When to Incorporate SEO
When is the right time to involve Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in web design? Sometimes a company is still thinking about creating or redesigning a site. Other times they have one already developed whose search engine ranking they'd like to improve. This brief white paper describes how SEO can be integrated into the various stages of site development and how these stages effect optimization.
SEO Techniques for Any Stage
Two important methods for search engine marketing do not require changes to your existing site and thus may be pursued at any time during or after site development. First, links from other websites to yours factor heavily into some major search engine rankings. The more high quality links point to you, the higher your ranking in search results. Second, paid listings are commonly available right alongside "natural" search results. This advertising mechanism provides exceptional control over when, where, and how listings appear, and they can be cost effective. However, high natural search results typically provide significantly better click-through rates at a fraction of the long-term cost. Also note that paid listings do not affect your search ranking for natural results.
Including Search Engine Optimization Before Design
The best search rankings can be attained by considering SEO from the very earliest stages. Search optimization affects a number of design parameters beyond page content and a few invisible tags. For instance, optimized sites use text elements to display search terms rather than embedding them in graphics. They also make consistent use of HTML heading and bullet styles. Early in the design process it is simple to specify file names, page titles, link text, and a number of other design parameters in ways that may improve the site's ranking.
The first phase of SEO involves research into keywords and key phrases that people search for and that are related to your business. Keyword research inevitably uncovers things that you have not thought of, both in terms of particular search terms as well as related content that you could provide that may draw in new users. As a result, SEO research may add content areas that your site design must accommodate, and it can sometimes affect the organization of information within the site.
After Design, Before Content Finalized
Often SEO is incorporated into an existing design before content is finalized. Branding and page layout may have been established, and all of the graphical elements may have been produced. Much of the content has been "roughed in", and there is a relatively complete outline of the pages that will constitute the final site.
At this stage, there are significant opportunities for search engine optimization of site content. Keywords and key phrases can be incorporated into the text of your site. Content can be added that attracts users who are searching for related information. Existing copy can be edited to be more "search friendly".
In addition to optimizing copy, many web page parameters can be adjusted. Keywords can be placed in page titles, meta and alt tags, and various other places that can improve search engine ranking.
Design and Content Finalized
Once the content is finalized, search engine optimization must focus on site parameters that do not affect the visible appearance of the site. While this significantly constrains the SEO professional, there are still many "behind the scenes" parameters that can be adjusted. Paid placements may become an attractive complement or alternative at this stage.
The amount of optimization that can be done with a live website is entirely determined by your comfort level with making changes. As described earlier, many factors affect search engine ranking, some of which do not affect site appearance or functionality. If changes are not acceptable, your only options may be to increase links to your site and to obtain paid search placements.
In summary, search engine optimization can increase site ranking at any stage, although the best results occur when SEO is incorporated from the very beginning of the website design process. Even a relatively complete site can be optimized, and increased linking and paid placements offer complementary methods for increasing traffic.