We are currently getting a lot of enquiries from both new and old clients for website redesign or a quick refresh and I thought it would be useful to relay some of our experiences and to compile a list of the common website design pitfalls from an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) point of view.
Some clients are aware that there might be SEO issues, but some are blissfully ignorant. Going live with a fresh website design without considering the SEO implications first is like building a beautiful new house with no drive, no front gate and no front door! In other words no one will find it or be able to get in when they do!
With that in mind, here are 5 top SEO killers to avoid before your web designer puts pen to paper or the website developer even lays down a single line of code.
It all starts with content; no actually it all starts with product positioning and keyword research. Check out what I mean here.
If you existing site is old, maybe it hadn’t previously been optimized properly for the right keywords.
Research the keywords that people use in the search engines to find products or services like yours, but don’t think from a product perspective – you must think in terms of the pain the searcher is trying to alleviate.
Spend time on this – you may even decide on a new domain name. Use these keywords in the text of each page of the website. But, don’t just stuff the page with keywords – the content needs to be clear, succinct and interesting to a human visitor – at the end of the day the search engines don’t buy from you – real people do! Doing this will increase both the targeted visitors to your site more quickly after going live and help with converting them to warm prospects (or even clients!)
The flip side of this is that your existing site was already well optimized and attracting traffic, you need to be really careful about what changes are made to both content and keywords. Improve the on-page content but to completely rewrite old content that was working for you is probably a mistake. We are constantly surprised how many clients decide to change their website content and key messages without even realising that it was actually pretty good at bringing in traffic.
Nevertheless, this website redesign project is a great time to work on increasing your website traffic and converting visitors into paying customers. Traffic is great but it needs to be targeted and they need to take the appropriate action. Reviewing the content and on-page design with the objective of converting more visitors into buyers is crucial but don’t let it decrease the number of visitors to the new website.
Go back to Google Analytics to review which pages perform the best and if you do find that your existing page content was bringing in search engine traffic, and was converting well, then you need to think really hard about ANY changes.
If your new content really is much better and communicates your product proposition more effectively then test it first against the existing copy. Google provide some great free tools in the Webmaster suit and Adwords – use Google’s Website Optimizer to double check the changes.
This sounds technical but it’s a really important issue and one to address with your web-designer very quickly in the web design process. Your lovely new website will probably have a new navigational structure and this will inevitably change the site architecture (how the pages link to each other). Website navigation executed through the site architecture is a major factor in determining whether pages from your website show up in the search results.
If you take a page from the old website that is currently featured in the main menu (meaning that every page of the site links to it) and then feature it less prominently within your new website, Google will not give it so much authority and its unlikely to show up so high in the SERPS (the search results) for the keywords as it once did.
Your website designer must ensure that the pages you are optimizing for (in other words your main products or services are navigated – and therefore linked to) from your main menu.
This will result in those key pages receiving the prominence and search engine ranking they deserve and will help in bringing targeted visitors to your website. If those key products are deeply buried in the new website site by bad architecture then this tells the search engines that those pages are not important and they will not show them in the search results.
If you are switching to a content management system (CMS) website design, it quite often means that the URLs from your existing site have to change. This will be to accommodate the database structure of the new system (CMS systems typically use databases – in themselves potentially an SEO problem) and its really likely that the new URL naming system will not be the same as your old one.
If this is the case with the CMS system, then your website developer will need to set up permanent ‘301’ redirects from the old URLs to the new pages. If they can’t do this, then you need to question whether the technology they have chosen is right for you. However you may be stuck with a legacy CMS and if so you should then review your Google Analytics to find the pages within your website that receive the most direct traffic from the Search Engines. List those URLS and redirect them.
Also if you can, redirect any old page URLs that have in-bound links from other sites. It’s a good idea to redirect all URLs if you can. But those that don’t receive any direct search engine traffic and don’t have any in-bound or out-bound links are less important in pure SEO terms.
Another techie one – so apologies, but title tags and H1 header tags are an important part of your SEO strategy as well. Title tags are the text that appears at the top or the browser when a page is navigated to –it should describe, uniquely the content of that page AND be keyword rich.
Also you should look to have keywords in each heading on each page – the so called H tags – as a minimum to you have a search keyword in each. One of the most common mistakes during a redesign is to inadvertently lose all the old tags.
Never go live with the new site without proper (relevant and keyword-based) title tags in place on every page – and use a different title for each page. We have seen site traffic drop off dramatically if this seemingly small detail is not addresses.
The new CMS must allow you to customize the title tags of every page as needed – if it doesn’t you shouldn’t choose it but find a technology that does. The Title tags are so important to SEO – if they are created by the CMS dynamically that OK but you still need to have a degree of editorial control – or you web developer does.
Last in my series of SEO killers is again another seemingly unimportant and technical but it its crucial in getting visitors to click through to your site. The Meta Description is the text that appears under your page title in the search engine listings. We see loads of sites where the same meta description is use for each page – this is a big mistake if you have a range of products or services on offer – you’ll communicate the wrong message to searchers on the search engines. You have about 150 characters to say what your company does (don’t forget the customer pain here) and why a searcher should visit your site. Make each Meta Description relevant to each key page you want to target to appear in the search engines.
So there we have it – 5 SEO killers to avoid in your website redesign. Spend time (and money with an SEO consultant if you have to) to address these now because getting these wrong will have a dramatic financial effect on your business. You might loose visitors and therefore business – and it’ll cost more for an SEO company to fix it all after the new website has been built.
Author Matthew Simmons