SEO and the web designer

There are two problems relating to search engine optimisation when it comes to new website design, in my experience. The first is that SEO is not given enough consideration at the start of the process. The second is that many website design agencies still don’t seem to have much clue about the basics of SEO. Sadly, as the person in charge of getting your company’s shiny new website up and running, it’s going to be down to you to raise the relevant issues early on in the project. Never assume the designers have it all in hand.

It’s almost certain that if you’re rebuilding your company’s website, you’ll be offered a nice modern content management system. These usually take care of a lot of SEO issues, which is why so many website designers have got away with conveniently ignoring the subject. So your system will probably have nice facilities for writing titles and description meta tags for each page, and will probably create nice web page addresses with keywords in them. Make certain that’s the case, for sure. But there’s much more to SEO than that.

Search should be considered at the very earliest planning stage. Search is just a reflection of how your customers think. As I’ve remarked before, it’s amazing how many companies claim to be “customer focused” and then design their website around internal politics. If blue widgets form 50% of your company’s turnover, red widgets another 40%, and cheeseburgers the remaining 10%, why does your website spend ages discussing how the company is split into a Widget Division and a Cheeseburger Division, and giving them equal prominence? When it comes to SEO, you’ll be asked why you’re not getting great positions for “blue widgets” and “red widgets”, so those are the items which should dominate the home page and the menus. Think search from the moment you start sketching out the structure of the website.

At the other end of the project comes the item which almost every web design agency I’ve ever come across seems to conveniently ignore: the redirection of the old site. Time and time again, companies launch a new website and are horrified to see their Google traffic plummet overnight. Panic sets in. The new site is blamed for somehow not being “Google friendly”. But what’s happened is that nobody set up “redirects” for all those web page addresses which made up the old site. Google now has hundreds of broken links. When customers click on them, they’re at best taken to a “page not found” message. Google quickly drops them from its index. Sure, it will gradually start to add the new site’s pages. But what is the “currency” of Google, the thing which makes one page rank higher than another in the results? That’s right, the links to that page. And suddenly, all the links from external sites are pointing to pages which no longer exist. So the new site’s pages drift into the Google index, but without all the links which pages on the old site had built up over the years. There are simple procedures for overcoming all this, based around what are called “301 redirects”. If your web design company doesn’t mention things like that from the start, or (even worse) doesn’t even know what they are when you bring up the subject, then do not sign that contract.

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