2021 SEO Checklist before launching a website
It seems to be a common train of thought that a website should be designed and launched first and an SEO strategy implemented thereafter.
I've worked with plenty of clients over the past 7 years who have insisted that this is the right way to do it. This is understandable as most people are likely to consider what will be seen by their client or customer before considering what won't be seen.
This article will not cover SEO tasks that particularly change the look of the pages to the end user. When I undertake an SEO strategy project for a client, it typically involves keyword research, image optimisation, addition of alt text and schema markup, audit of content for H1, H2, paragraphs etc. In many ways, the website is supercharged for the benefit of Google and other search engines so that they know what the website is about and therefore enables them to serve it to the right searchers.
That said, complications can happen when I make recommendations that will change how the website would look because I do not make changes to a website layout or appearance without authority of the website owner and what starts as a single SEO project then turns into a combined SEO and design project which can take longer, cost more and have an implication on other aspects of the website too. On certain platforms it can also mean the mobile site layout is also compromised and would need altering. There is no easier way to lose a potential customer than to have a poorly laid out website.
So, contrary to what might be believed, the 'fun stuff' (designing the website) is better done after an SEO strategy project has been completed so that all agencies involved in the project know exactly what should be included on each page.
It is also worth considering that once a new website is launched, Google will place that website in a 'sandbox' - purgatory for websites. For about 2 months. Google needs to trust a site before it puts effort into placing it within search engine results pages (SERPS). So there is some time after launch which can also be used to invest in SEO but the better the website before launch, the better chances of being seen more quickly after launch.
The following are a list of SEO tasks to be considered before launching a new website. It is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good indication of the key aspects of SEO that should be covered before building the wireframe layout of the website:
Keywords are words related to the purpose of your website/ business that are used by search engines like Google to infer meaning and intent behind search queries.
For the search above, potato is a keyword, as is buy a potato and also where can I buy a potato. These are all words and phrases that people could put into Google in order to find where they can buy a potato.
What we need to consider here is the intent of the search query. The word 'potato' does not tell us much about what the person wants to do with the potato whereas the whole sentence is much clearer. We know what the person wants to do: they want to buy a potato and because Google can only see text and not images, it will look at these kinds of keywords on a web page (in relation to the rest of the content) to find out what the page is about and who should see it.
Now that I have explained this, it is easy to understand that if this page now shows up to people who are looking to buy a potato, then I only have myself to blame...
We can use tools like Googles Keyword Planner to gather ideas for relevant keywords by searching by subject or a competitor website. The search below is for the subject of interior design:
We can see that this search has returned various keywords to the right of the red line. In fact, 983 suggested keywords have resulted from this search. As above, this search term is a bit vague. If someone puts interior design into Google, we don't know if they want to hire someone for interior design, study interior design, look for jobs in interior design etc. We don't know their intent. We would need to take some time to try different search terms and competitor sites to build up a list of relevant keywords. Often, long-tailed keywords (keywords of 3 or more words) give a better idea of intent than shorter keywords. It is worth finding good quality long-tailed keywords to use on your website.
HOW MANY KEYWORDS SHOULD WE FIND?
Let's say a website is being planned for an interior designer and has the following main pages: HOME, ABOUT US, DESIGN SERVICES, TESTIMONIALS, CONTACT. Under the DESIGN SERVICES tab there are separate pages for LOUNGE DESIGN, KITCHEN DESIGN, BEDROOM DESIGN, BATHROOM DESIGN. Each of the main and sub pages would need some keywords allocated to them. So we would create buckets in which to place keywords.
PAGE PURPOSE/ TITLES
For the BATHROOM DESIGN page we would place all keywords that relate to this page that we have found during our research into the BATHROOM bucket. I would then allocate just one keyword for the page title which is essentially what that page is about - the page purpose. In this case it would be something like 'Interior Design for Bathrooms'. This is our H1 (main) header. We could then have keywords allocated for H2 headers (sub headings) like choosing the right bathroom suite, tiles for bathrooms and showers, interior design options for wetrooms etc We can have several H2 headers if needed. We would then place other related or similar keywords within the paragraphs of our content accordingly. This process would be repeated for each page so that we have all content written before we need to consider page layout and depth.
When we write the content for a page there are a few things that we need to keep in mind: when Google places a website or webpage in a SERP it is because it believe that that page can answer a question or solve a problem. The more it believes that it can do this, the higher up in it's listings it will place the site. With that now in mind:
HOW MUCH CONTENT?
