If you’re building a website, rebuilding a site, or considering it, you know you want it to be SEO-friendly. Better than being SEO-friendly, a top-performing website is built around SEO and a basic website structure that both search engines and users understand.
The first step to building an SEO-friendly website is to sketch out a basic sitemap for your site. This is a diagram, tree map, or list that shows the pages you have planned for your site. It can be as simple as post-it notes connected by a string at first. If you’re rebuilding or replacing an existing site, you’ll need to create a sitemap of the existing website. Slickplan is a great sitemap planning tool.
There are as many different ways to manage or structure your content and website as there are websites. A good site structure example is a hierarchical website structure. A hierarchical structure would be best represented as a tree graph in the sitemap planning phase. The home page of the site branches off into several main branches. This is ideal for service or product based websites, as it allows for high-level categorization and easy-to-follow click paths for users and crawlers.
Websites with bad hierarchy can be difficult to navigate, can confuse users with mis-categorized or unorganized information, and are not SEO-friendly. Proper hierarchical structure also makes it easier to set up a good URL structure for SEO.
Plan for redirects from the old site or domain
If you’re replacing your current site or an old site, export a list of every URL your site has, or your current sitemap. Compare that to your new planned sitemap. Every old URL that is not used on the new site needs to be redirected to a new URL. Otherwise, you will create 404 errors, lose rankings, and lose backlinks. It’s so much easier to plan ahead and set up before making the switch, and it’s difficult to fix after the fact.
Use SEO-friendly URLs & URL structure
Too many webmasters underestimate the importance of URLs in SEO contexts. If we’re picturing the website or sitemap as a tree graph, we want to make it as easy as possible for users to go up and down the site as possible, and make it easy to find the information or service they are looking for. Good URL structure is best for the user experience and helps your site have a Google-friendly URL structure too.
Choosing the right URLs and URL structure in the site planning phase saves you or your SEO team from having to change or optimize URLs down the road, which can lead to redirection issues and lost rankings or backlinks. Here are some tips for SEO-friendly URL structure:
Follow category/subcategory or parent/child formats
Besides being easy to follow, this adds the benefit of being able to add more content later under any topic without having to restructure your site’s URLs
When possible and within reason, reduce URL lengths
Remove or avoid unnecessary “.html” from your URLs
Use or reflect title tags in your URLs
You should be using primary keywords in your title tags – as well as in your URLs
Don’t use dashes or underscores – use hyphens in URLs
Keep your URLs in lower case.
This cuts down on the opportunity for typos and Google likes it, too
Keep your URLs static – not dynamic
Some CMS platforms or site building tools like dynamic URLs. These appear as strings of characters often including & + ? % and other characters that make sense to browsers, but not to users, and which have no SEO value.
Plan your content around your customer
So you have the post-its, the string, and the basics of site structure and URL conventions down. So what content are you going to put in front of your visitors? What are users who visit your website there for?
It’s important to challenge preconceived ideas about what website content needs to look like, or what is good content for a website. Often, business owners, marketing managers, or webmasters take an approach to content writing that focuses on themselves, their product, their business, rather than focusing it on their audience or their customers’ needs.
Creating good content requires you to plan your content. While it is important to have a content calendar and an ongoing content generation strategy, the content itself is more important than the volume of content produced. If you combine high-quality, well-researched, educational, and authoritative content with a high rate of content creation, even better.
The best way to get content for your website is to get it from your users. What searches bring them to you now? Are there specific problems they have that you can solve? Any questions they have that you can answer?
Keyword research, analysis of your existing website traffic and traffic channels, and thorough audits of your current website can all give insight and help in the planning process. So put yourself in your customer’s shoes and their Google or Bing search. What do you provide in the form of content that is of benefit to them?
Consider search intent and practice search empathy
You’re probably familiar with the idea of keywords. Keywords are common (or not so common) phrases, terms, and words that numbers of users include in their searches. Everyone wants to rank big for high volume keywords. But more important than the search volume or keyword difficulty of any given keyword is the keyword intent behind the search.
Think past what was searched, and think about why it was searched. This is why I like the phrase search intent optimization—it means we’re optimizing for the users, for their search intent, and for their needs. It’s still important to optimize for search engines, especially the ones that make the rules.
If you can capture the intent behind searches, you can start crafting content around terms that seem to have a high intent to convert. Conversion rates reflect the level of intent your site visitors have as much as they reflect the quality of a page. A high-quality page will make the right traffic come your way, and attract less irrelevant traffic.
Choose an SEO-friendly CMS
Modern SEO revolves around content, so a modern website requires an SEO-friendly content management system. The benefits of a content management system that plays nice with SEO best practices are numerous. Choosing the right CMS doesn’t have to make or break your site’s success, and it doesn’t have to break the bank or budget either.
The best content management platforms are basically SEO management platforms as well. They make it easy to set up proper site structure, URL structure, and make it easy to set up SEO elements like title tags, heading tags, meta descriptions, CTAs, hyperlinking, media files, and more. Consider users when choosing a CMS – it should be user-friendly CMS on both the front end and the back end.
WordPress is a common favorite for many developers and SEO professionals. It’s almost endlessly customizable, it has a wealth of support available online, most developers have experience with it, and it plays nice with so many plugins – including the industry-standard SEO plugin from Yoast.
Consider best practices for SEO-friendly web design
Clean lines, bold colors, tactile effects, and moving images are all neat design elements to look at, but web design / SEO best practices have to be kept in mind in the web design & development phase as well. Here are some SEO web design best practices:
Gone are the days of a mobile site vs a desktop site – or they should be! Make sure your website is dynamic, able to load and display on any device
Make buttons and links obviously and visually different from other text elements
Keep your menus and navigation simple and search engine friendly
Name pages accurately and simply, and label them accurately in menus
Structure your content properly
Use proper heading tag (H1, H2, H3, etc) hierarchy
Use paragraphs and links
Have a header menu and a footer menu with important pages and information included
Use relevant file names and alt tags for media files and images
Give users an easy and obvious way to contact you
Track phone numbers (linked to allow click to call), email addresses, and contact forms
Pay attention to the site speed
Be prepared to update and optimize. Better yet, plan for it!
We all love the feeling of pushing a website live that you’ve been planning out and building. So once you’re at that step, enjoy it – then get ready for the next step. You can’t let satisfaction with a new site overshadow the importance of updating your website.
If you’ve chosen an SEO-friendly CMS, you won’t have to worry about how to update content on your website. If you’ve learned how to center your content creation around users’ search intent, you will be able to publish new content that suits their needs, and yours.
Even individual pages, paragraphs, and headings can, and should, be updated as needed. Changes in search intent, searcher needs, or information are all reasons to update your website. It’s good to include content audits and updates in your content strategy and content calendar.
We can help you plan ahead to make sure your new website is SEO-friendly, easy-to-update, and meets users’ needs, as well as yours. Get in touch!