When you’re launching a new website, the last thing you want is for it to take forever to rank on search engines. Unfortunately, a lot of sites make a critical rookie mistake that immediately hurts their ranking potential.
What is this mistake, you may ask?
When you publish content to rank on search engines, you must always address not one but two distinct audiences simultaneously — people who are going to be reading it, and the algorithm that will be deciding whether to display this content to them or not.
The problem is that most website owners know how to write for humans (plus there are many AI writing assistants that simplify this task greatly), but writing for the algorithm? Well, that’s a totally different story.
To help you overcome this hurdle, you’re going to learn six critical SEO steps you need to take to make Google’s search algorithm fall in love with your new site and start giving you those valuable impressions.
Importance of on-page SEO for new websites
In spite of all the advances in AI over the years, the truth is that search engines still can’t read as humans can.
They may be able to figure out what your target keyword is, along with the fact that certain words and phrases in your text have topical relevance to your keyword. They may also be able to figure out whether two posts are topically related to one another or not, but that’s about it, really.
In order to rank content without being able to read it and comprehend it like a human reader would, search engines rely on cues that you need to provide on your page.
These cues form the foundation of on-page SEO, and are absolutely critical for search engines to fully understand what your website content is about — and rank it appropriately.
6 critical SEO steps for a new website
The steps below are not going to send you to page one overnight, but they’ll make sure you’re constantly climbing up instead of getting stuck in search purgatory forever.
The long-term pay-off will be that potential customers will find you whenever they search for keywords that you’ve targeted in your content strategy.
1. Create topical clusters
Google doesn’t like orphan content — in other words, a whole bunch of posts that talk about a bunch of different things that are not linked to one another. Let’s call this the Jack of all trades publishing approach.
What Google likes instead is topical expertise. They want to know that you’re a subject-matter expert who’s not afraid to dig deep into one area and cover all possible angles.
As mentioned before, Google can’t read and process information like a human, but it’s good at identifying topics and topical relevance.
In order for your new website to rank in search results, you’ll need to demonstrate to Google that you’re a topical expert by structuring your website in topical clusters.
How do you do that? By dividing your website into silos of content that are topically related, and then using internal links to associate all the posts within each silo in a logical way.
Your goal is to choose a “team captain” for each silo — the piece of content that gets the most clicks in your Google Search Console — and then find all other pages with content that’s topically related to it.
Finally, you need to create internal links going from the team captain to each article and vice versa, making sure you use anchor text relevant to the content so that your links don’t feel forced.
2. Conduct keyword research
In order to write content that ranks, you need to make sure that the keyword you’re targeting for each piece you publish has a relatively high monthly search volume (above 1,000) and low keyword difficulty (30 or below, on a scale from 1-100).
The easiest way for you to find this information is to use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs, SEMRush, or Spyfu. These tools are designed to spy on your competitors’ SEO strategies to find low-difficulty keywords that they missed so you can take advantage of them to rank higher.
The math is straightforward. If your keyword difficulty is low, then fewer sites are targeting your keyword — making it easier to appear on page one of search results. If the difficulty is high, then lots of sites are generating the same type of content, making it more difficult to compete for top search positions.
Using the same logic, you don’t necessarily want to target a low difficulty keyword that has low search volume either. There’s no point in putting a lot of effort into creating content that nobody is searching for.
Your goal is to use your keyword research tool to find those diamonds in the rough that you can create content around.
For new domains with no authority, competing for high-difficulty keywords is virtually impossible. In that case, you should always go for lower-hanging fruits first.
3. Do proper on-page SEO
Since the Google search algorithm can’t read like a human, it uses a number of on-page signals to get an idea of what your piece of content is about and whether it’s relevant in relation to your target keyword.
Here’s a list of the most important signals:
- Your page title and meta description: Whenever possible, they should contain your main keyword (more on that later).
- Proper use of headings: The H1 heading is reserved only for the title, whereas the H2 headings should be used for breaking up your content into its main components. At least one or two H2 sections should contain targeted keywords. H3 and H4 can be used to further subdivide sections, but don’t overdo it as your readers will easily lose track.
- Search intent: Bear in mind the reason why someone is searching for a particular keyword. There are four main types of search intent — informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional.
- Interlinking: There are many benefits of interlinking, from increased session durations by visitors, and reduced bounce rate, to helping Google understand and crawl your site better. In the end, it provides your audience with additional information related to the topic you’re mentioning.
