Many businesses owners focusing on SEO for the first time, especially those with limited budgets, can often find themselves caught like a deer in the headlights wondering just where and how to begin. SEO, even for smaller sites, can often be a big project, especially if you're trying to run the business at the same time.
The question becomes, how many hours a week can you afford to invest (or pay for,) and what should you do first with the limited time on hand? There are several aspects to the SEO process and each one is important in it's own right. It's not always easy to say "do this first" until a site evaluation has been performed, as each site's needs are different. But you have to start somewhere, right?
While I can't put together a definitive path that you can use to work through your own SEO process, I will provide a general order of importance of different areas. This can be used as a guideline for analysis to determine where you do need to begin the optimization campaign.
If the architecture if your website is messed up or has significant issues, then the overall performance of your site will be limited. You can focus on links, keyword targeting, content, etc, but if the architecture isn't right then all of those efforts will be far less effective than they otherwise would be. Think of architecture as the foundation that the rest of the site needs to be built upon. If the foundation is crumbling, it'll create a whole mess of other problems, despite how much effort is put into other areas of performance.
The primary focus of the initial architectural check should be on search engine spiderability of the site. Can the engines navigate properly from page to page? Are the right pages given correct level of importance via hierarchy? Is there anything preventing the search engines from getting to all of the content? These are important questions that must be asked and answered.
Once you know your site is "search engine friendly" and the ability of your site to perform is in check, you can then focus on other areas to help improve actual performance.
It's hard to say if keyword research should come before or after you address certain site architectural needs. For the most part, keyword research should come first because you will use what you uncover to build a proper architectural platform. However, there are many architectural issues that can and should be fixed immediately so your site can get properly indexed by the search engines. Keyword research can take a bit of time so fixing the most important architectural issues first will be to your benefit.
Once the most important architectural issues are addressed, start digging into your keyword research. Before you can do any focused optimization or marketing of your site, you really do have to know what keywords are most important, and how they should be implemented across your site. While the actual keyword optimization process can, and usually does, take time, the research will help you define a clear path in moving forward.
Usability is often overlooked in the implementation of the SEO campaign, mostly because SEO can often conflict with the site's overall usability performance. That doesn't need to be so and usability and SEO can, and should, work hand in hand. In fact, usability should trump SEO in nearly all cases. While it's important to get people to your site via search engines, the engines are not the only way visitors find you. So when usability takes a back seat to SEO you're forcing your visitors who come to your site through other means to view your site through optimization eyes.
When usability trumps SEO, every visitor that comes to your site, regardless of how they got there, has the best experience possible. Instead of finding a site that's clunky, they find a site that gives them what they need as seamlessly as possible. Any usability improvements will help you increase conversion rates and the number of value of each sale made. As traffic increases, via on-page optimization and other marketing efforts, your sales numbers will rise at a rate greater than if usability wasn't factored in, making your optimization efforts far more valuable.
It seems somewhat odd that an article about SEO shows actual keyword optimization as the second to least important. That's not to say that the on-page optimization isn't important; it is! But it's only valuable once the issues above have been properly addressed. Focusing on optimization before you have fully researched your keywords leads to improper targeting and poorer performing campaigns. Same with usability and site architecture, these things must come first if you want the optimization to be effective.
There are a number of ways you can go about optimizing your site: 1) You can focus on one page at a time, starting with your most important pages and keywords first. 2) you can do a quick run-through of the entire site hitting key elements first, then go through again hitting the secondary and then tertiary elements, 3) you can focus on product pages hitting very specific keywords, then working your way back to the broader, more highly searched but less targeted keywords.
It doesn't matter how you move forward, so long as you are aware of the short and long-term success potential of any approach.
Link building should not be overlooked, or considered less important. Often sites can perform strongly on link building campaigns alone. However, such campaigns are far more effective once the keyword strategy has been laid out (if not yet fully implemented). This aligns the keyword targeting efforts both on and off the page, making both far more successful overall.
Also keep in mind that generic link building campaigns can begin in the very early stages of the SEO process, but you'll do better saving the more specific keyword targeting efforts for once you have a solid idea where keywords will be targeted on the site.
As each site is different and has different needs, so the path above needs to be flexible. Many of these areas overlap and can be performed simultaneously. Some can be done in stages leaving room to begin stages of another area as needed. But overall, this is a good framework allowing you to see where you can begin with your optimization and analyzation efforts, and help you get a better feel for how to progress with your optimization campaign.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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