An SEO Workflow that Works

Ian Lurie

If you’ve ever heard these quotes, you need to read this post:
“The designers said we couldn’t use this font and have it be text.”
“The designers said they couldn’t format the page without tables.”
“It’ll take us hours to change that now.”
“No, you can’t edit the title tags on each page.”
“This is a big change. Why does it matter to SEO?”
“We can get to these SEO changes in about a month.”
There’s a right and wrong way to include SEO in your internet marketing mix. Throwing it in as an afterthought after your shiny new site launches is the wrong way. Here’s the perfect SEO workflow.

A Basic SEO Workflow

  1. Initial project planning: Meet with an SEO expert. Pay them for their time. Have them map out when and how the SEO team should be involved in development.
  2. Information architecture: Before you create your new site map, pick your keywords and verify that they matter. Organize your keywords into topics. Be sure your architecture reflects this. Remember, this isn’t just how search engines see your site. It’s how people look for you, too.
  3. Tools selection: If you’re using a shopping cart, content management system, or something else, make sure they support SEO. And no, I don’t mean “SEO friendly URLs” or other trite sales speak you’ll hear. I mean that these tools support unique title tags, correct semantic markup and won’t turn your website into a pile of search-repellent spaghetti.
  4. Content: Let the expert help you structure and write great copy that’ll also get the search engines’ attention.
  5. Design: As your creative team gets to work, get your SEO expert to have a glance at the design. You don’t want to take, say, headings and turn them into graphical text. The SEO can work with the designers and help them find the best balance. She may know a thing or two about image replacement and other tricks that can help create a beautiful, search-friendly site, too.
  6. Mockup: Sooo many companies ignore this. Have a truly great XHTML coder create templates for each unique page layout on your site. Then have your expert review for potential issues. This will make your developers’ lives much, much easier, because they won’t have to become HTML producers.
  7. Development: Make sure the SEO team has access to the site-in-progress. They’ll watch for alarm bells like uneditable title tags, straying from the mockup or hacked-up code.
  8. Pre-launch: The SEO expert can use whatever tools they have to ‘crawl’ your site, checking for busted links, search engine roadblocks, etc..
  9. Pre-launch, 2: The expert will give you a set of 301 redirects to set up, so that critical link authority isn’t lost.
  10. Launch: The SEO expert will join you in biting collective fingernails.
  11. Post launch: Now the expert will start working on the stuff most people consider ‘search engine optimization’ – link building, tracking metrics, content optimization, strategy, etc..

But My Developer Says…

Don’t trust your developer, designer or marketer. I say that as someone who’s all three. We’re full of crap when it comes to involving others in our work: We’ll say “Sure, that’s a great idea” and then shut out the SEO team for weeks, if not months.
And don’t trust them when they say they know SEO. They know SEO like I know brain surgery: I watched it on House. I don’t even trust myself to write SEO-friendly code. I have another person at my company review it. It’s too hard to step back and review it from the search perspective.

When To Get Worried

Worry if:

  • Your SEO team hasn’t been involved in the project for more than 2 weeks.
  • The SEO team is driving the rest of the team crazy. This could be OK, but it may also mean you’ve got personality conflicts that’ll prevent a great result.
  • Your designer or developer 100% agrees with everything the search team suggests. Either the search team is clueless, or the designer/developer is quietly shredding every suggestion.
  • The search folks start looking hunted in status meetings.

If you see any of these things start to happen, get the whole team — designers, developers, architects and search specialists — together in one room or on the phone. Tell them what a great job they are all doing. ‘Cause they probably are.
Then review communications and make sure everything’s solid.
If one team’s shutting another out, meet with them separately and kick their butts. Don’t embarrass them. Just make sure they understand SEO is a priority.

Search-Ready From Day 1

The result of all this work: A site that’s search-ready from launch. Faster upward movement in the rankings. And lower costs post-launch.

Note that I have no axe to grind here. I love it when folks skip search engine optimization until the last minute. That means I get to charge them 3-4x more than if they’d involved me and my team at the start, because we have to do a lot more work. By all means, ignore my advice. I have two college accounts to fund.

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  1. good post… i do something similar tho its even gone to the extent of re-assigning peoples roles to best use their skills which was a big suggestion for me to make!

  2. I just walked a client through a 12-month relaunch project using a very similar workflow. Thanks to a lot of prep work, great communication, and some last-minute/post-launch hot fixes, we launched successfully and have nearly regained and surpassed our previous rankings in the first 3 weeks.
    I can’t emphasize enough how critical early involvement and planning are in this process. But, like Ian said, rushing in at the last minute is great fun…you get to save the day and be the hero.

