By Mike Flynn, CEO, Fast Web Media

If a potential customer wants to buy a product or service, the likelihood is that they will look online and your website will be a contributing factor in the decision making process. Is your site ready to accept traffic though?

SEO best practices are constantly changing, so it can be difficult to understand what is good practice. Many businesses, for example, overlook the fact that SEO incorporates the design and layout of a website as well as the content.

Take the time to evaluate your site before you begin the SEO process. Consider how it looks in different browsers and on different devices. Be honest and ask yourself: is it aesthetically pleasing and inviting to the user? Is it user-friendly and quick to load? Does your web layout and copy guide the user through their journey?

The importance of keywords
When producing content for your site, focus on using the most relevant keywords for your audience. Which words and phrases are most likely to direct maximum volumes of visitors to your site? Keep things simple. There is more value in getting straight to the point and making sure titles are descriptive, concise and user-friendly.

Avoid false phrases too. Make the most of Google Analytics to monitor keyword rankings. It enables you to find out exactly which words and phrases customers search for online, allowing you to identify appropriate keywords that are popular and easy to use.

You should also make sure that all links work correctly. Broken links and error pages can put off visitors from staying on your site and can also affect your search rankings.

Quality wins you traffic
The term ‘quality is king’ might be overplayed but it still rings true. Only use high quality and unique content on your website. Reliable information is essential for building your credibility with users and search engines, plus it is instrumental in raising share-ability.

Next, enable search engines to gain an understanding of your site’s structure. Tools such as robots.txt can reveal which parts of your site that search engines should and shouldn’t visit. It’s important you can control the content that is indexed in search engines.

When constructing your site, pay attention to your meta description, which is the text appearing underneath the title of your page within search engine results. If you don’t craft this correctly, Google will take the first part of your site’s content instead.

Using the rel=”author” tag to add your authors’ Google+ profiles to the articles they write will also impact your SEO. This will establish authorship of your content, build your AuthorRank, and help protect your content from plagiarists.

Beware of the common pitfalls that can damage your site’s Google ranking. Avoid copying content, linking to irrelevant content, linking too frequently, or over-using keywords.

Use the World Wide Web to your advantage
Another best practice is to build off-site SEO through effective link-building and networking. Both actions will enable you to drive traffic from other parts of the Internet to your website.

Create a place listing on Google Places and add your site to appropriate online directories. Beware of spammy directories and those with low authority as Google could view these sites as containing link spam. Also build positive relationships with other businesses in your industry — either in person or via online discussions to create ‘word of mouth’ online.

Social networking sites also contribute to your off-site SEO. Determine which social media platforms are appropriate for your business. Create a profile with as much relevant detail as possible and, importantly, link back to your website and vice-versa.

Many social media sites can be a little restrictive in the volume of content you can create, so the content you share should be attractive and interactive. Use them as a tool to allow users to ‘preview’ content from your website. ‘Follow’ other users, ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ content, and above all engage with users to build your network and drive traffic to your site.

Don’t ignore evaluation
Lastly, keep a record of your site’s performance (and those of your competitors) to track the progress of your SEO campaign. Take advantage of free tools to help you compile your baseline metrics (for keyword performance, organic search traffic, inbound links etc.), which can be used to generate analytics for evaluation. If you can pinpoint any areas with disappointing results, you can change aspects of your SEO campaign accordingly to ensure future activities will bring a greater return on investment.

The Digital Marketing Show is taking place in Excel, London in November – visit www.digitalmarketingshow.co.uk

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