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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Content: Let the expert help you structure and write great copy that’ll also get the search engines’ attention.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pre-launch: The SEO expert can use whatever tools they have to ‘crawl’ your site, checking for busted links, search engine roadblocks, etc..
- Pre-launch, 2: The expert will give you a set of 301 redirects to set up, so that critical link authority isn’t lost.
- Launch: The SEO expert will join you in biting collective fingernails.
- 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
- 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.