When and how a website owner chooses to incorporate SEO into the web development process tells me everything I need to know about that site’s future prospects. If they’re talking keywords, mobile readiness and security before a wireframe has even been drawn, I’m confident the site will perform exactly how they want it to. If a complete site falls into my lap with a note saying “help me with my SEO,” then we’ve got a much larger mountain to climb. The SEO strategy conversation needs to start early and continue throughout the dev process.
Ready, fire, aim
Website owners and project managers tend to consider SEO implications toward the end of the process, usually when content is being written to fit the design. I call this the “ready, fire, aim” approach, and it’s about as effective as it sounds.
It’s important everyone understands that SEO is not a get-rich-quick scheme for their website. Project managers who underestimate the demands of a top-to-bottom SEO game plan will find themselves overwhelmed.
Ready, aim, fire
Developers like myself, on the other hand, are always thinking of SEO. Our SEO thought process starts at the very beginning of a project. We take the “ready, aim, fire” approach, which is more efficient and effective.
As a developer, you will hopefully have the opportunity to sit down with your client to understand the type of website being built, the target audience, and the marketing strategy driving visitors to the site. People’s search habits are different depending on the type of activity they’re engaging in; are they buying something, looking for specific information (like your location), reading up on user-generated reviews, or something else?
When keywords and search engine-friendly design elements are a by-product of a site’s larger goals, things tend to fall into place more smoothly.
SEO strategy & the development process: What you can do
If it seems like you’re working with a client or a project manager who doesn’t grasp the importance of early-stage SEO strategy, try to get them thinking backwards.
OK, so they feel like SEO should be baked in during the testing phase — wouldn’t it make more sense to have SEO-driven content areas in place so users will be taken directly to the content you want them to see? And if that’s the case, shouldn’t SEO be factored into wireframing so that the site’s architecture is calibrated to play its role in search? And heck, if you’re going to go that far back, doesn’t it make sense to talk about SEO at the very beginning so your developers’ and project management teams’ expectations are perfectly aligned from day one?
My personal belief is the sooner the better — but no matter where you end up incorporating SEO into your web development process, it should be considered an ongoing partner from that point forward. The cycle continues, strategies evolve and results are constantly driving the next phase.
When something changes on a website (even a small, seemingly cosmetic change), it can affect SEO. That’s why alignment from the start is so important — without a sound process in place, you’ll end up throwing money away.
When I say everywhere, I mean it
SEO needs constant attention throughout the lifecycle of a website. Site owners might want to take matters into their own hands once they feel knowledgeable enough about the basics. What can they do? For WordPress websites, I often recommend the Yoast SEO plugin for on-site SEO monitoring and management.
The plugin relies on real-time analytics and page-by-page metrics to help owners optimize content, images, metadata and more for better organic search placement.
Experienced WordPress experts can often get clients (even the not-so-tech-savvy ones) up to speed on Yoast in less than an hour. It’s been tailored for non-developers and, even as a developer myself, I’m happy to train clients and pass the SEO management hat onto them. When they see just how many moving parts are involved in ranking for search, clients start thinking more strategically about their sites, so it’s a win-win.
Every piece of your website, from the smallest design element to the most eye-popping data you’ll eventually discover through analytics, needs to be tied to a consistent SEO strategy.
That only happens when SEO fits squarely into the web development process from the start.
Also published on Medium.