Whether you are creating a site for the first time or in the middle of a redesign, be sure you’re designing with SEO in mind. If you start out with a proper structure and keep a few key things in mind, you won’t have to fight a constant battle to rectify simple detrimental mistakes that are keeping you from getting indexed or from improving your rankings. When major algorithm changes roll out, having a solid foundation for SEO from the start will allow you to quickly adapt and not lose any ground during those changes.
Here are 11 tips to help you build a strong SEO foundation to ensure there won’t be any cracks that could bring your entire search strategy crumbling down:
1. Consolidate www & non-www: Place a server-side, permanent 301 redirect from one to the other, whichever you prefer, so there aren’t two accidental versions of your site running around. Learn more about this from Search Engine Journal.
2. Use Subdomains/Subfolders: While many SEOs differ in recommending subdomains vs. subdirectories (or subfolders), be sure you’re using one of those options rather than placing your content on multiple domains. This allows your root domain to acquire all the “link juice” rather than scattering it around. Also, people who tend to scatter their content often run into the issue of duplicate content without even being aware. More on Subdomains vs. subfolders at moz.com.
3. Include Keywords (If Possible): If possible, include keywords in your root domain name. This will help people, as well as search engines, quickly understand what your site is about, helping them click through to your site as well as getting it ranked higher for relevant searches.
4. Go with Pretty URLs vs. Ugly URLs: When determining how to structure and display URLs, incorporate relevant keywords or text phrases rather than utilizing default, automatic ugly URLs. This helps, again, both users as well as search engines quickly determine what that page will include. An example would be to choose www.sampledomain.com/products/snowboard-bindings rather than www.sampledomain.com/?p=12345.
5. Avoid Lengthy Pages: When possible, break up lengthy content into multiple, relevant pages. This allows the page to be more focused rather than forced, and allows your site to have more URLs that have the potential for getting indexed and ranking.
6. Commit to Fresh Content: Commit to post content on a regular basis – the easiest way to do this is to create a blog. Google and other search engines value fresh, quality content. It’s great to have static pages that are solidly present on your site, but also find a way to consistently update or add new pages to cover all your bases.
7. Speed Up Your Load Times: Keep an eye on how long it takes for your pages to render, as even slight delays in how long it takes for a page to load could not only increase abandonment, but also be detrimental to your rankings. If you have a Webmaster Tools account (more on that later on), you can see your site speed over time, giving you a way to monitor and make fixes when necessary.
8. Avoid/Account for Duplicate Content: Try not to have lots of duplicate content, but sometimes it’s inevitable. When you find it or can’t get around it, properly account for it by utilizing canonical tags. This tag simply tells Google that there’s another page out there with the same content, and to give that URL credit. This method allows both pages to exist, but avoids penalties and also helps the higher priority page get properly indexed and ranked. If the duplicate content doesn’t need to be indexed or even accessed at all for that matter, you might consider using a 301 redirect to the accurate page if it’s old or outdated, or simply telling bots not to crawl and index that page through your robots.txt file.
9. Implement Structured Mark-Up: While engines are getting smarter, it’s still a good idea to implement structured mark-up, like schema tags for example, to help engines better understand what content is on the page. For example, you can use structured mark-up for videos, recipes, logos, products, reviews, etc. This not only helps engines understand what the content is within that block, but some also help to highlight your content on SERPs. The example below shows how rich snippets can make a result stand out among many:
For additional information, here is an infographic showing 10 ways rich snippets can enhance search results.
10. Take Advantage of Webmaster Tools: Establish a Webmaster Tools account and verify your root domain, as well as any subdomains, to have more insight into what the crawler is seeing. You can do this for both Google and Bing, and just be sure to create and submit an XML Sitemap for each profile. This will basically give the crawlers a list of the URLs on your site that should be indexed (although note, it does not guarantee that they will be).
11. Implement Google Analytics Tracking: If you decide to go with Google Analytics, first and foremost take the time to ensure it is implemented correctly. If you have or ever plan to have subdomains, be sure to adjust the tracking code to track across subdomains; the same goes with including more than one domain within one profile. Set up goals right from the get-go, so not only do you know who came to your site and from where, but if they are completing your priority actions. It will help you focus your efforts in the most beneficial areas. If you are an ecommerce site, be sure to utilize ecommerce tracking in Analytics, as it will give you even more insight into what sources and actions are resulting in the most revenue.
While there are many factors to keep in mind while designing or redesigning a site, start with the suggestions above and work from there. Your site will always be changing and Google will always be announcing new algorithm changes; but if you start off with a solid foundation, it makes it a lot easier to adapt quickly so you don’t lose any ground.