SEO is an integral part of any website build. When designing your website it is important to understand how your website will function as this will ultimately impact the way your site is architected and created. This is a guide to help you design your site in an optimized way, following best practices for SEO optimization.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when designing a new website.
New sites are brand new sites that will be built from the ground up. There is no content that’s currently been indexed by Google and therefore has no page rankings. Other defining than proper content strategy and URL design, there are no other SEO considerations to worry about.
A site rebrand entails a current site that is being rebuilt on a new server. The site content is probably already being indexed by Google so content treatment and site redirects will need to be considered. Usually the client will want to preserve legacy domains because they already have a good Google Page ranking.
In these cases, you will want to make sure the site also uses a Site Redirect module that will 301 redirect a URL path to a target page on the new site. This way, the legacy page will remain indexed as Google will see that the legacy URL has been permanently redirected to a new page and therefore won’t incur any penalty. This also helps with users who may have bookmarked a legacy URL. Typically it is up to the client to collect a list of legacy URLs they wish to preserve then manage them in Agility using a Site Redirect shared content list.
Typically a site rebrand also entails rewriting much of the site content. It is important to remember the legacy keywords that were previously used and to make sure those keywords are reflected in the new site content in order to maintain or improve upon previous site rankings.
A site consolidation usually involves consolidating multiple domains onto one site. Usually these types of consolidations also involve site rebranding. On top of maintaining legacy URLs via 301 URL Redirects, it is important to understand how multiple domains will be consolidated. There are typically 2 scenarios regarding consolidation:
This generally occurs when a website has multiple sub-domains that they wish to consolidate onto a single site but wish for each site to maintain its own SEO identity. For sites like these, page content will need to be differentiated in order for Google to treat each domain’s content separately. For cases like these it is important to make sure content is different on each page and the content on the page is geared towards the domain in question so that they are not competing with each other for page rankings.
In cases like this, you have the option adding token replacement to their site content. This will allow you to add token variables to rich text or UGC areas which will then be replaced with a value depending on the domain that’s requesting the page. For instance, on the Home Page the client can add %COMPANYNAME% to a rich text area. A Shared Content list will tie that token to a domain (ie: www.companyx.com) and a value “Company X”, so that when the page is rendered for a user coming in on www.companyx.com, the content area will display Company X instead of %COMPANYNAME%. Beware that this type of functionality requires extra coding, so take this into consideration when designing and quoting a site and is captured in site architecture.
Language impact to SEO is often overlooked. When a site serves content in multiple languages, the site must redirect traffic to a properly language encoded URL (ie: /en-ca/home.aspx, /en-fr/home.aspx). When a site is indexed, search engines will typically start with the domain and then crawl the site from there. This means a site must have a default language that will be used for default routing. These default redirects should use a 301 redirect which will tell Google the default path is the default language path. If a user is returning to the site and has a different language cookie set, the site should use a 302 redirect to the language URL.
People wonder why 301 redirect to the default language but not 301 redirect other site languages. The reason that you use a 302 redirect on other languages is to avoid situations where a site crawl will attempt to change from the default language to another language (following language change links on the site) and therefore inadvertently changing the default language to something else. Other languages will still be indexed by Google (assuming there are html links to change languages), however you always want to have a default language for the site.
Avoid using more than 1 redirect at a time, so that a request does not get redirected more than once.
Often times, clients have dynamically generated content, whether it be a news feed, or UGC content. In these cases, Friendly URL names need to be generated in order to maintain SEO friendly. Without the use of Friendly URLs, the URL will typically look like http://www.domain.com/content.aspx?id=1234 which is not SEO friendly. Using Friendly URLs you can transform a non-descript URL into a much more SEO friendly version, like http://www.domain.com/content/seo-friendly-name.aspx . Having the page URL contain words that will be found on the page is very SERP positive. Note that page name use “-“ as a space delimiter. All page names should use this format in order to maximize SEO.
Some sites may have content that the client does not want visible on Google. These can be partner pages or could contain sensitive information. Typically these pages should be password protected so search engines cannot index them, but as an added precaution, you can use the robots.txt file to make sure these paths are not crawled.
Probably one of the most often overlooked parts to content design is targeting the keywords for your site. Without knowing who you want to target and how you plan to target them, will often lead to site content that is not optimized to your target audience.
Many people design sites without knowing how they want to target their SEO. You can have the best content layout possible but if you utilize the wrong keywords, then you will still miss your target audience.
The best practice in choosing the keyword phrases for your site is to pretend you are a customer looking for your site without knowing what your site or product is. Typically users go to Google and type in a phrase or keywords related to what they are looking for.
The best product X in Toronto
Product X reviews
The best [product x description] in Toronto
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers and you will quickly derive the keywords that you need to highlight. From there build out an information architecture diagram to more accurately layout the information you want users to find on your site.
Not only should you worry about the keywords you wish to highlight but also how to target keywords in both a general way and with a more narrow focus. For instance if you had Product X that you want people to find, but Product X isn’t a widely recognized name, not only do you want to highlight Product X but you also want to relate any descriptive words for that product. Generally people looking for an item don’t know what they’re looking for, so they use descriptive words that relate to what they are looking for.
Another important factor in SEO rankings is region. If you are selling a product or service within a particular region, like a city, town, state or even country, make sure you highlight these regions in your content layout. Matching on additional keywords will always improve your ranking, especially within a regional context.
Once you have figured out the high level site SEO requirements and the keywords you wish to target, the next most important part for SEO will be content entry. Typically search engines will look for keywords that are found throughout your content structure. It is good practice to make good use of the HTML tags to highlight keyword phrases. It is good practice to make sure your keywords are located in the URL, page title, <h#> tags, the main body and image tags. Having a keywords match in all these areas will dramatically increase your SERP score.
As a good rule of thumb, laying out content to please the end user is a great guideline for SEO. If it’s easy for an end user to read your page and quickly pick out the key phrases, then it will be even easier for Google to do it.
As stated in the Friendly URL section, you should use proper section and page names in your URL, incorporating you keywords. Use “-“ to delimit spaces and try and keep section/page names to 5 words or less.
Make sure the Page Title contains the keyword phrase you wish to highlight
Use H tags to highlight your keyword phrase. Use the H1 tag to clearly and concisely describe the main topic of the page. Don’t overuse the H1 tag.
Use <b><em><strong> tags to highlight import words or phrases. Be smart in its use and do not over use bold text on the page as it will also confuse the reader.
<img src, alt>
Try to make sure image references and ALT attributes contain your keyword phrase. Also try and use your keywords in the image file name.
On most sites you will see calls to action that utilize text like “Click Here” or “Read More”. While these are okay in some instances, links to other pages should reflect the content on the new page. Use descriptive link names that contain the keyword phrase for the page in question. Using too many “Click Here” type calls to action will diminish the importance of these links across the site.
Create an internal link structure to tie site content together. You can use any combination of link types like breadcrumbs, footer links, text links or a site map. It’s important that generated links use keyword phrases. For footer links, consider organizing links into subheadings (H2 or H3 tags) to boost SEO.