Too often, we see brands planning major website changes without considering performance marketing implications until it’s too late. Whether tackling a rebrand and site redesign, new site launch, acquisition, replatforming, or domain migration, this blog series will help you consider the right components of digital marketing at the right time to maximize performance and returns from your new website.
In the previous post, we outlined what performance marketing aspects to incorporate into your website projects, and when during the timeline to address them. Now, it’s time to dive into some of the specifics. In this post, we’ll focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) considerations for website projects, and give you an idea of what to expect while working with an SEO expert.
Why SEO is important—right from the start
It’s important to be thinking about SEO from the beginning of your website project. Do not treat it like an afterthought, otherwise there are consequences! You can lose a lot of organic traffic if you’re doing a website redesign, rebranding, or acquisition without considering SEO. A website without it is essentially like moving a restaurant, but not telling the customers and ending up with a bunch of empty tables. A healthy B2B site generally sees well over 50% of its traffic coming from organic search, while 40+% of all site traffic to an ecommerce site originates from organic search.
To further underline the importance of having an SEO expert collaborating with your web team, it’s not just about getting your site to show up in a Google search. How your site ranks plays a huge role in how well it will perform. Position #1 for any given search query gets 31.7% of all clicks. Position #2 generally gets 24.7% of clicks—and it goes down exponentially from there. The #1 result in Google has a 10x higher click-through rate (CTR) compared to the #10 result on the same page!
Performing quality SEO work before and during launch ensures your website starts off on the right foot, and helps push the domain’s authority in the right direction from the first time Google indexes it. It’s also a lot cheaper to incorporate SEO into your website strategy up-front versus having to fix it when it’s not achieving the results you were expecting later on.
What you can expect from an SEO expert
Following the high-level timeline of any website project (Discovery, Strategy, Design, Development, Deployment), here’s what you can expect an SEO expert will be addressing at each stage, and why. There are also certain things you can do internally to prepare and help streamline integration of SEO into your website (see shaded box).
Preparing for integration of SEO considerations into your website:
* Identify any existing keyword lists (i.e., what has been working)
* Define target audience/personas
* Have a full understanding of the product or service offering(s)
* Have a solid understanding of your website goals
* Get a sense of what’s happening from a PR standpoint
SEO in the Discovery phase
During this phase, an SEO expert will be working with you to learn about your desired goals and customer personas; and they’ll start getting to know the team and any other performance marketing specialists you bring in to support the web project (e.g., Analytics and Paid Media). Your SEO expert or experts and website team should get comfortable collaborating, and work together to develop a shared project timeline.
SEO in the Strategy, Design, and Development phases
During the Strategy, Design, and Development phases of a website project, SEO will be dedicated to ensuring both technical and on-site SEO are where they need to be to perform well for organic search come launch time:
- Technical SEO refers to optimizing your site for crawling and indexing. It also includes any technical process meant to improve search visibility. Ensuring a website functions properly from a technical standpoint is easier to do while in the Development phase. Once a site launches, it can be much more difficult to fix issues! When SEO and your web developers have the opportunity to collaborate well before launch, technical issues can be addressed far more efficiently.
- On-site SEO is the practice of optimizing web page content for search engines and users. Common on-page SEO practices include optimizing title tags, content, internal links, and URLs. Waiting to optimize a site’s URL structure and internal links until after the Development phase can end up leading to more issues than it’s worth, and potentially hurt organic performance at the time of launch.
Determining the site’s information architecture (IA) is also an important part of the Development phase. An SEO expert can help you come up with a well thought out IA, which plays a vital role in how users and search bots navigate through your website and determine what content is most valuable to them.
SEO in the Deployment phase
Up until this point, all the work your SEO expert has been doing will help you achieve a very worthwhile goal: Avoiding a dip in traffic upon launch. One of the biggest indicators of a successful website launch from an SEO standpoint is if there’s little-to-no negative change in site traffic.
Right before launch, and immediately after launch, your SEO expert will be focused on your site’s technical health and will be addressing things like:
- Crawling the site’s staging area, running down a pre-launch checklist
- Measuring site speed and gauging mobile friendliness
- Double-checking the sitemap
- Establishing benchmark analytics for later comparisons
A site that’s not technically healthy can:
- Make it difficult for search engines to crawl and index your site’s URLs
- Lead to lower rankings in search results—site speed and mobile-friendliness are big ranking factors
- Create a poor user experience, resulting in site visitors bouncing from your site and not converting
SEO doesn’t end at launch!
It’s easy to become focused on getting your site ready for launch and forget all the work that needs to happen post-launch to ensure the new site is successful. Things like external linking, lots of monitoring technical health of the site, addressing 404 errors, keeping an eye on site load speed, keyword rankings, and checking backlinks to new pages.
SEO is a never-ending best practice for your website that constantly shifts depending on how people are using Google. Once you’ve successfully migrated your domain and launched your new site, the key is to focus on improving organic visibility over time. It may take a few months to see results when you’re optimizing your website against a robot, but we promise it’s a worthy endeavor that will help your business grow!
Our hope is that after reading this post on the importance of SEO, you’ll feel confident in bringing in an SEO expert from the earliest stages of your website project to help ensure your new site is as successful as possible. The next installment of this series will cover Paid Media considerations for web projects.
About the author: Jessica Baker is an SEO consultant at Apiary Digital. She has 13 years of experience and has supported major brands, including Sam’s Club, The Home Depot, Fandango, and Square.