Get your New Website SEO Right First Time
It’s natural to make mistakes with SEO when you carry out a new website launch. Regardless of whether you are launching a site for the first time, or redesigning an existing website, technical and architectural mistakes can be costly for the long term as you really do never get a second chance to make a first impression with search engines looking to crawl, index and serve your site in response to search engine user queries.
Because search engines will always be looking to crawl your site it's important you get this right from the very beginning because as soon as the new site structure has been visited by crawlers they begin to build a new picture of what your site is about. They also start to ascertain what type of quality content is there and whether it's easy to crawl, fast loading and a good experience for users on both mobile and desktop devices. To get you off to a good beginning you should take care of some critical points.
Website Structure, Design And Trust Matter
When it comes to ranking well with Google and co. it might come as a surprise to know how much web design can impact your search performance. As SEO moves out of the black hat days, focus turns to quality content, user experience and intuitive design to compliment a solid SEO strategy. We're also now firming in the age of mobile first globally with more users accessing the web via mobile devices than desktop according to Google's Global Consumer Barometer Study.
Essentially, this means optimising your website for people first - before you start thinking about keywords and inbound links. It's an SEO philosophy you will have to get used to as well, with Google algorithms and user expectations demanding more from websites designed for humans, not search engines. It's no coincidence that Google use such frameworks as the 'Heart Framework' across their own websites to measure user happiness and user happiness is at the heart of search.
SEO has become a people business as well as a search engine crawler business and your long-term page ranking relies on a number of design elements as part of the package.
Trust factor isn't actually a design element in itself, rather the impression a user gets from the overall design and functionality of your website. Everything people see when they land on your page tells them something about your business - how professional you are, whether they can trust you with their money and what makes you stand out from the thousands of other businesses like you out there. Google have confirmed that there are some elements of sentiment analysis toward a website which contribute to how well they rank your site as a trusted sources of information and positive user experience. Bear this in mind and ensure you provide a feel-good take away for your visitors. You'll likely find if you dig into your Google Analytics content analysis there will be a large percentage of the visitors to your site who go to your 'about us' pages so use these to tell them about your brand story and add any social proof such as the number of years you have been operating or the number of people you have helped or served through your business or website.
In order to rank well in search engines you need a solid SEO strategy – and part of that means having a great web design that provides a good user-experience. If the foundations are not laid, everything you do afterwards will collapse.
Web designers often pick up on trends and there are very few unique websites out there, so if you are building or rebuilding a website, don’t concern yourself too much with the style, focus on making the site user-friendly.
Google award extra brownie points to web owners that provide a good UE to visitors. End-users will also stay on your site longer, return and follow through to purchase if they can navigate your site and easily find what they want.
And if they can’t they leave and go to your competitors. Some SEO's summise that search engines may use metrics like bounce-back rate, how long visitors stay on your site and how many pages they visit as part of your SEO ranking (NB: This has NOT been confirmed by Google). Even from a user experience and strong conversion rate optimisation perspective having a user-friendly web design with great content is a no-brainer.
What makes a good user-experience?
Any web designer knows the most aesthetically pleasing interfaces are natural and compelling. When you have a slick design that looks cool, half the job of keeping visitors onsite is done.
However, if the design does not have flow streams that guide users to relevant parts of your website, it is not usable. In which case, it doesn’t matter how good the site looks.
Not every visitor that comes to your site will land on the homepage, nor will they finish on the same product. Users come to your website looking for different things, and it is the role of web designers to create a sitemap that can be easily followed.
Flow streams should be the first consideration of a web design, even before you start thinking of information architecture and aesthetics. Sitemaps must have a clear path from any starting point, through a sales funnel, and finally to check-out.
By mapping out a path for users to follow, they are more comfortable navigating your site and more satisfied with how easy it is to find what they are looking for and make a quick, easy purchase.
Including visual elements in a web design is a given, but it is how you use the images that is important. For example, consumers like to feel they are dealing with people rather than a faceless corporation.
By including photographs of your staff, you can make a psychological connection with visitors. But don’t use images for the sake of it. If you use stock photos of models and present them as your employees, people will see right through that and you lose all credibility.
Bear in mind also, search engines won't usually index exact duplicates of images in their image index so it's a good idea to create your own unique images when launching a new website or even during business-as-usual website maintenance so you get more chance of getting the images from your site added to the index.
