Over the years I have analysed literally thousands of websites for SEO factors. I am constantly researching why particular websites in many niche markets rank and why they don’t. I personally operate many commercial websites of my own which gives me the ability to experiment and test ranking factors to see what works and what doesn’t work. By analysing and tracking thousands of keywords I can see when ranking changes are occurring or when Google pushes any new algorithmic updates. One thing to remember about the SEO industry and online marketing as a whole is that it is constantly evolving and we are always learning new things. But there is one constant factor which I see and experience through the enquiries and new clients that I take on through my SEO company – and that is websites that were never originally designed with SEO in mind.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many times people have asked me “What is SEO?”. And with that in mind, 75% of people that come to me for for any consulting work have never planned for SEO as a marketing option in their prior website development phase. Web design or development and SEO are 2 two different things, but yet when combined properly allow for a website to not only look great and function well, but also communicate effectively with search engines and therefore allow it to be found easily. There is no point in having a shiny, flashy website if people never see it because they cannot find it (unless SEO is not an important factor in the marketing efforts for your website of course). It is quite often harder to patch over and try to fix an existing website than it is to build a new one in a lot of cases. Considering the factors that allow a website to rank before you lay down any code on a page is going to save a lot of headaches down the track if having your website found via keyword searches is going to be a factor in your online marketing efforts.
So what things should you be thinking about when you build a search engine friendly website? Here are a few basic tips and SEO elements that should be incorporated into your website design –
1. Content Management System
Not everybody is going to take full advantage and get maximum usage out of a content management system (CMS). But, why not plan for it and allow easy editing and modification of your website content and layout by using one? I personally always use and recommend WordPress, and best of all, it is completely free to use the base framework! WordPress gives a very flexible platform that allows you to add new features into your website via “plugins”. WordPress also has a massive developer community and an almost endless range of templates that can be easily adapted to suit many needs. The great thing about a content management system like WordPress is how easy it is to continually build new pages, update blog posts and add new products or services via different page types. The key to SEO is having great content that contains the keywords you are attempting to rank for. And there is no easier way to continually build on this than with a platform such as WordPress. But beware – there are some CMS’s that were not built with SEO in mind. I have had endless issues with Business Catalyst in the past. This is quite possibly one of the worst mainstream content management systems I have ever worked with. I won’t go into detail about it in this post though, but seriously taking advantage of a great CMS like WordPress gives you instant SEO benefits that will pay off for a very long time to come.
2. Site structure
Having a site structure that allows Google and other search engines to “crawl” every page easily is hugely important. There is no point having pages contained within your site that are not linked to from anywhere else in your site. Every page should be available to be browsed by what I commonly call “two clicks deep”. If you cannot access a page within your site within 2 clicks, there is a good chance that Google will not regularly be able to crawl that page. Considering the menu options and the way people will access the pages within your site. Consider things like category links in sidebars, the structure of the “blog” page, links to other pages within your headers & footers. Being smart about the navigation options within your site will allow Google and other search engines to efficiently find existing and new content as it is added.
3. URL Structure
Having SEO friendly URL’s will give your pages a big advantage in Google’s ranking index. Having your keywords contained within the page URL’s for any articles, products or services is basically the beginning of telling search engines what your page is all about. A good content management system is going to give you the options to turn your URL’s into the correct SEO friendly format. Here is an example of correct formatting – http://webpiremarketing.com.au/plan-for-seo-during-the-website-design-phase. Here is an example of formatting you should always try to avoid – http://webpiremarketing.com.au/?p=5142. Not only does they URL structure allow for search engines to begin getting an idea of what the page is all about, but it also makes more sense to people reading your content as well.
4. Page Structure & Content
Optimising the content that is contained within the pages themselves is one of the biggest factors that will give you an SEO advantage. There are certain elements that Google and other search engines are looking for when they crawl the pages themselves. The headings on the page, use of your keywords and niche related terms, overall keyword density and content placement, page titles & meta descriptions are all accounted for when determining what your page should be ranking for. A well structured page without too much advertising or flashy images and well written content is going to make a huge difference in how well your site performs for the keywords contained within the pages. Something to take into account here too is that Google does not rank your page based on images. If you are using pages which are heavily loaded with images and not enough actual text content, there is a good chance those pages will not rank well. There is no point making images that contain paragraphs of text with the keywords you are trying to rank for. I have seen this many times. Creating an image in Photoshop or any other image software which has paragraphs of text on it and using the image as the content area for your site is not going to work. If you follow the tips listed above, a decent content management system such as WordPress is going to allow you to create the correct page structure without even breaking a sweat.
Another point for this particular tip is that creating a website with coding such as Macromedia Flash is typically frowned upon these days. In the past, these multimedia rich sites may have looked great and stood out from the crowd, but will no longer work on devices such as an iPad or iPhone and realistically do nothing for SEO factors. Don’t waste your time with these gimmicky style sites.
5. Well Structured CSS
When it comes to CSS (cascading style sheets), implementing them properly can allow for a much faster site load time and allow a much easier and structured path for Google and other search engines to crawl the site. For 80% of typical website owners you would never really have to think about this. If you are planning on using an existing WordPress template or even a well built standard HTML template and adapting it to your purpose you may have to consider how to modify the CSS files. But the majority of people will never have to think about the CSS at all. It will just sit in the background and do it’s job for you. And that is to make your website load faster and help make the webpages easier to crawl. Page load time is a big factor in SEO and is becoming more important as mobile device usage grows.
Having a sitemap for your site is like creating a map which allows search engines to find their way to every page within your site. Creating a sitemap is very easy with any decent CMS and can also be done by hand if need be. Submitting your sitemap to Google or Bing Webmaster tools will keep these search engines up to date with page changes, new pages and pages that you have removed from your site and should help with keeping your site regularly crawled and spidered. You should really consider using an XML formatted sitemap which updates itself as changes are made to your site. Don’t bother with the old school methods of creating a page contained within your site that has a link to every other page in your site. Just use the XML formatted method and you should never have to think about your sitemap ever again.
So there you go. These are a few basic elements to consider when you are initially planning to build a new website. Of course the design elements and the actual look and feel of the website should be a major factor, but combining the tips listed above with a great look and feel and overall aesthetics of your brand new website will give you a huge advantage in allowing people to actually find it. There are many other factors to consider with SEO but these basic tips should be considered during the initial website development phase. Not doing so could potentially handicap any efforts that may be put into search engine optimisation at a later date.
Webpire Marketing are the leading digital marketing & SEO agency located in Hobart, Tasmania. We offer web design & online marketing services such as SEO, social media marketing & PPC to businesses of all sizes.