Too often, search engine optimization (SEO) is an afterthought during the website design process. Website design and SEO may go hand-in-hand, but other priorities, like site structure, copy, and creative elements, often take precedence.
Many businesses don’t focus on SEO at all, either due to a lack of understanding or because of time and labor constraints. Some businesses have a website but rarely update it. Some businesses don’t even have a website.
Brands and agencies will spend $79.27 billion on SEO by 2020.
While it’s good news that most businesses are focusing on SEO these days, it’s also a double-edged sword. With so many businesses competing for the first page of search results, only the best and brightest will make the cut.
To learn why building an SEO plan should come first when designing a website, check out the rest of this article.
How Do You “Do SEO?”
Unfortunately, ranking in search results isn’t something you can accomplish over a long weekend. There’s no magic bullet to get you to the top of page 1 on Google (unless you pay for Google AdWords).
But if you start your web design process with SEO, you’ll have a better chance of achieving optimal rankings with consistent quality content with optimization in mind.
If you start out optimized, most importantly, you won’t have to fix potential mistakes later on, either.
SEO is a multi-pronged process that involves the following elements:
- Your Domain (age, authority, trust)
- Hosting (speed, performance, security)
- Content Management Systems (CMS)
- Website design & development
- Website analysis (regular maintenance & update)
- Content (relevant thought leader content, content, content)
- Backlinks (quality over quantity)
- Keywords (perpetual research and update)
Everything you do with your website, from the domain name to your hosting provider, will affect your rank in search engines.
Here is a breakdown of all these elements and how to use them in your plan:
Your domain needs to relate to what your business does. It cannot be random. You may have additional domains or subdomains that must also relate to your business and the purpose of the specific domain.
Choose your domain name carefully. If you decide to migrate to a new domain later, you could sabotage the SEO you’ve built up over time.
Typically, only fast websites appear in top search results. This is what makes your hosting situation so crucial. If you’re using a host who provides slow service, it will impact your SEO.
If your website is slow, it could be that you need to purchase more server resources, move to a different type of hosting environment (such as a virtual private server) or change hosting providers completely.
There’s a reason WordPress now powers 30% of the websites on the internet.
Not every content management system will give you the tools you need to optimize your site for search. “Drag and drop” website builders are easy to use, but they don’t allow for much customization.
You may not have access to third-party software that can help you optimize your site, either.
Before deciding on a content management system, compare your options and select the one that gives you the most options for optimization.
Website design and development are similar, but development typically refers to the technical side of the process. During web development, there are a few best practices to follow if you want your site to be SEO-friendly.
The bulk of the content of your site should be text-based. You’ll be able to use images extensively, but it’s text that search engines crawl to present your pages in search results.
The backend of your website should also be text-based. Don’t rely on Flash or other dated technologies.
The entirety of your domain must be easy to crawl. You can help search engines crawl your site by setting up an internal linking structure that makes sense. Most businesses accomplish this with a primary navigation menu and tools like XML sitemaps.
Although it should be a part of your initial website design process, SEO is an ongoing activity. Every page you upload will need to be optimized. You’ll also need to monitor your website traffic to identify opportunities and mistakes.
There are hundreds of website analysis tools that can help you accomplish this. Some a free, like Google Search Console, but many of the best options are proprietary.
You can also work with a marketing agency to get access to comprehensive analysis tools.
Monitor your website and rankings from the moment your website launches.
Content should be at the core of your SEO strategy. Content typically refers to text. But that doesn’t just refer to text in the backend.
Anytime you read a blog post or a description on a webpage, that’s content that can be crawled by search engines. A general rule many marketers follow is to ensure each page has at least 300 words.
This isn’t a strict rule, but it does reflect the importance of content to SEO.
In addition to on-page content, you’ll need to populate certain SEO attributes. Fill the following SEO attributes to do blog post and website page optimization properly:
- Canonical URL
- Title Tag
- H1 Tag
- Image Alt Tag
- Meta Description
All your content and SEO attributes should be optimized for short and long-tail keywords, if possible.
Keywords are perhaps the most discussed part of the SEO practice in the process of website design. If you’re launching your first website, you’re going to have a hard time ranking for high-value keywords.
For example, if you sell SaaS to other businesses, you’ll want to rank #1 for the keyword “B2B SaaS Software.” But chances are, thousands of other businesses are trying to rank for that keyword. Many of them may have had years to develop a content strategy to do just that.
Instead, identify relevant, low-competition keywords, like long-tail keywords, and optimize your pages for them. You can create pieces of long-form content for the shorter, high-value keywords, then link your blog posts to them.
Create a running list of high-value and long-tail keywords, then organize them into clusters to create a content map.
Ranking for the keywords you want may take time (years, in some cases). But you can gain traction with consistency and through other SEO tactics.
Internal, External, and Inbound Links
Within the SEO community, it’s widely accepted that linking is essential to rank in search results.
Internal links help to spread page authority to other locations on your domain. In order to implement a topic and keyword cluster strategy, you’ll need to link internally from subtopic pages to core topic pages.
External links are when you link to someone else’s domain. They’re an important tool for citing sources or for providing a backlink as part of an affiliate program. However, you can also link externally to provide your visitors with additional resources, like third-party web-based tools.
Inbound links, or backlinks, are the most important links for your SEO strategy. The best way to obtain them is to publish quality content consistently. This will make other webmasters want to link to your pages.
However, you can form partnerships with other websites to provide backlinks in exchange for guest blog posts or other assets.
When search engines find a backlink, it shows them that your domain is a trusted resource. This contributes to your website’s authority. Try to implement an inbound linking strategy when you first start developing your site.
How Do You Build a Website Design and SEO Plan?
During the initial phase of your website’s design, you’ll likely create a map of how you want your website to be structured. Some teams do this on a whiteboard or with index cards.
This is the perfect opportunity to combine website design and SEO into an actionable plan.
For example, instead of just labeling each index card with what page it represents, include all the keywords you intend each page to rank for. Build clusters with high-level keywords representing core pages and long-tail keywords representing blog posts.
Ensure all the blog posts link to their related core keywords.
If, like many businesses, you’ve already published your website, don’t panic. You can do SEO retroactively. But you may need some help if you don’t know where to start.
Get a free, no-obligation SEO audit and report for your website from Radcrafters. If you’re just starting your website project, we can help you work toward your SEO goals from the very beginning.