  3. MAN, if more people would read this… it would make my life easier! This is such a good post that I am going to comment and link back with a dofollow! Great job Ian!

  4. From a designer’s point of view, there are reasons that some SEO requests can not be done. For example, converting a text picture into actual text. Let me explain why, the text in the picture may be the font type HelveticaLTStd-Light. The browser will not display this font type correctly.

  5. @Ken true enough. The question is: Would the client rather have HelveticaLTStd-Light, or 200 more visitors in a day?
    I’m very mindful of branding and design concerns. But that doesn’t mean I let designers OR developers trash the client’s ability to get traffic.
    Plus, there are numerous techniques, such as image replacement, that can give you the best of both worlds. Yet I rarely see folks use them.

  6. Let’s put some figures to the wonderful breakdown Ian gave. If you had to estimate, how much would all this cost for a typical company, both in terms of time + money?

  7. Ian,
    This is a fantastic process flow. I’m going to save this the next time a client asks me, “I thought we didn’t need SEO until after we had a website?”. Thanks,

  8. @Mark I can’t even speculate. It varies wildly depending on the site and the intelligence of the team.
    I will say that NOT doing it increases the cost of future SEO efforts 2-3x, at least. And that the least I’d charge someone for pre-launch SEO consulting, start to finish, is $5,000. And that’d be for a small job.

  9. Ian,
    Here’s my follow-up question then: what advice do you have for all those small, web-based start-ups who have a credible idea but no cash? I’ve come across many services that are phenomenal, but have a hard time getting “found” on the internet.
    Without breaking their backs/budget, what can they do?

  10. This is so smart, Ian. We make sure to always have someone with an SEO background in the room when we’re laying out a site map and considering the overall user flow of our sites. Information Architecture and SEO work best hand-in-hand, and are similar in that they are a constant consultant as the project progresses forward through the creative process.
    Cool beans!

  11. @Mark Best thing you can do is KEEP IT SIMPLE. Use a basic, SEO-friendly content management system like WordPress or Movable Type. Get a simple, clean design that allows for a nice layout that’s still copy-rich, even on the home page. You can even buy a WordPress or Movable Type theme.
    Then focus all your effort on writing great copy on a regular basis (like daily) and on outreach – talk online and network with folks in related businesses.
    If you have a little more cash, spend it on pay per click.
    Remember: The most beautiful site on earth is worthless if you can’t get anyone to see it.

  12. This is good advice. The only thing I note is, the path to implementation is not always so clean. What about when the SEO recommendations are half-followed? What about when people try to get along, and compromise? It happens all the time.
    The key is to remember (and make sure the SEO consultant remembers) that SEO is to make the best of the situation. Every compromise must be recognized, and new constraints considered. With those new constraints (because there was a compromise… and things are not optimal) you MUST revisit both SEO plans and expectations for success.
    The worst case is the team tries to accommodate everything but lands somewhere in the middle, but it still “looks fine”. The SEO gets frustrated because she can’t do what she needs to do, but no one sees that as evident. And the manager is frustrated because the SEO accepted the compromise, yet the results are less than expected.
    Many SEOs call it “my way or the highway” because that’s the only way to achieve optimal results. Not a very practical approach, eh?

  13. @John Obviously a little common sense and diplomacy goes a long way.
    But I will say this: My clients don’t pay me to accommodate ignorance or pig-headedness.
    I put a lot of effort into balancing the need for a good application, a strong brand and SEO. What I no longer do is let the team compromise without my client knowing exactly how and why that compromise happened.
    And I’m unsympathetic when the development team or design team complains that they have to ‘go back and redo’ something I told them about weeks before.

  14. Great tips and advice for us start-ups, Ian. Much appreciated.
    We’ll surely use your services when we have the $ to do so. Your blog is an example of what you preach (fresh and daily content updates).
    Thanks a bunch. Here’s our endeavor, BTW:

  15. An SEO Workflow that Works | Internet Marketing Strategy: Conversation Marketing
    If one team’s shutting another out, meet with them separately and kick their butts. Don’t embarrass them. Just make sure they understand SEO is a priority.

  16. Ian,
    I agree. If small startups focus on quality content with an optimized SEO friendly site half the battle is done. Then, whatever money they have left, they can use on pay per click which is one of the best ROI’s you can make.
    I know many small internet based companies that started with 100 budgets and now are 6 figure incomes.

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