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For new sites, or site rebuilds, it's worryingly common for search engine optimisation to be the last thing considered.

From my experience, most sites that have SEO tacked on as an after-thought tend not to rank well in Google as a result.

Of course, as an SEO, I'm biased, but you can quite often spot the sites that have thought about SEO while the site was being planned, rather than after it was built. They're usually the ones with all the traffic. 

If you're in a position where you're looking to build (or rebuild) a site, there are a lot of reasons to think about SEO from the start, not least because SEO is one of the most undervalued marketing channels around.

You get to choose the right CMS

There's a whole range of content management systems that have their own benefits and drawbacks.

When SEO is baked into your plans before you choose your CMS, you can reduce your chance of finding any hidden surprises, like product pages that 404 if the product is out of stock, or thousands of pages of duplicate content and an inability to 301 redirect.

These issues are surprisingly common, especially with bigger CMS providers. If you're going to sign a contract for an expensive CMS, get an SEO to talk to the vendor first, and let them play with a demo build - after all, you wouldn't buy a house without getting a surveyor in first.

You can plan a proper site structure

When you're thinking about SEO before your site is built, you can plan how best to link each page together effectively, and how to make your navigation work well for search engines, as well as for your visitors.

You can make sure that you can reach important pages in as few clicks as possible from your homepage, and you can generally build in a way that's most likely to perform best (SEO Gadget has an excellent post on site architecture if you want to find out more).

If you're just thinking about SEO after your site is live, then your site structure can be one of the hardest things to change.

You can make sure your site is accessible

Even if you have an excellent CMS, a load of great content and a lovely design, you may find that your site isn't as accessible to search engines as it could be.

You may find that there's text that the search engines can't read because it's been placed within a background image, for example. While these things are usually fixable, it's better to not have the issue in the first place. Once it's built and live, it takes longer to change.

Having an SEO on board while your site is being planned, designed and built near enough ensures that you won't see unnecessary issues like this affect you.

Your tracking won't kill you

It's much rarer these days, but you still see things like session IDs used to track visitors. There's a load of different ways in which your web analytics can be set up, some of which can significantly damage your chances of ranking well.

Session IDs, where each visitor gets a unique tracking code in the URL, is one such example that can lead to problems. In this interview with Google's Matt Cutts by Eric Enge, Eric asks Matt what he thinks of session IDs, and Matt's answer begins with "don't use them".

If your site is built with SEO in mind, then you can make sure that your tracking isn't set up in a way that can cost you valuable search traffic.

Your keyword research is an advantage, not an after-thought

When an SEO consultant is brought on after a site is built, it generally means the pages on the site have already been determined. The content has been decided, the pages are live and it's the job of the SEO to optimise them.

Typically, the keyword research then needs to fit around what's already on the site. This happens more often than it should, and it's completely backwards. The best scenario is for the keyword research to be done before the site is built, during the planning stages and, ideally, as early as possible.

This way round, you've got a huge advantage, it's easier to build pages around keywords that you know people are more likely to use, your category pages can be named better and you know how best to describe your products.

You may discover a demand for similar products that you hadn't thought about before, or a wealth of related informational keywords that could send potential customers your way. The point is, the keyword research should inform which pages are created, not the other way round.

You can set your site up to help build you links

If you have a full SEO strategy in mind before you begin work on building the site, you may find you can do some of the more interesting link building techniques to better effect.

One of the best examples of this is being able to have a blog sit on a folder on your main site, instead of tucked away on a subdomain or on a completely different domain. This way, you can be sure that you'll be making the most of all of the links the blog picks up.

There are a lot of content management systems built for e-commerce that don't allow blogs to be included on a folder, but that hasn't stopped Kiwi Collection or Sofa.com from being able to do it, most likely because they were thinking about SEO before it was built, instead of tacking it on at the end (note: neither of those sites are clients).

It may seem like a small thing, but it could prove to be hugely beneficial to them in the long run.

Whether your link building strategy involves writing amazing blog posts, having content that can be easily embedded or even using badges - if you plan it in from the start, you may find that it's easier for you to pick up links, or that you get more from them than your competitors do.

The bottom-line is, if you have SEO in mind before your site is built, you should find that you don't have the technical issues that some of your competition does, and you'll be in a better position to get on with the job of building links and getting traffic, instead of putting out fires and playing SEO catch-up.

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Published 15 March, 2011 by Dave Peiris

Dave Peiris is Senior Natural Search Analyst at iCrossing and a contributor to Econsultancy.

1 more post from this author

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Rudi Sellers

Rudi Sellers, Principal Consultant at Infosys Lodestone

I think you raise some intesresting points that are pretty hard to disagree with. I would like to see more balance between getting SEO right and the overall customer experience, which doesn't get a mention in this article. Many digital professionals have been put off by SEO tactics and professionals that deliver traffic to the site but do little to serve the brand and create a distinct and enjoyable customer experience. Do you have some examples if sites that are able to deliver this?

over 5 years ago

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Sam Bird

Cheers for the post Dave. I can't agree more! There is nothing more frustrating than having to correct site issues that could have been implemented from the start. In many cases I find that if a new site is lead by SEO it offers a higher level of usability as well.

over 5 years ago

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Ifraz Mughal

Great post Dave - clear and concise reasons why SEO needs to be considered upfront during build projects.

over 5 years ago

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James

I think this post perhaps comes at the problem from what I'd consider the perspective of a "marketing" person and not a designer/developer.

