If you’ve been planning a re-design of your website, or if you are just starting out and are designing your very first business website, you’ll have a lot to think about.

You want effective branding, strong key messaging, dynamic content and a website that lets you stands out from the crowd. You’ll probably be thinking about all the great features that you can include for your customers and prospects – but don’t forget that you also really need to focus on how you can optimise your website for the search engines.

Why is SEO so important for your website?

SEO is all about getting your website found online. You could have the most amazing website in the world but if it doesn’t rank well in the search engines it will be hard to find. This means that you could well miss out on attracting the potential clients that you need to help your business succeed and grow.

Whilst SEO can be a complex process, there are certain tasks that you need to make sure are taken into account by your website designer when you begin your site build. There is also some preparation that you can do beforehand to ensure that your site is fully optimised with all the things that Google wants to see.

To help you make sure that all of your SEO requirements are covered, we’ve created a handy checklist which looks at the key SEO tasks you need to prioritise when creating or redesigning your website.

1. Ensure you have sufficient space for your content

Google wants to see valuable content on the homepage so make sure that you have sufficient space to get the content that you need in. We recommend that you should use 250 words as a minimum, but ideally leave space for more than this in case you need to add additional wording. Content really is key for SEO success, so make sure that all your other category pages have enough space too.

Before you start, think about what sort of content you will want to have on there and what your customers will want to be able to learn about your business and your services. You might also want to be able to create landing pages which won’t appear in the main navigation of the site. These can be vital for specific advertising campaigns or for when you want to focus on a particular keyword – so make sure that you have this ability built into your site.

2. Do your keyword research

Keywords are a powerful tool for optimising your website and will ensure that the customers who are looking for your product or service will be shown your website by the search engines. They are often what a search engine looks for to determine whether your site is the right fit for a customer’s search terms.

Ideally keyword research should be done before you start developing your website, as it can be useful as a marketing tool too. It helps you identify the types of products or services your target demographic are interested in and the content that they are searching for.

3. Make your URLs SEO friendly

A URL is the address that takes you to a particular web page on the internet. URLs are important to the search engines because they can contain keywords that let Google learn more about what that specific page is about.  For example one of our URLs is http://wagada.co.uk/content-marketing/ so it is clear that this page contains information about our content marketing services.

Being able to add the correct keywords into URLs is quite powerful, so when designing your site make sure that it allows you to choose the URL rather than automatically taking the URL from the page title. Another key tip for URLs is to use a dash not an underscore for splitting words. If you are able to do this it will benefit your site. Ideally you want your URLs to be as specific as possible so ensure that all blog articles and all products/services have their own unique URL too.

4. Ensure your site has fast loading pages

A key concern of the search engines is that your website should be useable and user friendly and a large element of this is how quickly it loads. A slow site can cause impatient customers to click away from your site and can be frustrating and off-putting. This can also increase your bounce-rate which can impact negatively on your search engine ranking.  Often slow-loading graphics can be an issue so we recommend using CSS where feasible.

5. Remember that images are important for SEO too

Did you know that images can help your SEO too? People often forget about the images on their website but it’s important to optimise them as well as your text. You should have the facility to add an ALT tag for every image – this will allow the search engines to understand what your images are and you can include your keywords in these descriptions.

Be careful because some content management systems remove the image folder in the robots file which means that search engines don’t index or search the image. Therefore it’s a good idea to remove this feature in order that you can still get found in image searches.

6. Get your tags right

Tags mean that Google ‘bots’ can more easily find out what your pages are about. Try to get an H1 tag on every page which should be editable. This should be the main title of the page where keywords can be added in.  You will also want to make all title tags and meta descriptions fully customisable so that they can be changed and keywords added where and when needed. The titles which appear in the navigation should be independent from the title tag and the main title on the page – this is because if necessary you can have a different title tag to H1 to navigation title if needed.

7. Create a proper 404 page

You’ll probably have been diverted to a 404 page at some point when you have searched online. These are error webpages that are shown to a user when the page they are trying to find doesn’t exist anymore. Companies often use a humorous message and take the opportunity to divert the user back to a page that may be of help to them. It’s important not to just direct users back to the homepage as this can be confusing and frustrating for them as they don’t understand that there has been an error.

8. Don’t change your domain

This is an important one! If you are re-designing your website do not change the domain or move from www to non www. You should also ensure that the non-www version of the site is forwarded to the www. Version, removing any /index.php version.

9. Install Google Analytics

When you have your fantastic new website up and running you’ll need to be able to get stats on how many hits you are getting, which pages people are viewing and what locations they are coming from. That’s why it’s important to install Google Analytics as this programme will be able to tell you these details. This will help you to understand how successful your website is and inform any changes or updates that you may want to make.

As you can see there’s lots of work behind the scenes to be done when creating a website. The front-end design is only half the story and the SEO behind it will be vital in helping your business get found online. At Wagada HQ we always like to tell our customers that ‘we speak human’ and although website creation can get quite technical, we’re always on hand to translate and explain your SEO requirements and to liaise with your designers to help you get the website that works for you!