You’re ready to redesign your website. You already know that search engine optimization (SEO) is important for every business, but you aren’t really sure what you should be aware of as you plan for your site design or redesign. The magic formula for SEO is a like a witch’s brew – part art and part science, but minus the eye of newt. The first step for every business is to know the “science” components, so that you plan for SEO from day one, and know what to watch out for as you hire an agency to support your needs.
SEO Design Guidelines
- Responsive design: There are more searches done from mobile devices than on desktop computers. Therefore, not designing your website using responsive design would be a huge missed opportunity. Though a bit more of an initial investment, responsive websites are now the norm. Your desktop/laptop design should be done with its mobile and tablet counterparts in mind with every layout decision. In fact, depending on your business, you may even want to design the mobile experience first.
- Text overlaying images: Banners and promotional modules can be designed with beautiful background imagery, but it’s essential that HTML text overlay the image instead of having the text embedded in the image. This approach creates readable text for search engines but also supports responsive web development as the site scales down to mobile device sizes.
- Sufficient content in design: Designers need to be cognizant that while people appreciate a simple website user experience, search engines still thrive on content. Elements like headings, accordions, tabs and more can keep longer pages appear tidier, while still providing the robust content that has appeal to search engines.
SEO Development Guidelines
- Responsive website: To beat a dead horse, so long are the days of separate mobile and tablet sites. Your developers or agency should be building your new site as a responsive website. This will make it easy to maintain but also makes search engines happy, thereby improving your site’s chance of ranking better.
- Clean code: Search engines are looking for clean code because it makes it easier to crawl and index pages. Clean code also helps search engines spot and surface your relevant content to interested searchers. Your development team or agency should always follow WC3 standards at the minimum.
- Load fast: Sites that load quickly quite simply get ranked higher in Google because Google knows they will have more credibility to users. Fast load time is also important because visitors get impatient when they come to slow-loading sites – especially from mobile devices.
- Heading tags: Developers need to be mindful of SEO considerations when assigning styles to pages. The H1 tag is a key element for search engines and visitors, as it should help describe the theme of the page. Additionally, there should never be more than one H1 on a page. Subsequently, the H2 tag should be supportive of the H1 and ideally contain additional indexable keywords. Likewise, it’s important not to assign heading styling to other non-essential elements (like menu promo modules), so as not to confuse search engines or dilute the value of your SEO strategy.
- URLs: A domain relevant to the topic you are trying to optimize for is a great starting point, but not one most businesses have control over. Therefore, the URLs of your individual pages become an important element since they should support the theme of the page. A page about puppy training in Wisconsin will have far greater search engine appeal with a page name like /wi-puppy-training than /8675309.htm.
SEO Marketing Guidelines
- Keyword research: Beginning a project with keyword research is a great idea because it helps inform the direction of several steps in a redesign project, from overall site architecture to individual page themes. Keyword research should align with key business and marketing goals, and be relevant to your business’ geographic footprint.
- Site architecture: A well thought-out site structure is key to optimizing a site’s user experience, but is also an important SEO tactic. To rank on a keyword, you must have a page with themed content around that keyword. Plan for your site to have more pages than you initially think you’ll need, because an experienced SEO team will appreciate the flexibility of having more pages to work with against their keyword research findings.
- Content development: Defining the target keywords and phrases is essential prior to site copywriting. Be sure to write naturally for users, and infuse copy with multiple variations of key terms. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket by focusing on just one keyword per page, unless your site is extremely large and you have sufficient pages to support this approach. And finally, try to get have at least 500 words on each page.
- Meta tagging: Each indexable page of your site will need a unique, relevant meta title and meta description. Both of these elements have character limitations that need to be adhered to, and writing these tags takes an experienced SEO professional armed with the aforementioned keyword research and supporting content. Additionally, image/ALT tags should also be descriptive for users and search engines, which is also a bonus for visually-impaired visitors using screen readers.
- Mine analytics: Looking at your site’s analytics can help inform your SEO strategy. Take a look at keywords you are ranking well on, as well as those that you might be on that dreaded page two or worse. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, look for opportunities in your site architecture, content and meta tagging phases to bump your site up to page one.
In summary, SEO should never be an afterthought when it comes to a website redesign. As the single greatest driver of site traffic for most businesses, ongoing SEO is essential to attract visitors to your website. Your SEO strategy is just as important as your site’s design, because it can make the difference between success and failure.