7 SEO Steps to Take for a New Website

It’s every business owner’s worst nightmare – like the recurring dream where you perform in front of your audience wearing nothing but your underwear.

You manage to convince some investors to give you funding. Maybe you ask your friends or family for a loan to help support your dream. You have a vision, a plan for your future, a product or service that you’re convinced is going to make money – and a website that encompasses all of it.

You might hire a professional web designer or maybe even put it together yourself. Your shiny new website has all kinds of cool animations, interactive elements that make it fun and useful, widgets, sidebars, videos, and everything in-between.

Then, on the grand day of your website launch, what happens?

Crickets. Tumbleweeds. Radio silence. No one is visiting the website. Not a one. All of that time, money, and effort it took just to get your website up and running was all for nothing. What was even the point in the first place?

This is an incredibly common problem in both eCommerce and the entrepreneurship world. It’s also one of the most discouraging things that can happen to an up-and-coming business owner.

Although it is common, it’s also easily preventable – and having an SEO plan in place is how you keep this from happening.

Here are 7 SEO steps to take before, during, and after the launch of your new website.

Does a New Website Need SEO?

The answer is 100% yes – if anything having a well-optimized website is more important now than ever.

For one thing, your website needs to generate traffic if it’s ever going to make revenue. The 2024 State of Content Marketing Report by SEMRush concluded that 71% of marketers consider traffic generation one of their top priorities.

In years past, digital advertising and social media marketing were the go-to tactics a new business would use to generate traffic for their new website.

Fast forward to 2024 – Facebook ads require 1,000’s of dollars in ad spend just for testing alone, which is not a viable option for many small businesses and startups. Social media is now so oversaturated with content that most new brands are unlikely to get any traction. Not only that, but many of the algorithms set you up for failure, requiring you to be a power user posting content throughout the day just to get noticed.

SEO, meanwhile, remains a low-risk, largely free marketing channel for driving traffic that’s accessible to businesses of all sizes and stages of growth. You don’t need to be a multi-national brand with millions of dollars of revenue to be successful in SEO. Any website can find success with SEO with consistent effort, smart choices, and a well-thought-out plan.

How Long Does SEO Take To Work For A New Website?

A successful SEO campaign usually takes a few months to a year before it starts generating a positive ROI.  However, that’s merely a general rule of thumb and can vary wildly depending on how competitive your space is, how consistently you can generate inbound links and the quality of your content.

SEO is still a very new field and only rose to prominence within the last 10-15 years or so. It takes time for SEO to start getting tangible results, and that can make it difficult to communicate its value.

Before you decide to invest in SEO it’s best to have realistic expectations. AHrefs CMO Tim Soulo did a statistical analysis 2017 showing that only 5.7% of all newly published content ranks within the top 10 Google search results within a year.

That doesn’t mean that having an SEO plan for your new website isn’t worth your time – it’s just best to know what you’re in for.

7-Step SEO Checklist

With that out of the way, here are the SEO actions you’ll want to take to prepare your website for its future success, both when it launches and to ensure its long-term, sustainable growth afterward. We’ll start from the broader, top-level view and narrow it down to the more specific technical actions to take.

1. Do Some Keyword Research – And Define Your Audience

As with all things marketing, the first rule of SEO is to “know your audience.” Have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is and what they want. Once you understand that, you can accurately guess what kinds of keywords they’ll be typing into Google to find a solution for whatever problem your product or service fixes.

Build Out a Keyword List

It’s useful to conceptualize your keyword list in a funnel framework: top-of-funnel (for the awareness and interest stage), middle-of-funnel (evaluation and interest), and bottom-of-funnel (decision/conversion).

Top of funnel keywords are anything your customer when they’re first learning about their problem. In the context of SEO and content marketing, this usually involves informational articles e.g. Top 10’s, best-ofs, how-to’s, question queries, etc. For example, someone interested in using chatbots for their website might search for: “what is a chatbot?” or, “how does a chatbot work?”

