If you aren't doing SEO yourself then you might be under the misconception that it's simple and that you will see results as soon as you've put the effort in.
In reality, it's far from simple and requires time and the coming together of many resources to succeed in the long term.
And if that's true for a website that's been around a while, that difficulty is multiplied for brand-new websites. With millions of new websites each year, it can be difficult to claim your spot in Google, and initially, you have the much-debated Google sandbox to contend with.
So, where do you even start?
Firstly it's important to highlight that this is a basic 12-month plan, SEO can be infinitely complex, and you'll want to develop a bespoke strategy for every website you work on. But the points in this article will generally give you a great starting point.
While I'm not the biggest fan of micro-planning, with such a mammoth undertaking, I think the only way to achieve success for a new website is to implement a 12-month plan. You have to allow flexibility as goalposts will change over that timeframe, your available resource will change, your available skillset might change, and a hundred other things that might change, so it's important to stay fluid while keeping up the momentum. Don't lose motivation just because you didn't achieve everything you have set out.
So while this plan would be different for every website that is launched, here's a basic 12-month program to get started with:
Before even thinking about the standard ‘SEO' factors, when you're getting your site designed, there are a few things to bear in mind that will save you enormous headaches months down the line.
When developing the site, you should focus on speed from the beginning. As complexities to your website get added, they can hurt the rate, so keep pace on the agenda throughout the website development cycle.
Other important factors you shouldn't ignore at this stage include the following:
- Ensuring your site will be responsive or at least mobile-friendly is a must-do.
- You are leveraging AMP if applicable. If you're publishing news or articles and want to take advantage of AMP spots in the search results, then this is the time to develop that functionality so that you can quickly push out AMP versions of your content in the future.
- Image compression. Not everyone populating your site's content will understand image compression and why it's essential. Developing a system that automatically optimizes images or allows users to do so very quickly is vital to ensure your website doesn't become bloated as content is published in the future.
- Schema markup. The focus on schema markup has increased in recent years, and websites can leverage schema markup to show more detail about their businesses on the search results page. This can lead to increased click-through rates as well as many indirect benefits.
Before your website even launches, you'll need to do at least a basic amount of competitor research, which in terms of SEO will ultimately come down to keyword research and ensuring that any content you plan will match searcher intent.
The keyword research you perform now should help identify how people search for your business's core products or services. What you imagine people google to find the service you offer may differ from reality.
How keyword structure influences site structure
For each one of your core products or services, you'll map out a primary keyword that will be the foundation to build each of your main pages around.
For example, if you're a dentist for dogs, you might offer several services such as cleaning, extraction, and implants. But how do people search for those services? Your keyword research should determine how most people search for your assistance in your area.
For example, in the UK, people might search for ‘dog teeth cleaning' while US searchers might search for ‘canine dental service.' While Google understands these are probably the same topic and will rank variations, finding the highest volume version of your keyword is the best way forward to use as your primary keyword. It should improve Click-through rates from the search pages, compared with using a less familiar keyword phrase.
Content iteration and developing expertise
In 2018 the keyword research shouldn't stop there. Identifying the primary keyword for each page is the first step, but that's the starting point. To make sure your pages have Expertise, Authority, and Trust (which is one way Google will consider your content), you'll not only need to use your professional expertise to make sure all relevant information is included and accurate, but you'll also need to make sure you're covering anything users, Google might reasonably expect to find on your pages and what your competitors might also be talking about.
So in practical terms, continuing with the dog dentist example, that might mean your implants page should answer common questions about dog tooth implants that people are asking on Google; a concerned dog owner might google something like ‘are teeth implants for dogs expensive' or ‘are implants for dogs painful.'
You should cover it in your content if they are searching for it.
There are plenty of other ‘foundational' things you could be doing at this point but focus on the basics so that you can keep moving and get your site launched, don't focus on perfection at this stage. Make sure you have an XML sitemap in place and that it's easily updatable (or preferably updates daily by itself). An essential SEO plugin will generally do the job perfectly well.
We also recommend an HTML sitemap to help both users and search engines to understand what your site is about.
By this point, your site should be live and have all your main landing pages up and running. This is where the real foundational work starts: getting your first few links to your website and making sure you have a plan for your content.
Firstly a little note on on-site structure: you must understand how you'll structure your site now. Otherwise, it can become a hassle to change in the future and hold your rankings back if not done correctly. But it's pretty simple when you implement a good structure.