Web pages need to have good quality, honestly written content that (as Google look for) solve a problem or answer a question. For a page that is a target page (one that we actively want to be placed on a SERP) I would recommend an absolute minimum of 300 words but more if the subject of the page requires it. Consider the lenth of this blog. By the time you reach THIS word, you will have read over 1100 words. Blogs are a bit different to regular web pages but the point is the same: write what is required to get the job done.
HOW MANY KEYWORDS?
We have already discussed that each page needs one main keyword and then several other related or similar keywords. I try to maintain a keyword density or between 1-3%. That is, every 100 words should contain 1-3 keywords or phrases. This is not an absolute rule but we want to balance specificity with information to ensure that search engines get a very clear idea about what the content is about and we use keywords to keep it on the right path.
I would also recommend placing the main keyword near to the front of the first paragraph and near to the end of the last paragraph.
Meta details refer to the text that you would see when you search for something on Google.
The text to the right of the red line above show meta details for the search query 'carpets in Bedford'. There are several things to note about the meta details:
The larger blue text is called a meta title. This should relate directly to your H1 page header as well as your business and possibly your location. It should not exceed 60 characters in length to avoid being truncated.
The bottom darker text is called the meta description. Whilst it is less important than the meta title, it is still important. It should contain a keyword close to the front of the text and can contain related or similar keywords as required. The keywords that are included in the search query will be emboldened. This text should not exceed 160 characters in length in order to avoid being truncated.
The text at the top starting 'https;//...' is the page URL. This could be any page within a website and not just a homepage. The URL should also relate to the H1 header, meta title and main keyword focus of the page.
So as an example, if we were to search for 'carpets in Bedford' on Google, then an SEO strategy for a website could be as follows:
URL - www.carpetwebsite.co.uk/carpetsinbedford
Meta title - Carpets in Bedford | The Carpet Shop | Bedford
Meta Description - Buy Carpets in Bedford. Visit our bedford carpet showroom to see our range of carpets. Book a free site survey now. (115 characters)
H1 page header - Carpets in Bedford
IMAGES & ALT TEXT
Whilst we have already confirmed that Google cannot see images, it can see alt text. Alt text serves several purposes:
Alt text is what appears on a web page if the images cannot load
Alt text helps website crawlers to understand the purpose of the image
Alt text is what is read by visually impaired people to understand what the image is about
Be mindful that Google Images is a very popular search engine too and images will be returned in a search page on Google Images based on the Alt Text attribute of the image.
Alt text should be keyword rich and therefore is a balance of SEO and subjectivity. An image of a bath on an interior design website shouldn't just be called bath but rather something like contemporary bath interior design idea.
Of course, it is rare to see a website without images. Whilst it may help from a viewpoint of page loading speeds (we'll come on to that next) it would take away from the aesthetic quality of a website in that us humans get a bit bored staring at words all day and would much rather see lot of pretty pictures and diagrams.
The image above has absolutely nothing to do with this article. Looks nice though, doesn't it..?
In order to reduce the time it takes to load web pages, images should be uploaded as next generation formats like webp, JPEG 2000 or JPEG XR. These formats provide better compression than JPEG or PNG formats and will therefore download quicker without decreasing the quality of the image.
Even before the website is built, we can collate all images in the right format along with alt text so that all the information is ready to add to the site.
In a nutshell, we need a web page to take between 1-3 seconds to load before the viewer might decide to switch to another website. This is why we want images to be in the right format and not too big. There are other things that we can do in the planning stages of buiding a website to ensure that pages load faster:
Choose simple fonts and don't use more than 2 different fonts on a website. All fonts need to be loaded which takes time.
Limit the use of embedded videos in your website
Limit the use of animations like sliding galleries or moving text.
When our website is built we can use Googles Pagespeed Insights tool to check the speed of a page and find out where we could make improvements. It is important to consider both mobile and desktop versions of your website for loading speed.
The image above is for a new website that I am building for my business and yes - that's a 96% score on the pagespeed loading that you can see!
I feel that this is the right time in this article to also mention that iFrames are a big 'no no' from an SEO standpoint. iFrames are a window in your website that lead to another website. From Google's perspective, they are opportunities for the viewer to click on a third party site and risk receiving malware, spyware or a virus.
A final note on this point: A web page must balance aesthetics, functionality and good SEO. This will sometimes mean using images, different fonts, videos or even (*shudder) iframes. We just have to be mindful of the balance between these three key elements.
STRUCTURED DATA/ SCHEMA MARKUP
Schema markup are pieces of code that help Google to know what your website or web page is about. Google will send out 'spiders' to crawl the internet and once they come across a website they will try and find out everything that they can about it: content, alt text, links, buttons - you name it, they want to know about it.
