Alright, deep breath. It’s time to set up your business’s internet presence. And while you aren’t a Porg, that doesn’t mean you can’t make the internets love you too.
1: HTTPS: Security and Trust for Prospective Customers
A question: “Should my site be HTTP or HTTPS?“
There are a number of compelling reasons to pick HTTPS. First, think of that extra “S” at the end as security in the mind of your customer. Your customers, just like you, want to be secure when they visit a website. Google, with its Chrome browser, overtly labels whether a website is secure or not both in the address bar and on SERPs.
If you have login functionality, accept credit cards, or even form submissions, HTTPS is essential. Google very publicly considers this a best practice, but really what do they know…oh, right we want to rank there!
So Google likes it, it keeps your info private, it keeps your users’ info private, and it future-proofs your site. Winner, winner.
2: Robots.txt & Sitemap
Stick with me, we’re going to get a little technical. But don’t worry we’re not going to write code together, yet…maybe. Instead, you’re simply going to help search engines find your site.
Honestly, you’re just being really nice and giving them directions to where on the site they’re allowed to go. A handy little map of your site.
First, we’re going to create a file on your root domain (like a tree down in the roots). That map is going to tell search engines if we have any pages or areas on the site we don’t think they should go, so we minimize the search engine’s chance of getting lost. And we’re going to tell them where to find the map.
It will look something like this:
We have a robots.txt guide with best practices and several common mistakes. This should help you troubleshoot any errors you find. Better yet, you might learn how to avoid the most common mistakes before making them.
Next up is the sitemap! There are a lot of free sitemap generator tools out there. Most will only crawl 500 pages and generate a map from what they find. The XML sitemap file will live at the root just like the robots.txt file, but it will also be listed in your robots.txt:
And the location will be spelt out in your robots.txt file like so:
3: Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools
Now you have a sitemap living on your site and recorded in your robots.txt file, so search engines will be falling all over themselves to get traffic to your site. Right??
Well…not quite. Search engines are getting smarter but they still need a little help finding the front door. Or any door really. Just like making the map itself with robots.txt, you are going to be very kind and let the search engines know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you gave them a map.
Setting up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools is the perfect nexus of easy and free. While both search engines provide guides to site owners on how to get started and fully set-up, they are best summed up as:
- Sign up for a free account
- Submit your website
- Use the free tools
Once you’ve signed up for both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, you’ll need to upload your sitemap to both as well. For Google you’ll use a separate, handy-dandy submission tool, while Bing has you submit your site the same way that you submitted your robots.txt file above.
4: Make Sure Your Site is Blazing Fast
One of the most important and often-overlooked facets of your website’s performance is site speed. Site speed can make or break your website, and a slow website can be disastrous for both converting prospective customers, and convincing search engines to show you in their results.
But you don’t have to take our word for it alone. According to Kissmetrics, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Forty Percent. That is a massive amount of potential traffic lost to a single, solvable problem.
Some improvements are incredibly easy to do such as image compression. By compressing your images to be a smaller file size, there will be less to load on each page. Less to load = faster site. It’s that simple.
If you haven’t checked out any of the other links, we wrote a massive guide to site speed and page speed. That’s broken down into chapters depending on what kind of technical support you have on staff or on retainer.
5: Site Navigation
Time for another easy win. Well..mostly easy but definitely all win. Navigation is used by prospects, customers, and search engines to get around your site. The ultimate test: it should make it easier for users to find what they are looking for.
Navigation doesn’t just magically do that though!
Global Navigation which is at the top of each page sends really strong signals to both users and to search engines of what your site is about. What questions they could answer by visiting. If you use vague, interchangeable language that tells people little about what you offer or what makes your business special, you’re wasting a great opportunity to increase qualified traffic.
Order your navigation links and anchor text by importance from left to right. Ensure the text of the link is highly descriptive. (Psst “Products” is not descriptive. However, “LandSpeeder Cars” is!)
6: Set Up Your Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Once you have your website ready to rock, it’s time to get it in front of the eagerly awaiting populace. But before your site’s going to show up on a Google results page, you’ll have to decide what you want that to look like, and what kinds of searches you want to show up for.
The different parts of the listing are called the title tag and the meta description.
Title Tags are exactly what they sound like: The title of the listing on the Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
The “meta description” is that brief description or preview of your site content that shows up under the clickable title. Title tags especially are incredibly important as they play a huge part in determining how your website ranks for any given Google search.
For example: say you’re making a website that sells lightsabers.
When writing the title tags and meta descriptions, you’ll want to make sure you include words that make it crystal clear what you are selling. Ideally, you’ll match the language and jargon of your title as closely as possible to the language your customers would use to search for your product.
For instance, your customers might head to Google and type something like “jedi lightsabers” or “sith lightsabers” more than “sith saber”. Using the terms that most align with your customers’ thinking and language is a great way to improve visibility and clicks.
