When creating a new website or redesigning an existing one, the top priorities are usually to ensure that the site looks as great as possible, and while a certain amount of flash can excite users, what’s ultimately most important is the product inside the packaging. To prevent having a website that is all glitter and no soul, you need to make sure that it is easily navigable and easily found through search engines. Here are some of the ways that not thinking about SEO from the start can be dangerous.
First things first, waiting to implement SEO until late in the development process can be very costly, and has the potential to uproot a lot of work that has already been done. All of the technical details of a website, from the URL slugs and page metadata to which keywords you’d like to rank for on a specific page, should be considered before jumping into design.
Ignoring Keyword Research
One false step in website design can often be ignoring keyword research. It can be snazzy to use a lot of marketing language or jargon but if it’s not the words that your audience would use to find you, it’s only going to hurt your traffic. Consider all the things that someone might type into a search box in order to find you. Are they looking for a “digital marketing company” or are they looking for an “online synergy producing creative production team”? Use the words that your customers use and you’ll not only sound more relatable, but you’ll be more findable. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use any other terms but when it comes to your meta data and page titles, keep it simple.
Using Google’s Keyword Planner can help you identify which of a set of similar keywords is most popular for your audience.
Ignoring SEO Requirements in Before of Design
Every web developer out there has, at one point or another, been handed a completed site mock-up and been told to build it and “make sure the SEO is good”. That’s not how that works. If your developer has a mock-up for a site that isn’t search friendly, there will only be so much they can do to get you found. Your search specialists and your design specialists need to make sure that they’re both on the same page during the process so that you end up with both a visually appealing website and one that one that is crawlable and search-friendly.
Wiping Out Good Content
Before you overhaul your site’s content do a review of what pages have been working well and which are underperforming. For the pages that are performing well in search, be cautious about making wholesale text and image changes as this could inadvertently damage your search rank. Instead roll out changes slowly and test along the way. If you have an image that is showing up highly in Google Image search for a coveted keyword, consider leaving it on your page, even throughout a redesign. Get creative.
Not Redirecting URLs
Your URLs should make it easy to understand what your page content is about, and multiple words should be separated by dashes instead of underscores. Many content management systems do this by default, but if you’re hand-coding pages, remember that search engines treat dashes as separators and underscores as connectors. /bestpageever/ or /best_page_ever/ does not equal /best-page-ever/ as far as Google and Bing are concerned.
If your URLs change during a redesign, it’s imperative that you set up 301 redirects from the old URLs so that you are able to retain your SEO ranking. If you happen to be moving to an entirely new domain, consider setting up a webmaster account through Google or Bing, as it will allow you to tell the search engine that you are doing so. Not doing this is like moving house without letting Canada Post know and still expecting your mail to arrive. It’s not going to happen.
Redesign vs. Refresh
It’s worth noting that if a redesign consists of a visual refresh with few technical changes, there may not be need for extensive SEO work, as if nothing is changing within the structure of a website there are unlikely to be any issues. However, it may be a worthy precaution to prevent search engines from indexing your website temporarily if you are working on a refresh in the background of a live site. You don’t want Google to index an in-progress page. This can be switched on and off via a setting in WordPress.
If your site is beyond the help of an iterative and incremental design refresh, and you need a full redesign be prepared for a change in your rankings. The upheaval can throw search engines off and it make take them some time to adjust. Having your plan in place to preserve the good content and redirect the no-longer-needed content can mitigate this. Resubmit your new sitemap to Google Search Console as soon as you launch and plan an outreach email program to contact those who link to pages that you’ve changed. The sooner you let Google know, the sooner they can begin to sort it out.
Sometimes It Takes Time
If you do everything right and your numbers are still not where you think they should be after the fact, don’t worry – it can take time for search engines to understand your changes and readjust your site’s rankings to where they should be, especially if you’ve made a lot of changes. You may also want to consider creating a rollback plan in the event that something goes wrong.
Launching a new website or iteration can prove challenging in and of itself, but it’s extremely important that you consider SEO best practices early in the development process. While it may add a lot of complexity, it also ensures that your website can start ranking appropriately as soon as possible, and you can turn that into page views and revenue opportunities. To learn how to overcome some common SEO mistakes, download our free eBook today!