1) Site Check 101
First things first. Let’s make sure the ship is sea worthy. You are going to want to trim the excess fat from your pages. Squash those images using services such as SmushIt. Install Speed Tracer from Google, and YSlow from Yahoo to get a feel for where the bottlenecks in your site lie. This old article should provide you with the necessary steps to concentrate your speed efforts.
Ensure that your site performance can deal with load, that it is responsive from multiple locations, and overall, that your hosting is delivering a great experience for your visitors. You can check what way your site will perform under intensive strain by using load impact. It’s a free service that will push your hosting to it’s limits, and help you understand if its working for you. Also, install an uptime monitoring service – this will help to keep your hosting provider honest, and you can alert them immediately, if and when your site goes down.
Consider applying for Google’s DNS speed service. I’ve currently got access to the field trial, and it has definitely made a difference to site speed and the overall user experience as a result. Continue to remove things from your site so it runs like a dream. If an image isn’t useful – dump it. The same goes with widgets. If they slow the page down, drop them like a hot spud.
The bottom line is this: users love fast pages, and will spend longer on your site and increase pageviews with every second that you can trim off. Be ruthless.
2) Onpage SEO
From a code perspective, you are going to want to make sure that your pages are clean, easy for a web spider to crawl, and understand. Want to see how your articles might be pulled off your site? Take a look at Boilerplate, and you’ll not be far off what Googlebot is performing.
If anything other than what you expect is getting grabbed here, you might want to reconsider a restructure of your code, just to make it crystal clear what bits of your site are the main guts of your content, and what are navigational and structural elements.
Many blogs are designed so that the entire blog article is available in a scrollable list, on the archive page. This makes it difficult for Google to distinguish individual articles, and send traffic to the corresponding (detail) landing page. It also can confuse visitors into linking directly to the main index page rather than the article page. Have a look at the original Kubrick theme, which is coded particularly poorly from an SEO perspective as an example of how not to do it. If you can, ensure that the introduction to articles is unique (and if it can’t be unique make it a short intro version). Basically – use the WordPress excerpt tag if that’s your platform of choice.
I’ve written previously on a complete SEO checklist to perform on your site, and it should serve you well when evaluating a new site – particularly from an on-page perspective. Don’t forget to hook up the open graph protocol either, as this is now one of the meta tags used across social sites such as Google Plus, and Facebook. This will give a greater level of control over the snippet that is scraped from your site, and in turn increase clickthroughs to your articles.
Following these steps will ensure that your new site has a decent baseline starting point to build upon, and can truly compete with other more established sites out there on the web.
Knowing the industry that you are attempting to compete in, is always a bonus. If you aren’t however already a fountain of knowledge you are going to have to do your homework on a number of areas.
1) Know your industry thought leaders.
Subscribe to the blogs of the leading players in your niche. Not only will it help you understand what kind of content gets your audience excited, but commenting and linking out to them, will always get you under their nose – and that could potentially score links down the line. Don’t be afraid to do some competitive research on their sites, as this will also provide pretty strong hints at content direction.
2) Know your competition
One of the simplest, but often overlooked ways to gain competitive insight into your competition is to become one of their customers. You’ll be privy to the competitions they run, the offers they provide, and the email marketing tactics they are using. It provides real insight into their marketing, and in turn can spark ideas to counter those tactics.
3) Keyword Research
You are going to need a good base line of traffic to get your site off the ground. You can use Google predict data to get a good feel for the sort of long tail phrases that are providing traffic in your chosen industry. Simply start with a few shorter tail keywords and see what other words popup alongside. Due to the fact that this is algorithm generated, you can be sure that you’ll at least pick up some visitors, particularly if the keyword phrase is recent, and relevant.
Let’s say you are in the car industry… and you want to write an article about that. Knowing that you have a mobile application for that industry, you decide to write about car apps.
Let’s take it a bit further. You can guess that people searching with words like ‘best’ will be receiving traffic..
