I’m a strong advocate of organic SEO (define). All other things being equal, a site that’s been optimized for the search engines is better off in terms of search positioning than a site that hasn’t. However, the way in which the optimization is undertaken — most importantly the timing — can significantly influence a Web site’s ability to achieve search engine success (e.g. improved visibility in the search engines, increase in search engine referrals, etc.).
Today, let’s consider the optimal timing for performing on-site SEO.
To SEO or Not to SEO…
Let’s say Client A has an existing Web site and wants you to perform SEO on it. Meanwhile, Client B is building a new Web site and comes to you with the exact same budget to perform SEO. Knowing only these two things, which client’s Web site do you think has a better probability of success?
Web site B. I’ll explain why shortly.
A client for whom we perform paid SEM (define) came to me the other day and asked if there was any way to improve their organic search rankings. He said he “heard” there were things he could do to the Web site from a coding and content perspective to help.
However, effective SEO was next to impossible for this Web site. Our company performed usability testing and concluded that the site needed to be completely rebuilt to achieve what the client was looking for. Knowing that the Web site will be revamped and rebuilt in a few months, it didn’t make sense to perform SEO on the existing Web site.
When to SEO…That is the Question
Undertaking SEO at the outset — either when a new site is being built or an existing site is being rebuilt — is the best way to increase your chances of success. In the case of the example above, I’d advise the client to wait. Make SEO a key part of the new site development process, rather than wasting resources on optimizing a site that will be frustratingly difficult to SEO and scrapped in a few months anyway.
With an existing Web site, the person tasked with SEO is forced to work within the confines of the existing site coding, structure, content, etc. This can be extremely limiting for the SEO expert, who must adapt best practices to “play” within this framework. Some practices simply can’t be applied, or would require a significant undertaking, within an existing environment.
However, a SEO expert has much more control over these factors with a brand new Web site by playing a role from the beginning of the Web site development process.
Ideally, the SEO expert should play a role in these stages:
- Online goal setting. Define the site’s search engine visibility as the site’s key objective so optimization efforts are taken seriously and applied by all stakeholders.
- Content map/architecture development. Perform keyword research to see where the key areas of interest are to ensure that content areas are included in the site’s information architecture in such a way that meets these needs.
- Wireframe development. Review the proposed wireframes to give input into where additional textual elements can be added.
- Content/copy decks. Recommend keywords to target for each page, which the copywriter can then take into account when developing the copy — ideally once the site map is determined. Then the SEO expert can review the draft copy decks to further improve SEO for both on-page elements (headings, body copy, etc.) as well as behind-the-scenes elements (page titles, descriptions, etc.).
- Web development. SEO development best practices should be provided to the dev team so they understand which approaches are most desirable to ensure optimal search engine crawling and indexing.
The SEO advice and guidance at each stage will go a long way to ensuring that a search engine friendly Web site is built from the outset.
When the Timing is Off …
What I described in the earlier client example is the ideal scenario: a revamp of the Web site is planned in the near future. However, the majority of companies only overhaul their Web sites every two to four years, so this scenario likely won’t apply in most cases.
So what if you just launched a new Web site six months ago, and didn’t think about SEO until now? Are you supposed to wait two more years when marketing comes up with new branding and the Web site needs to be overhauled? That’s likely not the best option.
You’ll have to work with your SEO expert to come up with the least invasive solutions to get the job done. If, according to the expert, the ideal scenario is to completely recode the entire Web site, but you simply don’t have the budget for the work required, you must challenge your SEO partner to come up a solution that will enable them to accomplish their SEO objectives while staying within your budget.
As I wrote in “Balancing Aesthetics and SEO in Web Site Development,” the SEO expert should prioritize the needed Web site changes. A list of “must haves” and “like to haves” can help you — the client — determine what’s essential and what can be put on the backburner until additional resources become available. (Or until the site gets revamped — whatever comes first.)