As you can imagine, it isn't easy crawling nearly 1.9 billion websites and around 25 billion pages so if we can help Google out here it will be beneficial to us in getting our pages indexed in the right way and possibly in a shorter time.
Schema Markup comes in a few forms depending on what the website or page is doing. For example:
A product page can have a product schema.
A blog page can have an article schema.
A retail outlet can have a local business schema
There are other page schemas too for people, organisations, videos, FAQs and more.
Schema doesn't just help Google to correctly index your pages but the viewer can also get a better picture of what your website contains. For example, a product schema could have information pertaining to a produc rating and therefore on a Google SERP, the viewer would also see the review stars and ratings. This information will give the owning website a better chance of receiving traffic than other sites without reviews.
In order to generate schema markup for your pages, visit the Technical SEO website which has a really simple system for creating and testing the code before you add it to your website. (In fact, if you explore the pages of Technical SEO, you will find quite a few useful tools related to the SEO of your website).
Adding schema markup will vary from platform to platform. WiX has it's own way of allowing schema to be added to a page:
Go to the MENU & PAGES icon on the left
Choose SITE MENU
Click on the 3 dots on your required page
Scroll along to ADVANCED SEO
Choose 'Structured Data Markup'
Add New Markup
Add your code here.
When you launch your website, make sure you have your schema markup data ready and once everything is added, you will need to submit your website sitemap to Google Search Console for indexing. Bing and Yahoo use Webmaster Tools as a joint equivalent to Search Console.
Blog is short for weblog. There's some digital trivia for you!
Blogging is a great way to improve the visibility of your website through the creation of good quality content. Your blog articles should be useful, informative, interesting and keyword rich. We want Google to understand the content and place it within SERPS so that the end user spends time reading it and interacting with it.
For those of us old enough to remember newspapers, we can consider the layout of a blog similar to a news story in a paper:
HEADLINE - grabs the attention of the reader
1ST BOLD PARAGRAPH - outlines the key points of the article
MAIN CONTENT - giving further information
Search engines like Google will read the content of your blogs in the same way.
HEADLINE - your blog title should contain the main keyword relating to the topic of the article
1ST BOLD PARAGRAPH - doesn't have to be bold but should contain the main keyword of your article again
MAIN CONTENT - provide useful, good quality, readable content.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I BLOG?
This really depends on your circumstances. If you have a marketing team at your disposal then clearly you will be able to produce more content than if you are a sole trader.
Neil Patel suggests that companies who blog 16 times per month will enjoy 3.5 times more traffic than those who blog 0-4 times per month. Whilst I am sure we would all like to treble our customer base, this is just not viable for everyone. I certainly do not write this often. I wish I could but I just don't have time. I'm far too busy with work as it is... which means I must be doing something right...
Ultimately, you need to set your schedule so that you can produce your content on a regular basis. As long as the quality is good, all blogs will benefit your website.
CONTENT BEFORE LAUNCH
There's nothing worse than launching a website that doesn't have enough content to hold the viewer's attention. They'll bounce off of your website and go elsewhere which is detrimental to your own SEO efforts. So make sure you have plenty of content ready to upload to your site prior to launching it.
HOW LONG SHOULD MY BLOGS BE?
There are different theories on this but ultimately we need an article to do one of the following:
answer a question,
provide a solution,
solve a problem.
A blog should be built for longevity too and so it should be comprehensive in it's content. For this reason, I try to write articles that are at least 1,500 words. I want to build trust with my readers and show that I can cover everything that is required.
It is not wrong to write blogs that are shorter but in my opinion, if I see a blog that is 300 words in length, I will always question whether that article will give me what I want in enough detail compared to other blogs. Google can look at the article in the same way when it chooses which websites to show on a SERP in order to give the viewer the best quality results that it can.
There are plenty of SEO tasks that can be done before launching your website. In order to compete amongst the competition and be heard above all the noise, you should take some time to make sure that your website will be built with good quality content with relevant keywords. Make sure evetything is correctly labelle dbehind the scenes with good, strong meta details and have plenty fo blog articles ready so that they can be uploaded during the website build phase pre-launch.
Once your website has launched, give yourself a quick pat on the back for a job well done but don't rest for too long. Now that your website is live, you need to submit your website and sitemap to Google Search Console, hook the site up to Google Analytics to keep an eye on viewer behaviour and continue to make additions and improvements ot your website over time.
That's enough for this article. Your 2021 SEO checklist before launching a website has given you plenty to be getting on with.
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