SEO Considerations When Redesigning a Website

If you have a website development or redevelopment project in your strategic plans for 2011, don’t ignore your search engine optimization initiatives (SEO) until after the site is launched, or more accurately, relaunched. Reviewing your SEO priorities now will help save time and money in the near-term, and help your organization build a sound search referral future over the long-term.

Because large online organizations usually assemble a redesign team, it’s important that SEO-related priorities be well represented during the decision-making process. For example, all SEO attributes should have bulk upload capabilities built into the CMS administrative functionality of the redesigned website, but each SEO attribute should be readily editable for customization and tweaking.

Actionable Insight #1:
Link building starts with your website’s navigation and internal linking constructs so make sure your architecture has a solid SEO footing by:

  • Building a consistent, hierarchical navigation path so search engine spiders can efficiently crawl the website.
  • Using non-appended, non-session identified URI patterns that appear to be static (not dynamic) in nature.
  • Using keyword rich anchor text in your website’s navigation.
  • Providing efficient crawls paths from XML Sitemaps and HTML Sitemaps.

Actionable Insight #2:
Content optimal templates should include, but aren’t limited to the following SEO attributes:

  • Title Tags: The title tag of every page should begin with a uniquely optimal keyword phrase and end with a consistent branding construct. The words at the beginning of the title tag have more prominence and weight than the words at the end. The target length for title tags should be 65 characters (with spaces). The major engines recognize and index title tags beyond 120 characters, but only 65 characters are visible in the search results. Title tags should be programmatically generated, but must be editable.
  • Heading tags: Second to the title tag, the <H1> heading tag is the most prominent location to accentuate your keyword themes. There should be only one <H1> heading tag built into each template, and like the title tag, it should begin with the optimal keyword phrase. Additional <H2-H6> tags should be built into all page templates as necessary to help complement the targeted theme of each page. Unlike <H1> tags, there can be more than one <H2-H6> tags on each page. Heading tag content should be programmatically generated, but, again, must be editable if a little tweaking is required.
  • Body copy: Category and subcategory page templates should readily allow for the inclusion of editable introductory copy and anchor text links within the copy. Body copy should consist of at least three sentences with a minimum of 150 words.
  • Meta descriptions: The meta description won’t improve rankings in the search engines. They can, however, increase the likelihood of users clicking on indexed results. Meta descriptions should be unique to each page and should contain no more than 265 characters. Typically, however, only the first 150 characters (including spaces) are displayed in the search engine results pages, so the meta description should include the relevant keyword phrases and end with a call to action.
  • Meta keywords: Google and Bing pay no attention to meta keywords. Yahoo only reviews meta keywords for semantically latent misspellings (and that’s not going to matter very much now that Bing  is supplying Yahoo’s web search results in the US and Canada). Your CMS should be capable of programmatically inserting three or four keywords per page, ensuring that the words are pulled from the page yet editable if need. If that’s not possible, don’t bother producing keywords at all – leave your met keywords blank. Build the functionality into the site, in case search engines adjust their use of meta keywords, but don’t make meta keywords a critical part of your redesign strategy.

Actionable Insight #3:

Ensure your website is sending clear contextual signals to the search engines for interactive and rich media, too.

  • Images & Alternative attributes: Keyword-rich alt attributes for all graphics and product images should be baked into each page template and the image file directory structure. Images should also be designed to allow for annotation around pictures or graphics.
  • Reviews and user-generated content (UGC): Product reviews can be provided by a third party service and can be made optimal to contribute to user-generated content refreshes. Problems abound at start-up when thousands of blank review pages are created. Once you’ve determined which review service your site will use, you can bake in a process for producing optimal results from reviews later. User-generated content can also be generated in a search optimal manner from forums, blog posts, articles, etc.
  • Videos: If videos are provided, follow conventional title tag and meta data standards as already outlined. Embed one video per page and organize video content around complementary structural hierarchies. You can syndicate the video content via MRSS feeds and leverage XML Sitemaps for video when the website is relaunched.
  • Social media: You’ll want to have the ability to add “Share on Facebook” or “Tweet This” buttons at some stage of the game. Right now, it’s important that any add-on features work with a variety of social media venues and can be readily added to your site design.

When you can build these programmatic, yet flexible SEO attributes into your new website’s templates and combine them with static-looking URLs and a hierarchical navigational structure, you will be designing, or redesigning, a very bright search engine future for your online business.