SEO efforts require forethought and planning to obtain the best results, and a business’s SEO strategy is ideally incorporated into the planning stages of a website development or redevelopment project, as well as into ongoing web development efforts. Website architecture (including the selection of a content management system, or CMS), the overall marketing plan (including branding objectives), content development efforts, and more are affected by SEO.
The Importance of Planning
However, this is not always possible—and in fact, more often than not, SEO efforts in earnest often begin well after a site has been launched and in use for some time.
Identifying the Site Development Process and Players
Before you start the SEO process, it is important to identify your target audience, your message, and how your message is relevant. There are no web design tools or programming languages that tell you these things. Your company must have an identified purpose, mission, and vision—and an accompanying voice and tone for communicating these to the outside world. Understanding these elements first helps drive successful marketing and branding efforts, whether the channel is email marketing, display, or organic search.
Your SEO team needs to be cross-functional and multidisciplinary, consisting of the team manager, the technical team, the creative team, the data and analytics team (if you have one), and the major stakeholders from marketing and website development.
The SEO team leader wants to know who the website’s target audience is. What does the marketing team know about them? How did we find them? What metrics will we use to track them? All of this is key information that should have an impact on various aspects of the project’s technical implementation. This ties in to the PR messaging presented to the media to entice them into writing and talking about it. What message do they want to deliver? You have to mirror that message in your content.
The technical, content development, and creative teams are responsible for jointly implementing the majority of an SEO strategy. Ongoing feedback is essential because the success of your strategy is determined solely by whether you’re meeting your goals. A successful SEO team understands all of these interactions and is comfortable relying on each team member to do his part, and establishing good communication among team members is essential.
SEO is a technical process, and as such, it impacts major technology choices. For example, a CMS can facilitate (or possibly undermine) your SEO strategy: some platforms do not allow you to write customized titles and meta descriptions that vary from one web page to the next, while some create hundreds (or thousands) of pages of duplicate content (not good for SEO!).
One of the most basic decisions to make about a website concerns internal linking and navigational structures, which are generally mapped out in a site architecture document. What pages are linked to from the home page? What pages are used as top-level categories that then lead site visitors to other related pages? Do pages that are relevant to each other link to each other? There are many, many aspects to determining a linking structure for a site, and it is a major usability issue because visitors make use of the links to surf around your website. For search engines, the navigation structure helps their crawlers determine what pages you consider the most important on your site, and it helps them establish the relevance of the pages on your site to specific topics.
Keyword research is a critical component of SEO. What search terms do people use when searching for products or services similar to yours? How do those terms match up with your site hierarchy? Ultimately, the logical structure of your pages should match up with the way users think about products and services like yours.
Anchor text has generally been one of the golden opportunities of internal linking, and exact-match keyword anchor text was generally the protocol for internal linking for many years. However, in these days of aggressive anchor text abuse, while keyword-infused anchor text in internal links is still often the most intuitive and user-friendly, we generally advocate for a more broad-minded approach to crafting internal anchor text. Use descriptive text in your internal links and avoid using irrelevant text such as “More” or “Click here.”