Now that we’re halfway through 2010, many website owners are thinking it’s time for a re-design or are in the midst of one right now. If you’re in this position, one of the first things you need to do is be sure you hire a website design firm that knows how to build a site’s infrastructure properly – that is one that’s easily crawlable by the search engine spiders.
Before you start the redesign and all throughout the process, it’s important you make your SEO strategy a top priority. First, you don’t want to lose the rankings and traffic you’ve built up to now but you also will not want to miss the more targeted visitors you will get when your new and improved site is up and running.
Ignoring the following 6 steps when redesigning your site will put your online position in peril. So if you’re looking for quality web design services, be sure they understand the following before hiring them.
1. Keep content/keyword rich pages near the top of your site’s hierarchy
Search engines are quite meticulous when seeing how pages within your site are linked together. They use this form of internal link popularity to determine a particular page’s place within your site’s hierarchy. Pages linked from every other page are given more weight than one’s linked from only a few.
In light of this fact, you should be sure your content and keyword-rich pages are placed high within this hierarchy. If a particular page was bringing in a lot of traffic before, don’t bury it too deep within the site.
2. Categorize content by niche markets and avoid duplicate content
Online searchers generally ask questions when initially looking for solutions to their problems or answers to their questions. Therefore, the more ways you can categorize your information for these different issues – or target markets – the better.
Categorize all of your top-level pages to reflect this fact and make it clear your products and services can address their problem. And be sure – regardless of how someone finds a certain bit of information on your site, be sure they end up at the same URL to avoid any duplicate content issues. For example, if a specific product can be listed as both a product and a service, place the same URL in both categories so regardless of how someone views it, they will end up at the same place.
3. Stay on top of URLs if transitioning to a new content management system (CMS)
If you’re going to use a new content management system for your site to help better administer it, be sure you place 301 redirects for any URL you have to change. Since search engines will take some time to index new URLs, you want to be sure you maintain your position in the search engines and current traffic levels.
If you must, you should re-direct your top-level pages at minimum. Doing so will quickly pass the link popularity of the old URLs to the new ones – and prevent prior visitors from seeing a 404 error/not found message when they come back.
4. Code links with a navigation menu in a search friendly manner
It’s important you code all links within your navigation menus in a search friendly manner so they can be crawled and pass on those benefits to your rankings position. Many graphic designers don’t realize this – some Flash graphics and DHTML menus are invisible to the search engines, causing them to not receive the internal link popularity they should receive.
Therefore, make sure all navigation menu elements are coded with CSS that is visible to search engines. Avoid drop-down box links as the main form of navigation and ensure all content can be reached through their own dedicated links.
5. Be sure your new CMS system allows you to customize HTML elements
While automation may seem nice for HTML elements like titles, meta tags, headers, URLs and alt attributes for headers, it’s imperative your new CMS system allows you to customize these. There should ideally be no limit to the number of characters for each of these elements but do remember, the search engines have limits you should stay within.
6. Avoid session IDs and other tracking links
Tracking visitors on our websites gives us insight into what works and what doesn’t. For ranking purposes though, this can be a double-edges sword. It’s best to avoid these types of internal elements but if you must, be sure the clean URL is the only one given to the search engines. If not, the search engines will duplicate the same page over many URLs, splitting your link popularity.
If your new CMS system has tracking elements inherit within it, be sure you use a canonical link element to maintain one URL for every page of content.
Sharing these “secrets” with your potential developer may make them feel you’re usurping their knowledge and authority but heck, it’s your money, so be sure whoever your hire has all of the know-how to make your site work. Many professional graphic designers are not SEO experts per se.
They may create some very nice looking websites and marketing materials but it won’t matter too much if it can’t be found.