18 Simple SEO Items Commonly Missed in Web Development

Web Development SEO TipsOne of the things we constantly have to do as SEO experts is give recommendations to companies on how they need to change their site so that they can be better optimized.

The sad thing is that a lot of the things we recommend should have been done during the Web development phase the first time around.

No matter how much the SEO world tries to get the information out there, a lot of Web developers don’t understand the basic concepts of SEO. This in turn leads to sites being developed that an SEO team will later have to tear apart and fix.

So whether you’re designing a new site in-house, using some kind of template site-building system, or hiring an outside firm, here are 18 things that you’ll want to make sure are in place before you launch your site. It will keep us SEO guys from giving your site an overhaul later. By following these guidelines you’ll have a much more search engine friendly web design from the beginning.

1- Perform Keyword Research Before Developing the Site

SEO starts with keywords. And if you’re planning to market your site in the search engines, you should know what keywords you want to rank for before you even start building the site. Make sure this is done FIRST.

Here are some other posts that talk about how to properly do keyword research:

2- Put Non-www to www Redirects in Place

It amazes me how many sites load with and without the www in the URL. The problem with this is that it creates an automatic duplicate of your site, and can waste a lot of link value as people link to both versions. Decide which version of your URLs you want to use, then 301 redirect everything else to the preferred version.

3- Use a Static, Keyword Based URL Structure

Dynamic URLs can cause a lot of problems if not handled right. So rather than going through all of the headache that they cause us SEO-types, just set your site up with good URL rewrites so that you don’t have dynamic URLs in the first place.

More posts about URLs:

4- Have Unique URLs for Each Product/Service

Even if a product or service can be found multiple ways on the site, make sure that there is only one unique URL for each product or service your company offers. This helps to eliminate unnecessary duplicate content problems.

5- Include Redirect Capabilities

You never know when you’re going to want to take a page down and redirect it to something else. The mistake a lot of sites make is that they just take a page down when they don’t need it any more. When this happens you lose the link value that page may have gained while it was live. So do yourself a favor: make sure you can 301 redirect that old page to a new page that can use the juice.

6- Create a Custom 404 Page

Having a custom 404 page makes it so that if someone lands on a 404 page, they at least know they’ve reached the right site. Without a custom 404 in place, they may just assume the site is down and move on to your competitor’s site.

Here is an example of a custom 404 page:

Custom 404

7- Include Keyword-Rich Alt Attributes

Alt attributes are very easy to overlook. But if you use them the right they can be another signal to the search engines to tell them what a page is about. One quick tip on this one: don’t abuse this attribute by using a keyword phrase on every single bullet point image or stuffing a bunch of keywords into the attribute.

8- Make Room for Sufficient Content

Sometimes designers and developers get carried away with the look and feel of the page and forget to include room for text-based content. That’s what the search engines read, so you have to make sure there is a logical place for that content. Ideally, plan on having at least 150-200 words of optimized content on any page you want to rank well.

You should also make sure that your content is structured right. Have one H1 tag at the top of the main content, and then break out other sub topics with H2-H6 tags as appropriate. Make sure to use your keywords in these headings and in the content, but once again don’t overdo it.

9- Set Up Internal Linking Structure

I think that internal linking is one of the most commonly overlooked things for most sites. In fact, Ken Lyons wrote a great post about it that goes into more detail than I can in this post: Want More Link Juice? Here’s an Easy Way to Get It

10- Decide on a Consistent Title Structure

A site should use the same title structure throughout the site. Pick your convention and stick with it. A good format to follow is to have a phrase that includes main keywords for the page and describes what the page is about, followed by a separator (- or | are common), and then your brand name. For example, “Professional SEO Services for Organic Website Optimization | SEO.com”. Keep these titles to under 65-70 characters so they don’t get truncated in the search results.

11- Include Meta Descriptions on Every Page

Since most of the search engines can choose to use your meta description as your snippet in the search results, you should have a unique one written for every page. Include the main keywords and a call to action to encourage clicks. DON’T just make this tag a list of keywords.

