An SEO Timeline for Development Projects

If you’ve ever worked on a development project from start to finish, and you don’t operate on a fully integrated design, development, and digital marketing team, then you may be familiar with the struggle of prioritizing which SEO steps should be taken when.

Full disclosure, this list does not detail how to complete each step in this process. Instead use this as a guide to keep the SEO arm of development on track so that nothing gets left behind because it was forgotten or *cringe* “we don’t have time for that.”

Pre-Development

Before development begins you should start discussions about site architecture, technical SEO, such as the need for HTTPS, and defining project goals. Your initial work should lay out like this.

  • If you’re redeveloping your site, crawl the old site and complete a site performance analysis. This provides a baseline that you can compare to after the new site launches.
  • Talk to the content team (your designers, copywriters, and site owners) about a new site structure. SEO fundamentals are dictated by your content decisions, so you need to get everyone on the same page about what pages are staying, going, or being added to the site. Users persona development can help your team understand how each piece of the site is meant to serve its users.
  • Your site structure should help you build a sitemap that the meets your content goals and establishes a strong user flow. Just be aware that you’ll likely revise the sitemap more than once during the development process, and that’s OK.
  • Once you have an understanding of the new content direction, determine if you’ll be sticking with the current keyword strategy or revising it to connect with different site users or goals. If you need a keyword strategy overhaul, you’ll want to carve out time for this during the development process.
  • Determine any gaps in knowledge among your team as it pertains to technical SEO – if your team is creating a custom CMS, make sure URLs don’t cause duplicate content, or ensure the right canonicals are in place so you don’t get dinged. If your team is using WordPress to build the site, make sure they know which plugins are needed to manage on-page SEO like title tags and meta descriptions. I’d also recommend creating a list of redirects you think you’ll need during this stage of the process. It may feel too early, but thinking ahead is the best way to ensure nothing is forgotten when it’s time to launch. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to make this process easier.

During Development

During development, spend time with your team to understand what challenges they may be facing or what project roadmap changes may occur during the process. You want to ensure there aren’t any surprises in terms of change of project scope or priorities that impact where you need to focus your efforts during development.

For example, maybe your time is best spent ensuring the technical setup goes as planned. Alternatively, you may need to focus your time on a post-launch content strategy if organic traffic is the primary means of attracting conversion-ready visitors to the site.

  • Revisit your keyword analysis. If you need to come up with a new strategy, now is the time to do it and ensure your thoughts are integrated into any existing or new content that is created. Spoiler alert: I bet you’ll realize you need a page you didn’t think you’d need before when you complete this step.
  • Create a post-launch strategy. Understand the site goals and needs after it goes to market. Determine the plan for driving traffic and conversions during the first several months after launch. If you’re launching to a new domain or you’re concerned about initial traffic dips after a launch, consider paid media to keep traffic flowing.
  • You may also want to make sure technical SEO requirements are in place so you catch anything that should be changed well before the launch.
  • Measurement is a key component of any Web project, but it’s often the last thing developers are concerned with – so it’s up to you to ensure your developers are building the site to be thoroughly measured. If you can identify analytics data such as scroll depth or CTA clicks to track post-launch and you can set up tracking code with Google Tag Manager ahead of time, do it.
  • Be your own data Quality Assurance. If you notice that a sign-up form is being coded as a single-page experience when you know that you’ll need to track users who may fall out of the funnel, suggest splitting the process into multiple steps. You can set up tracking later, or you can speak up early before you become a roadblock for the rest of your team.

Project Launch

When it’s time to launch the project, hopefully you’re able to relax a bit by using this time to double check things, rather than looking at things for the first time.

  • Review that technical SEO checklist again.
  • Set up tracking for buttons, scroll depth, or goals if you weren’t able to do so before the site launch.
  • Crawl your site to check for 404s or any faulty redirects and fix the issues you find as soon as possible.

Post Launch

We’re never really “done” when it comes to digital marketing or SEO. After a project launches it’s time to verify whether or not your assumptions or new strategies work and make adjustments accordingly.

  • Monitor your data and compare it to your baseline metrics. This information should help you determine how you can improve the user experience and positively impact conversions.
  • Implement your post-launch strategy, whether than means building up site content through blog posts, launching paid media campaigns to draw traffic, or building out a marketing automation strategy. Every step of the way, make sure you’re using a variety of tools to gain user and data-driven feedback to improve your campaigns. Tools like UserTesting.com, HotJar (Note: this is still in Beta), and Google Analytics can help you gain this information.

Summary

Thinking ahead during the development process and staying connected with the rest of your team is always the best advice when it comes to making sure none of a website’s SEO needs fall through the cracks. What are your struggles or tried and true steps when it comes to ensuring SEO is smoothly integrated into development?

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