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by Tom Howlett on 5th June 2012
When proceeding to design a new website SEO should be a consideration from the planning phase. This will ensure each element has been considered from the start and will avoid having to make important changes to the website on top of what has already been done.
A clear SEO strategy that has had consideration through every element of the website will set your site in a much better position to rank well and save you time in the future.
This guide will run you through the important considerations that you should decide upon alongside the design work.
When deciding to start a new website, one of the first considerations should be about your target audience. Who are you trying to target, what you are offering them? If the site is being built for an existing business, you are probably already aware who the audience is, the next step is how you are going to build your website to target these people.
What are you offering them?
You need to be clear on what you are offering people, what services are being offered or what products you are selling. Thinking about this initially will help you think about what you want to include on the website from a business perspective.
What do they want to see?
The next step is to decide or establish what your target audience want to see. You can then match them to your offerings and start to establish the number of pages you will need on the site and what information these pages will contain.
Each page should have a defined purpose; having additional pages for the sake of increasing the number of pages on the site is not a good strategy and could cause duplicate content issues in the future when trying to increase the content on each of these pages.
How are they going to find you?
After considering the above, you will want to decide upon the strategy for getting visitors to your website. For many businesses this will include the following channels:
For SEO, keyword research is a powerful tool for finding out what people are searching for. Keyword research is especially powerful if considered right from the very beginning to help you tailor and target your pages towards any relevant terms.
Every website, business or brand should have a social media presence. This is becoming more and more important to work in line with your SEO strategy. It would therefore make sense to think about how social media will be integrated into your website from the very beginning. This will ensure it is considered alongside and fits well into the design instead of appearing as an afterthought. Here are some common considerations, but don’t forget to get creative:
The navigation is the core of your website and consideration is essential if you want people to easily find their way around your website.
Decide on the pages
The keyword research should give you a good idea what people are searching for relevant to the website offerings. Combining this with the information you want to include will help you plan exactly what pages you need on your website. As mentioned above, you do not want to end up with too many pages as things can get chaotic quite easily; try including pages relating to your core products and services and branch out from there.
Core pages are likely to include:
Structure the navigation
The navigation is one of the most important site elements and needs thorough consideration. Highlight the most important and top level pages of your website, your navigation will be built up on a foundation of these pages. Group the rest of the pages underneath the top level pages. Where a lot of pages are involved, consider how the navigation is best laid out. You may have to utilise a dropdown menu on the main navigation buttons – a common and popular strategy.
Footer links can be helpful by adding a link to the most popular or important pages on the site, for easy navigation.
Utilise breadcrumbs (if relevant)
Breadcrumbs are a link trail that appears as people navigate through certain pages on the site. If your site includes categories with lots of child pages, a useful implementation of breadcrumbs will help users quickly backtrack to the main category page of the child page they are currently on.
Breadcrumbs are commonly utilised on ecommerce sites. Say you were browsing through an online clothes store and were looking at Men’s Boot Cut Jeans, you may want to quickly return to the Jeans or Trouser category page – this is where Breadcrumbs are incredibly useful.
You will want to create a familiar structure on the website; this is with regards to the navigation and the page layout.
One consideration would need to be towards other existing websites – competitors and websites in other industries. Typically you will start to notice a trend utilised in most page layouts and site navigation. Visitors to your website will be highly familiar with this type of website architecture, so it would be an idea to mirror this structure as opposed to creating a confusing and unfamiliar structure that will make it hard for visitors to navigate.
Many websites will also use a grid structure to which the website was built upon. This will help organise the content and ensure it fits all screen sizes.
Once having a base design and structure for your website, it is important to make sure all the common SEO elements are set up and work well within the site.
Here is a list of common elements to implement from the start:
Page content is an important consideration along with planning your pages. Each page should have a certain level of content that provides contextual relevance for your target keywords; pages with little or no content are going to provide little SEO benefit.
Above the Fold
There was a Google algorithm update not too long ago that considered the placement of content on a websites pages. To keep with best practices, try to keep the important content above the fold, this is what the users will see first and it is what the search engines are interested in. The websites that were largely affected by the algorithm update were sites that had lots of unnecessary content above the content focus (such as advertisements or AdSense).
