There is no denying that creating even minimal organic search engine traffic to websites is magnitudes more difficult today than it was just a few years ago. As Google (and other search engines) have become more nuanced in the art of weeding out low-quality sites, and in turn understanding what signals are indicators of real quality, many webmasters have given up hope.
It is easy to throw in the towel when the game (in this case, SEO) gets tougher, but the highest quality sites online are thriving now more than ever. It may be “harder” to get there, but once you create an established, ranking web property, the rewards are plentiful.
The simple truth is that new, legitimate websites can and do rank for a multitude of terms, from non-competitive localized queries to generic keywords in the most competitive industries. There is no specific roadmap to success when driving organic search traffic to websites, but many core concepts are more applicable today than ever before.
Sandbox and Age of Site
First, it is important to discuss the notion that new sites have no shot whatsoever to rank in a relatively short time period. This is simply untrue. Many in the SEO industry used to believe that every new website would be temporarily “penalized” in what was called the Google sandbox. Simply stated, the sandbox was the place where new websites sat until Google felt they were ready to be included in search results. The reason for this period where sites are held in ranking purgatory is fairly reasonable.
Google’s goal is to ensure that it displays the most relevant and high quality results possible. Since older sites tend to have more credibility and staying power, it is safe to assume that they will possess the best content available. As such, new sites were dropped to the bottom of the ranking totem pole simply because the search engines didn’t believe they had enough positive credibility to be shown in organic rankings, even if their content may very well have been better.
This thinking and general opinion regarding the sandbox period in SERPs has evolved in time and it is my personal opinion that it does not exist anymore, or at least not nearly in the same capcity. While you are not going to rank right away for “hotels in New York City” with a two-day old site, you certainly can rank in the top few pages for much less competitive terms in a very short time period. Yes, you need to have your site indexed so that Google knows you exist, but from here, ranking for non-competitive terms (think, an uncommon personal name or a unique brand) is possible within weeks if not days.
Would it be ideal to have a website that has been around for a few years even with only a homepage? Absolutely. There is little doubt that the time a website has existed does have influence in the Google ranking algorithm, but existing websites already have an edge on new sites, and eventually age of site will become a minimal factor in your site’s ability to rank.
Content Volume and Frequency
As with well-aged websites, a new site that posts both frequently and with volume will have a better chance at ranking than a website who does neither. Google knows that quality websites tend to not only be fairly large in size (generally, anyway), but they also know that quality sites add new content on a fairly regular basis. While there may be some exceptions to the rule, when it comes to SEO, it is important to make it clear to the search engines that you are being active and current. Who can blame Google for ranking a site lower if its owners do not make its freshness a priority?
Now, there is a big difference between simply throwing up content for the sake of content and actually providing useful information. If you are adding a blog to your ecommerce site, create a schedule with topics, produce the best article possible, and stick to it. A dormant or rarely updated blog only tells Google that you aren’t active.
If Google finds your site for the first time and they see that you have both substantial and high quality content, you will be off to a strong start. The key is repeating this pattern and demonstrating to Google that you are legitimate and you will continue to grow. If you launch your site and then let it sit, you should expect the results to reflect this lack of effort. Your site isn’t going to improve in rankings if you don’t improve your site. It really is as simple as that.
Unless you are Wikipedia or another decades old site with hundreds of thousands or millions of pages, the odds are that your website does at least intend to have a core focus. Define what that focus is and stick to it. If you are a local dry cleaning company, you shouldn’t be discussing the stock price of Micrsosoft. If you sell sporting goods, you shouldn’t be posting blog topics on politics. You may visit a site like Business Insider that seems to post articles about every non business topic imaginable and think that you can do the same, but this is a poor precedent to set. Even if you manage to get random traffic, it isn’t even the type of traffic you should want. Aim for quality visitors not just any visitors.
Your goal should be to rise through the search engine rankings as an expert in your topic. Include a homepage that discusses a bit about you or your brand. Create hub pages that demonstrate your knowledge or what you have to offer. Create a blog that answers questions and discusses topics that are closely related to the core topic of your site. While you do not want to create duplicate content, you should make sure that your website itself is staying true to itself and on topic. When you spread yourself too thin or too broad, especially with a new website, you will make it that much easier to prove to Google that you are truly an expert in your particular niche.
