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How can you make the most of your SEO budget? What techniques get you penalised by the search engines? Is it possible to increase the returns on your optimisation investment?
Last month I wrote about how to fit SEO alongside your day job, so I’ve compiled this list of 50 rules and tips to help boost your website’s ranking and performance.
1) 'Content is king' is massively over-quoted for a reason. If your website isn’t offering value to visitors then all the technical SEO in the world won’t boost your ranking.
2) Never risk your corporate reputation to climb the rankings. Increased traffic is no use if they’ve only come to leave abuse on your blog.
3) Your website caters to humans and not just search robots. Don’t be persuaded to damage the customer journey in order to boost SEO – it rarely works and it alienates customers.
4) Don’t fixate on Google. It’s big, but millions of visits begin with other search engines, so be sure you’re checking where you rank in Bing too. A 10% UK market share is often overlooked, but it's still 10% of billions of search queries!
5) Never rest on your laurels. If you’re ranking well then your competitors are trying to beat you.
6) Don’t try to trick the search engines. It won’t work for long and your website could be penalised once the search engines catch up with you.
7) SEO doesn’t exist in a bubble and will work better when it’s integrated with your social and advertising campaigns.
8) Don’t be afraid to link to good, relevant pages from your website. The internet is a sociable place and you’re more likely to make friends and build inbound links if you’re willing to showcase other relevant pages once in a while.
Your targeted keywords
9) Target relevant keywords, don’t be tempted to increase traffic with popular but less relevant terms. Think about the likelihood of conversion and test with PPC.
10) Most companies will benefit from localised optimisation, as this drives more relevant, converting traffic to your site.
11) Targeting niche or highly specific keywords will increase the relevance of your visitors.
12) Use Google Analytics to monitor the volume and quality of search terms are driving visitors to your site, as this can inform your wider search strategy.
13) Use highly descriptive anchor tags for internal links as these reiterate your site’s relevance to the search engines. Internal link building is often overlooked, but still important.
14) Don’t fill your website with Flash animations, it’s not suitable for all visitors and it won’t aid your SEO.
15) Use target keywords in your page titles. This is still the single most important on-site factor, so make sure you put significant effort into constructing title tags.
16) Don’t place too much faith in keywords meta tags as most search engines ignore them.
17) Give images alternative text. This is not just important for search engines, which can’t see pictures, it also helps make your website accessible for people with visual impairments.
18) Have an XML sitemap to help search engines index your full website. Plus this helps to highlight any indexing issues, where comparing sitemap URLs to the actual number of indexed pages.
19) Only use unique content. Don’t be tempted to replicate large pieces information across the site; if you need to repeat yourself then rewrite the text or just quote and link to the original version.
20) Use your keywords in headlines if possible and then use <h1> and <h2> tags to show that they are headers. This helps with the layout and reinforces relevance to search engines.
21) Ensure your header tags are well structured. Think of organising them like a Word document template - and only use a single <h1> tag as minor penalties have been reported for sites who have several.
22) Make sure every URL is descriptive rather than just functional and fit keywords in where possible. For example, www.anydomain.com/here-is-an-example is better than www.anydomain.com/117665.
23) Do you have a page of interesting links, such as supplier websites? Don’t call the page ‘Links’ as this can look like link farm behaviour.
24) Signup for Google’s Webmaster Tools to monitor your website and assess any potential technical, link or keyword optimisation issues.
25) Don't just set it and forget it. Use Webmaster Tools to regularly check for and fix broken links.
Rules for paid search
26) Treat your paid search campaign as a work in progress; it always needs honing and could always do better.
27) Negative keywords are essential when it comes to managing your paid search campaign effectively and filtering out irrelevant visitors. Spend time managing them.
28) A paid search campaign will ideally be supported by an organic search campaign, so that you don’t lose all visitors if you are forced to cut your budget.
29) Despite the limited space, your ad copy is important. Spend time testing different texts and consider using a copywriter if you can’t make the content sparkle.
30) Publicise your best deals in your adverts, even if that means updating the copy very regularly. You want visitors to land on your pages ready to buy your product or service.
31) Be current and use the seasons, national holidays, even news stories if relevant to entice searchers to click and then buy.
32) A blog is a great SEO tool but only set one up if you have the time or budget to post regularly and add value to readers - not just search engines.
33) Set the tone you plan to use in your posts so your blog remains consistent no matter who’s writing it. Bigger content sites are likely to require blogging guidelines.
34) Don’t risk your reputation to generate links by deliberately posting provocative content unless your brand can withstand the potential negativity.
35) Write how you’d speak. Don’t force keywords into text to try and score some SEO points, you’ll put off your human visitors.
36) Blog post headlines should be catchy and sharable for humans.
37) Headlines should also contain your keywords if possible, but not at the cost of making them interesting.
38) Encourage sharing by promoting your posts on Twitter, Facebook and any other social platforms that you use.
39) Readers love lists, like ’10 top tips…’ and ’20 ways to…’, so aim to include this kind of content on your blog if you want to boost links and shares.
40) Never steal content, the search engines are unlikely to rank you for duplicate copy that’s already online and it will annoy readers as well as the original writer.
41) Never plagiarise someone else’s article by rewriting it. The search engines may not notice but no one will bother reading your website if they can get the same information elsewhere. Put your own unique angle on a story instead.
42) Keep website copy short and snappy, it works best for the online reader who scans over blog posts with a limited attention span.
43) Know what you want from a campaign before you begin, don’t just rush to be ‘social’.
44) Have enough budget that you can run any social campaign for a decent length of time. Otherwise you risk it dying as soon as the initial enthusiasm wears off.
45) Firms that choose to invest in a forum must understand that they need moderation or they will become filled with spam and hate. That will do nothing for your optimisation or reputation.
46) If you have a corporate Twitter account, you must monitor for and respond to complaints made through Twitter.
47) Customers who declare their loyalty by liking you on Facebook should be rewarded occasionally with discounts, or valuable and exclusive content.
48) Encourage sharing by adding social media sharing icons to your pages and blog content.
49) Be socially interesting. If you’re going to use Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, you can’t just bore on about products and services. Develop a personality.
50) If you want staff to tweet, blog and comment on behalf of your brand then make sure they have clear rules to follow.