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October 16, 2010
Bake Your SEO Into Your Website Design

When you embark on a redesign of your website, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you hire a design and development company that knows how to build the infrastructure of the website in a search engine crawler-friendly manner. This should be non-negotiable.

But that’s just the beginning.

You also will need to address other SEO tactics before you get too deep into your redesign so that you do not lose your previous search engine traffic and also so that you can gain additional targeted visitors with your new website.

Here are just a few SEO strategies you’ll want to make sure your website developer understands how to implement into your new site.

Creating a hierarchical navigation scheme

Search engines look explicitly at how all your pages are linked together in order to determine their place within the site. Pages that are linked from every other page will be given more weight than those that are only linked from a few others. This is all considered a form of internal link popularity, or in Google language, internal PageRank.

During your redesign, it’s imperative you ensure that any content which was previously bringing targeted search engine visitors continues to do so with the new design. Ensure that any informational content that will be focused on the more general and competitive keyword phrases (for example, product and service pages) are high up in your site’s navigational structure.

Coding of navigation menus

Along with a search engine friendly navigational hierarchy, you also will need to ensure that the links contained within the navigation are coded in a way that makes them visible and crawlable to search engines. This is not always the default with some development companies. When your website navigation is invisible to search engines, it causes the pages linked within them to not receive the internal link popularity they should receive.

You also will want to avoid drop-down box links as the main form of navigation (CSS mouseovers are fine).

Redirecting old URLs to their new counterparts

If URLs must change in the redesign due to a new content management system (CMS) or back-end coding, search engines may take some time to index the new URLs as well as give them the same weighting they gave the previous URLs due to URL age factors. Because of this, it's imperative to redirect all old URLs to their relative counterpart within the newly designed website. Be sure to tell your developer to use 301 redirects rather than 302’s or Meta redirects. This will pass the link popularity of the old URLs to the new ones quickly, as well as ensure that site visitors don't receive 404-not-found errors.

Removing session IDs and other tracking links

It's best not to use session IDs to track visitors, but if your system must use them, you'll only need to feed the "clean" URLs to the search engine spiders. Otherwise, they may get caught in an infinite loop, indexing the same content under multiple URLs. You also will want to avoid any sort of campaign-tracking links appended to URLs because these can split your link popularity by causing your content to be indexed under multiple URLs. If this type of tracking is inherent in your system, use the canonical link element to maintain one URL for every page of content.

Hire an SEO consultant as necessary

While these are just a few of the important SEO things to watch out for during your redesign, many others exist. Don't be surprised if you get some push back from your developer. Don’t let this person tell you that these things are not important -- they are all critical and should be non-negotiable. If he or she refuses to implement them or need to understand why they need to, be sure to hire a professional SEO expert who can explain things and make sure it’s done correctly. If he or she still won’t comply, start looking around for a new developer -- ASAP!

There will always be a few unexpected bugs to work out when your site goes live, but if you are careful and know what you’re doing, you won't have to be afraid of losing your search engine visitors along the way. Great comfort can be found in knowing that the people looking for what you offer will continue to find you in the search engines with ease.

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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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