Remember to optimise your images though using compression or optimisation. There are lots of good tools out there to make images much smaller and much easier to download quickly for search engines. One of the biggest reasons why pages slow down is because of huge images being included in the necessaries to load the web page. Also bear in mind that images you include in an external stylesheet which is called will also be included in the whole load of the web page even if they're from another page. This could even be a web page which is no longer used but which has images included in the overall stylesheet for the site.
Less is more
Internet users want to make easy decisions. They do not want to be confused with dozens of options, flashing lights and an info-filled homepage. Keep designs as clean as possible with limited options for users to choose from.
If you’re designing a large library of pages like an eCommerce site with multiple product categories, the less is more mantra is more of a challenge. But there are still ways of making the design clean and engaging.
Remove clutter makes product pages stand out, and the sales copy should be reserved for each individual page, rather than everything piled into the landing page. Your website should read like a book, with a different part of the story on each page.
As search rankings become more crowded, online companies have to look at various ways of improving search engine standings, and web design has a huge impact on user-experience. And UE is a top priority for search engines. So it should be a top priority for you.
You need a sound website structure for search engines to do their magic and index your content - but structure is vital from a design perspective too. If your website is nice and small this isn't too difficult, but as your website grows it's vital you keep the structure easy to navigate for search bots and real-life humans. Remember too that every single element of your site is taken into consideration when it comes to search engines working out what topic your site is about. This is everything from the information architecture, to the anchors between web pages, internal links and the URLs themselves. So, take a little time to do some good sitemap mock-ups and crawl the site a few times so you can get a view of any good silos and topical elements within site sections.
Make sure navigation menus are intuitive and maintain a structure where users can get to where they want in as few clicks as possible, using internal links where needed. Google tells us in their Think With Google series that we need to identify the top tasks of our target audience and put these at the top of the site in prominent areas so it's easy for people to complete the jobs they set out to carry out when they first came to the site. Avoid overloading pages with too many different types of tasks for users to complete. If there are other important tasks you want to draw the users attention to use strong signposting to help them along their way. Common tasks could even be relevant to whole site sections so use local navigation menus to help with this if relevant. Avoid Iceberg Syndrome too where the user sees 'read more' but doesn't understand what 'more' might mean. All too often the user might not see exactly what they came to the site for and doesn't realise that the 'read more' might lead to what they came here for in the first place. The Iceberg notion comes from the user believing that what lies beneath the surface is really just more of what they already saw, which isn't always what they wanted in the first place. Be descriptive when adding signposts so your users understand where they are being led and what they can hope to achieve when they get there.
Always remember to maintain your site's strong theme throughout and keep everything in it's correct channel to flow the maximum relevance throughout your site for spiders to enjoy and learn.
Use keyword research to identify all the different ways your users might search around your niche area and understand how they might search on mobile differently. Consider the many contexts your users might find themselves in and try to pre-empt their moments of need with a 'moments map'. You'll likely find some useful tips for keyword research in our keyword research guide.
Google has incorporated page speed in its search ranking. Whilst there have been a number of algorithmic updates around speed in the past, there recent mobile speed update is a real landscape changer. Unlike the previous desktop only speed update which was a black and white slow or fast measurement, the new mobile page speed update is able to measure speed in a much more granular way so every improvement will count.
Where page speed really counts is user experience, which means you don't want to keep people waiting with a design relies too much on images or sloppy code. Consider even more, the impact of page speed when you're in a less developed country with a shaky mobile connection. Fast is the only speed when it comes to mobile devices and you should look to implement speed testing right from the very start of your project. Use tools like GTMetrix, Pingdom page speed tools, Lighthouse and Google Page Speed Insights. There are lots of other tools out there too like Web Page Test.
There's really no excuse to treat speed as a second priority when it comes to building a new website. You will even find many of the ways in which you can speed up your website really don't need to be something your developer implements either, making them relatively quick and easy (and low cost) to implement. For example, image optimisation is something which can easily be carried out simply by making images smaller or compressing images. If you are using a CMS such as WordPress there are some really handy plugins such as Smush It or Kraken.io which you can use to do this automatically for you when you upload an image to your media library. When you run your page speed tests you'll likely have a list generated in order of difficulty to optimise or in order of severity / importance.
Keep working your way through the list of actions recommended and continually look to improve your page speed. As mentioned earlier, the mobile speed update by Google means all the little improvements you make along the way could help with your rankings.
