Preparing a Website for SEO Success

Posted October 20th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

Building a website and wanting it to be found and indexed by search engines, like most things in life, requires a little preparation. In this article I will offer some suggestions on what developers need to consider and do. I’ll also offer some suggestions for the site’s owner/client. Getting to the top of Google, for instance, isn’t as difficult as, say, swimming the English Channel, and is really quite doable, but it won’t happen by itself. The developer needs to make sure the site is designed for this purpose — in addition to its primary roles — and the client needs to give it a little push in the right direction. In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t involve unethical or underhanded practices, nor does it involve magic or a small fortune. Preparation, sound practices, and a little dedication to the cause is all that’s required.

Advance Planning

Developers: Talk to your clients as you need to understand what they want, how they want it, and how they would like the content organized. Get a feel for the client’s needs. Ask them to provide a list of keywords and phrases, not for the purpose of populating meta data (though they will be used in this capacity as well), but more for the purpose of defining how the client wants his or her site to be found. Ask them what they feel potential visitors will be typing into search fields. Learn who the competition is and study their sites and how they’re found by their clients. Not for the purpose of copying anything, but to find out what you need to beat.

Clients: Be creative yet thoughtful. Provide keywords and phrases that aren’t out of this world and so unique they’ll never be searched for. Don’t expect potential visitors to type in complex search strings. Keep it simple. Know your competition and how they are found. The competition will define the battlefield. They were, after all, there before you. You can try to think outside of these parameters, but in doing so you may end up trying to reinvent a metaphorical wheel that’s already rolling nicely. Not to say you can’t add something to the picture or bring something new and unique to the table, but you have to make sure your logic will be accepted by the established mainstream. Making yourself too unique may leave you alone on the web. Oh, and listen to and heed the advice of your chosen web developer. While it’s true you know your business better than they do, the developer has a much better understanding of the medium. It’s really a team effort.

Construction Techniques

Developers: If you don’t know how to make accessible websites, learn now. Monkeying around with a site laid out with tables and serving up un-backed Flash content is like shooting your client in the foot — which means you’re shooting yourself in the foot, too. Break down those barriers. Just so you don’t misunderstand me, though, don’t make the site accessible for SEO reasons; it’s just a benefit you need to be aware of and certainly a big part of this article. Enjoy the fact. Making your site accessible, partly by simply thinking in those terms and writing it to modern standards, will offer numerous natural SEO benefits. Moreover, you will make the site easier to use for everyone. The experience will be more enjoyable. Additionally, you may very well open up new markets you or your client hadn’t previously considered or even knew existed. Did you realize, for example, how many dyslexics are out there? They need and buy stuff, too, you know. Your client may very well realize gains they hadn’t considered. If your client balks at the idea of spending extra money on this stuff, here are ten reasons they should follow your advice.

For accessibility purposes, provided you offer jump or skip links, the ordering of your content is irrelevant. But for SEO reasons, try to place content before the navigation to make the job of those really cool indexing search spiders easier. Also try to make your content telling using appropriate and well-defined terminology. Remember those keywords and search phrases? In the content is where they really need to be; but these terms need to be readable and natural. I’m not talking about stringing a bunch of keywords together. Make it natural and readable. Also, while creativity is nice, such elements as headings should state their purpose clearly as well. Again, not just for SEO, but for accessibility as doing so is also a benefit to certain users. Doing what I’ve mentioned thus far will put you and your client well down the road to success.

Clients: You’ve hopefully been scouring the web looking at your competitors’ sites to get ideas and see what you’re up against. You’ve probably seen some cool stuff. And you may equate that cool stuff to success. This isn’t necessarily true though. Don’t be sucked in to providing too many bells and whistles. First of all your competitors may have enjoyed success long before they developed an Internet presence and some of their perceived Internet success is carried over from that. Nothing more, nothing less. They may also not be as successful as their sites will lead you to believe or as successful as they could be. You may have done Internet searches to see who’s listed by what, but do know that your number one competitors may not be on top because they deserve to be, but simply because there’s nothing better out there and over time they’ve gained position. This is your opportunity to crush them like ants and take their top-spot away from them. And while it’ll take time for you, too, it won’t take nearly as long.

Having the best site in your industry isn’t as tough as it may sound. Listen to your developer, though, assuming he or she knows what they’re doing and will employ the steps I’m describing herein. Don’t be sucked in by hype and gimmicks. If they tell you they can make you number one before knowing about your business, be suspicious… very suspicious. Ask them how they’ll make you top-dog. If they fail to respond, answer vaguely, or tell you they use email campaigns start being concerned. Do you like spam? Do you thinking hiring a spammer to make you number one is the direction you want to take? Learn about your developer, then, as I wrote, listen to them and heed their advice.

