How To Crush SEO and Website Design Right From The Start

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SEO and Website Design

Combining search engine optimisation (SEO) and website design is something business owners usually do after their website is built. SEO is how website get free organic traffic (as opposed to paid ads traffic).

Sites are designed for looks, to be built quickly, to be easy to use... or some combination of all three. Rarely are websites designed with SEO in mind and it’s not until after a beautiful new website is launched that owners start to ask: “Now how do we get more traffic?”

If you’re building a new website and haven’t made a plan to get traffic STOP NOW! Read this to learn how to prepare your site for SEO success before it’s even built.

Three areas to think about

This guide is broken down into three areas of planning, each with several topics to consider:

  1. Strategic planning
  2. Technical considerations
  3. Design planning

Strategy is first because if you don’t know where you’re going it’s hard to plan how to get there.

Technical and design planning are equally important and neither one should be overlooked.

Ready? Let’s begin...

Strategic planning

What’s your content strategy?

What kinds of content do you or will you have? What kind of functionality will your content require?

Video, audio, quizzes, downloadable guides, whitepapers and more all have unique requirements. The types of content you plan to have will shape the technology you need.

The content will also help you think through the design. You can define page types for a consistent user interface and experience across your site.

Keyword Plan

Have a keyword plan ahead of build. This is especially important if you plan to add new content or even update current content.

If you’re starting a new website, look closely at competitors and customers to see which keywords you should be targeting.

You can also look for hidden gems to help you get started. Keywords without much traffic can still bring high quality customers

This is especially true for local “bricks and mortar” businesses who service a set geographic area. Plumbers, electricians, builders, dentists, cafés, hairdressers and more can benefit from local search terms like “best plumber Gold Coast” or “local electrician in brisbane”.

If you’re rebuilding a website but haven’t done keyword research since way back when… now is the time to update your SEO with up-to-date keywords.

What are your most important pages?

Use Google Analytics to ID most important pages. A helpful report is to look at your most visited pages and compare average time on page.

Pages with lots of visitors, but below average time on page might not be so valuable. Look for pages on your existing site that get good traffic volumes and higher-than-average time on page.

Pages with lots of visitors, but below average time-on-page should be reviewed. Consider how you can update these pages with new, more current content, keyword optimisation, images and internal hyperlinks to supporting topics on your website.

This will maximise the number of visitors and ensure a better customer experience on your site, while also helping your keyword focus and potential search rankings.

If those same pages have low bounce rates too, then make them priority pages when you plan your site architecture. We cover that below.

Where do your ads go?

Catalogue of all URLs and landing pages you’re using for ad traffic.

If you use Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Bing Ads, etc., make sure you know where the ads send users.

If those destination pages will be removed or the URLs changed, it’s important to update the ad platforms with your new URLs.

A 301 Redirect is a temporary fix, but not a long term solution. It could also violate Google’s AdWords policy if the new pages aren’t on the same domain: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/6368661

If you have a long list of campaigns on AdWords, here’s a workflow you can use:

  1. Install the Google AdWords Editor - this will help streamline your work
  2. Duplicate the ads you want to update (duplicating your ads allows you to keep the history of your current ads)
  3. Export your campaigns to Excel
  4. Run a Find & Replace to update the URLs you are changing (in the duplicate ads)
  5. Import your campaigns back into the AdWords Editor
  6. Once your new (duplicate ads) are reviewed and approved, turn off the original ads

Updating backlinks

Identify where your site gets links from and notify the owners of those sites that you’re rebuilding.

If you’re changing the URL structure of your website, be sure to tell them the new URL so they can update the link on their page.

You should still put an accurate 301 redirect plan in place so any traffic still pointing to your old URLs doesn’t get lost.

If the thought of reaching out all your backlinks is too much, the 301 redirect will do just fine. Updating your site is a good reason to reach back out to friendly businesses and a simple courtesy note to let them know you’ve changed your URLs (with 301 redirects in place) may spark a renewed interest in your relationship.

Reach out and ask for a reciprocal link (aka two-way link). They should appreciate the heads up because it means a better experience for their users.

Directory listings

Similar to updating your backlinks, create a database of all online directories your business is listed with.

If your URLs change,  be sure that your listings aren’t impacted. Most listing sites send traffic to your home page, but in some cases you’ll have links to deeper pages.

A good 301 redirect plan will ensure your traffic still goes where it should.

This is an important step if you’ve changed domains. Keeping your business name, address, phone number and primary URL (also called the NAP) up-to-date is very important for local SEO.

Refresh your sitemap

Once you’ve finished building your new site, submit an updated XML sitemap to Google and other search engines.

