Despite what you may read, there is no magic trick when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Modern search engine algorithms aren't easily fooled. Well built websites with engaging content will always surpass one with filled with 'SEO tricks and hacks'. SEO and quality web design and development go hand in hand. Therefore, any good web designer or developer will place paramount importance on SEO factors when making decisions throughout their process, ensuring every website they contribute to is set up for SEO success.
When approaching a website redesign, it’s important to identify what factors to take into account during the build, and prepare for what needs to be consistently worked on once the site is launched. As a web agency who specialize in web design and development, we predominantly concentrate on the former (although post-launch factors come into play with regards to our own website).
Listed below are some of the major factors we take into account during the design and development of a website in order to put our clients in the best position possible for their own post-launch SEO strategy.
Title tags (should) show up on the search engine result page, and when shared on social media, as clickable links that bring users to the web page. It's an HTML element that is intended to describe the page in 50-60 characters, entice the user to click through to the page, and help search engines understand what the page is all about. With any website we build, we ensure the title tag is editable in the content management system so clients can determine the exact title that works for each page, and have the flexibility to change it as the content does.
The meta description tag is the text snippet used to summarize the content of a web page, which appears below the title (up to 160 characters). These snippets help visitors get a better sense for the content of a page before clicking to visit it. Search engines also use meta descriptions for this purpose in search engine rankings. We ensure that the meta description for each webpage we build is easily editable within the content management system. Although it’s not guaranteed that Google will use what you specify as your meta description, they mostly do.
After search engines, social media is frequently the second biggest contributor to incoming website traffic. Open graph tags allow website editors to set the title, type, image, URL and description of each webpage. When a webpage URL is shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the open graph tag is what shows up and therefore, by editing it, you can make your page more attractive for the all important click-through. We include these fields within the content management system of any website we build, enabling easy editing for each webpage’s open graph tags.
An alt tag on an image provides a text alternative for search engines. Any time you add an image to a website, it is critical to write a proper alt tag, so it can be read by a screen reader. Alt tags also give Google a better sense of what the image is, which helps direct users who are using images.google.com to your website.
Title attributes are another important accessibility item, and therefore Google takes notice. As opposed to just pasting a link onto your web page, it’s important to explain where the link is going to take a user via a text attribute.
Information architecture is often overlooked, but is a really important aspect of web design. Firstly, it allows users to easily and intuitively navigate a website and bots to crawl the site, but it also spreads link equity (ranking power) around your website. The pillar cluster model has proven to be an effective method of organizing your internal linking structure. Here is a helpful video that helps explain the pillar cluster model in more detail:
The jury is still out on whether keywords within a heading truly help improve search engine ranking, but it seems pretty coincidental if it’s not the case. If nothing else, headings break up a page nicely, act as anchors for skim readers, and are an important factor in accessibility for those using screen readers.
Google’s algorithm can seem like a mystery as it isn’t published for all to see, but it can be pretty logical. For example, in today’s mobile-oriented world, of paramount importance is your website’s responsiveness regardless of screen size or device type. If your website is developed in a non-responsive manner, it will lead to a frustrating user-experience and Google will penalize it for not being properly optimized.
Logical URL titles not only look more organized, but it is also believed that keywords in a URL title can have an impact on search engine ranking. For example, local web agencies/our competitors with either “Boston” or “web design” in their name (and therefore, URL) tend to (unfortunately) rank higher than us (Grafton Studio) on search result pages!
One way that cyber criminals try and obtain data is by intercepting it while moving from a web server to a browser. An SSL cert ensures that all data in transit is encrypted and therefore secure from anyone trying to steal it (a website with an SSL cert is accessed through https:// and a lock icon shows up in the address bar of your browser). In 2017, Google announced that websites without an SSL cert will suffer in SEO rankings. You can purchase an SSL cert with a number of providers, or enjoy a free one thanks to the folks at Let’s Encrypt. Here’s an article we wrote on setting that up.
A robot.txt file gives instructions to web bots regarding the webpages an owner doesn’t want to be ‘crawled’, like internal search results pages, .PDFs, and duplicate content (as having similar content across multiple pages can hurt your SEO), etc. A robot.txt file also tells search engines where your sitemap is located, giving the robots/spiders a clear road map of what to crawl.
Besides looking super sloppy, broken links also indicate that getting modern or relevant information is unlikely. Also, in a more technical sense, broken links prevent search engine spiders from crawling your entire site, which can have a negative effect on search engine ranking. Before going live with your new website, ensure that there are no broken links via one of the many tools available online. You can also re-check this in your Google Webmaster Console once live. Once found, a 301 redirect ensures that any users who type in an old URL, or have an old URL bookmarked, will be redirected to the new version of the page. This avoids user frustration and confusion, and also passes any SEO weight from the old URL to the new one.
Inserting a Google analytics script is a simple task, and one that should not be forgotten prior to a website launch. Having this valuable data will fuel future decision-making and help with website testing.
Google Search Console is a free web service for webmasters. It has a bunch of useful insights available, such as viewing the terms users search before clicking your website URL. As such, it is a fantastic tool to see exactly how your SEO strategy is working!
Google My Business is another great service offered by Google. Beyond setting a meta description and title, Google My Business allows you to set the images that you want to appear on SERP, set your open/close hours, and fill out additional information that Google might not have picked up while crawling (like a business phone number, etc). You can also make posts that appear on SERP.
Once launched, our clients either manage their own website content with an intuitive content management system like Craft CMS, or they bring in outside help. It is important to evaluate how best to achieve quality content for your business. It is different for everyone - some clients enjoy crafting the content themselves, others will have the benefit of a marketing or sales team that know the product and customers inside out, and others will outsource content creation to a freelance SEO/copywriting agency.
SEO can seem complex, but hopefully this checklist gets you off to the right start while building or redesigning your website. Get in touch with us if you have any questions!