Search Engine Optimization

POV: SEO & The Site Development Process

By November 17, 2021No Comments

POV: SEO & The Site Development Process

Sari Elzweig | November 17, 2021
The Website Development Process & Why We Need SEO

Maybe a business is launching a brand new product and needs a website to sell to their consumers, or maybe a new business needs to create an informational website so people can learn about their services. Whatever the case, most businesses need a website if they want to reach their users online.

The website development process is often thought to only include web designers/creatives and web developers. This is false, and to only include these two teams without SEO could lead to a disastrous launch. It is crucial to include SEO during every phase of the site development process, as SEO data will inform what content should live on the site to best reach intended users, as well as ensure the technical foundation of the site is optimized for search engine indexation.

Including SEO from Day One ensures a successful launch that leads to long-term organic growth.

Pitfalls of not including SEO during a site launch could include:

  • Slow, stagnant, or no organic visibility or growth
  • A loss in traffic, revenue, and other key performance KPIs that can rely heavily on organic traffic
  • Increase the cost for the client, who will end up having to spend more money post-launch to fix the mistakes an SEO team would have found and fixed during the development process.
  • A loss of keyword rankings with no recovery (if this is a site migration)

Development Phases & When to Include SEO

Resolution provides Site Development Support, which includes several projects meant that are completed and delivered during key phases of the website design & development process. Site Development Support can be tailored to be specific for site migrations, site refreshes or redesigns, or for a brand-new site being built from scratch.

The key phases of the website design and development process are detailed below, along with the SEO projects that should be delivered during each phase. 

Phase 1: Discovery & Strategy

This is the first phase of the development process and is the stage that determines the foundation for the success of the website. Areas covered at this stage typically include research, discovery sessions (ex. what are the goals of the website? who is the target audience?), the early stages of a creative or technical brief, and maybe more detailed architecture or sitemap creation, although that is more often covered in Phase 2.

SEO Projects to Include During this Phase:

Search Behavior Analysis

This deliverable is a deep dive into consumer search language and provides insight into the kind of content that the future site should include in order to best reach its intended users. The insights from this project can also inform the earliest version of site hierarchy (which ideally makes it into the initial ‘Information Architecture’ outline, see Phase 2). It is best that this deliverable be completed early on or even before the site development process kicks off as it can lay the groundwork for the creative work done in Phase 3 by providing a content roadmap.

Competitive Landscape Analysis

Another project that can contribute to the content roadmap is the Competitive Landscape Analysis. This deliverable includes an analysis of the brand’s organic and direct competitors to determine what they are doing right, and what they are doing wrong. The insights and recommendations from this project, like the Search Behavior Analysis, serve to inform the upcoming site’s content and can give the upcoming site a competitive edge.

Phase 2: Design/UX + Planning

The creative brief and information gathered in Phase 1 during discovery leads into the Design phase. It’s at this stage when creative teams create design mockups for feedback and establish the overall look and feel of a site. This usually includes different template options for homepage designs, internal page designs, and desktop and mobile views. At this stage, the UX team will typically review how they envision the user’s customer journey as they navigate through the pages, which be impacted by SEO’s internal linking recommendations. The client is heavily involved at this stage, as the look and feel of the site must fit their brand’s voice, which they know best.

SEO Projects to Include During this Phase:

Site IA/Navigation

The SEO team examines the site Information Architecture (IA) to ensure optimal content organization that is based on keyword insights. This project provides folder and URL structure recommendations, which adhere to best practices and are both user and search engine friendly. Reviewing navigation for SEO best practices ensures proper interlinking from the homepage to subpages, use of keyword-rich link text and positioning of links within the menu in a way that enhances the authority of high priority pages.

 Wireframe Review

The SEO team examines web pages in the wireframing phase and provide recommendations pertaining to internal navigation, on-page content and meta tags, as well as identify potential blocks that can hurt accessibility to crawlers and provide workaround solutions without affecting user experience or design aesthetics.

Phase 3: Content Writing & Assembly

Good design is important, but content is still king. Now that the design has been nailed down, Phase 3 is when the creative team’s copy writer begins to build out the content that will live on the site and be published at launch. Content topics being included on the site should be based on the work the SEO team did in Phase 1.

At this stage, the creative team will provide content outlines or briefs to the SEO team. The SEO team will review all content and make meta data, copy, and schema recommendations. The creative team then sends the new optimized content to the brand team for final approval.

