A common question I get asked is ‘when should I begin SEO?’
And the answer is always: as early as possible.
Think about it along the lines of the age-old adage: prevention is better than cure.
If your site is not yet built or is still in the very early stages of development, then you’re working in a ‘proactive’ and ‘preventative’ state and this is good for SEO.
SEO will guide the website development process so that you don’t run into issues that would normally be a much bigger problem later on. Here’s just some of the issues you can avoid by simply consulting an SEO expert from day 1:
Accidental indexation of development site
This is a huge one and creates problems in multiple ways. In one way, it can be a duplication of content and it also reveals things to the public earlier than expected. It also makes launch day a bit more trickier because you may have to employ redirects and this is an extra bit of work that’s totally unnecessary if you simply do things right from the start.
The solution: add meta noindex robots tag to development site and make sure you’re developing on a totally different domain that’s blocked off to Google and people (unless they have a password).
Choosing the right domain or switching between domains
Sometimes a redesign or a new site launch means there’s a discussion around domain name. Sometimes an existing one is used, sometimes a new one needs to be registered. Understanding business goals and what needs to be achieved is an important part of the decision making process and SEO will help make it easier.
I worked with a client based in Dubai who wanted to target users in Saudi Arabia. They weren’t able to get a .com.sa domain and instead registered a .ae domain and wanted to use that. Problem is, with a ccTLD that isn’t from the country you’re focusing on, it becomes harder to rank.
Unfortunately, we had work with this despite having all the odds against us. Not surprisingly, it didn’t get results. The solution would have been to use a .com which is easy to obtain, set geo targeting in Webmaster Tools (what it was called at the time) to Saudi Arabia and ensure all content on the site was geared to people from that country. SEO would have been able to avoid the issues we ran into, but only if they consulted us earlier on.
This is a big one and is something that needs to be looked at whether you’re working with an existing domain or moving to a new one. This is because you need to make sure that when the switch is turned on for the new site that things don’t fall between the cracks.
Often with existing sites, URLs tend to change and it’s important to ensure you’re employing 301 redirects so that people don’t run into 404s. It’s not fun when people see error pages and this can prove costly with most businesses. It’s not an error you can afford to make!
This remains a big problem too. Some developers still use underscores in URLs, or combine words in URLs when using a hyphen would be the correct way to do things and sometimes, there’s unnecessary directories/subfolders.
Although technically, the number of folders doesn’t matter, it’s better to keep things clean. It’s easier to remember and also those clever users who try to analyse your site won’t encounter things they shouldn’t.
A good URL structure and clean, clear and robust sitemap/site structure go hand in hand.
This matters to SEO because we need to measure the impact of any website changes once they go live. Depending on the situation, you may expect a bit of a drop but usually these changes are for the better so you should expect to see things going up and to the right.
If you’re not tracking things correctly, or at all, it becomes harder to figure out what’s working and what may be broken. You may find that a lot of people are still finding old URLs that are still active and haven’t been redirected – so this is an issue that needs fixing as mentioned above.
A bigger issue is when people find old URLs that return 404s or are still active but are clearly outdated – this is not ideal, especially when coupled with a new design which already throws people off.
So ensure you’re migrating your analytics tracking codes across or if you’re using new codes altogether, ensure the transition is smooth.
In summary: prevention is better than cure
I was talking to someone about SEO for their online store selling shoes and clothing for men. The site is 75% complete and they only talked to me at this stage because someone told them to look at SEO – something they hadn’t thought of.
After explaining all of the issues above and some other things relating to their business, they opted to continue working on their site, plan to go live before the end of 2019 and once things are sorted they’ll come back to me for SEO advice some time in 2020.
I can already state with confidence that there are going to be a great number of SEO related issues because SEO hasn’t been accounted for at all. So they’re not going to have the best launch and will need a lot more work in 2020 to fix these things than if they talk to an SEO consultant like me earlier on.
Even easy to use CMS like WordPress and Shopify need customising in order to be SEO compliant and that too, you need to tailor the SEO to suit your site, niche and audience.
It’s easy to eat right and exercise daily to prevent major health issues but once those health complications come along, it’s a lot harder to get rid.
Think of your website and online presence in the same way.