It's important to start every Web site development project by understanding the role of SEO in the project. The team of people working on the project has limited time, and most likely they have a schedule. Focusing them on the wrong things will produce less than optimal results.
Let's focus in on the role of SEO in the project plan in the context of developing a new site. But these principles can be applied to any new SEO project with simple modifications.
Start the SEO effort before you write the first line of code. Search Engine Watch readers are probably aware of the following four points:
- You can easily pick a technology to build your site that will cause search engines to not crawl your site, or to crawl and index your site in a less than optimal manner. An SEO expert must review the Web development choices before any decisions are made on Web development technology.
- Performing keyword research before you start coding is also critical. This will help you learn the behavior patterns of your customers, and this knowledge is likely to impact the site architecture and navigation.
- You need lots of content, probably far more than you might think (or a smaller number of pieces of earthshakingly good unique content). Content drives link building, and is also essential for picking up search traffic from the long tail of search, which is where 70 percent or so of all search volume can be found.
- You need the previous three items to have a chance to compete for search traffic, but you need inbound links to drive rankings. Put another way, without links, you can't rank. Far too often, people understand the need for technical SEO, but then think they're done.
While you may already know these things, it's also critical that senior managers who make decisions related to the Web site also understand them. They may need to receive some training on the nature of search engines and what needs to be done to obtain traffic from them. Try to get them to learn these critical points so they don't unintentionally blow up the Web site's chances of success.
Even before we get to the nuts and bolts of SEO, we need to solve a couple of age-old marketing problems: What is the product and what is your plan for marketing it? In the case of a Web site, this starts with:
- What are the goals of the Web site? To sell a product? To develop leads? To disseminate information? How would you build the Web site if no special activity was needed to obtain search engine traffic?
- How will you market the Web site? What is your plan for getting people to link to your site, and why will they link to your site? The link building plans for a Web site are likely to change the organization, structure, and even the look and feel of the site.
Develop your Link Building Plan Early
Because link building can affect your site architecture, it makes sense to figure out your plan at the start. Do you need a media outreach campaign? If so, what will cause the media to be interested in a site like yours?
Are you going to focus on social media? What will your site need to offer to do well in your target environments?
Whatever link building plan you settle on, you will need to answer this question: How will you stand out? You can't win the Web site marketing game without answering this question well.
Being the 25th site to present a set of articles on a given topic won't get you anywhere. You need to do something different. Figure out what that is, and then map that into your site architecture.
Getting your SEO started at the beginning of a Web site project is essential to success. It's better, and cheaper, to take the time to do it right, than to take the time to do it over. While this column was tailored to new site development projects, you can modify it to apply to updating existing sites.
Review the site and determine how you would really like to structure it, and how you would like to market it. Then back up and take into account the Web development costs, and the impact of changing a Web site that the search engine has already learned quite a bit about (not something to be taken lightly). You will likely need to make some compromises based on these factors, but you will still be better off for knowing the optimal structure before you start.