Baking SEO into the Development Process

September 17th, 2013 in SEO 3 minute read

As part of the online marketing strategy for our clients here at Zeal, we take a careful look at the SEO value of the websites we work with. SEO is often seen as a bolt-on, or post-launch process and whilst online marketing is fundamentally holistic, we need to make sure the foundations are right. This involves considering search engine performance at the planning stage of website development…

Quite often SEO is seen by web developers as something of an evil necessity; something that they are forced to consider but don’t really understand save throwing in a few keywords. What developers are beginning to learn however, is that SEO is really just about following strong development practices. As Google gets more intelligent it becomes apparent that the decisions we make during build have varying impacts on search engine performance.

META data

META data is what appears inside the META tags in the document head. There was a time when this information was crucial to ranking well in search engines but Google relies less on this data than it did a few years ago. That being said, a well crafted page description and enticing page title can dramatically improve click-thru rate from search engines. After all, search engine performance is not just about ranking; it is about sending valuable traffic.

Accessibility

It’s a shame that quite often the ALT attribute on images is exploited for SEO purposes. Originally however, this attribute existed for accessibility reasons, to offer a text description of an image which may not be visible (think text-only browsers, users with vision impairment or poor net connections not fully downloading pictures). There is a lot to be said about accessibility – far too much to go into here – but the basic rule is – look after your users and Google will appreciate this as well.

Page structure

Page structure refers to the markup – the code – behind the page. Typically, the user does not see this, but there is a distinct possibility that other developers will do. By building well-structured websites we are creating a more sustainable product. Quite often, the positive side effect of taking this extra care is lean markup which loads quickly. Google likes this. With the huge uptake in mobile browsing, gone are the days when websites can afford to spend 10 seconds loading.

Other positive factors to an intuitive page structure is following hierarchy conventions. Much like newspapers and magazines, HTML offers tags for headings and paragraphs, which Google can easily follow to understand the flow and priority of the information on the page. In terms of accessibility, screen readers for visually impaired users benefit from sensible page structure also.

Responsive design

I alluded to the importance of mobile-friendly web pages earlier in the article and responsive design is something which has truly taken centre-stage in the past couple of years. Recently, Matt Cutts (one of Google’s search spam engineers) was asked what is the most important search factor in 2013? This was his response:

If you haven’t thought about what your site looks like on mobile you better start. Also, site speed – making your site fast is good for users, and it gives an SEO edge.

– Matt Cutts

With this in mind, Zeal is taking an active approach to incorporate lean, responsive development practices into its new web projects. Responsive design is not really something which can be retrofitted to most websites easily; it needs to be thought about from the very beginning.

Conclusion

There is a lot more to talk about in regards to baking SEO into the development process, which we may go on to discuss in future articles. In short, on-page SEO is about delivering a good user experience, converging best practices in technology and executing intelligent marketing ideas. Google and the other search engines will fundamentally look for quality work and ticking the basic SEO boxes will help to bolster this.

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