Most agree that using a silo or hub and spoke site structure is the best way to maximize your search performance and to help demonstrate to Google what areas you cover:
Following this simple structure has many benefits, from reinforcing your main keywords to helping you rank for long tail keywords to ensuring that you aren't cannibalizing your ranking efforts. Each time you plan a new page (based on keyword or competitor research), you should determine how it will fit into this structure.
Once you've slotted it neatly into a hub, it's simply a case of interlinking between the pages, or some prefer to link from the subtopic to the main page, but it's better to test which method of interlinking works best for you and your users.
Once you've got your internal linking structure in order, it's time to think about your external links. In terms of these links, you should think about links from:
- Your social profiles
- Any existing industry contacts
- Relevant industry directories (not the old spammy style directories)
- Citations (if you're a local business with a physical location)
In terms of content, you should launch your site with at least the essential content needed on your main pages. Month 1 is the time to put a full content calendar together to build out content assets (in-depth articles, guides, or features) that you can use for link building in the future, as well as supporting content that will reinforce your main categories.
Outbound Content Plan
We've only really discussed content from an inbound perspective so far. Still, as you begin to make connections in the industry, you'll need to start putting resources into creating outbound content.
If you've created a content calendar already, you need to split it into inbound or outbound so that you can progress with both channels.
Until you start making those connections, it's challenging to say precisely what content you'll need. At this point, you might want to put placeholders in the content calendar to ensure that you have the resource available when the opportunities arise.
As well as putting the wheels in motion of content and links, it's time to set up monitoring. Having at least some basic measuring in place is essential to measure progress and re-adjust your plans if things aren't heading in the right direction. You should ensure you have the following basic setup:
By now, you should have a basic level of content and links built up, so it's time to move on and start getting a bit more aggressive.
At this point, you should start planning for at least a few content marketing campaigns or skyscraper campaigns. Ultimately, that means developing a piece of epic industry-relevant content with which you can launch a significant movement, update the resource, and relaunch it for years.
Whether you decide to go down the content marketing, skyscraper or another route, both should be helping you to not only build topically relevant backlinks but also help in the content generation that will also reinforce the topical expertise of your website,” says Neil Rollins of Haitna.
Content-wise, it would be best if you started building out pages targeting keywords that you want to rank for in the long term, that are core to your offering, and that your competitors are doing well for.
In months 1-3, you should already have started to track your main keywords, but now is a great time to double-check that you're following the right keywords and to add more to your tracking.
The 6-month point is a great chance to review the work that has already been completed and to adjust the plan for the next six months accordingly.
The best way to achieve that in SEO is to complete a website audit. On older websites, audits can take many days to complete and create months (or even years) of future development and marketing work. In theory, a new site should be much simpler, and you'll want to spot anything that's going particularly wrong or find opportunities you're missing out on.
To begin with, running your site through an SEO tool like Serpstat site audit is a great start. This will quickly pick up any technical problems your site has; while you're there, you may set this audit to run every month, so you don't have to worry about manually checking it.
You should have gotten into a pretty good content production and promotion rhythm by this point. Until now, we've only really discussed promotion in terms of link building, but you should also be engaging with your customer base in various channels.
As a basic, this means social media, but you should also be exploring other places online where your customer base might be; this is dependent on your industry, but it could mean:
- Active industry forums
- Q&A sites such as quora
- Comment sections of famous industry bloggers
- Industry review sites
The emphasis is that you should cast your net wide and ensure you engage with your core customer base. This is not only good general business practice but will help to show Google that your business and website are trusted and that reference to your website can be found where it might reasonably be expected to be found.
You're nearing the end of year one of your website, and by this point, you should have a good idea of what works for your website and what doesn't. It's thought that Google judges different business verticals differently, so while the general advice is the same, you also have to get a feel for what moves the needle in your industry. That might be content, links, community engagement, or something else.
It's time to focus on any pages that are within striking distance; if you have essential keywords ranking between positions 5-20, then Google is considering giving them a top 3 spot, so focus on those – build some more quality links to them and scrutinize the content and try and improve it.
Pushing these keywords onto page one will be your quickest win to get an excellent start to year two, so make them a focus in your year two planning. Once you've identified those and what's working well for you, it's very much business as usual. Build a robust content calendar based on keyword research and build links in the best way for you during year 1.