Search engine optimization, or SEO, is and always will be a bit of a mystery. Google, the king of search engines and what everyone shoots to be at the top of, is constantly changing their algorithm to avoid being “gamed”. However, there are a few simple best practices that are proven to improve search engine rankings – practices that are relatively easy for web designers to implement.
The competitiveness of the web design industry these days means it isn’t enough just to build a site for a client that looks good and is usable; we have to offer everything we can to our clients in order to remain relevant and recommendable. One way to do this is to offer an SEO-friendly site. Of course, an SEO-friendly site starts with the must-haves: clean and organized code. If you’re not building websites with clean, organized code, you shouldn’t be charging people for your services. With that said, here is a simple SEO checklist for web designers. Before you launch your site, make sure you’ve implemented these steps and you’re on the road to an SEO-friendly site!
Defining keyword phrases off the top ensures the goals have been set and you’re focused from the very beginning of the project. Don’t go overboard; two or three phrases is acceptable to optimize for, and I’d recommend using the Google Search-Based Keyword Tool to ensure you’re not optimizing for highly-competitive phrases or phrases that are rarely searched for.
When I write about “optimizing phrases”, I’m talking about the phrases people may use to find the website. For example, a design company might want to optimize for the phrase “Web Design [cityname]” or “Print Design [cityname]“. However, depending on the city, these may be very highly-competitive phrases, so be sure to do your research and be sure to include your client. They know their business better than you, after all. Once these phrases are defined, you can use them in link titles, image titles, and copy (where it makes sense; don’t overdo it, because Google will smack you down).
Meta information – specifically, keywords and description – don’t carry the weight that they used to, but they are still important to implement. Don’t keyword-stuff – stick to the aforementioned two to three defined phrases – and write a concise but clear meta description. Preferably, write a meta description that has the main keyword phrase you’re targeting in it.
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A robots.txt file is a file that search engine spiders look for when they crawl a site. If the site doesn’t have one, your SEO efforts will be limited. It’s super simple to do, but many sites miss it; here’s a brief article on how to make a robots.txt file and what needs to be in it.
The title tag is the short description, or title, that shows up at the top of your browser tab when you’re on a site. Search engines use this to help determine what the site is about, so be sure to put in a clear, concise and effective title tag when you’re developing – again, preferably using the defined keyword phrase. For example, ours is “[PageTitle] | Paper Leaf Design | Edmonton Graphic Design & Web Design” .
Flash isn’t the complete and utter SEO death knell it used to be, but it still provides issues to search engines when it comes to indexing. As well, iPhones and iPads don’t support it, and it’s notoriously slow… which brings us to our next point:
Just this year, Google added page load speed as a ranking factor in search engines. Thus, if you build a site that loads slowly, you’re hurting your SEO efforts. Thus, be sure to use best practices when it comes to compression, database calls and the like.
A sitemap is a small XML file that helps search engines effectively crawl your site. If the site you built doesn’t have one, you’re making the search engine’s job harder; why do that? Here’s a simple tool for building free XML sitemaps; alternatively, if you build sites on WordPress like we do, I suggest using the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
Finally, be sure to educate your client on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what they can do to help, and what their expectations should be. Letting your client know that you’re doing your part to make sure their clients can find their business can be a huge selling point; they may assume you’re taking these steps, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to articulate that to them. As well, assuming you’re using a CMS, be sure to explain the basics of SEO to your client (or point them to a few good articles). For instance, they should be accurately titling their photos and consistently writing new, relative content that utilizes their keyword phrases and the like.
Finally, be sure to manage your client’s expectations when it comes to their site and ranking. Some clients assume a new site = #1 on Google; obviously, it’s not that easy. Be sure to let them know that SEO is a long-tail sort of deal. It takes time, lots of content, lots of backlinks and more before they can expect to see positive change.
What are your thoughts? Anything you think must be added to this list, or alternatively, dismissed?