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April 27, 2012

How to Do SEO Web Design and Development

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In a perfect world, site owners would consider SEO from the very start, before the Web design and development of the site was even a twinkle in their eye or a symbol in their code. We all know this isn’t the case, but every once and a while, we get lucky enough to build SEO in the site from the ground up, and it’s a beautiful thing.

When people think “Web design,” they often think of the look and feel of the site, the colors, the graphics, etc. From an SEO perspective, the design of the site includes that and so much more. It’s the architecture of the website that ensures it’s as search engine-friendly as possible, and it touches everything from the code to the content to the navigation and more.

Let’s have a look at what it takes to build SEO into Web design and development right from the start. In-depth commentary follows this image. (Click on the image to be taken to a downloadable PDF.)

Phase 1: Identify What Type of SEO Strategy Fits

In the first phase, the framework for the site is built. It’s through the research process that the wireframe for SEO is discovered. If possible, it’s ideal to build PPC campaigns simultaneously, since SEO and PPC are often interconnected through the content and keywords of the site.

The very first step in SEO Web design is identifying what type of site it is (B2B, ecommerce, news publishing, microsite, etc.). SEO tactics vary by type of site because people search differently depending on if they are buying a product or researching a topic and so on. (Of course, both of these behaviors can fall into one category like ecommerce, but defining what type of site first maps out the process for keyword research.)

On the PPC side, you’ll need to decide if the campaign will drive people to pages within the site using the keywords for those pages, or if there will be a designated standalone page for a particular promotion.

Deciding what type of CMS will be used in this phase is crucial to the SEO strategy as well. The content management system needs to be flexible enough to support SEO initiatives in the long-term. This includes things like full URL control, clean code, ease of use for every type of role that will touch the site, ability to make edits on the fly and apply to multiple pages as needed, and more.

Phase 2: Plan the Architecture of the Site for SEO

Next is the keyword research and planned construction of silos, or content categories, for the site. The silo planning influences the keyword research and the keyword research further refines the silos.

Ideally, the site owner first gives input on what kinds of services, topics and objectives are important. Then, keyword research is performed to support those objectives by finding out what the target audience is searching for. Once the keywords sets are defined, topics will be defined for the silos and the navigation on the site can be built out.

Next comes the layout of the site and planning the design theme. SEO objectives in the Web design phase should be considered. Figure out which program will be used for design – is it search-engine friendly? This is where you’ll consider options like HTML5 instead of Flash, and look at the construction of pages through the code so that they are set up to be easily crawled by search engine spiders.

During this phase, the content for the silos will be written with the topics that were defined in the previous phase – those topics that are driven by keyword research, business objectives and of course, providing relevant information to the target audience. In this phase, you’ll optimize the content with the keyword sets appropriate to the pages within the silos.

Phase 3: Build the Site for SEO

The SEO Web development phase is fairly straightforward. In this phase, the planning and the vision for the site should have already been approved and signed off on, and the developers should know how they will be constructing the site for SEO, so there won’t be any surprises. In short, this is the phase where Web pages will be built so the bots can crawl and index them quickly and easily, so they can present your pages to the target audience when users perform queries related to your keyword set.

During this phase, the content will be uploaded and the pages will be constructed in a search engine-friendly way, ensuring on-page optimization through the use of Meta tags, custom URLs and more. There will likely be tweaks and revisions to the design to see it through to the end product, as well as validation of the code by W3C and other tests to get all the bugs out and ensure it’s ready to be presented to the search engines.

Phase 4: Ongoing SEO

The job of SEO is never really quite finished. Once the foundation of the site is solid SEO-wise and the site is launched and running, the SEO strategy continues on. Think of it as a cycle, where the strategy is applied, results are measured and then another iteration of the strategy is applied, always ensuring the site is improving upon itself.

In the ongoing phase, the site and its SEO strategy are also complemented by other Web marketing initiatives that include:

  •  Ensuring analytics is set up and tracking progress on goals.
  •  Managing the PPC campaigns that support the site’s Web pages and content or individual promotions.
  •  Social media integration and management to build community around the brand, and to market and distribute content,
  • Conversion rate optimization to help Web pages perform even better on the site, turning traffic generated from SEO and other means into clients and/or revenue.
  • Web maintenance – tweaking content, layout, design — or whatever is needed to keep the strategy on track.

Keep in mind that many of the same principles applied in the construction of the site from the ground up can also be applied when reconstructing a site to make it search engine friendly. The process will vary slightly based on the performance of the individual site and other factors discovered in a site audit.





6 responses to “How to Do SEO Web Design and Development”

  1. Reuel writes:

    Wow this was really interesting. I never knew the importants of SEO, it was a brief subject touch in school. I’m definitely the type of person who judges the success of a site based on its aesthetics. I definitely have to focus sometime on this.

  2. Ryan writes:

    Great write up. Still to many small businesses are unaware of the process that needs to be followed when starting to build their new site. If you are planning any SEO in the future, you need to ensure that you are setting it all up in the very beginning. It is vital that you take the time to sit with your designer, and bring in an experienced SEO to ensure that you will incorporate your SEO from the beginning. I equate it to building a house. You would not lay the foundation without first talking to plumber to ensure that everything is where it needs to be.

  3. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Ryan. Working with designers who understand this is the first step, eh?

  4. Jessica Lee writes:

    @Reuel — they taught SEO at school?

  5. Patrick Bray writes:

    Great to see this – especially the summary visual. Nice one :-)

    When I’m consulting with an SEO hat on I’ll vigorously promote the importance of SEO at every stage of planning, design, build and monitoring.

    The earlier we can get in, the better the business/brand visibility we can achieve.

    I make it my business to educate all parties (UX, visual design, editorial, technical, etc, etc.)in the key aspects of SEO that they each need to bear in mind. Whilst this can be a challenge, I’m finding that people are generally open and will take on board that we are all tasked with not just performing our small piece, but that we acknowledge that we are all seeking to improve performance of the overall business online.

    (And Jessica, your eyes are missing! If you like, I’ll run a search for Jessica’s Eyes and locate them as soon as possible!)

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    Awesome, Patrick, that’s encouraging to hear teams are willing to adapt. Thanks for your comment. And yes, please find my eyes for me.



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