This weekend a friend here in Burlington, Vermont emailed and described a situation involving SEO woes. Perhaps it’s a situation that sounds familiar: A brand new website has been created in anticipation of an important event and the site isn’t ranking or even showing up in Google. The event is less than a month away. The keyword isn’t especially competitive but the few competitors are well-trusted media and e-commerce sites.
I’m fond of saying that search engine optimization is an endurance sport. It’s pretty difficult/lucky to get a site ranking on search engines quickly. I took a quick look at the site. It was gorgeously designed but lacked many of the important features of search engine optimization; basic and rudimentary features. Like headlines in the code. The poor coding of the site had a lot to do with the situation. But what to do now that the site was up and the event looming?
My friend isn’t a computer techy so I tried to focus on things that don’t involve code except where it would really make the big differences. Here’s what I told my friend:
SEO Nineball: social media profiles
This recommendation won’t really help much with getting my friend’s site to show up in search engines. But it will help with the main objective: being findable on short notice via search engines. Given that my friend had an event that was very soon and their keyword included their name, getting a social media profile up would help get visitors to the site.
This is sort of like the SEO version of nine ball. In the billiards game nine ball whoever sinks the nine ball wins. The cue (the white ball) has to hit the lowest numbered ball first. So to win, someone could hit the one ball and then the one ball could hit the nine ball and sink it. To win at nine ball you need to keep in mind that balls one through eight are merely a means to an end. Keep your mind on the nine ball.
Social media sites are often considered more trustworthy to search engines than random websites and so they may rank quicker than your run-of-the-mill hand-coded site. If you put a link to your site in your social media profile (the one ball) then visitors who find that profile will have a way to your site (the nine ball). Remember that the social media site will need to have public profiles to be the most useful. I find LinkedIn to be a great resource here. Facebook, not so much.
SEO Nineball: hosted blogging
This one admittedly requires some work. But even with two weeks to go, if my friend had the time to put up a short blog post each day about the event or the work leading up to the event, this would help.
Blogging is another form of SEO nineball: the blog ranks well because blogs tend to rank well and the blog includes a link to the main site. The blog is the one ball. The site linked to is the nine ball.
Include headlines (h1, h2 etc) to let search engines know what your pages are about.
My friend’s website didn’t even have main headline tags (they are coded with an “h1”). Google and other search engines are just a bit of math, they don’t really look at the design of the page at all. They look at the code structure. If the code structure doesn’t include headlines, it’s like looking at the Wall Street Journal or the Burlington Free Press or any other newspaper but without any headlines. Hard to tell what it’s about.
You can find out if your own site has main headline tags by using the “view source” option in your favorite browser and searching for <h1> in the code. You should find exactly one of these per page. You can have as many <h2> (subheads) and <h3> (subsubheads) as you wish.
This is a fix that involves a little bit of coding, not much time at all really. But it does involve technical knowledge of how to edit HTML and upload it to your server. If you have special styling for your headlines then a little knowledge of CSS to clean it up for viewers is good (though the search engines don’t care much about that part).
The site in question had many more code deficiencies but if I had to pick just one thing to do this would be it. As my friend said “The site looks great but if no one can find it then it doesn’t count, does it.” It’s also worth noting that making a site search engine friendly does not mean it has to be ugly.
Install Google Webmaster Tools
Installing and configuring webmaster tools is a great way to quickly let Google know your site exists. This is another one of those code things that I’d highly recommend if showing up on Google is important. You can let Google know what pages there are and so on via the interface. This won’t be a pleasant experience for someone who doesn’t enjoy working with computers and web technology. But it’s something you probably won’t have to do too often unless you’re getting very serious about your web development anyway.
Just wait it out
Sooner or later Google will find the site and update its cache. Could be a week, could be a few months. If your budget is already spent (the site sure looks great) and you’ve already done all the writing you’re going to do on a site, then maybe search engine optimization isn’t as important to your success as you thought. If it were, you would’ve included it in an earlier stage of web development.
Sometimes it’s ok to just chalk it up to a learning experience: Some aspects of search engine optimization are technical and require action at the coding level. In the future, include SEO as part of the initial conversation in web development.
This is one of those “business decisions.” If any of the above ideas sound too time-consuming or expensive for the gain to be had from SEO then let it go–use the resources for some other important aspect of your business.