It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you of “be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It is indeed a wonderful time of the year, but what if you were just told that there is going to be a site development freeze starting next week until the end of the year? You were also informed that whatever SEO changes you want should either go in before the site freeze or wait until next year.
As an in-house SEO, news of a site freeze could come as a setback if you had some changes planned before year’s end. Perhaps you were hoping to make some changes and start 2012 with a bang by showing some solid SEO results. But, nope that won’t be the case now. So what do you do?
Instead, you’re asked by your management and stakeholders to prioritize SEO items and choose which items would have the highest impact. This kind of question is analogous to a question like “which one is your favorite child?” Well, I love them all and can’t really choose one over another.
Regardless, you have to make a decision and really work on top SEO changes that you want to go in before your site development freeze.
Which projects should you choose and which ones should you eliminate? Let’s walk through the process and then shortlist the items that will have maximum impact in a short period of time.
Most SEO initiatives can be bucketed broadly into three categories:
- Business As Usual Mode: The goal in Business As Usual Mode, or Maintenance Mode, is to maintain your SEO rankings while ensuring that your search referrer traffic or keyword level traffic stays the same during the holidays. They make up the daily/weekly SEO activities that is focused on sort of the periphery of SEO, like ensuring there are no 404s, no missing titles, no duplicate meta description, missing ALT, 301s, 302, and the like. As an in-house SEO, it’s critical some portion of your work week is allocated to these activities. These activities can also be called as administrative part of SEO so using tools can help you work smarter. Tools like Xenu and Webmaster Central accounts can be great starting steps.
- Next Level Up Mode: The goal in Next Level Up Mode, or Improvement Mode, is to work on SEO tactics that will produce incremental gains for your in-house program. Most of the activities in this category probably have management/stakeholder approvals so you’re ready to roll. Improving traffic and revenues is at the core of all the activities that you undertake in this mode (e.g., optimizing new content, new product page copy, internal link optimization, inserting new keywords in title and description, making site navigation crawlable). Ultimately, these tactics help drive traffic and revenues.
- Planning Mode: You’ve got to get into strategic SEO planning mode with the goal of planning your next set of top level (revenue generating) strategies. This could involve creating new content strategy for your site, working SEO in new product launches, or simply ensuring new marketing initiatives have SEO looped into the process. Planning mode could be lot of fun as you could be doing lot of idea selling, training new groups and stakeholders, working with numerous partners, and yes countless number of meetings! SEO forecasting, keyword research, competitive intelligence, new content strategy, new reporting templates, new titles, new description, and more can fall under this bucket. These kinds of activities are planned in the present with an eye on future results. Future here could mean anywhere from 3 months to a year or more.
Now that you know the three main buckets of SEO categorization, let’s pick an item from each of the above buckets. Remember, we need to pick tasks that can easily be implemented without long list of approvals and things that as an in-house SEO you can control.
Here are the three SEO changes I would most certainly pick before my year end site development freeze.
SEO Change 1: Title & Meta Description
Writing good titles and description can be an art. It also can be one of the highest impact SEO tactics that you can affect in a short period of time.
If you’re in-house, then not many meetings and approvals are needed to change the title tag and meta description on your site. A well-written title and description can greatly improve your rankings and click-through rate (CTR).
It’s sometimes baffling how quickly we experiment with ad titles and copy in PPC campaigns, but the fear of loss of rankings keeps us away from testing out new titles and descriptions in SEO.
A good title tag is no more than 45-49 characters and around 150-200 characters for the meta description. Remember, Google displays close to 155 characters in its page snippet.
A good title could have a singular as well as plural version of your keyword. Again, don’t change, but improvise on your existing description since that is working well. You may also want to keep track of rankings and CTR on SEO with a before and after analysis.
SEO Change 2: Internal Link Optimization
This is an often overlooked tactic by many SEOs, but offers real low-hanging fruit, so to speak.
The main benefit of internal link optimization is to ensure search spiders discover (crawl) all pages by following links, users are able to visit from one page to another (in the same theme), and all links make use of keyword rich anchor text. Anchor text is one of the important components of SEO and a well optimized link on your own site goes a long way not just in building relevance on pages on your site but is also a good usability practice.
Many big brands operate many different web properties and often don’t link to each other or are linking to each other without leveraging anchor text. In cases like those, internal link optimization could be relatively easy to accomplish before you have site wide freeze.
Here’s a simple example:
Great Deals on Plasma TV. Click here to learn more.
The common fallacy here is to hyperlink the “Click Here to learn more” text.
Instead, try writing it this way:
Click here for great deals on Plasma TV.
In here, you can hyperlink the key words “Plasma TV” or even “Great Deals on Plasma TV.”
SEO Change 3: 301 Redirect
Here is the truth in the SEO world - if we left IT folks to their own devices, then most sites would have some kind of site or page redirects – because of new programming functionality, some changes to the members area on the backend, or sometimes just to enable customers to let use the same login credentials through out the site.
Most of the times, 302 redirects happen when SEOs aren’t kept in the loop by IT or when the original project was defined then SEO considerations weren’t taken into account.
Certainly, lack of SEO training for IT adds to the agony. Reasons could vary, but you want to make sure you have no 302 redirect issue before the site development freeze and all your 302s are converted into 301 redirects.
If you’re on Apache platform you would use the mod_rewrite solution and if on Windows platform you can use the built-in IIS_Rewrite solution
These are just some of the quick hit SEO recommendations you can implement before your site hits a development freeze. As always, your business is unique and so too is your SEO program. Keep that in mind before you shortlist your own SEO changes.