For the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of technical SEO consulting work for businesses that were redesigning their websites. Companies of all sizes have asked me to review their website prototypes and backend content management systems (CMS) to be sure they weren't going to make their websites tank in the search engines.
This is such an important step in every website's redesign process, yet it's often overlooked by companies who just want to make a cool site and go live with it as quickly as possible. Each time I've done this type of SEO consulting, I've spotted potential SEO snafus in early prototypes and wireframes and within the CMS, which can easily be fixed at that early stage. This helps avert any disasters before the site goes live and any search engine traffic is lost.
On the other hand, I've also been hired by companies to be involved in their website redesign process, yet despite my continued requests to be kept in the loop throughout the process, I don't hear from them until they're a week (or less!) away from going live with their new site. Unfortunately, at that point it's usually too late to fix everything that might be wrong.
With this in mind, I've come up with the following best practices to working with a technical SEO consulting during your website redesign.
Hire your technical SEO consultant when you first decide you're going to redesign your website.
This is highly critical, yet rarely done. It's important because your SEO consultant can help make sure you choose the best website developer from the start. Not all developers and designers are created equal. Some have a good understanding of how to build a search-engine-crawler friendly site, but most don't. If you hire one of the few that do, then half your battle has been won. Your SEO consultant will know the right questions to ask them and can help you with the hiring process.
Send your SEO consultant everything you're working on that relates the website design.
Even if you don't think some aspect of the redesign is important to SEO, you may be surprised. Get your development team in the habit of copying your technical SEO consultant on anything they send you. You never know what seemingly little things an experienced SEO consultant might spot that could mean the difference between parts of your website being invisible to search engines or having it dominate the search results.
Have your technical SEO consultant on phone calls with the developers.
One of the key issues when redesigning your website is to ensure that search engine spiders can easily find, crawl, and index every page and every bit of content that's contained every page of your website. Many issues are technically complicated and require direct communication with the developers to explain what the issue is and why it's critical to fix. You don't want your developers to have to go through a third party, such as your marketing director, who may not understand all the nuances that your SEO consultant has discovered.
Hire a technical SEO consultant even if your developers have a good understanding of SEO.
This may seem like overkill, but it's always helpful to have someone whose only job is SEO to be overseeing your redesign project. While one company I was consulting with had most of the SEO tactics down pat, there were still some advanced areas I was able to help with, which should make a huge difference to search engine traffic when implemented on the new site. There's no sense in cheaping out if you're paying a huge sum to redesign your site. A few extra bucks for an SEO consultant to review everything will likely provide a much greater return on investment.
Be wary if your development team tells you that your SEO doesn’t need to review any particular piece of the pie.
I often think that some web developers may purposely try to tell the companies that their SEO doesn't need to be involved in certain things because they’re worried that their creativity will be stifled. What happens then is that the clients provide their SEO with things to review as an afterthought when approvals are due that very day! This, of course, shouldn't happen if you've trained your developers to cc: your SEO consultant on everything, but it's unfortunately all too common. Marketing teams often get so engrossed in the creative process that they forget they hired their technical SEO in the first place.
If some SEO recommendations just aren't feasible, ask for alternative recommendations.
There are usually many different ways to develop a crawler-friendly website. At times your technical SEO consultant may recommend some things that go completely against something you're trying to do for marketing or other purposes. If some recommendations simply can't be made, find out if there are workarounds. You may find that there are other ways of doing the same thing. Your SEO consultant will tell you which things are absolutely necessary and which aren't. There are very few things set in stone when it comes to SEO, so don't be afraid to ask for alternatives.
If you've covered all your SEO bases, don't be afraid to launch your new website.
While you'll certainly want to keep a close eye on your new website, especially for technical issues that may cause it not to work correctly once it's been made live, you shouldn't have to be concerned about lost rankings and search engine traffic if you've planned ahead. As long as your technical SEO was fully onboard throughout the process, and their recommendations were implemented correctly, then you shouldn't have to worry about any unsuspecting SEO snafus. In fact, you'll likely see your search engine traffic levels soar!
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+.