All of a sudden you’ve got a handful of keyword phrases that you can build out content for, and indeed make a compelling argument for the usage of your own. Taking the keyphrases that you’ve gained insight into from Google predictive search, you can work out where the most demand is by utilising other third party keyword research tools. These will give actual search volumes and how competitive the market is, and help you make the decision which phrase is likely to result in most traffic.
4) Content Research
Forums are a great place for gaining fresh content ideas. You can find out the questions that people are asking on individual forums relating to your niche, and answer them to help turn your site into the go to resource for information. Startups such as Quora, and Aardvark rely heavily on the hive mind to power their content, and you can tap into that collective for content ideas.
When you’ve started to gain momentum with this mechanism, never ignore the questions people are asking to find your site – then make sure you have them answered. From a sales, conversion rate and content perspective, this is invaluable information that you should know and understand to satisfy your audience wants and desires.
You can also use the research you’ve garnered from your website statistics to produce content to match the terms your site is getting found for. For example, if your site is about ‘red widgets’, but your analytics package indicates that you are seeing traffic for ‘red widgets in redplace’ then consider building out a page to match that keyphrase. This article on the hub and spoke approach to SEO is a must read.
5) Social Media Research
Social media is an obvious way of listening to what people want. Searching for competitor domains across a range of services can give insight into what content is working for them. SEO Moves have an great piece on how to use the URL shortener bit.ly for competitive insight.
Set yourself up a StumbleUpon account, and choose topics inside your niche, spend at least an hour a week understanding what is on fire, and WHY – and you’ll soon be produce the same if not better content.
I’ve setup Netvibes for monitoring my domain mentions previously – a bit of creative thinking with those techniques and you’ll be able to keep a track of other popular sites in your niche – particularly from a popularity perspective.
You are going to want to prepare quality pages – around 100-150 pages of real quality content, between 500-1000 words, of no fluff substantial content that you are proud of – and that’s just for starters. Use the research that you’ve already performed to generate ideas and build out your content to a quality standard.
Many of you may be considering user generated content as a way of creating new content, and many large scale websites use this successfully. However, you should be aware that from a standing start, it is very difficult to create quality UCG that will attract links, and some responsibility for link building ultimately befalls you, the site owner.
You are also going to want to develop evergreen content and content pillars as part of your overall strategy. This will be essential to maintain a steady flow of visitors to your site, and help it stand out as a resource in its own right.
Evergreen content is that which has real staying power. It never goes out of date, and helps you build the all important links that you need. Over time, it will become more and more powerful, as you use internal links back to the topic area and target it at short tail phrases long term. That’s where you are going to see real rewards, with high volume, targeted repeat traffic.
Your writing talents are everything. They will engage your readership, encourage them to talk about you, and ultimately determine your success. Writing with passion is everything. It will separate you from the scores of other sites out there that just churn out the same content as everyone else. Write epic shit, such that your content attracts links. Be first with the news, or think sideways.
Linkbait is essential, and anyone can create it if you understand the basics. Use infographics, or pay for research and surveys then use the data to publish your findings.
Producing the very finest content on the web is one of the easiest ways to get your site noticed by others, so make a habit of comparing yourself to the competition, and rate how you stack up in comparison. Don’t forget to add polish.
Writing frequency is everything. Producing solid work consistently isn’t easy, but you should aim to produce at least one page of fresh content a day. If you hit the wall, get over here for fresh ideas. If you are still stuck, return to the keyword tool and your analytics package.
Reading is just as important as writing. What I mean by that, is that you can’t write unless you are being inspired and motivated to write by other people’s content.
I’m a big believer in staying in touch with trends in your industry – find the sites applicable to you, and make sure you subscribe to them. For me, trendwatching.com is a great resource, along with my own collection of blogs collated into a single RSS feed, then ran through FeedMyInbox into a daily digest.
This will give you the edge when it comes to knowing what is happening in your industry, and educating you sufficiently to write eloquently on it.
