If you’re launching a business or bringing your existing business online, you may have wondered when it would be best to focus on SEO.
Sometimes, business owners simply don’t think to “add SEO” until the website has already been built, or try to skimp on it to save money. Yet incorporating SEO into a website post-launch is like trying to add chocolate chips to already-baked muffins. Sometimes it’s impossible – and when it is possible, it’s extremely messy and costly.
Websites perform best when SEO has been considered from the beginning. Here are three critical ways SEO can contribute to early-phase design and set your business up for success:
1. Information Architecture
The layout and structure of a website is crucial because it will critically affect how content is organized, and therefore, how users interact with it. And good website architecture will make the site not just intuitive for users, but also easily crawlable by search engines. The information architecture used needs to align with:
- Search engine indexation and URL structure:
The best content in the world is worthless if it can’t be found or
indexed. SEO will ensure that search engines can make sense of your
site. The URL structure also needs to be sorted out early on, as
changing URLs down the line can be a complicated undertaking.
Common things to avoid include:
- having too many parameters in a URL: (here’s a good example: http://pta.org/about/AnnualConvention.cfm?navItemNumber=3421&navItemNumber=3421)
- Going overboard with too many hierarchies, i.e. http://www.domain.com/z/x/y/a/b/c
- Using hash (#) URLs incorrectly: some sites utilizing Ajax might show different content for domain.com/#seo and domain.com/#marketing; it’s best to use Google’s recommended optimization of Ajax URLs.
- The content needs of the website: SEO can help determine how many pages of content you need and how they should be arranged for optimal targeting. For example, should you group your services together, or have a different page for each? The answer is, “it depends” – but it’s better to figure that out at the beginning. If your startup is a news or content publisher, a few things that you need to be aware of include:
- Non-literal headlines
- Articles that are too long (however, Google News does not provide a maximum word count)
- Articles that are fragmented (articles constructed of lists, tables or sometimes embedded multimedia might trigger this error in Google News)
- Articles that have the incorrect date (due to incorrect coding)
- Articles that are too short (preferably 250+words)
- The natural flow of the conversion
funnel: Users need to be able to buy from you quickly
and easily, uninhibited by obstacles. SEO can help you design the
conversion funnel to capture the leads you’ll be bringing in from
search. This can be implemented by:
- Adding authorship.
- Improving speed
- Adding structured markup (such as schema, more on that below)
- Adding more optimization for the search query intent (i.e. what
users are looking for).
- International, multilingual & hyper-local strategies: If your business will sell in multiple locales or serve customers who speak different languages, your website’s information architecture must reflect that. SEO can help you avoid costly errors that can hinder your visibility, like buying up multiple top-level domains or improperly using sub-domains.
2. Design & Development
You may not realize it, but the design components of your website like graphics and interactive elements can have a serious impact on your site’s visibility. Likewise, the quality and structure of your website’s code are hugely important to how well your site will perform. SEO can contribute to discussions about:
- Load times & structure: If the design
elements of your website are slow to load, you’re likely
frustrating your customers and hurting your rankings. Likewise, if
important pieces of code are garbled or buried, search engines may
have a harder time indexing them.
- Schema markup: Schema is a markup language
that helps search engines understand objects and entities online.
In simpler terms, search engines like Google use schema to
understand which strings of numbers are phone numbers or addresses,
which words are actually movie titles or names of people, which
pieces of content are recipes or reviews and a whole lot more.
Proper markup can have a significant impact on your visibility, so
it’s important to get right at the point of launch.
3. Content Strategy
Content strategy goes far beyond the question of what keywords you ought to be targeting. SEO can help you determine the format of the content that will work best for reaching your customers, ensure that you’ve got the architecture to support your content goals and work with you to create and implement the content you need to succeed. SEO helps to answer the questions of:
- What content should be created? (this could include Guides, How-To’s, Collections of items, News)
- How should it be organized? (some questions include: Should the blog be integrated into the main site? Or under a sub-domain ? Or sub-folder?)
- What format should it take? (should content be in infographics, videos, case studies, white papers, or blog posts?)
- How should it be written? (determining a style should involve SEO copywriter training as well as setting a specific tone and voice.)
So, again, if you want to save yourself some headaches, include SEO strategy in early development; don’t try to tack it on once the project is done, Making your website search-engine-ready from day one is the best way to maximize customers and readership.