I'm pretty sure most agencies actually do consider most of the fundamental SEO techniques and do include semantic code and structure in their sites but maybe don't shout loud enough about what is fundamentally just good technique.

over 5 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

It seems a bit 2004 this post. I'm surprised this conversation still exists.

Most web design/UX'ers have moved on and consider SEO as they have realised targeted traffic is a big reason why the website exists.

Most SEO'ers have moved on and consider the brand, UX and design. You have to. Otherwise your recommendations will go nowhere. Right Rudi?

What should be understood is that a web build is always a compromise between competing stakeholders.

You need the best advocate for each discipline to get a well rounded result. but even the best advocate isn't going to get everything they want.

over 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Couldn't agree with your more! If you are designing or re-launching your website, you should definitely incorporate SEO into the new site. It will flow better and fit seamlessly within the content, so visitors won't be able to tell. Plus, your site gets off on the right foot.

over 5 years ago

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Brad

Dave, good job on this post! Although I dare say if more design companies considered SEO in the first place as they should, I probably wouldn't have as much work lol! I spend a good deal of my time working on fixing or adding the SEO elements to sites that never thought about it in the first place.

over 5 years ago

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Ross

This is a great post!

A lot of companies don't even give SEO a second thought when they are developing a website, going for just the visual appearance. This post shows the importance of not making this mistake and preparing your site for ranking well, so thank you! :)

over 5 years ago

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Samuel

Completely Agreed! Setting up a new site should begin in the exactly the opposite direction than people are used to. First it should all be about if people are actually searching for your products, second the structure of the site should be around the most important pages/keywords, third as you mentioned the CMS should work or "be hacked" to make the structure work for you, fourth THE CONTENT, etc.... The looks and feeling of the website is only the icing on the cake that makes you want to eat it but most times is flavorless!

over 5 years ago

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Kelvin Lee

Very true! SEOs all understood the importance, but often times they are overlooked when the project didn't involve SEO specialists in the planning stage. Great artcle!

over 5 years ago

Alexandra Kington

Alexandra Kington, e-Business and Marketing Specialist at Galaxy Optical

Very informative post. I do agree that SEO needs to be considered throughout the development process of a website build / re-build, but I don't believe it should be the main focus. The site map should be written for the user, not spiders - same with content.

Google is beginning to consider engagement more and more relevant to ranking, so surely writing for your audience is the way to go? Keep SEO in mind at all times, but don't become a slave to it - your customers should call the shots, not the search engines.

over 5 years ago

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Joe Pelissier

You reflect a frustration that a lot of 'experts' have when asked to help with a site after completion.

I'm a copywriter not an SEO but the same principle applies. Clients need to workout what they want to communicate, and to whom, first. Interestingly, this is increasingly linked to SEO in order that the web copy is optimised the best way possible.

The challenge is to find web designers who are willing to put SEO and web copy considerations before the visual look of a site. A tough one.

They are out there but are few and far between.

over 5 years ago

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Rebecca Haden

You're so right! You can also optimize for faster load time, make sure that the content and the design really work together well, and avoid using SEO-unfriendly technologies.

When I gently suggested to one design firm that they should bring me in at an earlier stage, they said, "We keep trying to remember to do that." Perhaps this post will help designers and site owners remember.

over 5 years ago

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Jeff Riddall

Great post and recommendations Dave. So many organizations need to realize that just implementing basic SEO best practices when they are performing a new site build or redesign will give them a foot up on many of their online competitors who are doing nothing.

over 5 years ago

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Bill Rowland

Dave,

"I feel your pain."

I've encountered way too many sites where countless problems could have been avoided if they had only considered SEO in advance. As a result their sites become one challenge after another to build authority and rank.

over 5 years ago

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Horst Joepen, CEO at Searchmetrics

You’re spot on with pointing out that keyword analysis up front is essential, Dave. One thing I’d like to add and can’t emphasise enough is that keyword analysis does not end there.

Like all things SEO, it’s an on-going battle and it is critical that businesses analyse how their keywords – and their rivals’ - are ranking in SERPs. This process becomes especially challenging for organisations which hope to rank highly for numerous short- and long-tail terms, so regular disciplined analysis should never be overlooked.

over 5 years ago

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freelance seo specialist

Yes, i agree on your article, and now Google release the update of Google panda and lot of websites got hit and penalize. Hard to pull it back but yeah, we need to find a away to make SEO survive the update. I am hoping that SEO will not gonna get baked, Google just want to take it more serious in general.

about 4 years ago

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