Middle-of-funnel keywords indicate that your customer has a deeper understanding of what they need and what they need your product or service to do, and are now considering options. At this stage, they’re probably comparing different platforms and products and deciding which one is best for them. An example of this would be someone wanting to buy a smart TV or streaming device and searching for “what are the best smart TVs?” or more specifically “Amazon Firestick or Roku?”

When your customer is using bottom-of-funnel keywords, that means that they know what product or service they’re going for and are ready to buy, for example, something like “buy shoes.”

A good number to shoot for is between 50-200 keywords.

Identify Your Competitors

Any comprehensive and well-planned marketing campaign needs to include competitor analysis. SEO is no exception.

Here’s the thing – there’s a good chance your competitors are already playing the SEO game. If anything they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you have. That means that they’re probably ranking for the same keywords that you are.

SEO is a hyper-competitive industry and it can be intimidating to get started on the ground level. Rather than get discouraged, try asking yourself: what are my competitors doing right, and what can I learn from them?

Tools like SEMRush allow you to identify the competitors who are vying for the same keywords you are and what keywords they’re already ranking for. That insight enables you to reverse-engineer their strategies and beat the competition at their own game.

Find Your Target Keywords

Your target keywords are the broader, more general keywords that usually turn into sales and conversions. These high-volume, highly competitive, and valuable keywords are what you’ll want to be ranking for in the long run. These are also called head keywords.

Find Long-Tail Variations

It’s tempting to go after the big fish and try ranking for the keywords that bring you serious traffic volume. However, it’s unrealistic to plan on ranking for head terms right out of the gate. It’s a much better idea to rank for smaller, more niche, less competitive keywords first, then to scale to more competitive keywords once you get the backlinks.

Long-tail keywords are keywords with a minimum of three words that have a lower search volume than head terms. These keywords are ideal for new websites because they’re easier to rank for, have a more narrowly defined search intent, and have a higher conversion rate.

Go for the low-hanging fruit first. Then aim higher.

Create a Keyword Map

Once you’ve put together a good list of keywords – both head terms to rank for in the long run as well as long-tail keywords to get you the easy wins – the next thing to do is to identify where those keywords go on your website.

Put all the URLs on your sitemap into a spreadsheet, and map each URL to a primary keyword. What page do you want to rank for which keyword, and why?

Category pages. Blog posts. Mid-level feature pages. Each of these are going to get their keyword, with your homepage at the top for head terms and the blog posts at the bottom for more specific terms.

This brings us to website architecture.

2. Plan Your Website’s Architecture

Your website doesn’t just need to look good. It needs to be easy to get around it too. It’s essentially your digital storefront. You don’t want its layout to be confusing anymore than you’d want the brick and mortar store you own to be disorganized and cluttered. Your website needs to be arranged logically.

Before you start building your website, sketch out a map of how the pages are organized and which pages are linked to each other.

Generally speaking, your website should be organized in a pyramid or a silo structure. Clusters of content are grouped around the same category or topic. It should also be immediately obvious what each webpage is, what it does, and what it’s for.

Pillar pages are useful to use in this regard – the main feature pages that you want your blog content and subcategories to link to, that then lead users to your converting pages.

Remember that keyword list and keyword map you just built? Identify the category and feature pages that get the head terms. Then decide what subcategory pages or blog posts get the long-tails. Then link the latter to the pillar pages.

The real key here is to optimize for Google, not search engines. That’s ultimately what Google wants, at the end of the day.

Your website architecture also involves choosing an URL structure naming convention and sticking to it. Before that, you’re going to have to pick a domain name.

3. Carefully Choose Your Domain Name

Your website name – or domain name – is one of the first marketing decisions you’ll ever make as a website owner. It’s also one of the most important.