12- Allow Inclusion for Other Meta Tags (canonical, robots, etc.)

If you’re using any kind of tracking codes or other things on your site that create duplicate URLs, you’re going to want to be able to include a canonical tag on those pages. Also, depending on how your site is built you may need to include other meta tags like a robots tag and others. Make sure your site’s back end allows for this when necessary.

13- Incorporate Social Media Sharing Buttons

In case you missed it, social media is a pretty big thing right now. I’m not a big fan of the generic ShareThis button, but you need to have some kind of social media sharing buttons on your products and other important pages. Do some research to decide which social networks are best for your site and then stick with those.

More general information about social media:

14- Install Analytics Tracking

If you don’t have any kind of analytics tracking installed, you have no way to tell where you traffic is coming from, what’s working, and lots of other crucial information. Pick a solution and get it installed. Popular ones include:

Make sure that the software you go with will allow you to block your office IP address, track conversions, ecommerce revenues generated through different online sources, and anything else that will help you to understand what is actually affecting your bottom line.

15- Set up and Verify Webmaster Tools Account

Through Google Webmaster Tools you can find out a lot about how Google sees your site, and can give them indications on how to handle certain parameters, submit your XML sitemap, and be notified of problems they find with your site. Bing’s Webmaster Center is coming along, so it’s worth it to go ahead and verify that one as well.

16- Follow Web Standards for HTML, CSS, and Database Programming

The more you follow standards, the easier it will be for someone else to come along later and make changes or modify the site. It’s a real problem when a site’s backend code or database is so complex that it has to be rebuilt later in order for it to be changed.

17- Generate an XML Sitemap

It only takes a few minutes to do it, but once the site is live make sure you create and XML sitemap and submit it to the major search engines through their webmaster tools accounts. It’s even better if you can set this up so that it automatically updates and pings the search engines whenever a change is made.

18- Create a Robots.txt File

When you create your robots.txt file make sure that you are disallowing any pages or directories that you don’t want the search engines crawling. Standard examples would be login pages, search results pages, and shopping cart pages. You should also include a link to your XML sitemap as well. Also, make sure you test this file in your Google Webmaster Tools account to make sure it is working correctly.

Here’s a great site that talks more in detail about how to create a robots.txt file: About /robots.txt

If you follow these 18 guidelines you’ll launch a site that is in great shape as far as SEO is concerned. If you’re an SEO, feel free to add anything else to this list in the comments.

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  1. Glynn says

    This should be shown to all web developers to! Thanks for the great post, also very useful for newbies!

  2. Dana L. says

    Double Amen! These tidbits are commonsense to us, BUT they are easily and often overlooked. Nice checklist!

  3. Beverly says

    Great list! Can you clarify why one would exclude the sitemap.xml file from being crawled via the robots.txt file? Or perhaps I didn’t understand that correctly.

  4. Jerry Okorie says

    Seconded Rick, Big Amen Dan. These are the holy grail for any SEO campaign.Thanks for putting this together.

  5. Geoff Manendra says

    This is really very important article for every designer.
    And thank’s lot for this post why because as an SEO i too came to know few important things in this article. i.e i know only 2 analytical sites u have given few more thanks a lot once again dear.

  6. Sander Lems says

    Sometimes it’s not possible to have an unique URL for a product and the product will be accessible via more than 1 URL. In this case you can use the canonical tag which will say to search engines what the source-url is. All value will go to the source and duplicate content is no issue anymore. Also works across domains!

    • Dan Patterson says

      Canonical is one good workaround, but whenever possible 1 unique URL really is the best way to go.

      Some times in SEO we look for the best possible solution, but other times we have to use these workarounds.

    • John Callaghan says

      XML sitemaps are very useful for large websites (especially when navigation is difficult for bots to crawl). I’d still always recommend them, even on small sites because it’s good practice and doesn’t take long.

