeremiah writes:

    Jessica,

    Great information here. You obviously put a lot of thought in breaking this down in terms the average person can understand.Everything you discussed are relatively easy fixes, the problem is most online businesses don’t realize their sites are lacking in these areas. It’s up to us to paint the picture for them. Great read Jessica. Thanks!!

  5. Jessica Lee writes:

    Well, thank you, Jeremiah! That means a lot because I do try to break complex concepts into easy-to-understand bits. Yep, we can definitely doctor up sites, but it’s so nice when businesses can build SEO into the initial launch of a site, eh? Thanks for your comment — always nice to hear from you!

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    As in drinking the Kool Aid? Or you’re cool and you aid them? I nofollow.

  7. Joel Schwartz writes:

    Its like Susan’s SEO 4 dummies in just one post :) ,the basics never really change.

    Its hard to believe the clutter of useless & purposeless coding found on websites that look healthy on the outside, I’ve just cleaned a site with around 8 HTML & BODY start and end tags per page…

    Building on a strong foundation and “siloing” a clean architecture from the very first day definitely gives an amazing advantage on so many levels.

    As always great stuff Jessica!!

  8. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Joel! Funny you should say that, ’cause the book was a trusty sidekick. ;)

    Ah, all the gibberish code … so common. I hope more people catch on to HTML 5, too.

    On a side note, I’m feeling like I may have left an e-mail unanswered between us from a while ago. Is that true?

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Joel!

  9. Joel Schwartz writes:

    Dont worry about it, I was more me telling a bunch of nonsense than asking.

    Every once in a while I feel like I should let people know that I keep up with them by commenting on their tweets, posts or whatever but comment or no comment I keep up with you all the time ;)!!

  10. Jessica Lee writes:

    Well thanks for that — it’s nice to know you are!

  11. Jeremiah writes:

    Likewise Jessica! It is nice when they can build S.E.O. in the initial launch as it makes all the difference. It’s so important for clients to understand the parameters of s.e.o. as they grow. It makes our lives so much easier. I always try to use the analogy of s.e.o. as being the equivalent of the framework when you’re building out your dream house. It really is the foundation, and without it, the house is sure to crumble. Thanks Jessica! Have a super weekend!

  12. Nick Stamoulis writes:

    A strong foundation and good content are key. You can utilize all of the SEO strategies that exist but if you are optimizing a bad site, there’s really no point. Before optimizing a site, make sure that it’s of good quality.

  13. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks, Jeremiah. Always a pleasure to have you in the dialogue!

  14. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks for your comment, Nick! Agree!

  15. Jun Baranggan writes:

    Great article here Jessica. I believe though that these are things that need to be done, not only “before your site dies”, but would be better done before you build a site.

  16. Kent writes:

    The first and third, I still manage to do it. For the second point, since I don’t know coding at all, I use joomla to build my website. A lot of rumors tell that joomla is not a seo friendly CMS. Jessica, since you are expert, do you know about that?

    I hope joomla is SEO friendly CMS…

  17. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jun!

  18. Jun Baranggan writes:

    Hi Kent,

    I have Joomla sites that are ranking really well, and I never had a problem optimizing them. No reason for you to worry. :)

    Jun

  19. Kent writes:

    Hi Jun, thanks for the advice. Glad to know that! :)

  20. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks for your input, Jun! Appreciate you reaching out.

  21. Jessica Lee writes:

    I personally have not used Joomla, but I asked one of our SEO analysts here and he said it can be difficult for SEO, but that he hadn’t used it in a couple years and many of the original developers have started new companies. He recommended Drupal or even WordPress as an easier alternative. Let me know if you have more questions. :)

  22. Kent writes:

    I heard that before. For site structure, I just don’t think Joomla is SEO Friendly but still I am able to optimize my site to top 10 ranking for hot keywords. Luckily, there are a lot of factors that affect search engine ranking. :)

    Anyway, thanks for your help Jessica. I really learnt a lot from Bruceclay. :)

  23. Jonathan Fowler writes:

    Great article Jessica! I maintain a website (an online bass guitar magazine) that I believe has some great content, but the traffic is still a little low after nearly 4 years. It is very niche to say the least. I recently came across a blog post on “article submission” services. Should I be paying an article submission service to distribute the article to other relevant websites or is this a waste of money?

  24. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi Jonathan! Thanks for the question.

    Our initial thought is that your money is probably best spent elsewhere. If you’re talking about distributing content on your site as articles to article directories, this could take the unique content from your site and turn it into duplicate content across the Web, and that’s never a good thing.

    I don’t know if you have a social media plan yet, but if you’re looking to draw more people to the content you believe is relevant to them, first spend some time identifying where those people are in various social networks online. Join those groups, create a profile, start a community, share content.

    The obvious networks are MySpace, Twitter or Facebook; but, since you have a niche business, perhaps there are additional music- or instrument-based social circles online.

    If you have the extra resources to invest, social media marketing is a great way to spread the word. It’s typically free (unless you want to hire some help to get you going) and just takes time commitment.

    Also, check out our May SEO Newsletter — we had an article on integrating social share buttons into your website. This is another way for people to share the content they find valuable on your site:

    http://www.bruceclay.com/newsletter/volume91/socialshare.htm.

    And today, I’ll be exploring the Facebook Like button on the blog as well, as a means to get the word out. Does that help at all?

  25. Jonathan Fowler writes:

    Thanks for the information Jessica. We currently have over 16,000 Facebook fans for our online bass guitar magazine and they eat the content up! I probably need to work harder on getting those fans to actually visit our main website. That’s probably where the bottleneck is occurring. I’ll check out the newsletter, thanks!



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