Your domain name is your website’s unique address on the internet – and it’s how your customers know where to find you on the internet. It’s a long-lasting and semi-permanent decision that’s not easily reversible.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a domain name:

Make it Short, Memorable, and Easy to Spell

Don’t get too fancy with it. Keep it short, simple, and sweet. Many of the most successful international brands have a brand name that’s contained in a single word (e.g. Google, Amazon, Apple).

Don’t use hyphens, numbers, or underscores either. These are often associated with broken or scammy websites and can be confusing for a user typing it into the URL bar.

Consider Using Strategic Keywords

If your business has a physical brick-and-mortar location or offers a very specific product or service, it might benefit you to inject a high-volume keyword into your domain name. It’s a good way to more strongly tie your brand and your business to what you do.

Be warned though that doing this could close you off from expanding into other products, locations, or service offerings in the future. Just something to consider.

4. Make Sure It Loads Fast

Website loading time is such a core component of good user experience that Google has built it into many of their core algorithm updates like RankBrain, and most recently the Google Core Web Vitals update.

A slow website is an indication to your customer that your website is slow, clunky, and difficult to use. Not a good sign. Users are statistically likely to bounce off of a webpage and try another search result if a page takes longer than three seconds to learn.

Google PageSpeed Insights gives you lots of useful recommendations on how to make your website load faster, and even an itemized list of actions to take to make it happen. Similar tools like Pingdom, GTMetrix, and WebPage Test offer different diagnostics that can help you find out what’s bogging down your website’s loading speed.

Optimization Plugins

Using plugins cuts out a lot of the busy work involved in optimizing your website for you. WordPress in particular offers a lot of plugins that help your website run well while also meeting your exact needs and specifications.

It relieves the burden on you of making sure your website is useable, so you can focus on other things like making content and operating your business.

Here are some suggestions to try.

Pagespeed Ninja

PageSpeed Ninja is an easy-to-use optimization plug-in that many marketers swear by. It offers a lot of toggleable options like JavaScript minification so you can make your web pages run as fast as possible while still displaying properly. It works with just a few clicks, and you can tweak it as much as you want.


Autoptimize is the second-most popular optimization plugin on WordPress, with over 800,000+ downloads to its name.

Its main feature is eliminating render-blocking CSS, a common problem on many websites with page speed issues that could otherwise take hours of precise and cumbersome development work to diagnose and fix.

It also enables lazy-loading and image WebP conversion, and Google font optimization.

WP Super Cache

WP Super Cache is the most popular optimization plugin on WordPress with over 2 million active installations.

As you can guess by the name it’s mostly a caching plugin. It takes your dynamic and resource-heavy WordPress PHP scripts and turns them into static HTML that’s easy to render and load.

AMP Pages

It wasn’t long ago that AMP pages were Google’s gold standard for usability and good user experience on mobile devices.

Nearly half of all web traffic on the internet takes place on mobile devices. To account for this, Google introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in 2015 to help optimize web pages for browsing on mobile devices.

Converting your pages to AMP gets you a shiny gold star from Google telling users your page is mobile-friendly. It essentially takes away a measure of control over your website’s backend technology in exchange for a performance enhancement.

This isn’t a realistic or desirable option for website owners who prefer greater control and customization, but it’s still worth considering.

5. Plan a Content Strategy – and an Editorial Calendar

So by now, you have an idea of what keywords to shoot for, what keywords go on what pages, how your pages relate to each other, and how to make your website go zoom.

Your website is off to a good start. Now you just need to put stuff on it.

Google is insatiable for fresh content and gives preferential search rankings to websites that update their website content regularly.

Many professional content creators publish new blog posts serveral times per week. However, this is only realistic if your blog is your sole source of income. That’s not advisable for an online business – you will likely need to invest in multiple marketing channels to succeed. It’s more important to post consistently. Try posting to your blog twice a month to start with, then scaling to once a week once you know what kinds of content gets the most engagement.

Take the long-tail keywords from your keyword list, and start planning content ideas based on those. You can easily brainstorm 100’s of content ideas to keep you posting regularly for months with a little practice.