      Here’s a recent blog post from SEOMOZ, they were looking testing Googlebot crawl rates and found XML sitemaps to be beneficial – http://www.seomoz.org/blog/googlebot-new-insights

      • Dan Patterson says

        Thanks for the SEOmoz link, John! I have to agree that XML sitemaps can be very helpful and are worth doing for any site.

  7. Roshan @ Railshouse says

    Untrained Developers so often start coding and build a site and it is sometimes too late and very expensive to correct mistakes.

  8. Mark Rushworth says

    The one i wish they’d cater for is specifically in ecommerce, when you delete a product done leave a dead page, build in the option for the deleter to specify a new target page or at least 301 to the parent category.

    drives me mad the amount of dead links this causes.

    Oh and mapping old url’s to new url’s when migrating a site to a new design.

  9. Beckie says

    Thank you for this really helpful list. I have passed it on to a few clients I have. I have also linked to it on my blog. So many women want to start businesses website without having a clue about what needs to be done behind the scenes to a website. They end up spending lots of $ of website design with poor google results. Great tips thanks!

  10. Eric B. says

    Great tips and would like to throw in make sure to incorporate positive backlinks as well if have that as a service. This can help so much especially with ranking systems.

  11. Duran L. says

    You’v really summed it up – all the important things that one should take care of when aiming towards higher ranking on google search results.

    now i need to translate some of that to hebrew, and let our surfers enjoy some quality tips.
    It’s like a checklist for SEO


  12. John Thomas says

    This is a great post to show developers and is a good reminder for them of the quick necessities.

    I would include on this list that they enable gzip and minify javascript. Google is on their lets make the web faster kick and really promoting load speed on sites. It is better for users and search engines that websites load faster.

    This is now a big recommendation in GWT and should now be on the list of mandatory things to do in the development phase.

    Good post Dan

  13. Owen Sheldon says

    I love informative posts like that people read and say well that sounds pretty obvious right? It sure is but so many well known, large companies don’t take half of this stuff into consideration. Should be a popular bookmark for developers.

  14. George says

    Thanks for the valuable 18 tips…many of use generally miss a few of these due to negligence..but these may cost us a lot in the end..

  15. Tom says

    This is a great list Dan, in fact I think I’m going to bookmark this page and use it as a check-list next time I build a site!

    Anyone who works with websites should definitely read this.

  16. Ken Sundheim says

    In reference to #8 – isn’t it just great when a web designer programs in flash. There is no excuse, these guys should know the basics of SEO and the ramifications on their client if they program in “beautiful” ways not conducive to laying groundwork for the client if they want to implement an online marketing campaign.

  17. Keith Chisholm says

    I think it’s also important to mention the use of text for navigation instead of images as well. Lots of sites use images for their navigation, which is a missed opportunity to use a keyword as the link text.

    It is not possible to do this for every site, some sites just need images for the navigation work correctly. In this case, it is important to name the images keywords and include an absolute url (). Google images are a good source of links and the use of an absolute url limits the problems that can occur with google indexing the image.

  18. Joseph @ SEO Goa says

    There is one more point to be added. In case you plan to use a CMS for your website make sure that you can have an unique title as well as description for each page. Also make sure that it does not generate any duplicate content.

  19. Theo @ Swift Creations says

    Some really useful tips here. Thanks very much for sharing. I’d be interested in knowing if I can re-publish this article.


  20. Chris M. says

    this article consits of great tips which will turn out to be a great help for beginers in SEO field as well as for professional designers.this checklist must be used by all web developers.

  21. Goa says

    Yes great collection, i would like to add to it that Google Webmaster Tools tell so much about the website, i guess there should be a dedicated post about that. The Only issue with it is that it takes time to tell potential ways to improve.

  22. Dillon says

    Can I simply say what a relief to discover someone who genuinely understands what they are talking about on the internet.

    You actually understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important.
    More people must check this out and understand this side of your
    story. I was surprised you’re not more popular given that you most certainly have the gift.

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