Did you ever watch a film out of curiosity because the poster art looked fantastic, only to realise a couple of minutes in that the visual effects, plot, cast and music were terrible? Good web design can hide similar failings. You can have the world’s most beautiful website, but if your behind-the-scenes work is sloppy, prepare to watch the site’s SEO performance crash and burn.
Ranking better on search engines is crucial to bringing in visitors and making a site a success. Considering SEO as part of your design, build and ongoing maintenance is, therefore, a must and can be achieved through a variety of different means. Here’s our thinking on why web developers who understand SEO need to be part of the equation.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation is the process of tailoring your website so that it can achieve better rankings in search engines’ results, and in turn, receive organic and unpaid (i.e. “real”) traffic.
To understand how to achieve this, it’s important to first know the basics of how search engines work. Search engines have three primary functions:
Crawl: the process by which search engines send out a team of bots to constantly look for new content (webpages, images, videos, etc). Bots are on the lookout for Metadata (data that gives info on other data, e.g. the header of the document), keywords and images. The software then determines if your website is consistent with the Metadata, or if your website contains what it says it does. If it doesn’t, there’s little chance it will be well-ranked.
Index: once new content is discovered, search engines “index” the information in a huge database. Once a page is in the index, it’s in the running to be displayed in the result of relevant queries.
Rank: When a user tries a search, the search engine scans their index to source relevant content, ranking them by most relevant to least relevant.
Why is SEO important to consider in the design and development of a website?
Because it’s cheaper and easier to get it right the first time. Once the design has implemented a restrictive navigation and URL structure, or the developers have poorly coded the front-end and not optimised the server infrastructure or performance, you’ll always be on the back foot and need to undo work to progress.
Often, the initial discussion between a client and agency only involves the account management and creative teams. But it’s critical to engage the marketing and development teams or external agencies at this point as well. This tends to result in a much stronger plan and a structured approach to representing your business and the services you provide.
We recently spoke with Tom Jepson from Footprint, a leading SEO and PPC agency, and explored some of the reasons why this is so important:
Consideration of SEO in the design and development of a website is also crucial for the following reasons:
To keep the visitors you attract. It’s not just about them visiting your website once, but about them coming back to it and helping your URL become more visible to others.
Speed. If your website takes too long to load, people might just not bother, even if opened on mobiles.
Attract traffic. And not just any traffic, but targeted traffic that will ensure those who are guided to your site are more likely to become potential customers. Considering SEO in planning phases ensures that features, widgets, style elements, imagery and text appeal specifically to your target (a feature that any DIY website builder won’t provide).
Seamless customer experience. Pages that are more user-friendly rank higher on search engines. Optimisation is about providing a seamless navigation experience.
Optimising Conversions. Or what to do with the traffic you’re receiving. Enticing people to sign up for newsletters, clicking links, watching videos, these are all things that people do on your site to get more invested. Why is this important? Well, search bots keep track of this “engagement”- the more people interact, the more the bots rate the website as a “positive user experience”.
It’s quite common for small and medium companies not to have the resources in their internal team to apply these changes efficiently. They might apply a few changes that will help in the short term. However, in the long run, you’ll need a specialist or external agency to help you stay relevant for a longer period of time. This leads us to the next question:
When should I hire an expert? Should I use a generalist agency or several specialist agencies?
We’re gonna break into nuclear science here but: a generalist agency is one that handles all kinds of general marketing, from content creation to SEO, to analytics, etc. To put it simply, a jack of all trades. Contrary to this, a specialist agency is one that specialises in one of these areas.
So now that’s clear, is it best to hire one that does it all, or hire a few that specialise in one? There’s no wrong or right answer, but there are pros and cons to each.
Narrow down your needs. Start by determining if you need a few marketing channels or a much bigger list. Consider this: do you tend to use one marketing discipline more than others? Then you’re probably better off with a specialist agency. If you want to keep that focus and add one more, perhaps consider hiring a second specialist agency.
You might also want to strengthen all of your disciplines, in which case a generalist agency is great, but keep in mind that this does not mean that your account team will not be made up of specialists who are experts in your preferred marketing channels. A team of electricians will know how to fix your oven, but they probably won’t be able to replicate Mary Berry’s famous recipe for apricot frangipane tart.
But sometimes you do need a little help all around and might opt for the generalist agency. In this case, it’s important to know who will be on your team.
Be mindful of your budget. Some companies don’t realise their budget is not what they think it is until they understand how much in-depth work needs to be done.
Depending on what the discipline is (specific customisation, SEO, bespoke website…) a company will need one or several specialist agencies. Most of them partner up, and together can bring incredible solutions. In these cases, it is worth asking in advance who they will bring to the table and amend your budget accordingly.
Performance or convenience? When it comes to performance, specialists will excel at what they do so it’s well worth the time it takes to manage multiple specialists.
Remember that it doesn’t always have to be a choice between the two: if you have an in-house team, or a generalist agency already, it’s okay to bring a specialist to help in only one area.
How can I improve my positioning?
Now we know SEO is important for your site to appear as high as possible in related searches. So, can you do that just by adding a few keywords here and there? You probably guessed it already, but the answer is a redundant no. There are a lot of things that you can do to get up on the search ladder, but here are the top three ones to begin with:
Site performance.User experience is one of the most important factors, and one great start is looking at your website’s speed. Nobody likes to wait around for a site to load, so the quicker it does, the better. Compress images, move or delete objects, and enable browser caching.
Optimise for mobile. In this day and age, more people look at websites through their mobiles than on a computer. Think of the first three to five objectives of your site’s visitors and ensure they can be accomplished on a mobile site effortlessly.
Links. Make sure internal and external links are working, and fix all those 404 errors. Be careful with your anchor texts (don’t abuse it!) and set Google Alerts to help you keep track of your brand mentions across the web.
SEO might sound complicated, but it’s an essential part of making the most of your website and getting your brand or product noticed and thriving. From planning to design, launching a new site can be overwhelming, but if you involve the right teams from the start it will turn out just fine.
Back to our movie situation, it is important that you first have a proactive attitude to attract that audience to watch your first movie.
Unifying efforts with specialists and bringing the right people on the table will make the project smooth and of the best performance.
The goal is to bring your initial audience back from part 2 of your production, so keep your site and content relevant. No brainer!
Following these simple steps will show a quick return on effort and investment, which will produce a resonant effect on your digital exposure.
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