An important distinction: While you want to be descriptive and clear, do not stuff your title tags and meta descriptions with the keywords just because you know that the word shows up in a lot of searches. Doing spammy things like this can reflect negatively on your brand to prospective customers. And Google’s been wise to this trick for many years, so there’s literally no upside to shoe-horning in a dozen instances of the same word.
Related article: 6 Integrations for a Successful Digital Marketing Strategy
7: N.A.P. in your schema
Remember when we said we weren’t writing code yet, but maybe later? Well we got there finally. Cringe away, but don’t stop reading.
It’s a truly teeny amount of code, and we’re going to use a tool to help you do it. (Tell no one and take all the credit!)
Put simply, “Structured Data” lets search engines understand your website better. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex agreed on a shared vocabulary to use a while back. We’re simply going to use that specific vocab to help them understand your site better.
This is where our secret weapon comes in, Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper (long name for such a helpful tool).
You’ll be given two different options for the output: Microdata (the tool defaults to this) and JSON-LD.
Microdata will be attached to your html. Google will give you back the html code and highlight it so you (or a helpful developer) can see exactly where it goes in the code for your site. If you use JSON-LD, the code is also provided and goes into the “head” section of your page.
(Pssst, we also have a guide to implementing JSON-LD on your site. What can we say, we like to be helpful too.)
I’m using my current restaurant obsession in Seattle’s International District as our example. (I have a serious dumpling addiction)
I’ll be giving you the JSON-LD code because it is smaller and easier honestly. We could fill the entire article with html code and just highlight where the microdata would go…
8: Google My business
One of the most important determinants of success with search engines is maximizing the amount of space you occupy on a results page. This sounds over-simple, but it’s true. Beyond giving more specific information to suit all the different questions users might have had from store hours to available inventory, the more space on a search results page that you occupy, the less space there is for the next competitor to show up.
One product that helps in this regard is Google My Business. Now, you may not recognize “Google My Business” by its formal tool name (I didn’t either), but you most certainly have seen it in the wild.
When you search for a business on Google, it’s powering that great big name and logo on the right side of the screen.
Taking the time to use this tool and effectively claim your business gives you much more real estate to work with than just traditional search listings, so it is incredibly helpful when setting up an internet presence. This is especially true for cases where people are already familiar enough to search for your business by name.
Fortunately, setting up a Google My Business account is incredibly easy. All you have to do is go to the My Business home page, create an account, enter your businesses information, and voila! You now have My Business Page.
People will now be able to see core information about your business right on the results page, which will help increase your visibility and qualified traffic.
9: Fully Set Up Social Media Accounts
After you’ve got your website setup and are heading down the path of optimization (SEO is a long game), it’s time to think about social if you haven’t already. If you ask a random sample of people what social media sites are “the best”, you may get a random sample of answers: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest.
We’d like to make this easy and effective for you, not to mention that this is a massive topic, so, for now, we’ll stick with just one recommendation: only use social media that you will actually use.
Social media can be a fantastic tool to help expand your reach and grow your business, but only when it is actually used as the communication tool that it is. Meaning if you don’t manage it, you’re creating just another empty space that can distract from channels where you’re keeping information current, engaging with customers, etc. You start to see how setting up a social media account for your business and not using it can actually take away from your bottom line.
Related article: Google My Business Q&A: What you may be missing
10: Set-up Google Analytics
Once you have the raw material of your site, your social media accounts, and perhaps some paid search or other ads, it’s time to evaluate what’s paying off, and how much.
Maybe you notice your phone ringing a little more, but if you have many new promotional efforts running at once, it’s impossible to know which are working without the proper measurement tools. That’s where Google Analytics comes in.
Google Analytics is a free (!!) platform that allows you to track just about every aspect of your website. Did that spike in visitors come from an ad or an organic search engine result? What site referred that great customer to you? What did the rest of your visitors do once they hit your site?
Whether it’s pageviews, conversions, or referral source, Google Analytics tracks everything. This allows you to make much more informed decisions regarding your website, your marketing, and improving your results proactively.
For a platform that can show you so much, and which costs literally $0.00, it takes next to nothing to get it set up. After setting yourself up with a Google Analytics account, there are only three broad but basic steps remaining:
- On the Admin page, under the Properties tab, click on “Create a New Property”
- Enter all of your website data to get your custom GA tracking code
- Paste the following snippet right after the
headtag on each page you would like to track.
Do make sure to replace “GA_Tracking_ID” with the custom ID you got in step two above. And if you’d like a more detailed walkthrough, Moz provides a great 101-level intro to Google Analytics including sample business questions you might want to answer.
Where to From Here?
You’ve got a site that’s far more visible than it was when you started. Your site is loading in half the time it was before. You’ve picked out a social media platform that fits your style and your schedule. And you know where the heck all that traffic is coming from, not to mention which parts of the traffic is converting into leads or customers.
When you’re ready to lean into that faster, more effective site, looking at how to advertise successfully in paid search (PPC) or paid social media is a great way to show up at the moments your prospective customers are considering a product or service like yours.
Until next time, happy Marketing from all of us here at Galactic Digital!