SEO During Website Development
For many organisations, SEO it an afterthought following their website launch. It is seen as a bolt on to a build, a marketing activity that has no relevance to a website until it is up and running. However, to truly be set up for success in SEO consideration needs to be given to SEO from the very start of the development process.
In the end web crawlers like Google are pieces of software, and getting software to play nice with other software can be tricky. Google has its own way of crawling websites so ensuring from the outset that the new website that’s being invested in meets Googles best practice requirements is critical. Spending time and money investing in a new site only to discover that search engines have a tough time crawling it can lead expensive post-launch fixes and huge drops in website traffic and revenues.
When does SEO get involved in website development?
Search engine marketing teams will have input in all main stages of a website development project:
SEO Landscape Audit
In order to understand how a website is currently performing before it gets redeveloped, a pre-build audit can be undertaken. The purpose of this it to understand the current “SEO landscape” across two main areas:
Technical setup: what SEO best practices are being followed or missed from a development perspective on the current site, is the site easy for Google to crawl and therefore rank, what changes could be made to improve on this with the new development
Content:what keywords does the content on the website allow it to rank for, what content marketing is being done, is there sufficient content to rank for the targeted keywords, is it easy for human users and spiders to navigate through and interact with
Analytics data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics give deeper insights here into how users are interacting with the website, how Google ‘sees’ the site and where there might be learnings from the current site that can be fed into the new build planning to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t being repeated.
To ensure that the new pages that are going to be set up in the new website align with the kinds of keywords that should be ranked for, keyword research should be undertaken to understand what niche and audiences the website should be trying to rank for. Often clients wonder why they can’t rank for a certain keyword only to find post-audit that they barely have any content that targets the desired keyword. Thin content means no rankings.
As part of the pre-build audit, discussions with the client about the kinds of terms that they want to rank for and an understanding of the audience that they are targeting are undertaken to serve as a guide for new page creation and informs future direction for additional content creation as part of future content marketing or SEO campaigns.
This research phase also feeds heavily into the CX/UX processes during the planning phase as the Information Architecture (IA) of the site is being prototyped and tested. Having an SEO lens over the site content structure ensures that it will not need to be completely re-worked post launch.
An SEO team will provide guidance to the developers and project managers from the outset of a project. They will be on hand to answer questions that will relate to how new website will be set up and able to rank right out of the gate. SEO’s will look at elements like page title and menu structures, SSL certificate usage, header tags, information architecture and more, all to ensure that their usage fits within SEO best practices and Google’s Guidelines.
Preventing organic traffic drops is a key consideration for the SEO team (and client) when migrating over to a new website build. SEO teams will develop a bespoke migration plan for a new website (including 301 redirection mapping) with the goal of minimising any traffic drops – without one organic traffic can drop to a tiny percentage of what it previously was within a matter of days.
Implementing tracking software is another key step in the development phase. If not already in place, insightful analytics tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics will be setup up as well as keyword tracking tools such as SEMRush or Ahrefs.
On launch date, SEO’s will be monitoring the website and crawl it using analysis software and analytics tools to ensure that search engines are picking up on the changes that have been made.
The team will then ‘inform’ Google that the new version of the site is live by submitting sitemaps to Google Search Console and if needed performing a Change of Address (domain name address that is). This is so that these changes can be picked up on right away and there isn’t a delay where Google is trying to serve old pages (that may go to error pages) which affects users ability to interact with your site and may cause ranking and traffic loss.
Continual website monitoring over the 4-6 week period following a new website setup or migration from and old to new website. The large number of changes can leave room for traffic and ranking fluctuations, so staying on top of these and being proactive about making any changes that may be required is critical. This is particularly important for websites that have a pre-existing presence in Google that is driving a lot of organic traffic, keeping on top of how the search engine is responding to these changes is key to topping off a successful development project.
Organic traffic levels and keyword rankings as well as which pages are ranking for what keywords will be monitored to see where improvements can be made. While a traffic dip isn’t a forgone conclusion with a new website, the sheer volume of changes can mean that Google can struggle to understand them all so having an experienced SEO practitioner on hand who understands how Google ranks pages is invaluable to minimising impacts on organic traffic.
Once the initial changes have settled in and there is a relatively clear picture of where the rankings and traffic levels have landed with the newly developed website, SEO teams can turn their attention to the ongoing BAU challenge of improving the organic search position of a website and their visibility in search results by growing backlinks to content, providing oversight to respond to Google's algorithm updates and optimising current content.
Search has replaced the phone book or business directory and Google is king when it comes to being found online. Not appearing in search for many businesses is akin to no existing.
Having a well-structured SEO plan and investing in ongoing ‘always on’ SEO is critical for any brand that is serious about their digital presence. With an average 51% of all website traffic coming from search, SEO plays a central role in ensuring that current and potential new customers can not only find a brand online but also arrive to the exact point of the website that they are interested in.
Unfortunately, good SEO performance doesn’t ‘just happen’ – it requires a combination of tactics over time from the very beginning of the website development process. SEO success does not happen by chance, it happens by design. Having a well thought out strategy led by a solid and up to date understanding of Google’s requirements is the only way to ensure SEO success.
Written by Kyle Douglas
SEO Manager, Revium