Your website the core of your online presence and while organic is often a main source of traffic, many businesses don’t think about their SEO until after the launch of their new site.
No matter how impressive your site looks, without carefully considering search engine optimisation as part of your web project it will inevitably lack the elements required to perform well online.
Chris Shelbourn, Head of Technical SEO at our connected agency, WMG, shared his expertise to support your website migration and why SEO should be considered from the very start.
From an SEO perspective, what do businesses need to be aware of when launching a new site?
I think even before you get into the design or build phase, it’s important to be thinking about the site map and hierarchy of the web pages. Making sure you've got a dedicated landing page for each of your core services and a dedicated page for all the information that users might want.
Map all that out as a spreadsheet or just some sort of document to work out the interrelationship of those pages within the hierarchy and how they might interlink. I'd do all of that before you even get into designs and certainly before you get into build.
It’s important to consider SEO elements before you get into the design phase to make sure you've got space within the design for the appropriate amount of content for your market. For example, traditional industries like legal and finance will require a higher volume of content or EAT style content to rank well - we have tools that can help you judge this for your industry.
If you’re thinking of targeting different international markets, you also need to plan for this approach from the start. Are you going to take different top-level domains or are you going to have sub folders or sub directories of a .com or a generic TLD? All these considerations feed into our auditing process.
As part of this design phase, is it important to consider the menu and navigation too?
Navigation is very important. Having internal links within the top navigation to your key commercial landing pages is critical from an SEO point of view. You might need to use dropdowns or mega menus to accommodate those, but Google still gives a lot of weight to those links in the top nav. Also, from a user perspective, you want people to be able to find the important content for your business.
WMG regularly conduct Google Analytics audits for our clients, tell me more about the purpose of these?
The idea behind these audits is to spot any issues with the Google Analytics set up that might affect tracking. So that might be in terms of traffic and leads or it could be engagement metrics like bounce rate. It also ensures that all pages actually have the correct code on them and that none have duplicate code. We often find that there are tracking issues with our clients when they first come on board, so we always recommend going through this auditing process.
Looking at historical data in GA to understand what's performing well is something you can also do within this process - it’s actually useful to look at historic data to guide site mapping. GA obviously allows you to monitor current performance and fix any issues that the audit uncovers as well. This will mean more accurate data going forward which, in turn, allows you to make better informed business decisions.
During a migration process, we try to minimise any impact to your rankings and traffic. We also take this time to look at areas where you’re not getting much traffic even though there’s a lot of opportunity. Maybe you’re just not ranking well for that specific page. This would involve keyword research and competitive market analysis to guide this process.
When you’re rebuilding a site, you also have an opportunity to tie in a content review. Whether it’s purely from an optimisation point of view where you carry over your old content and better optimise it with keywords and internal links. Or, if your new design allows you to fit more content on the page, it could be a good opportunity to look at rewriting or extending that content to make it more EAT compliant.
What does your team consider to preserve a website’s rankings when migrating or launching a new site?
Firstly, it's important to make sure you map 301 redirects from the old pages to the corresponding new ones and implement those redirects to carry over the current rankings. It's also really important to move current title tags, meta descriptions, header tags and content over as a bare minimum. But as we've just discussed, it's also an opportunity to review and improve those elements too.
If you’ve invested in a brand-new site, you probably want it to be in a better technical SEO state than the old one and as technically proficient as it can be to build out on links, authority and content. So, we do a pre-launch and post launch audit which covers 100+ technical SEO checks to ensure this is the case. These checks cover all sorts of elements such as:
- Checks within Google Search Console
- An XML sitemap set up with the right pages
- Site crawling efficiency
- Content duplications
- Trust earners such as user reviews
- International targeting if it’s an international site
These migration checks are key in terms of maintaining your current rankings while also providing a better platform to implement an effective SEO campaign.
How much time should businesses factor into their project timescales to implement these technical SEO considerations?
