Your 15-Step SEO Guide for New Websites
The best time to start thinking about SEO for your website is when you’re just starting out. You can get things started on the right foot and save yourself some trouble later.
If you’re in the early stages of building or launching a website, there are a few main steps you should take now to get your new website SEO into place.
1. Choose Your Domain Name Carefully.
Domain names are one of the ranking factors search engines look at to figure out what a page is about. If it’s possible to choose a domain name that’s relevant, easy to remember, and incorporates the main keyword you want to rank for, that’s ideal.
It’s not something you should force. For example, if your business is called Howard’s Deli and the domain www.howards-deli.com is available, that’s probably a better pick than www.egg-salad-sandwiches.com. That’s likely to cause confusion when the customers that already know you try to find the site.
There are a few good tools that can help you brainstorm domain name ideas based on what’s available, so you don’t set your sights on a name you can’t have.
2. Select a Reputable Web Hosting Provider.
Google has been upfront about site speed being a ranking factor for SEO. Visitors are impatient and expect webpages to load within seconds (or less), so Google tries to only deliver results that will satisfy that requirement.
While you have a number of strategies you can try to make your website faster over time, one of the best steps to take from day one is choosing a web hosting provider that can deliver consistent speeds.
3. Perform Keyword Research.
Keyword research is a big part of SEO. In order to do a lot of the other things on this list effectively, you need to first have a clear idea of the main terms and subject areas you want to focus your SEO efforts on.
A number of SEO tools provide keyword suggestions and data on the amount of traffic and competition you can expect to deal with for each keyword. Most of them will cost you a subscription fee, but you can use Google’s Keyword Planner for free to get started:
When choosing your keywords, be sure to be realistic. SEO is competitive and a brand new website isn’t in a good position to compete for popular, broad terms. Get specific and find long-tail keywords to target. For example, something like “east chicago modern art sellers” is more attainable than just “art sellers.”
4. Plan Out Your Site’s Architecture.
If you’re starting with a simple site that just has a few pages, this may not seem all that important right now. But it’s still smart to plan out your site architecture in advance so you have a structure in place as you go.
For most websites, your site architecture should have a pyramid structure. Your homepage is at the top, with the next most important pages (typically the ones that go on your main menu) right below that. Underneath those, you’ll add any subcategories and individual pages that fall within them.
When you plan your site architecture in advance, you’ll make sure your website is organized to give priority to the most important pages in terms of how easy they are for visitors to find, and you’ll make it easier on visitors to navigate between pages on the site to find what they need.
5. Use a Mobile-Friendly Design.
Many of the SEO algorithm updates Google has announced in recent years have been all about mobile.
As more and more people turn to their phones to do most of their browsing, users and search engines alike expect websites to provide an intuitive mobile experience. When you’re building a new website, it’s imperative that you make it mobile friendly.
6. Target Primary Keywords for Each Page.
Your initial keyword research can help you gain an overall picture of the language to use when building your website, but it’s also good practice to choose a target keyword (or a couple) for each individual web page on your site.
To avoid competing against yourself, choose unique ones for each page.
7. Optimize Page URLs.
Customize the URL of every page on your website. To the best of your ability, you want each URL to be easy to remember, communicate what’s on the page and, where possible, use your target keyword for the page.
Your site architecture should also help you create a structure for your URLs that provide the visitor information on their positioning in the site. For example, if one of your top-level categories is Shoes and a subcategory is Boots, a product page might look something like www.your-website.com/shoes/boots/product
8. Optimize Title Tags.
The title tag is part part of the website Google looks at to learn what the page is about, which makes it another good spot to use your target keyword.
Try to keep your title tag short – Google will only display 50-60 characters on the search engine results page and even less of the title tag will show up in the tab at the top of your browser.
And don’t keyword stuff here. Using your primary keyword once should do the trick.
9. Optimize Images.
Every image you use on a web page provides a few additional opportunities for optimizing your page for your main keywords. Customize the name of each image to include the keyword you’re targeting (e.g. primarykeyword.jpg) and update the alt text on the page with your keyword as well.
If you have a WordPress site, then you can easily update the alt text in the media editor when you load the image:
If not, you can update the alt text in the html of the page. The html should look something like <img src=”primarykeyword.jpg” alt=”primary keyword”>
10. Optimize Headings.
When writing for the web, headings are a good tool to better organize your copy so that it’s easy to read and scannable for your visits. As an added bonus, your headings are another signal to Google on what your page is about.
Strategically include your target keywords in the headings on your web page – but only where it makes intuitive sense to do so. You don’t want to force words in if they sound strange to the reader, but if you can use the keywords in a way that makes sense, do so.
11. Optimize text on the page.
You have to be careful here because search engines notice keyword stuffing and your website can be penalized for it. But as long as you only use your target keywords (and relevant synonyms) in contexts where they make sense then it’s a good practice to incorporate them into the text on the page.
In most cases, as long as you’ve chosen target keywords that are relevant to what the page is about (which is important!), then this part should come naturally.
12. Write Unique Meta Descriptions.
While meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings, they do play a role in your click-through rates from the search results. When a person sees your web page in the search results, they’ll see your meta description below the page title:
Any words in your description that match the terms they searched will be in bold, helping draw their attention to your result. Since they’re trying to decide which of the results to choose, you can use this text to make a case for why your page is worth the click.
Always write a relevant meta description for every page on your website. Try to incorporate your keyword(s) for the page naturally in the description to hopefully end up with some bolded text on the search results page (as with “cloud hosting” in the example above), and use the space to provide a brief description about what’s valuable on the page.
13. Link to Other Pages on Your Website.
Internal linking gives you a way to signal to Google what your page is about through the anchor text you use. If you’re not familiar with the term, the anchor text refers to the words that are hyperlinked. Google sees the words used each time there’s a link to a web page and takes that as information about what’s on the page.
Internal links also give you a way to show the search engines how your different pages are connected and drive traffic from one page on the website to another. Since you ideally want your visitors to stick around and spend some time on your website (which is also good for SEO), providing helpful internal links is a good way to make that happen.
14. Submit Your Sitemap to Google.
Before your web pages can show up on the search engine results page, Google has to crawl your website.
Usually Google’s crawlers will make their way to your website over time even if you don’t do anything, but you can speed things up by submitting your sitemap through Google Search Console. You can directly communicate to Google that your website exists and tell them all the specific pages on it.
15. Create an SEO Plan for the Future.
If everything on this list already sounds like a lot, you’ll have to get used to it because you’re just getting started. SEO is a long-term, ongoing process.
To show up in the search engines when people are looking for the information or products you provide, you have to put some real work into providing consistent value on your website and building authority around the web.
Start on your plan for long-term SEO sooner rather than later. Consider if you can learn the ropes and do the work on your own, or if you need to hire skilled SEO professionals to help.
Whichever route you choose, it’s important that you decide to make it a priority and take the long view on making progress. SEO is slow and the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.