Why You Need To Plan Your SEO

This article explains why you need to implement Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for your website at the very beginning of the process for new or redesigned/rebuilt sites before you get to the build or the design stage.

I have historically, been invited to run SEO audits across various client websites post going live. Although these have proved to be eminently effective, this is, to coin a phrase, like putting the cart before the horse as it should be the first stage of the planning, pre-build.

So I thought I’d put some flesh around this conversation and explain the importance of adding SEO at the onset of website development, before code, before design, before content is generated. The practice will expedite the process of getting your website ranked so it can dominate that coveted front page of Google.
Note: I’ll use Google as the search engine example as it’s the most used by far, the processes outline are relevant across the board though.

A simple definition of SEO

It is a technical and creative process to improve the visibility of a website in search engines, with the aim of driving more visitors to it. What you should understand is how people search for things, and what kind of results Google wants to present to its users.

So what is it Google looks for when it indexes a webpage?

In short, relevance.

Google’s goal is to help each search user find the most relevant information they are looking for as quickly as possible by delivering the most relevant webpages to a user based on their search query.

Why is it so important to implement SEO at the beginning?

A website’s structure should be planned well before any code has been cut or preliminary designs drafted.
The purpose of pre-build SEO is twofold:

  1. It makes sure the site is offering what visitors are looking for, because Google is ALL about relevance and delivering a positive experience to its users. Sounds straight forward, but sadly very much overlooked.
  2. It tells the search engine robots exactly what the site is about and what the content relates to, so the indexed pages can be delivered to the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Search engines, although driven by very complex algorithms, can’t view a website the same as a human. Therefore, we should ensure that each part of the website is put in place with relevance and clarity so the search engine bots can take away a ‘positive experience’ and feedback the information which will get the website, all its pages, images, video, downloads and whatever other content ranked.

What is Online competition?

The importance of on-line competition is so misunderstood it needs an article writing all on it’s own, but that’s for another day.

Your competition is not what you think it is. High street competition is probably what you’re used to and understand, online competition are those company websites that are ranking on the first page on Google for selected/targeted Keywords and Key Phrases that you are not.

It’s ALL driven by the user, it’s what someone types into a search engine (or speaks into their phone’s search app) to find the products, services or information your competition has to offer, and this process is true for both B2C and B2B.

It’s a simple process:

  • People search for products, services or information through Google
  • The search engine results page (SERPs) delivers your competition’s website to the front page in multiple entries so it dominates the page, even more so if they are using PPC (Paid Ads)

So, can you rank better than the others?

It’s a process of stages which will flow throughout the whole of the planning, and it’s all based around what people are searching for in your niche/space.

At this point it’s worth outlining a quick overview of a webpage. An optimised web page should do all the following:

  • Be relevant to a specific topic
  • Include the page subject in title tag
  • Include the page subject in the URL
  • Include the page subject in image alt text
  • Specify the subject several times throughout text content
  • Provide unique content about a given subject
  • Link back to its category page (If applicable)

All the above is supported from the keyword analysis based on the product or services you offer through the site. Once the top-level pages are established and the relevant keywords have been used throughout we can start looking at sublevel pages which drill down into the content offering more detail, this is where more specific keywords would be used.

The new website is mapped out on a spreadsheet. From the top-level pages, down to the sublevel pages, and all using relevant keywords or phrases which have been identified through your research on users and competitor research through on-line tools such as SEMRush.

These are the steps we would normally take to create the website structure.

1. Keyword analysis

Produce a full keyword/key phrase analysis based on what users would search for in your business. This produces lists of commonly used words and phrases people use to get to the end-product or service. I would use Google’s Keyword planner to filter the most commonly used words and phrases – https://adwords.google.co.uk/KeywordPlanner

2. Plan the site pages

The top-level pages will more than likely be driven by your service or product – it’s your business and you know what best describes it – usually it’s the basic “Who we are” and “What we do” – from these we can identify what the sub level pages would be. If the site requires a blog, then that would be a separate process and mapped out using a content planner and have some very strict guidelines which the site authors (or you if it’s a small site) would need to stick to.

The structure of the page will be determined in the spreadsheet from the page URL, the page title, the Headers H1, H2, H3 etc, the page content, any anchor text with links, outbound URL’s, and additional content such as images with Alt Tags.

All this content will be based around the keyword research and seeded throughout the site’s pages.

Throughout this process of development, you will be working with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These are the rules that Google created to give everyone a ‘heads up’ as to what they insist should be done if you want your website to be index and ranked within their system. If we don’t adhere to them we don’t stand much of a chance getting anywhere near that coveted front page, let alone above the fold. And we should always assume the competition is using them too.

You can read more on Google’s webmaster guidelines here

3. The competition

I touched briefly on what online competition is earlier. Those companies in the same market as you, but ranking on the top of the front page of Google. If you already have a live site, and are planning to redesign and build, then these competitor sites need to be examined closely to ascertain what it is that’s ranking them in front of you.

As mentioned before I use a tool called SEMRush

This software allows us to look at competitor websites and find out exactly why they are ranking better. By adding competitors websites side by side we can find out what they all have in common to make them rank better (we are talking keywords here).

Then ‘repurpose’ the high performing keywords or phrases into the new site, or it might be particular competitor’s product page that’s getting traction which means further investigation to find out why it’s performing so well.

All this information is freely available to us, Google uses it to rank site, we us it to find out why they’re performing, or not in some cases.

4. Moving to design

Once the site has been mapped out it should then move into the design phase. At this stage the designers, programmers and marketers can work at determining how the content should be presented, how the menu structure will look and function. A simple thing such as positioning the company’s phone number at the top of the page can make a huge difference in customer acquisition, especially if your using Google Paid Ads to use a dynamic phone number

5. And last but not least

When the site is built, and migrated to a testing server for user acceptance we would go through the site against Google’s webmaster Guidelines and run it through a simple check list such as the next section.

This is direct from the Google Blog:

Although the following questions relate to article sites the principle works the same for any website. You should use this as a guide to test the relevance of your site audit.

There is a wealth of content on Googles do’s and don’t’s and you would be doing yourself a favour to read though a few of their articles on webmaster guidlines But here’s a brief summary of what you should be considering right now.

What counts as a high-quality site?

Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content.

The “Panda” change tackled the difficult task of algorithmically assessing website quality. Taking a step back, we wanted to explain some of the ideas and research that drive the development of our algorithms.

Below are some questions that one could use to assess the “quality” of a page or an article. These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want.

Of course, we aren’t disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don’t want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google’s mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we’ve been looking at the issue:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Writing an algorithm to assess page or site quality is a much harder task, but we hope the questions above give some insight into how we try to write algorithms that distinguish higher-quality sites from lower-quality sites.