The utilisation of images across the website can be useful for breaking up the content (making it easier to browse), gives something for people to share through new platforms such as Pinterest and could also bring in some site traffic through image search.
There are a number of site pages that are useful for SEO or from a usability perspective, these are listed below.
A HTML Sitemap page is basically a ‘glossary’ of your site and contains a list of important pages from top level pages to child pages. This can be useful for improving the internal link profile of the site and to help visitors to find specific pages.
An About page is relatively standard on most websites. This is a page that visitors can navigate to if they want to find out a bit more about the website and can be useful for keeping people on the website and for improving conversions.
This page can also create the opportunity to link to other important pages useful for visitors and helpful for providing that additional keyword relevance for the linked to pages.
As well as useful pages, there are a number of useful SEO elements that should be implemented on the site to help improve your search engine presence and help you improve the site as it develops.
Most websites should have a Robots.txt file. This allows you to control the areas of the site that can be crawled and indexed by the search engines. You also have the opportunity to point the search engines in the direction of the XML Sitemap file to a list of site pages and can help getting the pages of the site indexed.
As mentioned above, the XML Sitemap file contains a list of site URLs and pages. It will help highlight the pages of the site you want indexed and will help ensure all the pages get indexed within the search engines.
Footer links can help improve the site internal link profile – adding links to important pages will not only have an SEO benefit but will benefit the site from a usability perspective by providing a link to popular pages someone may be searching for.
Please Note – It is not a good idea to stuff the Footer with keyword optimised links to every page you can think of. Try to limit these to important and useful pages for your visitors.
It is a good idea to install some sort of Analytics package to work alongside your website – Google Analytics is a popular choice. You will then be able to track visits and interactions with the website from the very beginning. Although this will not directly help your SEO, it will provide useful data to help you optimise your website over time.
Another useful strategy is to track specific goals and conversions on your website, depending on what you want your visitors to do. You can then track visitor flow to help you improve the usability of the website.
Similar to Google Analytics, webmaster tools are a great way to help you monitor and improve your website over time. It will report any site issues, crawl issues and site speed problems to which you can resolve immediately. Google Webmaster Tools is a useful tool – Bing also has their own version and will give you more general information on how the different search engines view your website.
I have already mentioned some useful elements which will help your SEO progress, here are some more technical website suggestions that will help benefit your SEO and are generally slightly more technical to implement.
Each website should fix any canonical issues to prevent any multiple indexation and duplicate content issues; a website Home page can normally be accessed using the following links:
It is suggested that a permanent 301 redirect is implemented to direct each of these URL instances to just one version of the URL (generally http://www.example.com/ is used).
404 Error Page
A 404 error page is displayed when a visitor types in a page URL wrong or visits your site using a link to a page that no longer exists. By default, these are ugly, automatically generated pages that don’t bare any resemblance to your website. This may cause visitors to leave the site without attempting to try again to find what they are looking for.
To get around this you can create a custom 404 error page that utilises the same design template as the rest of the site. You can include custom links in an attempt to direct visitors towards a page that will be interesting to them. This will help retain visitors that would have otherwise not come back.
Improving Page Speed
Page speed is a hugely important consideration and it is believed to be a ranking factor. There are some statistics that highlight the percentage of users that leave a slow loading website to be huge, compared to a quick site.
Improving the speed of an existing website is quite a task, so every attempt should be made to create a quick website in the design and development process.
Here is a list of important considerations when building a fast website (not an endless list):
When designing a new site it is very likely that sometime in the near future, you will want to add new pages. This should be a consideration from the very beginning; you will want to make sure that you are able to easily add more links to the navigation. This will prevent you having to throw the link anywhere is may fit and ruining the clean site structure.
If you are planning to include a Blog on the site, there are a few elements to consider – These are listed below:
Whether the website is for personal use or for a customer, there is a good chance that the daily management will be done through a CMS. This can cause some problems that can affect any of the above elements. If using a CMS, it is suggested that the following is considered:
I hope this guide has helped guide you through the process of designing a website with SEO in mind from the very beginning. This process will help improve the chances of ranking right from the very beginning, without having to work with what is already live. This leaves you to focus on creating quality content and improving the usability and the customer experience.
If you feel I have left anything out, let me know in the comments below.