For guidance on how to build and submit a sitemap: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/183668

Technical considerations

301 redirect

A 301 redirect is a permanent notice to search engines that one URL should now point to another.

For example, you may build a new website with a different URL structure. Compare these two example URLs:

  • Original: example.com/blog-post-title
  • New: example.com/blog/title

A 301 redirect informs visitors and search engines of the new URL by simply redirecting them to the new page.

404 pages

If a visitor to your site enters a URL that doesn’t exist anymore, they’ll be shown a 404 Page Error, or Page Not Found notice.

You can customise these pages and make them useful to you and your visitor.

Build a custom 404 page in case a visitor gets lost on your site. This will help them navigate back to the home page.

You can include a menu on your 404 page that helps visitors find what they’re looking for directly.

It’s almost inevitable that you’ll have some Page Not Found errors. Why not make it a fun and helpful experience for your visitors?

Secure your site

If your site does or ever will collect data from visitors it’s a good idea to secure their data from the get-go.

Google is requiring HTTPS for secure data, which is any data sent through forms on your site. Ask you developer to make sure you’re covered.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS, or HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, is a method of ensuring that communication between users’ web browser and your servers is secure.

This has traditionally been an ecommerce requirement, but with the increasing threat of phishing and other online scams, Google has announced that site security is a factor in how they rank websites.

Canonical URLs

Canonica-wha? This isn’t about what the Pope wears to mass.

A canonical URL helps you avoid duplicate content issues. If you have similar versions of the same content on your website, a canonical URL points search engines to the version you want to be counted as the original.

Each piece of content on your website should be accessed by only one URL.

It’s critical to advise search engines of the “correct” version of your domain. For example, https://www.example.com and https://example.com may be considered duplicate content if Google isn’t aware of which one is the “true” (or canonical) version.

Yoast, a provider of SEO software, has a great writeup on canonical URLs here.

Speed test

Slow page load time can make visitors run screaming from your website. That’s not a good thing, right?

Kissmetrics, a website analytics company, shows in a recent study that a 1-second delay in page response can lead to a 7% reduction in conversions.

That’s a lot of lost sales, leads or subscribers. Pay close attention to how your new site is built.

Pay close attention to the images you use. Oversized images play a big part in load speed. Check out this post on how to increase page speed using smaller images for more info.

Structured data

Your website’s HTML code should be easy to read for search engines, especially compared to other sites.

Structured data allows search engines to “read” what your website is all about. Your structured data may include information like your address, phone number and proper business name.

You can learn more about how to properly structure your website data at Schema.org where they provide frameworks for building search engine-friendly structured data into your site.

Ongoing SEO

Good SEO isn’t one-and-done. It’s an ongoing effort to keep your website performing at its best in search results.

That means you want to a Content Management System (CMS) that allows you to easily update existing content and build SEO best practices into new content.

A good CMS, or SEO plugins, will make it easy for content producers to optimise for SEO while they create content.

Speak with your developer about how you plan to add content to your site so they can help you build in good SEO.

Design planning

Responsive design

Users want expect a seamless and consistent experience across devices. That doesn’t mean that your site looks exactly the same on mobile as on desktop, but the look and feel should be consistent.

Users expect device-specific experiences. You can provide that to your visitors if your site is responsive. That makes them happy :)

Search engines also want to see mobile-ready sites. Why?

Mobile responsive websites have a higher chance of ranking in search results and responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.

There are more mobile users than desktop globally. Here in Australia, desktop still outranks mobile, but that won’t last long.

Architecture and Internal linking

Every page on your website should be accessible using no more than 4 clicks from the home page.

That may sound like a challenge, but there are ways to plan this out. One method is the Card Sorting Method outlined here in Smashing Magazine.

This is low-tech

Using physical post-its or index cards, you and your team sort and group the pages of your website.

It’s a visual activity that lets you see how your website can be structured. Read the post linked above for a much more thorough explanation.

Must have pages

Use keyword and competitor research to identify pages you should have on your website’s ‘Main Menu’.

If you’re building from scratch, narrow this list of must-have pages to the bare minimum to start. Once you have your core pages you can start to drive traffic, analyse results and add pages strategically.

Growth-driven design is a really useful way to build your website, starting from this core group of pages.

If you’re rebuilding or redesigning an existing website, identify pages your competitors have that you should have too.

You can also use this exercise to get rid of pages that don’t drive value for your business. Pair this exercise with your most important pages from above and you’ll be in good shape to attract visitors.

Your turn

Planning to build a new website? Then now is the time to think about SEO.

Leave a comment below if you found any of these items a bit surprising or helpful.

A big shout out to Helen Nicholls of Hubdo for her help reviewing this article. Thanks, Helen!

Additional references:

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