Hopefully a list of planned pages & URLs exists at this point because site development is next. Using the list of planned pages/URLs, the SEO team can also provide a 301 Redirect Map, an XML Sitemap, and a Robots.txt file.

SEO Projects to Include During this Phase:

Content Optimizations (PLOs)

Resolution SEO will provide content page level optimizations based on the findings of the Search Behavior Analysis. This ensures all site content speaks the language of the consumer and has precise keyword targeting from day one, resulting in keyword rankings and qualified traffic. 

Structured Data Audit

Based on the planned website content, Resolution will make recommendations for which schema types to include. Including Structured Data/Schema markup on a website can give it a competitive edge and set its content up to trigger highly visible rich results, resulting in higher CTR and increased traffic.

Redirect Mapping*

Resolution will conduct a full site crawl and develop a 1-to-1 redirect mapping file that will connect all existing URLs to new locations. Resolution will leverage analytics data to identify potential “orphan” and other pages unaccounted for through site crawl, to ensure they are included in the mapping file.

Accessibility Configuration & Search Console/Webmaster Tools Set Up**

Resolution will provide XML sitemaps, robots.txt files, and Webmaster account validation to assist spiders in identifying and prioritizing site pages and enhance search engine connectivity.

*A 301 Redirect Map is crucial for any type of site migration but can be left out if no URLs are changing during a redesign, or if developers are building out an entirely new site from scratch, with no prior existing site to redirect traffic from.

**If the list of URLs does not exist yet, this project may need to wait until Phase 4, when the staging site can be crawled and the URLs pulled.

Phase 4: Programming & Development

Once the design is approved and the content is optimized, the process moves onto the Programming & Development phase. At this stage, the website begins to be built out by the web developers. This includes bringing all the previous parts together to produce a quality website. At this stage, there is not much for the SEO team to do.

SEO Projects to Include During this Phase:

If the Accessibility Configuration & Redirect Map were not included in Phase 3, then they should be completed during Phase 4, when the staging site can be crawled and a list of URLs can be pulled.

Additionally, the SEO Team will be available to answer any questions the creative team or the developers may have as they build out the site and implement any SEO recommendations.

Phase 5: Beta Testing & Review

Once the site has been developed, then it goes to the beta testing stage. At this stage, the site is fully built out and simply needs to be reviewed by the stakeholders and pass one final SEO check before it can be launched. Having the SEO team ensure the site is following Technical SEO best practices prior to launch can save the client money as there will likely be very little or, ideally, nothing to fix post-launch.

SEO Projects to Include During this Phase:

Pre-Launch QA

Near the end of the development process, Resolution will examine the new site in the staging environment to identify and remedy issues with implementation that will negatively impact site performance in organic search. This includes a QA of meta data, internal links, tags, and other key SEO elements. The output is a full list of issues to be addressed before the site is launched. 

Phase 6: Site Launch

Once the staging site has been reviewed and approved by all stakeholders, the site is finally launched! For the SEO team, there is only one thing left to do in the SEO site launch checklist—a post-launch QA to ensure nothing was broken during the launch process.

SEO Projects to Include During this Phase:

Post-Launch QA

After site launch, Resolution will complete a post-launch technical audit to identify and fix crawl errors, broken links, 404 pages, improper redirects and other issues that can impact indexability of new pages.

And there you have it! A successful launch of a website that is set up for success from launch day. 

“Always On” SEO – On-going Maintenance

Just because the site has launched, doesn’t mean it no longer needs SEO Support. In fact, the development process is just the beginning of what should be a lifelong relationship between the brand team, the site developers, the creative team, and the SEO team.

The website will continue to evolve overtime, which includes regular site maintenance and the addition of new content. The SEO team should continue to be consulted on any new content, as well as regularly perform annual Technical Audits and Q/As to ensure the site continues to follow technical SEO best practices.

The search landscape is always changing, and the goalposts are always moving, which means the website will need to be kept up to date on the latest trends to continue meeting user needs. A site that includes SEO support post-launch can expect to rank well, see strong organic growth, and adapt to new trends and the latest best practices or algo update without taking a hit.

Summary

Whether a site is going through a migration, a redesign, or it’s being built from scratch, including SEO at key phases of the process is crucial to ensuring it is set up for success and long-term organic growth. Failing to include SEO from the beginning of the site development process could have a negative impact on a site and end up costing a client more money over time.

Once the site is launched, the best thing to do is continue with an SEO Program to continue organic growth and ensure best practices are being consistently followed.