Another often forgotten part of building an audience, and a great site – is the media that you use with your content. Use great graphics, and you’ll find that your content jumps off the page with them, and encourages repeat visits. Photos can also be a great way to generate links, as this post from Search Engine land illustrates – there are lots of communities in need of visual content.
If you’ve any kind of talents with a camera, get out there and take your own stock photos for your site, then release them with an attribution license to help generate links back into your site. This is a great article on using Flickr for marketing your site.
Consider other forms of media that you can include on your site. This collection of presentation tools are a good starting point for recycling existing content into embeddable widgets that can spread the word even further about your site. Don’t be afraid of taking the concepts you’ve talked about in an article, and creating a presentation that others can use to spread the word.
8) Site Marketing
- 1) Get Marketing now.
- If you are starting a completely brand new site, start the opt-in process early, so you can launch your site with a ready made list. There are numerous startups using LaunchRock to build some level of virality into their sites prior to launch, their solution is definitely worth consideration.
- 2) Get Emails
- One of key things that every site should inject into its marketing strategy is email. Forget your social media buttons, and fancy widgets, email is still one of the best drivers of quality repeat, targeted traffic that can make a difference to your bottom line. With no shortage of email marketing solutions available on the web for next to nothing – there’s no reason to not provide this feature on your site.
- Ensure that there are multiple avenues for subscription to your content, and a way for people to consume it. Better again – allow them to control the updates that they receive from your site, and remain in control.
- 3) Get Social
- Sometimes social traffic seems like a waste of time, but I promise, it’s worth it. Many sites wrongly think that throwing social buttons is social media marketing. Bullshit. It’s so much more than that. Identify the networks your audience are most active on, and concentrate the majority of your time and efforts on those networks, and then you’ll see rewards. Social media has provided a lower barrier to subscription than RSS for many people, and fishing where the fish are makes sense.
For many sites, there is a steep hill of reward to climb before your site readers will promote your content for you. If you’ve only got a handful of readers, the chances of them sharing with others are significantly diminished. For this reason, you need to get out there and learn the art of content promotion.
Find the good sources of traffic that result in conversions, and learn how to go about measuring that. You’ll know where to focus your content promotion efforts the next time around.
Find poor sources of traffic, that are high volume but low conversion. They may result in links from other bloggers down the line, particularly if the audience consists of other webmasters.
Outreach to other bloggers where appropriate. Learn how to compose the perfect outreach email. You’ll be rewarded with high profile links to your site from other well known bloggers around the web. When a guest posting opportunity comes your way, grab it with both hands.
Join relevant communities in other corners of the web, become a valued member of that community, and gain privileges and respect before promoting your own content. When you do so, you are much more likely to win friends and influence people.
Syndication is the easiest way to gain links on the web, you should, where you can syndicate far and wide. If you don’t have an RSS feed, syndication opportunities will be diminished. Make sure your site content can be easily consumed by others by taking the simple step of providing one. Off the top of my head, you can syndicate content at Amazon, your LinkedIn profile (using their WordPress plugin), or any of this massive list of 500 places around the web.
The bigger and more popular your site becomes, the more likely people will choose it as a destination for syndication. The more syndicated it becomes, the more links it gets, the greater your overall visibility in Google.
You can actively seek places to get syndicated, by taking a look at where your competitors are syndicated. It’s a very simple but effective way to gain links. Simply perform a direct article search in quotes for your competitors content to see which blogs also carried the same story. e.g. Boom. All of a sudden you’ve got a list of places that either reblogged this, or syndicated it in it’s entirety. (using snippets of the article body can also help narrow this down somewhat).
Building a quality site takes real sticking power, and will be filled with the waves of joy as you ride a traffic wave and despair when you experience ‘the drop’. I promise though, if you keep at it, keep producing content, and follow the simple steps of creativity, creation then promotion that you’ll start to gain traction, and within a short space of time you should see anything up to 1000+ visitors a day from a variety of referral sources.