As part of my work helping business owners to create a meaningful web presence that produces results, I very often run into websites that were built with little or no consideration for search engine optimization (SEO).
While I agree that not every business needs to put the same level of effort into their SEO, I am absolutely convinced that some basic work needs to be done right from the start.
Certain activities that cost very little to do when a website is initially being built can end up being time consuming and costly later. The costs to a company are more than the changes themselves, because there is an added opportunity cost in terms of past lost business.
SEO is NOT Dead
Or, in other words, Search engine optimization will Always be Important
As long as the internet exists people will always be searching for solutions to their problems, ideas for their next vacation, reviews of products they want to buy or simply good content to read. Search engines are their key tool for finding these things, and they won’t be able to find them unless your site has the content a search engine needs to detect it.
It doesn’t matter what search engine people use. The purpose of each and every search engine out there is to provide the user with the most accurate and relevant results possible. The reason Google is so successful is that it consistently finds the most relevant results and is constantly being improved.
It is your job as a website owner to post content that appeals to users and to search engine queries as being the most relevant for your target audience. The search engine is a portal between you and your users or customers, and it is your friend when you use it correctly. This may mean making certain text bold, naming images correctly, and making sure the page URL induces important keywords and so on.
Some may argue that quality content is the way to go and that it replaces SEO. But even quality content sometimes may not be enough, especially when it doesn’t meet the desired search engine criteria. Even if you have a lot of dedicated users, you’re going to be lower in a Google search due to lack of consistency with its SEO requirements.
Optimizing your website in terms of SEO makes it easier for your potential clients to find your website, which is a service in itself. If you’re even thinking about creating web content, it’s really important to get on the SEO bandwagon. Everyone else is, and when your competition improves, you have no choice but to improve your own content or be left behind.
Why SEO must be part of the website design process
The foundations of website design and SEO are interrelated, so you are engaged in SEO from the beginning, perhaps without even knowing it! Market research plays a huge role. Understanding your target market, what they are looking for and the language they use are key factors that shape your web content.
In its most basic sense, SEO research leads to the discovery of a set of keywords that should be used on your website. Some of these are used naturally without even checking the Google listings, although there tend to be others that are surprisingly helpful. Even without market research, you certainly already have a general idea as to what you’re going to write about.
Since you already have this knowledge available to you, using it right from the start can save you time and money in the long run.
Doing SEO Right, from the Start
Some aspects of SEO optimization will be quite easy if done from the start, but expensive and time consuming if done after launching.
Here are two examples:
Choosing the Right Custom URL Structure for your Permalinks – In WordPress, the URL of all your pages is controlled by permalinks. Permalinks are the individual URLs (or web addresses) of every page on your website. Using keyword as part of a page URL is an important SEO strategy that is easy to implement when a website is first being built. Once that the website is already built updating URLs requires adding proper “redirects” so people who have already found a certain page in the past will still be able to find it after the URL was changed.
Optimizing Images –Let’s say you are writing an article about the best way to cleanse and energize your body for the coming summer. Most likely you will be adding an image or two to make the article look more attractive. Despite making your website more appealing to the human eye, a picture does nothing by default to improve the article’s listing in a search engine. It’s impossible for the search engine to ‘look’ at your picture to gauge its relevancy. However you can provide hints to a search engine by renaming the images. Instead of ‘16409470_s.jpg’, rename the image to ‘detox-for-the-summer’. This is easier to do from the beginning, and helps build a following from launch, rather than six months down the road.
Make SEO part of your routine
Setting up title and description tags for pages and posts allows you to control how your website snippets appear in search engine results. These allow users to jump to different portions of your website directly from the search engine, adding to the convenience. They also take up more space on the search engine page, considerably increasing its visibility.
While not a must, I recommend setting new snippets up every time a page or post is added. That way the work is done when the knowledge is fresh in your head, and there is no need to go back to it later to edit several old pages and posts at once.
Avoiding crucial mistakes at the design stage
Once in a while, I run into a design mistake that indicates that SEO was completely ignored when the site was designed. Here are a few examples:
Text content is shown as an image – As was mentioned above, search engines cannot ‘look’ at images. While giving an image a good name can help, it is always better to present words in text rather than in images. In one particular case, the entire website was designed in a way that page headers were made out of pretty images. From an SEO standpoint, the page header is one of the most important parts, and keywords should certainly be used here. Some websites need to be completely redone in order to adhere to this basic SEO practice.
The design does not permit adding the business address or phone number to each page – Adding one’s address and phone number to each page is an important SEO practice that applies mostly to local businesses designed to serve small or limited areas. Development work may be required for websites that don’t have this functionality. This is another of the design decisions that is cheaper to do the first time than it is to make changes later.
When developing a website, a lot of people focus on the structure and the design. While these are very important, make sure to take SEO into account too. Not only will it save you time and money but it is crucial in helping your potential clients find you.