Launching the Site

Developers: Once you’ve done all the right things and you’re done with the site, you still have some stuff to do. Below are some of the final steps you’ll want to attend to to make sure all your effort will pay off:

  1. Make sure you get a PICS label for the site to make sure the site isn’t excluded anywhere. Some institutions will block access to sites that haven’t been rated and approved. This isn’t a big task, getting one is free and easy and can be done in a few minutes.
  2. Test the site to make sure it’s accessible and not broken in certain browsers. You can do this in some of the web developer forums out there. This can also serve another purpose besides getting a site review: You can help your client by making others aware of the site. But be legitimate, though. In other words, if someone reviews the site and finds a problem (something reasonable), fix it. You’re doing this for a site review, not promotional purposes. One can, however, follow the other.
  3. If the site offers good services or content, you might also want to add it to some of the social bookmarking sites as that, too, will put it into the hands of potentially interested parties. Don’t go overboard, though. Only bookmark it in relevant categories. Remember, you don’t want to be a spammer. But thoughtful sharing is a positive thing.
  4. Submit the site to search engines. This isn’t really needed if the search tool is worth a damn, but it can speed up the natural process of having the site indexed.
  5. Put the site in your portfolio. This assumes two things, though. First it should be okay with your client. Second, you need to make sure the site will be well-maintained and not prove to be a poor representative of your skills or an embarrassment to you in three month’s time.
  6. Speaking of maintaining the site, talk to your clients about this. First offer to be the maintainer. If you are all will stay right. But if not, offer some free consultation; explain the importance of keeping the site in tip-top condition — it’s frustrating to witness your masterpiece go to hell in a hand basket. Make yourself available for periodic reviews or audits and make sure your clients know this and that you have their best interests in mind.

Clients: Once the site is launched you need to promote it vigorously. You need to make sure the developer has followed the steps outlined above, but the ball’s really in your court now. It’s your site, after all. Here’s some of what you can do:

  1. Advertise your site. I don’t mean spend a fortune on it, but do spend a little. You want the site to gain immediate attention. A few months of paid advertising can do wonders.
  2. Seek free press and you’ll likely find it. Local newspapers, radio, and television, and trade publications relative to your industry will more than likely be willing to add a blurb about the launch of your new site. You’ll probably have to ask, though. It’s unlikely they’ll approach you. If it’s accessible, be sure to tell the world. That’s good press — and may be the law soon enough if it’s not already in your country. Doing it before it’s mandated will likely be viewed in very a positive light by the public — but time is running out if you want to get a jump on this.
  3. If you have suppliers, ask them to link to your site from theirs. In most cases you won’t even have to link back, but reciprocating may be a good thing anyway in case your visitors need more detailed information about any supplier in particular. Same thing applies to anyone in your industry. Ask them to promote your new site and link to it. In-bound links are a really good thing. The Internet is like a vast ocean; your site an island. And the higher its profile, the more likely it’ll be seen in the distance.
  4. Get your customers to link to it, talk about it, and share your new site with others. The best way to do this is providing stellar content worth talking about and referring to. And keep this content updated and fresh. Give them a reason to come back. And if you can, offer bookmarking functions, an RSS feed or feeds so visitors can subscribe to your site, and maybe even an email subscription service or online newsletter. You’ll have to pay your developer to add unobtrusive but beneficial features, but just because the web isn’t expensive, it doesn’t mean it’s a free ride either. Spend some money to make some money. Don’t get cheap or think it’s not worth your while. Remember the dot-com bubble burst? Too many people thought of the Internet as a marketing whore that required no attention or effort. They were wrong. Attend to your online presence just as you do with other “important” facets of you business.
  5. Keep up the quality. Don’t let your site rot or start falling apart. Learn how to keep up the content and do it right. Continue to speak in its existing voice. Don’t change it up. Do consider employing your developer, if they are agreeable, to maintain your site. Nobody can do it better and once the construction is done, maintaining it is rather easy and should be fairly inexpensive. If you want to maintain the site in-house, by all means do so, but at the least arrange with your developer an audit now and then to confirm you’re doing well with the task.

In Closing

I want to say it’s as simple as that so I think I will. Hopefully I didn’t leave out some critical point. Don’t be afraid to share, though. Lend me some of your insights as to what’s worked for you — whether you’re a developer or a client. Should anything be added to this article?

5 Responses to: “Preparing a Website for SEO Success”

  1. Blair Millen responds:
    Posted: October 20th, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Spot on with your advice Mike. I particularly like advice for clients to follow after the site launch. A nice article to point my clients to.

  2. Jermayn Parker responds:
    Posted: October 29th, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Thanks for that insightful article which I will definatly use for me as the devolper and my clients. This will help me a lot. Thanks again.

  3. Clients please read - JP2 Designs - Web and Print Development - Perth, Western Australia responds:
    Posted: October 29th, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    […] This next article is a list and procedure of what to do for you the client and also what my job is as the web developer. It gives three specific areas on what we can do to make sure not only do we get the job done in a succesful way but also that we gain the best outcome for your website. The three areas are: […]

  4. Arjan Eising » Preparing a Web site for success responds:
    Posted: November 1st, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    […] What is needed for that? That question is the red line thorough Mike’s article about preparing a Website for SEO success. The focus is not only on the developer, but also on the client himself. Getting to the top of Google, for instance, isn’t as difficult as, say, swimming the English Channel, and is really quite doable, but it won’t happen by itself. […]

  5. john beck responds:
    Posted: November 7th, 2006 at 12:28 am

    I have heard it many peoples that many people have made a SEO site in order to its own success but what’s this “making a site for SEO success” did’nt get it ionce although but i suspect it can has measured a tiny issue which is just a beginning.

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