If you’re planning on a website redesign heading into the new year, read on! We’ve compiled a website redesign checklist of the most important SEO tactics to consider when switching platforms, launching new content sections or completely overhauling your entire website. The SEO checklist below takes into account Search Metrics annual breakdown of Google’s ranking factors (and the estimated weight of each), as well as Fathom’s own SEO predictions for 2015 (and our thoughts on which factors will be most important). For more detail around each point, please see below:
- Install Google Analytics: Google Analytics is ranked as the most-used analytics tools, according to w3techs.com, with 49.9% of the top 10 million websites online using the tool today. We recommend you install (or upgrade to) the Universal version of Google Analytics code prior to your site launch, even if you’re using another analytics platform too. The universal version of Google Analytics was launched earlier this year (in April), is free and offers a few benefits over traditional code, including: connecting multiple devices, sessions and engagement data, collecting data from ANY digital device, enhanced Ecommerce features, custom dimensions and metrics, and more.
- Set-up goals within GA: Every digital marketer focused on driving true business impact knows the importance of setting up goals in Google Analytics. Goals allow you to track content downloads, ecommerce transactions and other important website conversions. Event tracking will let you know if a visitor watches a video or visits a certain page, but Goal Tracking lets you know when someone completes a series of desired actions (ex: visits a certain page then completes a form). You can give goals a monetary value to help you determine ROI on specific marketing efforts, and they’re pretty easy to set up! Here’s a guide from Google that will make this process super easy: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1032415
- Set-up Google Webmaster Tools (links with GA): Google Webmaster Tools is a search marketer’s best friend, now that Google has removed the ability to see organic keyword data in Google Analytics itself. Google Webmaster Tools is also free, and is an incredible SEO resource for optimizing your website, from a technical and keyword perspective. It has tools that allow you to check your site’s index status, see why your pages are or are not being crawled, submit sitemaps, generate Robots.txt files, see broken links and keywords that driving traffic to your site, and much, much more. We recommend linking your Google Webmaster and Analytics accounts, as soon as you have them both set up. Here is a good link explaining this process: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1120006?hl=en as well as one for setting up a new account: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en
- Create an xml sitemap (submit site in GWT): Creating a sitemap and submitting in via Google Webmaster Tools is a key step in this SEO checklist, meant to let Google know which pages you’d really like people to see. An XML sitemap helps search engines understand your site better; it basically “feeds” the robots with a hierarchy and breakdown of all content. Creating XML feeds has been made extremely easy, thanks to tools like KeyLime Tie and Screaming Frog. WordPress also has a plugin called Google Sitemap Generator that automatically generates new sitemaps on a regular basis: https://wordpress.org/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/. Once you’ve created a sitemap, you can submit it to Google following these instructions: https://support.google.com/sites/answer/100283?hl=en and Bing following these instructions: http://www.bing.com/webmaster/help/how-to-submit-sitemaps-82a15bd4. A typical URL format for XML sitemaps looks like this: http://www.mywebsite.com/sitemap.xml
- Make a list of top competitors in your space: This is an easy one, but is often overlooked when redesigning website. Seeing how your competitors present their products or services (in terms of imagery, content, placement, and hierarchy) can be extremely helpful and save you a lot of time. Why start from scratch? Take notes on the keywords these competitors use on their homepage, the navigation structure, the keywords they use in their H1 tags (if they’re even using them), etc. By doing your competitive homework and baking your findings into your new site design, you’ll be well on your way to stealing market share.
- Develop customer personas: Content marketing is the buzzword these days, and personas go hand-in-hand with writing specifically for your target audience and their pain points / needs. Here is a great example of a persona template Fathom created to help you start this process: https://fathomdelivers.box.com/s/s67tvs4eaweqaagzt6h9. We recommend doing extensive audience research (with tools like Sysomos, Twello, and more) first, and creating personas for both your primary and secondary target customers.
- Create multiple Keyword Lists (break them out into categories or themes): When redesigning a website in 2015, choosing the right keywords to optimize your content with is of utmost importance. Fathom has a methodology of narrowing keywords lists by theme (which includes looking at historical search data, conversion in Adwords & Analytics, competition and a number of other factors), but if you’re doing this for the first time (or as a refresher exercise as part of your website redesign), using Google’s Keyword Planner is a great first step. When using this tool, be sure to include both keywords and phrases and pay attention to the competitiveness of each. Consider focusing on longer-tailed keywords with less competition at launch, then working more competitive keywords into your content as the site ages. We’ve found that chunking keywords by theme, and focusing on one or two themes at a time (until you start seeing ranking improvements) is also a great strategy for companies going through a redesign.
- Create a unique title tag for each page (6-12 words): Every page has a title and meta title, and in most cases, these can be the same thing. However, there are times when you’ll want to vary your page title slightly to be shorter (for graphical / usability / navigation purposes). In these cases, be sure your meta title still mentions the keywords you’re trying to rank for (at least once, but maybe twice). Also, it’s HIGHLY recommended that meta titles are unique. If Google finds duplicate meta titles, they will alert you via Google Webmaster tools that an HTML improvement needs to be made to your site. The more HTML improvements your site shows, the less likely your site will be to rank in the SERPs.