HubSpot offers a great editorial content calendar as well as a topic generator to help you keep your content organized.

Another handy tool is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer, which will evaluate on a scale of 0-100 your headlines in terms of emotional impact, character length, reading grade, etc. A good brainstorming tactic is to just play around with different headlines until you find one that sticks.

You should also spend time researching what content your competitors are making already, and consider how you can improve on them. This is known as the skyscraper technique, and it involves a three-step process:

  1. Find a piece of content that’s popular in your industry
  2. Make content that improves on it in some way
  3. Promote that content

It’s a great way to make content that’s guaranteed to get you more search traffic.

6. Start looking for backlinks

Getting websites to link back to yours is the single best thing you can do to start ranking on Google search results. This is how your website is going to rank on Google if it does at all.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult aspects of SEO because you don’t have direct control over it.

Replicate Your Competitors’ Links

Alright, so how do you get your first links? That’s an excellent question. The answer is to find out what already works in your space, and then do more of that.

Tools like AHRef’s let you examine your competitor’s backlinks so you can find out how they’re getting them in the first place. Identify the top 5 competitors in your space with a similar audience to yours, and find out what they did to earn their first links.

Guest Post Outreach

Guest posting on other popular blogs and websites that already have an audience is a great way to earn your first backlinks that’s both effective and easy to execute. Many startups and online business owners do this when they’re just starting to build traffic and authority.

Here are some steps to take to get started:

  • Come up with 3 topic ideas in subjects related to your industry
  • Use Google Search Operators like “your keyword” + intitle:“accepting guest posts” to find websites in your niche that accept guest posts
  • Build out a list of 20 potential guest post opportunities. Find the people who manage the content, their names, and email addresses
  • Pitch your ideas to them. Try pitching in groups of 5 at a time using different topic ideas and subject lines in each round. The most effective subject lines are short and to the point e.g. “Content Ideas for {{Publication}}”

Resource Pages

Resource pages are blog posts that curate resources about a  specific topic to external websites.

Link placement on resource pages is another simple and straightforward linkbuilding tactic used by many small businesses and SaaS platforms. The website owners that make these pages are usually open to including new and better tools to include because it makes their page seem more credible.

They can potentially include yours too with a little convincing.

Similar to guest post outreach, you can cut out a lot of busywork by using advanced Google search operators to mine Google for resource pages to pitch your website to. Here are just a few you can try:

  • [keyword] intitle:resources inurl:resources.html
  • [keyword] intitle:links inurl: resources.html[keyword]
  • inurl:.com/resources[keyword]
  • inurl:resources intitle:resources[keyword]
  • intitle:links[keyword] intitle:“useful resources”

7. Create an XML Sitemap and Submit it to Google

It’s already hard enough to get noticed by Google as it is. It benefits you to make it easier for them. Give them what they need to find you.

An XML sitemap is a text file that lists your website’s URLs so that Google can find, crawl, and index them. Creating and submitting an XML sitemap is a small but important part of your website’s ongoing maintenance and SEO health.

Tools like Screaming Frog will crawl your website and generate an XML sitemap in a text file. You can then submit that XML sitemap to Google Search Console as a way of telling them “we are here.” It’s a quick and easy process that takes about 10 minutes.

Alternatively, the Yoast SEO plugin generates your XML sitemap automatically.

You’re On Your Way to SEO Success

SEO can be challenging to participate in and intimidating to learn. Stick with it long enough though, and it can reward you with the kind of low-cost, long-term sustainable growth that every online business needs to survive.

To recap, here are the 7 SEO steps you need to take from the moment you start planning your website to right after your launch.

  1. Do Some Keyword Research – And Define Your Audience
  2. Plan your website’s architecture – and stick to it
  3. Carefully choose a domain name
  4. Make sure it’s running fast
  5. Plan a content strategy – and an editorial calendar
  6. Start looking for backlinks
  7. Create an XML Sitemap and Submit it to Google

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