- Word Count: Although technically not a direct Google ranking signal, you always want to choose a word count that “belongs” on page one of search results. If the average word count for page one sites is 1,800 for your target keyword, you don’t want to publish a piece with either 600 or 6,000 words — it just won’t belong there.
When in doubt, you can always check SEO writing best practices, or find a cool infographic like SemRush’s that sums everything up.
If you want to analyze your titles and meta descriptions more in-depth, SurferSEO’s SERP analyzer is a good choice. It allows you to take a closer look at how a number of a title or meta description characters correlate with your position in search results.
As you can see from the screenshot below, longer titles and meta descriptions will push you into the depths of SERP, so make sure to follow the best practices explained below.
4. Write compelling titles and meta descriptions
When you search for something on Google, you’ll primarily see two things:
- A page title, shown as a link
- A brief description of the search result
The vast majority of search decisions people make are based on these two pieces of information. If your title and meta description are not alluring (at least, compared to your neighbors on your page of search results) then people will simply not click through to your page.
Aside from including your target keyword in your title and description to help the search algorithm, virtually all of your copy needs to be targeted to the reader in order to entice them to click.
Make sure to look at all your competitors’ titles and descriptions, and make every effort to beat them by coming up with better copy.
5. Build backlinks to your posts
Search engines rely heavily on a “vote of confidence” system to rank content. The more your content is linked by highly reputed external websites, the higher they’ll rank your piece in search results.
After you publish a piece of content, you’ll need to reach out to sites that are linking to your search competitors and ask them to link to yours as well (since you’ve written much better content than them, right?).
Now, the mechanics of outreach campaigns are well beyond the scope of this article, but there are plenty of free resources from link building experts where you can learn what you need to get you going.
The rest is really on-the-job training, as there are no magic formulas for outreach other than leveraging your personality, your rapport, and — of course — your charm!
6. SEO metrics to track
It’s really hard to assess the health of a website unless you take the time to measure your progress. Making changes and hoping that things will turn out well, just because you’re following best practices, is not a good strategy.
Google is constantly making tweaks to its search algorithm, and the only way to really know if your optimizations are working is to keep track of key SEO metrics. Below are some of the metrics you should consider tracking on a regular basis:
You create content to attract qualified leads who will become customers. Thus you have to track the number of new leads and customers coming from your SEO strategy. With tools like Google Analytics or HubSpot marketing, you can track where your leads come from.
If you see an increase in leads and customers coming from organic traffic, then you are on the right path. Conversion from organic visitors to leads, and conversion from organic leads to customers, find their rightful place in your marketing dashboard.
Keyword rankings and organic traffic
For each keyword you are targeting, your goal is to rank at the first position on Google. With tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs, you can easily track your ranking for each keyword and see if your SEO strategy is paying off.
Organic traffic is often considered a vanity metric, and it can be if you give organic traffic too much attention. But in the context of an SEO strategy, which is about increasing traffic, page views from organic search is an SEO KPI you have to check. Page views must be correlated with other KPIs, but an organic traffic increase is a perfectly acceptable SEO goal — especially if you have a low bounce rate and a high conversion rate.
New referring domains
Backlinks (an incoming hyperlink from one page to yours) are an important part of a good SEO strategy.
Google takes into account the number of backlinks but also the diversity and the authority of the domains hosting those backlinks, which means you must have backlinks from various websites with strong domain authority.
Organic click-through rate
Organic CTR is the ratio of impressions in the Google SERP to clicks. In general, the higher the position, the more clicks you’ll have.
Organic CTR naturally increases with your ranking, which means if you are in the 10th position for a keyword, you will never have as many clicks as on the first position. However, you can fight with sites whose position is close to yours by playing on a catchy title and an impactful meta description.
Start ranking fast
SEO can be confusing, especially when you’re just starting a new website. It is an ever-changing field, so it’s important to put in the time and effort at the very beginning. That way you won’t end up developing bad habits that will not only hurt your rankings but also take a lot of time and money to correct.
These six steps will give you a solid foundation to work from, and as you continue to grow your site, you’ll be doing so with the confidence that you’re taking care of the needs of both your audiences: the humans and the machine.
Axelle Dervaux has experience in digital marketing with a focus on B2B marketing for SaaS companies. She’s working in various marketing fields such as SEO and SEA, social media, lead nurturing, customer retention, and product marketing. She is the Marketing Manager at clicdata.com, a cloud-based business intelligence, and data management platform. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.