Don’t Hire a Butcher to do a Baker’s Job – Part 2

Many firms claim to “do SEO” as I pointed out in last week’s controversial column (“Don’t Hire a Butcher to do a Baker’s Job“). Needless to say, it generated quite a bit of interest among readers. Many firms have added SEO to their service offerings while having few — if any — actual SEOs on staff. Or, companies try to keep SEO in-house, perhaps by claiming that their IT team has “got it covered.”

Most of the comments I received about the column were positive and supported much of what I had to say. However, one opinion that made its way to my inbox led me to believe that I needed to dig a little deeper on this topic.

Here’s the opinion of one reader who didn’t exactly agree with me:

What a ridiculously arrogant article. The author claims that SEOs “write copy, fix technical issues, create information architectures…the list goes on and on for every method/tactic that we could explore during the course of a SEO engagement.” — in other words the do the job of many, however in his opinion it is not possible for Web designers to design a SEO’d Web site? Bless him, he’s obviously lost work to a design agency and feels bitter about it.

First, to address the “arrogant” topic: if I were arrogant, I wouldn’t even be publishing this differing opinion. I would’ve simply written this reader off as “an idiot” (perhaps as I had described some of the “so-called” SEOs last week).

Instead, I e-mailed the reader, asked for permission to publish the e-mail, and even gave this person an opportunity to revise the remarks. I would’ve also printed the reader’s name if I had received a reply, but I didn’t, which is why I’m publishing without mentioning the reader’s name.

Secondly, I never mentioned that it’s “not possible” for Web designers to design a SEO friendly Web site. I said that it’s very rare to find a competent Web design firm that also staffs up adequately for SEO, “gets it,” and has a process in place to fully manage a SEO project.

Here are common things that I’ve noticed when I come in behind a Web site that has recently been redesigned, with little thought of SEO:

  • How much research went into the creation of the Information Architecture?

  • Did the Web design firm do any amount of keyword research to determine the words of focus?
  • Was there an in-depth competitive analysis to determine the elements that may be required to compete against these given keywords?
  • Was there any consideration given to any legacy pages, and maintaining their presence within the new information architecture?
  • Was there any consideration as to a content strategy for the addition of new pages (blogs, FAQs, forums, etc.)?
  • How much “say” did SEO have in the design process?
  • Did the design allow for header tags? (H1-H6)
  • Is the navigation text? Often times, navigation will end up in an image, Flash, or JavaScript. I’ve actually seen some pretty dramatic results for Web sites when I’ve done little more than replace JavaScript navigation with a CSS/text-based alternative.
  • Did the design allow for enough content for each page? Typical of many e-commerce Web sites that we’ve worked on (not designed…SEO’d), there will be a high image to text ratio (meaning that there are a ton of images and not enough content). With a little thought in the design process, you can allow for content blocks. If you operate an e-commerce Web site, remember Section 508 compliance. Text is where it’s at. Believe it or not, text is actually good for usability. People like to read reviews of products, descriptions of products, etc.
  • Development phase of the redesigned Web site.
  • What content management system did you elect to use? Some of the most expensive content management systems are horrible for SEO. Be sure to check other Web sites that are running on a given platform and see an example of that site having solid rankings (for internal pages, too).
  • What is your naming convention for your pages?
  • What is the directory structure?
  • What is the URL structure? It’s been said many times, but you should try to keep dynamic parameters (such as a question mark, an equals sign, or an ampersand) to a minimum.
  • Launching the Web site.
  • Hopefully, in the creation of the new information architecture, you managed to keep many of the pages from the old site (content). Now, we need to make sure that these pages are correctly redirected to the new URL structure. Use a permanent 301 redirect to pass any of your built “authority” in the search engines to the new pages/URLs.

Mind you, this isn’t everything involved in creating a search engine “friendly” Web design. These are some of the highlights.

Now, this does not mean that you’ve even “scratched the scratch of the scratch” in terms of actually performing SEO. We haven’t discussed how to write SEO friendly Web copy, placement/density of the keywords within a given page, keyword themes, internal linking, external linking, sitemaps, nor the continual monitoring/optimization of efforts over time.

SEO is not a “one and done” proposition. It’s not “we built a search engine friendly Web site, so it’s optimized.” Certainly, building a search engine friendly Web site is the foundation by which any amount of success can be achieved. But, it’s been my experience that most — not all — Web site design firms can’t even get this part of the equation right.

Of course, that’s just my arrogant opinion.

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