Search engines can't see how pretty your website looks - all they see is code and you can think of them like a strict teacher who doesn't tolerate bad grammar or sloppy sentence structure. Clean code makes it easier for search engines to crawl your website and index your content accurately, which is exactly what you want. Ensure there is a strong structure and separate sections with HTML5 elements along with meta headings from H1 through to H6 to break up the sections of your page as if it were a newspaper article and you wanted to emphasise the sections and topics within them.
The whole point of worrying about design from an SEO point of view is so that more people can enjoy your site, share with their friends, recommend you and come back for more - all metrics Google loves to take into consideration.
If you want everyone to be able to enjoy your website you need to make sure it works on every device and that means responsive design - so mobile, tablet and desktop users can get the most from your website.
Don’t overdo the design
The design of a website has to achieve three key principles; it must be eye-catching, easy to navigate and communicate your product in a way visitors understand and desire. How you view your web design is personal preference, so we will not go into that here. What we will say however, is that your website should function in an easy-to-use manner. Therefore, you do not need to include bells and whistles on your website that do not serve a purpose, or just because they look good. A clean, tidy design helps users find what they are looking for more readily.
You information architecture is one of the key principles to online success. If users cannot easily find information they are looking for, they will quickly become frustrated, leave your site and never return. The sitemap of your website should be one of the first things you address, even before design work has started. Choose elements that enhance user-experience not because it looks cool.
Don’t load your site with unnecessary baggage
Another important factor of a website that effects the amount of user engagement is load up speed. If your page does not appear within seconds, the would-be visitor disappears. Loading your website with flash files such as video and advertising banners will delay the load-up time of your website. You should absolutely avoid some of these technologies for mobile device users. If you're embedding images you should check that they are playable on mobile devices too and there is not an ugly error message. If the only content on your mobile web page is an ugly error message and no video that is a terrible user experience and very very thin content. Likely this would be considered a soft 404 error page by search engine crawlers. Add a transcript for the video too if you can as this will also help both search engines with context and also help users for accessibility.
As a rule of thumb, only use video when it is the best option. Don’t forget you will be adding more content on to your server as time goes by, and with video growing in importance for mobile users, your website will become heavier over time, so choose your file types carefully.
Communicating your message
The copy on your website plays a major role in conversions – which at the end of the day is the name of the game, to borrow a couple of clichés. It is essential you communicate your message. Explaining what your products and services are is a given. If you are not doing this right, don’t expect to sell anything in the first place. But online marketing requires your copy to say much more than this.
One of the most important things to establish is your credibility. You have to show prospects you have specialist knowledge in your field and that you can be trusted to deliver quality products and services.You can do this in your page content by including testimonials and FAQ’s, and also by keeping a blog. Add around half a dozen blog posts prior to launch so that newcomers have an alternative source of reference in addition to your sales pages. Also worthy of note is keeping the blog posts and evergreen content updated and current. There's nothing worse than visiting a website's blog to find that everything is out of date and is no longer accurate. Allocate time to both creating the content in the first place and then allocate as much time again to improving and updating the content on a regular basis.
Launching too early
Another common mistake is launching your website before it is ready. Yes, we know it’s exciting, but that early exuberance will be deflated if you launch your website to find it doesn’t work as intended. Not only will your users be disappointed but from a technical SEO perspective launching before everything is ready can be a disaster. Failed website migrations are all too common. Test everything and then test everything again.
Make sure all your landing pages are in place, copy is intelligently written and navigational links are in place and redirected to the right destination. If you are transferring pages from an old website, make a note of the redirects and keep track of where the new pages are. Ensure any tracking scripts such as Google Analytics are on the new website codebase. Check to ensure you have any conversion Goals from Google Adwords setup too in the page code.
Whilst working on your website or subdomain folders update the disallow field to prevent search engine crawlers indexing your website and finding a load of duplicate content or thin content. This will give you negative SEO before you even start. There are literally thousands of staging and testing sites floating around in Google Search Results (and some are very big brands too) so don't just rely on your robots.txt file to keep Google from indexing your testing or development site. Use a config file and set a password so anyone accessing is unable to view the staging site without a login.
Finally, never launch on Friday. When websites go live, they always have the odd glitch or look different to how they did in staging. This is quite normal and for the most part unavoidable.
Therefore you should give yourself some time to identify any glitches and react to feedback from users immediately. If you launch on a Friday and your customers find numerous problems over the weekend, you will be confronted with an inbox full of problems on Monday morning.
If you need help with getting your SEO right for a new website launch get in touch. We're experts in technical SEO and can help you with understanding how search engines crawl sites and understand website structures from a search engine optimisation perspective.
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