When should I start thinking about SEO?
When clients come to us for a new web design, we are often asked about SEO. SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, has come a long way in the past few years. These days, a comprehensive SEO strategy is absolutely essential in order for your site to rank (or show up) in Google’s natural (unpaid) search results. Some marketers see natural search results as “low-hanging fruit.” While SEO may seem like an easy way to drive targeted traffic to your site, many factors need to be considered before you even start your design.
The tricky part is how and when to actually incorporate SEO into the web design and development process. If not done properly, you can do some serious damage to your website and brand. So where do you start? And when should you start incorporating SEO into your web design/development process?
SEO needs to be integrated into your web design
Whether you are designing a new site or redesigning your existing site, it is extremely important that you begin to incorporate your SEO strategy from the very beginning. Here are the steps that I suggest for implementing a sound SEO strategy into your web design process:
1) Analytics and benchmark analysis
If you are redesigning your site, before you do anything you should assess your site’s analytics to see what is and isn’t working. Which keywords are your current customers using to get to your site? Which keywords are generating leads or sales? Which keywords have high bounce rates? If you don’t currently have an analytics program running on your site, I strongly recommend installing Google Analytics, which is a free analytics solution, and letting it run for a week or two before doing any heavy lifting on your new site.
It is also important to take a snapshot of where your site currently ranks in natural search. This will allow you to compare search rankings before and after launching your new site, and determine how effective you were.
2) Customer analysis
Using tools like Google Insights for Search, you can determine trends in your industry based on the search behavior of your customers.
In a recent blog post, Hal Varian, Google’s in-house economist, gave a few examples of how this tool can be used to “predict the present.” Put some of the buzz words of your industry into Google Insights for Search and it will come back with other related terms, as well as upcoming terms. These keyword phrases are terms that you could potentially target in your SEO as well as into your general marketing strategy/communications.
3) Competitive analysis
Oftentimes, when we ask our clients for a list of their competitors, they reply with a list of their top four or five most competitive industry rivals. What most people don’t realize is that their competitors online might be very different from their competitors offline. For example, there may be an industry-related blog that is stealing natural search traffic related to one of their product pages.
The great thing about the internet is that it is very transparent. A professional trained in SEO can analyze your online competitors and figure out why they are out-performing you.
4) Content strategy and IA
Remember those keywords we identified in steps 1 and 2? Now it’s time to put those to use. It is important to structure your site in such a way that the most important keywords are given the most prominence on your site. When designing your site, you not only need to take into account your site’s visitor experience, but also the Google crawler’s experience. It should be easy for both your visitors and Google to:
a) Navigate your site
b) Find what they’re looking for
c) Understand the purpose of each page
Think of SEO as a way of making it easy for Google to quickly determine what each page of your site is about.
5) Building your site using best practices
Once you have a great-looking web design and a strategy for targeting your most valuable keywords, it’s time to actually build and launch your site. As more and more people are using mobile devices to browse the web, it’s critical to ensure that your site loads quickly. Web development standards need to be taken into account so that your site’s code is optimized for fast loading. Failure to do so could result in a high bounce rate, which in turn could lead to lower natural search rankings.
SEO best practices should also be incorporated into your site. Placing your targeted keywords in your site’s Metadata and various on-page elements (headers, alt tags, etc.) is important, but you should not go overboard. Stuffing keywords where they shouldn’t be can get you in serious trouble with Google. Again, it’s important to strike a balance between SEO and usability. Each page of your site should be optimized for a specific keyword phrase, and the content of the page should be relevant to the page title and contain a minimum of about 300 words.
You’re not done yet.
SEO is not like the Showtime Rotisserie you see advertised on late-night infomercials. You can’t just “set it and forget it.” There are many other factors that determine where your site ranks, one of the most important being the inbound links you have coming into your site. And careful, continual analysis needs to be performed on a periodic basis to determine what’s working and what’s not.
A solid SEO strategy can take your online business to the next level. Just remember that designing your site for search engines and your customers’ experience are equally important.