On Site Basics
As backwards as it may seem, given how the nature of SEO has become more dynamic over time, the basics are of the utmost importance. The key to the basics is found in doing them exceptionally well. So, what are the on site basics that every new website needs to focus on? Here are a few of the core areas to focus on…
Internal Link Building
Your site is not going to have any natural backlinks on the day that it is created, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be using internal linking in an effort to tell Google what your site is all about. A new website should take advantage of clean navigation menus, footers and in content links.
Not only does Google consider your anchor text and which pages you are linking to in determining what your site is about, but this will also aid in the overall user experience for your visitors, which will in turn likely boost your SERP results. Internal link building is a comprehensive topic in and of itself, but even the most basic approach is an easy way to help nudge your new site into its first rankings.
Proper Title Tags
Proper title tags on the internal pages of your website are a given, but you would be surprised to find out how many people either do them incorrectly or do not do them at all. Creating efficient title tags is a combination of both science and art. You want to gather hard data and apply it so that you are able to generate the best rankings for your pages by targeting high volume keywords, but you also want to aim for lower hanging fruit where possible.
Regardless of your skill level and ability, it is better to make some level of effort in using strong title tags than it is to omit their utility altogether. Take it slow and understand what a truly useful title tag would be for each and every page for your site.
Like many areas of Search Engine Optimization, especially with your new website, there is no right or wrong way to format the URLs on your site. With that being said, it is usually best to keep your URLs as short and to the point as possible. It is cleaner and from a practical standpoint, easier to interpret and understand, both for users and the search engines crawling your website.
You may use hub pages and categories or you may keep all of your pages in the root. This really depends on the type of site you are building and what you prefer as a matter of personal preference. The important thing to remember when it comes to URLs on a new website is that you are setting the groundwork for your future work.
You should make sure that you want to commit to a particular format. It will be both annoying and burdensome to be forced to come back and clean up and change all of your page URLs, in addition to technical work like implementing 301 redirects so that Google knows you are not posting duplicate content. Make a well thought out decision and then keep your URL structure uniform throughout the early and future stages of building your website.
If you are posting content and following an active upload schedule, it only makes sense to ensure that your content is very easy to read and consume. Not only does Google need to clearly understand what type of content you are creating, but you also need to provide the best user experience possible for your visitors. Ultimately, well-formatted content will pay dividends not only in search rankings but also in how likely your visitors are to stay on and trust your website.
Well formatted content on a new website could mean simply using proper H2 and H3 tags, bolding a few important lines, including useful interlinks, and even linking out to other relevant, on topic sites that aid in the overall context of the content that you created. As is the case with deciding on and sticking to a clean URL structure, you should also be using a similar format when creating content. Don’t worry about your site looking fancy or the aesthetics of design; instead focus on well formatted content that makes it easy for everyone to read what you have created. Look at Wikipedia. The site is just about as basic as it gets, and you too could generate a lot of traffic with even the most simplistic website if you are posting easy to read content.
Initial Link Building
If your website is brand new, there aren’t many justifiable reasons why it would be getting natural backlinks from other websites. Yes, if you are creating a site for a public figure or an existing company/brand, then you may be able to announce the site launch and gather some natural backlinks, but the majority of new webmasters are not privy to this luxury.
There are a number of ways to earn your first actual backlinks from other websites, which will be a requirement if you hope to ultimately be ranking organically in search engines. The type of site that you are building will be the number one factor in what type of links you could hope to acquire. If you are creating a personal blog of some sort, be it for business, pleasure or a combination of the two, you may ask some of your friends to share your new website. Friends and industry acquaintances who value your input are likely to share your website as they will see it as potentially valuable to your readers.
If you do not have any friends or industry connections who are able to share your website, you may consider a high quality directory listing once your site is rolling. This may not be for a few months after you first launch your new website, but it will at least show Google that you have one backlink and this site is legitimate. From here, the options for acquiring links are virtually endless.
Create a unique, topical article that websites would have interest in sharing. This could be an exclusive interview, a dynamic guide or some other type of content that no other sites offer. If you want to get your website off the ground, you will need to go the extra mile in earning your first few backlinks. Like most areas of life, simply getting started with backlink building is the hardest part, and your new website will reap the rewards later on once you are able to land those initial, quality links.