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Considering SEO in Website Redevelopment

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    I think that one of the most frustrating moments an experienced SEO analyst can experience is when a website owner calls and says, “Hey, I just relaunched my site – now let’s talk SEO!”

    C’mon guys, it’s 2010 – it is time you stopped thinking about a website as a published brochure that you start thinking about ‘distributing/publishing/optimising’ after it is finished – like a printed brochure is!

    Search engine Optimising is more about website content and information structure – harmonising that with the way in which people are searching for that content.  It is less about the so-called technical task, or black-art if that’s your world-view, of preparing behind-the-scenes meta information – which is, by the way, supposed to represent that information structure.

    SEO is all about researching and preparing the fertile ground for growing and marketing a website.  It’s marketing 101, albeit in a somewhat technical environment!  You are not marketing to Google – Google is merely the broker between the customer’s search request and your snippets of content representing your product or service.

    Surely, you wouldn’t launch a marketing campaign without a marketing strategy, so why are you launching your website without an SEO strategy?

    If the client thinks the SEO strategy comes after the website is essentially finished and the web designer paid, then either the owner is insulting, albeit unintentionally, the SEO analyst as being a mere rubber stamp to the web designer’s information architecture, or the owner is prepared to have significant content/design changes after the designers and copywriters have done their stuff.

    Even given the latter, it puts the SEO analyst in the awkward position of being reluctant to suggest a major change to the website because the cost and preparedness to accept late change against the grain of the previous positioning is so high now.

    For everyone’s sake, why can’t website designers, copywriters, SEO analysts and marketers work in harmony during the design process and complete the majority of the website prior to any major design/redesign going live?  There will always be some things remaining such as XML sitemap submission, redirects and the like after live date. However, technical SEO research and planning should happen soon after the initial concept at the latest.

    A few examples to demonstrate my point:

    • SEO begins with keyword research. If a keyword has a high enough search volume, it may be worthwhile to add a landing page for it, if a relevant page doesn’t exist.  This page will need to fit seamlessly into the existing information architecture (read menu system and link structure). Once the site’s already been launched, it’s a whole new process to implement additional pages – resources may have to be designated from both a technical and a content perspective. If the site’s already in the midst of a redesign, however, focused resources already exist, substantially mitigating the whole time/money issue.
    • Long-term SEO relies on user-friendliness. Google’s end goal is a good user experience; our objective is to make the search engines happy upon that premise, which means we have to provide a good user experience. If the site’s not designed to be easily found or understood by both front door users and the search engine users, you may either achieve few visitors or a high bounce rate coupled with poor goal conversions.
    • Considering Redirects / URL Structure. All too often a redesigned website changes every page address (url), albeit that sometimes the home page will remain the same when the domain is the same.  Before Google crawls the new site, sometimes this takes weeks, then the old URLs become broken links – frustrating users and damaging your brand. When Google does eventually crawl and index all the new pages, any backlinks (read external site link) to the old URLs fail to pass on any Google PageRank (read reputation and credibility), and the site may lose hard-won keyword rankings – not to mention frustrated users clicking on broken links to the website). All this could have been avoided with the pre-launch involvement of an SEO analyst.

    You can get your SEO involved during the process, or after – it’s your choice. But I can definitely tell you from experience, getting your SEO involved after the site’s already been launched may cost you time and money. Considering SEO during a redevelopment, on the other hand, can make a difference in how search engine friendly your site ends up and how soon it will rank for a long list of keyword phrases.

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