- Create a unique meta description for each page (under 155 characters): Meta descriptions are a field within most CMS platforms that allow you to add a brief summary of what each page is about. If you don’t see this field in your new website backend and are using WordPress as your CMS, download this plugin: WordPress SEO by Yoast. We highly recommend every page has a unique meta description that includes keywords and sticks to Google’s character limit. In some cases, when a meta description is too long, Google will truncate it and you’ll find that either: your keywords are no long visible in the description in the SERPs, or Google is pulling another description from the content on your page. In both cases, chances of ranking for your specific keywords decreases.
- Include 1 <h1> tag on each page (if possible include <h2> and <h3> if needed): Header tags are used on websites to give an added boost of importance to specific phrases or sentences within content pages. When you see a header tag on a website, it is usually formatted differently than the rest of the text on the page (whether it’s bolder, bigger or in a different color). Including keywords in your header tags will help ensure your pages rank for the keywords you’re optimizing the page with. Adding h1, h2 and h3 tags is a small and often overlooked tactic you can implement to make sure your new website is optimized as well as it possibly can be.
- Include ALT tags for every image on your page: When you upload an image, you’ll usually see an option to include an “alternative” description for that image. This is what SEO experts refer to as the “alt tag”. Adding keywords to your alt tag description helps Google understand what the image is (since robots can’t “see” images). If you don’t see an option to add alt tags within your CMS, don’t worry – adding them to an image is as easy as adding this simple line of code to your page wherever your images appear: <img src=”PictureExample.gif” style=”display: none;” border=”0″ height=”1″ width=”1″ alt=”insert keywords here“/>
- Every page should have at least 200 words of unique content: Content is king. That’s still the rule that all SEO experts and content writers abide by, and great digital marketers know how important it is to make that content useful to the end user. Writing content that is helpful and interesting to your target customers ensures: longer time on site, more engagement, higher conversion rates and lower bounce rates. Though length is just one indicator of content quality, it’s an important one. A general rule of thumb in the SEO world is to shoot for writing pages that have at least 200 words of unique content. For product pages, this can be difficult and time consuming (which is when you hire an agency to help!), but it’s worth it. If your goal is to rank organically on Google for keywords that have a plethora of search (rather than paying for each visit via PPC), then writing a plethora of GREAT content is where you need to start. Website redesigns give you the perfect opportunity to audit your company’s content inventory, find gaps and start creating the content needed to help your customers fulfill their search intent. Check out this example of a content inventory we helped one of our clients create: https://fathomdelivers.box.com/s/9yv16kf3ck4jt7sx7xkk
- Set up blog (if it makes sense for your business): Freshness of content is believed to be one of the ranking factors in Google algorithm. Creating a blog is a great way to ensure your company keeps up on creating new, relevant content. WordPress pulled some pretty amazing stats on blogs in 2014, including the fact that over 409 million people view more than 18 billion blog pages each month, and that over tens of thousands of new WordPress blogs are being created every day. Imagine what 2015 will bring in the blogosphere! If you don’t have a blog, you’re missing the boat – and it’s a BIG, hard-to-not-pay-attention-to kind of a boat.
- Include many different forms of content (videos, images, PDF, infographics etc): As mentioned in an above tactic, content is king. But that doesn’t mean content is text only. Videos, images, PDFs and infographics are all very engaging types of content that can help your new website draw visitors into your newly-designed website. Check out some of the cool infographics & videos we’ve created for our clients – hopefully it’ll give you some creative inspiration!
- Link related pages with keyword rich anchor text: Internal linking between relevant pages on your own site is a widely-accepted SEO tactic to help Google understand the hierarchy of content on your site (and determine which pages are “most important”). Internal links should be placed where it makes sense. For example’s sake, let’s say you sell coats. On your main “coats” category page, you talk about the fact that you sell red coats, blue coats, and purple coats. An internal linking strategy that takes SEO into account would say you should add links from the anchor text “red coats”, “blue coats” and “purple coats” on the main “coats” category page back to each specific product page. External links to your site content are equally, if not more important (thanks to the recent Penguin 3.0 update) however are more difficult and time-consuming to acquire. If you’re redesigning your website, start with an internal linking strategy – then work on building external links.
- Consider implementing a keyword tracking tool onsite: There are many keyword tracking tools out there that will help you keep an eye on rankings, but there are a few that do much more. If you’re redesigning your website, it means you already see the potential an enhanced web presence can have on your business. If you see all the dollars you’re leaving on the table by not being visible on Google, making a case for your company to invest in a tool that will help you get the visibility you need should be easy. Consider signing up with a tool like Brightedge, Conductor or MOZ to not only track your organic visibility, but to provide you with SEO insights, competitor reports & recommendations that will take your website to the next level.
We will ensure all bases are covered as you begin (or complete) your website redesign project, and gear up for a big year of inbound traffic and sales in 2015!
For a downloadable version of this SEO checklist, please click on the image of the guide to the right.
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