POV: Search Engine Optimization & The Website Development Process
Sari Elzweig | January 5, 2022
The Website Development Process & Why We Need SEO
Maybe a business is launching a brand-new product and needs an ecommerce website to sell to their consumers, or maybe a company needs to create an informational website so people can learn about their services and book appointments online. Whatever the case, businesses need a website if they want to reach their users online.
It is often thought that building a website only includes web designers/creatives and web developers. And it makes sense, right? We want a site that looks great and functions correctly.
However, another crucial component is often overlooked: Is the website optimized for search?
Or, to ask that question another way, what good is a website if your consumers can’t find it?
Only including developers and creatives without taking SEO into account could lead to a disastrous launch. It is crucial to include SEO during every phase of the site development process, as SEO data and insights 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.
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)
Including SEO from the very beginning of the site development process ensures a successful launch that leads to long-term organic growth.
Development Phases & When to Include SEO
Resolution provides Site Development Support, which includes several projects 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 how the SEO team can support the build.
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.
How SEO Can Help: Search Behavior & The Competitive Landscape
Research and analyze consumer search behavior to identify key content topics that should live on the upcoming site to best reach intended users. This can help inform the sitemap & information architecture.
Provide content optimization recommendations to increase reach and target qualified leads.
Identify any content gaps between the planned site & the existing top organic performers within the search landscape to provide 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 improved by SEO’s internal linking recommendations. The client is heavily involved at this stage, as the look and feel of the site must fit the brand voice, which they know best.
How SEO Can Help: Site IA/Navigation & Wireframes
Examine the site Information Architecture (IA) to ensure optimal content organization that is based on keyword insights.
Ensure URL structure follows best practices both for users and search engines
Review navigation for SEO best practices to enhance authority of high priority pages
Provide recommendations pertaining to internal linking to ensure positive user experience
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.
How SEO Can Help: Content Optimization, Structured Data, Redirect Mapping, and Accessibility
Optimize all site content to ensure it speaks the language of the consumer, resulting in keyword rankings and qualified traffic.
Provide recommendations around which schema markup types should be included to increase the chances of triggering highly visible rich results, resulting in higher CTR and increased traffic.
Develop a redirect mapping file to ensure link equity is passed from the old site to the new site*
Provide XML sitemap**, Robots.txt, and webmaster account validation
*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.
**XML sitemap creation 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.
How SEO Can Help:
If the XML and 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, it then 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.
How SEO Can Help:
Perform a technical audit to ensure site is following technical SEO best practices before launch. This will include an examination of the new site to identify and remedy issues that can negatively impact site performance in organic search once launched.
Phase 6: Site Launch
Now that 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.
How SEO Can Help:
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.
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.