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Getting off to a good start: building websites with search in mind

Simon Fryer
Simon
Simon is CandidSky's Search Director, with strong roots in organic SEO and analytics, and a disturbing passion for spreadsheets.

July 2, 2012

5 minutes

Launching a new website can be a complex task. More often than not any planning is centred around how the website will look, feel and function, and starting to look at search optimisation at this point means more work, more money, and more time.

Many people get around this by treating SEO as an afterthought – something that can be dealt with once they are up and running, and to some extent this is true, however there are some important aspects of a site that need to be considered from the off. You can save a lot of time and money by dealing with these upstream, especially if the site is still in development.

Keyword Research

Keywords in search are the most important part, and carrying out some level or keyword research before you polish off the site will give you a huge advantage. It may even dictate what you decide to call the website. For example, if you were going to launch an online store selling goldfish (I’m not sure about the logistics of doing something like this, but hey, it’s an example) and were going to call it ‘thefishshop.com’, after doing some research you may find that people search for ‘pet fish’ a lot, and that you may receive better placement in search engines for this search term by calling it ‘thepetfishshop.com’.

Trying to market your site in search without knowing which keywords you need to target is a bad idea, and can be the downfall of many online start-ups. How can you achieve your targets if you don’t know what they are? You’re best off heading over to the Adwords Keyword Tool to decide which direction you’re heading in.

URL structure

URL structure can be a little tricky. Your URLs need to be informative for a user, and practical for search engines. This can be addressed later on, but changing them can have an impact on the page’s ability to rank well, and also means you will need to redirect from the old URLs to the new ones. It’s much better to spend a little time thinking about them before the site goes live, to produce URLs that are helpful, and encourage trust.

A common problem with open source E-commerce sites is that the URLs are dynamic by default, and unless you take some action to set them up properly, they may look something like this:

www.example.com /index.php?route=product/category&path=41_42

instead of

www.example.com/example-category/example-product

Canonicalisation

Sounds scary, I know, but canonicalisation is a simple concept when explained properly. Websites have a habit of outputting multiple versions of the same content

Using the example above:

www.example.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=41_42

would be the same content as

www.example.com /index.php?route=product/category&path=42

Notice how the numbers at the end have changed? That’s because in this instance those numbers represent what page you are on, and how you got there. In the first example, the user went from page 41 to page 42, and in the second example, they went directly to page 42. Despite these being exactly the same page, the route they have taken means that a different URL has been generated. Search engines see this as 2 different pages with exactly the same content, and this can be extremely detrimental to their rank in search engines. There are many more instances on a site where this problem arises, such as with:

example.com and www.example.com

1 page, 2 URLs, duplicate content, Googleslap. This should be addressed technically before your site goes live to make sure you have the most successful launch possible.

Website Features

If your site’s SEO will benefit from certain features, it’s best to get them sorted whilst it’s still in development, as rolling them into a larger task usually means a lower cost than hiring someone to do a one-off job. There are many features which are beneficial to your search marketing – here’s a few of them:

  • Related Products
  • Product Reviews
  • Review Requests
  • RSS Feeds
  • Social Media Buttons

Site Structure

How you decide to put your site together will also impact how it performs in search engines. You may be aware that a large factor in search rankings is how many other sites link to yours, and the quality of those links. This also applies to your internal ones, so if you have a particular page on your main navigation bar which is linked to from every other page on the site, it’s going to have a better chance of ranking than one that is 4 clicks deep. You need to be able to work out which are going to be your main SEO pages, and give them pride of position on your site.

I could go on, and on, and on, but in an effort to keep these concise I’ve only pulled out some of the main ones. If you’re interested in hearing more about SEO check out our SEO Services. Hopefully this helps you to understand just how much there is to do on a site from an SEO perspective before you send it out into the big wide world, hoping that it will pay off. Don’t gamble, invest a little and it will pay dividends later on.

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