For many small businesses owners, there's a lot of confusion about how to set up a brand new site in a way that gives it a good chance of getting some serious search traffic.
My last column looked at some simple analytics reports and methods that can help you to improve your site's search traffic. However, these are only really relevant if you already have a reasonably well-established site that already receives at least some natural search traffic.
But what if you have a brand new site and are approaching search engine optimization (SEO) for the first time? What you actually need to do is simple.
I'm not talking about on-page factors such as title tags and semantic URLs either -- those definitely have an impact on rankings, but they are the trees rather than the woods. You need to deal with the big picture first.
Content, Content, Content
I'm not a big fan of the phrase "content is king." It isn't, and it certainly doesn't market itself either. But regardless, it's still a vital piece of the puzzle.
Traditionally (and notoriously), small business sites tended to fall into the "four page" trap:
- About us
These pages were usually all filled with corporate fluff, written by someone with little or no sales or marketing experience. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but I'm sure many of us have seen plenty of sites that aren't far off this mark.
The situation has improved in recent years, but not enough. Small business people coming to SEO for the first time are still often surprised about just how much content they need to get their site working for them.
So how much content do you need? The simple answer: as much as you can get.
Dozens, hundreds, thousands of pages. At least. And all of it good quality.
Of course, that's a tall order for most small businesses (and, let's face it, there are some industries where you'd really struggle even to approach a dozen unique pages of content). But the good news is that this content doesn't all have to be added to your site at once; in fact, it's better if it isn't.
Google and other search engines reward sites that are regularly updated and maintained. Starting small and growing your site over time is a great strategy both for ranking and for managing the task of writing or procuring all that content.
How Can I Create All That Content?
Content generation is a big topic. Your best strategy will depend on your business and industry. But there are some classic examples to get you going:
- Reports and white papers
- Purchasing guides
- Product comparisons
- Knowledge bases
- Industry news
And, of course, there's blogging. Running a good quality, regularly updated blog is an excellent way to keep a site growing (and it can help your conversion rates too). Even at the rate of updating your blog just once a week, it's surprising how quickly and easily your site will grow.
Again, blogging is a vast topic, but there are plenty of guides and tutorials to get you going and keep the creative juices flowing. It may seem like a daunting task at first, especially if you work in what is usually considered quite a dry industry, but once you have the ball rolling, regular blogging becomes more natural.
Why do you need as much fresh, quality content on your site as possible? Without getting too technical, there are three main reasons:
- PageRank: It's often thought that links create PageRank, but actually... pages do. Links just move it around. And although PageRank is part of Google's proprietary ranking algorithm (and still an important part, although its role may be diminishing), all the major search engines use a similar method for ranking pages. So, simply put, more pages mean more PageRank within your site.
- Long tail traffic: Even more important, the more content on your site, the more long tail traffic you will pull in, and long tail traffic is a significant proportion of any search niche (long tail search terms are all the long, unique and usually highly qualified search terms that people type into Google and other engines). This is a pure numbers game. You're aiming to have as much relevant content as possible in order to increase the likelihood that some portion of text on your site will be a good match for a long tail term that a user has entered.
- Links and social indicators: Links are the mainstay of ranking, although social indicators (such as retweets and Facebook's Like button) are gaining importance. The crux of the matter here is that if you want someone to link to your site or like your content (whether you've explicitly asked them to or not), you have to feature up-to-date, relevant, and good quality content. No one wants to link to a four page web site that was last updated in 2002, no matter how great the design. They want to link to blogs and other sites that regularly offer them interesting, informative, or entertaining content. At the very least, they need to see that you look after your site on a regular basis.
Once you've sorted out the big picture, you can start getting into the fine detail of optimizing individual pages for key search terms. Without a solid amount of good content in place first, technical on-site work will only have a very minimal impact. So get writing!