We aim to ideally have a month with a near complete staging site to give us sufficient time to complete audits, feedback to the developers, allow them to implement changes before we sign them off and then launch.
In reality, that whole process usually happens in one to two weeks. I would say you need a minimum of a week pre-launch but really, two to four weeks is ideal. If you’re planning a migration or a whole rebuild that you want turning around in a month, it’s not going to happen.
Post-launch usually moves quite quickly - we perform the same checks post-launch as we do pre-launch. Even though we recheck the whole site, post-launch is less labour intensive as we should have already spotted and fixed any issues before launching. The aim is to get as much done pre-launch because this gives you the best chance of preserving your rankings and, hopefully, improving them.
How important is the relationship between an SEO agency and a web agency when working on these projects?
We have a great relationship with NetConstruct, and it creates an element of trust as we already have faith in their knowledge and experience. Equally we carry out lots of successful migration projects when the development is done in house by the client or by another web agency.
No matter who we’re working with, the key is to get a dialogue going, have regular scheduled calls to touch base with each other, share documentation, share ways of working – this is all important. I think web development agencies in general are getting more of an understanding around the importance of SEO, especially during a migration.
We definitely encourage direct communication between us and the client's web agency as it’s good to be able to talk to developers directly to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation. Quite often, the client will want to be on them calls or copied into those emails but that's completely standard for us to be transparent in this way.
What is the risk of overlooking SEO in a web project?
If SEO is important to you as a channel, it must be considered. If it's not important to you, then it should be!
You could have a website that, aesthetically, is much better, on brand, has a fantastic user journey, better conversion rates, better infrastructure, better backend that allows you to make changes and upload content. But if you forget about SEO, then you’re risking taking a hit of 30, 40, 50 percent of your traffic. If you lose 50 percent of your traffic, then all of a sudden, you've got to double your conversion rate just to standstill.
Frankly, if you ignore the SEO elements, it could be catastrophic. We've seen some horror stories over the years when actions haven't been done, or they've been ignored as part of the migration process - it can have a really serious impact on rankings and traffic and in turn, leads and revenue. Invariably, what happens then is they just call in an SEO agency to sort it out anyway.
Is there a cross over between the work of a web agency and an SEO agency?
There’s certainly a crossover between SEO and web development such as factors like UX, usability, trust signals, design and site speed. While you’d hope your web development agency is already covering these from a user point of view, they also have a knock-on effect for SEO. Especially for the forthcoming Core Web Vitals update such as how different areas of the page load, whether the site’s secure or whether it’s a good user experience.
I think pretty much all major CMS platforms are now built in such a way that they already tick certain SEO boxes, and they are quite SEO friendly. Some developers are also pretty knowledgeable themselves on SEO, but ultimately, they’ll work to a certain specification and they won't go into the same detail and checks that we would as an SEO partner.
At NetConstruct, we're advocates for a content first approach. Does this mean SEO needs to be considered even earlier within the project?
We always recommend getting your SEO partner involved as early in the project as possible as you’ll simply get more out of your new website. While we could certainly add value in the latter stages of a migration in terms of redirect mapping and technical auditing, if we’re involved as early as the site mapping stage, we can ensure all your SEO boxes have been ticked before going into build.
Involving us this early means we can spot opportunities to do more keyword research around your core products and services which can generate the need for a new page and ranking opportunities. Feeding in this kind of insight from the very start allows you to be more strategic with your SEO rather than just ensuring the site is technically sound in time for launch.
You’re also feeding into a bigger marketing strategy going forward. To maximise the effectiveness of our SEO campaigns, we need buy-in from the client in terms of implementing our recommendations, uploading our content and carrying out our technical actions. If you’re not doing this, you’re ultimately missing out on the chance to get more from your campaigns.
Here at NetConstruct, we understand just how important SEO is to a web project. Working closely with the experts at WMG, we’ve successfully migrated and launched numerous websites while preserving rankings, traffic and site authority including for IStructE.
If you want to find out more about search engine optimisation as part of your web project, don’t hesitate to contact us.