Foundations of Building an SEO-Friendly Website From the Beginning

Similar to building a house, when developing a website there are needs and there are wants. This could include the design and user experience, as well as the content tone and architecture. For the last 15 years most companies have developed sites without SEO strategies in place, which has negatively impacted their brand’s findability and performance. It’s become a common theme for companies to seek SEO assistance after finishing their new website, which is similar to building a home in the sense that right after it’s done you realize you wanted hardwood floors and blue paint, instead of the carpet and green paint you’re stuck with. Changes or patchwork edits after the fact eat up additional time and additional budget, and can ultimately ruin the overall user experience in many cases.

Companies are increasingly realizing that the need for sound SEO strategies is a critical component to their online performance and success. They not only want consumers to see a well-designed site, but a site that has high rankings within the search engines, as well as a site that converts the user into some kind of action, be it a lead or a sale.

When building a brand new site, it’s important to have a full set of keywords developed in advance. If for some reason you don’t have existing conversion data to support the prioritization of your keywords, taking advantage of Google Keyword Planner is an easy way to get a read on volume of keyword searches and determine which keyword themes and correlating pages of content need to be developed on your site. Once you have a solid keyword foundation in place, the following list of items should be considered as you move forward with your new design in order to create sustainable SEO progress:

  • Each page should target one to three phrases based on relevance.
  • Remove duplicate content.
  • Instead of underscores use hyphens to separate words in a URL.
  • You should include relevant keywords in each image file name, as well as in the image alt and title text.
  • Videos should have their own unique URL, complete with a text description. Transcribing the video is also a recommended practice.
  • Use semantic and valid markup.
  • Avoid iFrames.
  • Create a sitemap.xml doc for Google and also make a site map for your website users.
  • Add a robots.txt file to your root directory.
  • Check for broken links and images.
  • Organize content in the shape of a pyramid, going from broad to specific (affect SEO and usability).
  • Good usability means good SEO and vice-versa.
  • Set up web analytics.
  • Set up Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Minify scripts, CSS, and HTML if possible.
  • Use CSS image sprites where applicable (e.g., icons).
  • Set up automatic backups.
  • Choose a reputable server.
  • Do not take shortcuts that compromise performance (site speed).
  • After setting up GWT, run major pages through GWT’s “crawl as Google” tool to ensure spiders can reach deeper pages.
  • No Flash!
  • Limit directories in URLs. /category/page is better than /category/sub-cat/sub-cat/page in most cases. Only use subdirectories if it makes sense structurally.
  • If possible, include a head term in the domain name. This is not as critical as it once was. It still helps, though.
  • Respect the fold. Include relevant information above the fold. Google likes this and so do humans.
  • Set your CMS to allow alt tags. Use them.
  • If you’re using Drupal, install the Global Redirect module. Always.
  • Get your 301s in order.
  • Always choose www or non-www and stick with it! Create an .htaccess rewrite that 301s all www traffic to non-www and vice-versa.
  • Be very careful with SSL (https). Only use SSL on pages that require security, otherwise both versions will be indexed and you’ll create duplicate content ( and
  • Be careful with URLs automatically generated by your CMS (e.g., node/1234). Ensure that they 301 to the SEO-friendly URL.
  • Don’t use JavaScript as a means of navigation if it is not easily crawlable.
  • Don’t use too many fonts. It makes for a poor user experience and design, and adds more overhead to performance.
  • Explain the difference between absolute URLs and relative URLs to your content authors.
  • Don’t use animation or moving pieces unless they are initiated by the user or are transitional in nature (e.g., no auto-rotating carousels and notags or auto-initiated music).
  • Rethink using a carousel on your home page. They are not known to perform well in terms of usability.

If you’re looking to overhaul or replace a website, there are many insights to be had from the exiting site that impacts the way in which you move forward with developing the new one. How are users currently engaging with the site? How are they using site navigation to locate specific content? Analytics tracking and heat mapping code should be in place to monitor user interaction on a page by page basis and provide valuable insight into other key performance metrics, such as:

  • Pages most visited
  • Referral sources
  • Where consumers are entering/exiting
  • 301 redirects if URLs are being rewritten
  • Percentage of visitors on a mobile/tablet device
  • Most engaging content
  • Navigation usage

Building a site without proper considerations for SEO best practices can easily result in large amounts of both wasted time and wasted money. At the end of the day, your website could be one of the sleekest and best looking on its surface, but if it isn’t structured properly behind the scenes and doesn’t rank accordingly, what does it matter? By viewing your next site design project through the lens of an SEO marketer, you can ensure your beautiful new site will be seen by an exponentially larger audience.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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