Website Redesign Considerations for SEO and PPC

Also...it goes without saying...don't use "frames" or anything "flash"-y

Also...of course...don't use "frames" or anything "flash"-y

Many of my clients tend to start out an engagement by making various website changes, and often they are even already in the middle of, or about to embark on, a complete website redesign.

There are numerous articles and books about how to optimize website designs, but for SEO and Paid Search, there seem to always be some issues that perenially come up (the “usual suspects”) – all  well worth highlighting.

Here is a standard, quick checklist I’ve developed for use with new and existing websites, to ensure the website is optimized for SEO and PPC purposes.

1. Content Management System Choice

The two leading CMSs are WordPress and Drupal.  Joomla is a close third, but several people I know who have used it have told me that the first 90% of the job is very easy if you’re using Joomla, but the last 10% is a killer.  If you’re a small or medium business, I see no reason why WordPress is not an ideal solution – after it’s designed, it’s easy for even a relatively inexperienced person to add pages, make changes, and so on.

B-to-B companies seem to be partial to Hubspot for lead management as well; my suggestion would be, rather than using Hubspot for your entire site, use WordPress and the Hubspot WordPress plug-in – that way most of your site is not “locked in” to Hubspot, so if it’s not working out for you, you still have a website.

If you’re agonizing over which CMS to select, just go to trends.google.com and search on [wordpress, drupal, joomla] and whatever else you’re considering – you’ll see that WordPress has them all beat by a wide margin.

2. Install SEO Plug-ins for your CMS

If you do choose WordPress, make sure you install either the “All-in-One SEO Pack” plug-in (poke around the WordPress Plug-Ins area and you will find it), or even better, you might try Yoast’s plugins for WordPress.  These plug-ins make things like SEO-friendly URLs and writing Meta-Descriptions and the like easier, among other features.  I use the “All-in-one SEO Pack” plugin myself on this blog, but @dan_shure over at EvolvingSEO has been raving about Yoast for WordPress, and Dan’s one of the sharpest guys I know so I’m confident it’s great.

Yoast also has a nice Google Analytics plug-in for WordPress you can install, to make integration with Google Analytics easy – you can download both plug-ins here:

Yoast Plug-Ins for WordPress

Dan Shure also wrote a great article where he covers how Yoast works (and some other great info on WordPress in general) here, it’s very much worth a read:  Are You Setting Up WordPress for SEO Success?

3. E-Commerce System Choice

There are hundreds of E-Commerce/Shopping Cart systems out there; with many you can do your entire site.  If you have a store section of your site, get one of these, but try to limit its use to only your “Store” section (if applicable), they usually are not that great for making entire websites.  Instead, use WordPress for as much of the website as possible and only use the E-Commerce system where absolutely necessary.

I don’t have a particular favorite as far as these go; I would say do some research, and when you’ve identified a few you like, check them out in trends.google.com (as above), to see how often people search on their brand names.  Selecting the one that is more popular is usually a safer move than selecting an obscure one.

4. Have A Place For Your Blog To Live

Make sure you have a section on the new site for a Blog (ideally, a menu item).  If you don’t have a blog – you probably will down the road – leave plenty of room for a “Blog” menu item for use at a later date!

5. Have a Place, or Several Places,  for “Evergreen” Content to Live

Have one or two menus that you can use to place new SEO content in as you come out with it- they could be named “Solutions”, “Technology”, “Our Services”, “Issues”, “White Papers”, “Application Notes”, etc.  You will need to place “evergreen” (i.e. content that will live forever) somewhere -  try to have two separate menus if at all possible.  I am also partial to menus that let you drill down to two levels.   This approach can accommodate numbers of content pages, but if you only plan on having 20-30 pages, two levels may be overkill.

Just make sure you have plenty of places to put content later as you expand your efforts.

6. Have Separate Privacy Policy and Terms of Service Pages

Make sure you have a page for each of these, and footer links on every page of the website to them.  Why?

Well, if you ever do PPC down the road, trust me, you’ll want these; Google actually examines your website for them, as part of its assessment of “Landing Page Quality” and not having them can actually negatively impact your keyword “Quality Scores”.   Quality Scores are used to adjust what you pay after each auction – so you can actually end up paying more for clicks, and may be shown less, if you don’t have these in place.  I have seen this repeatedly with clients and can’t emphasize this enough – put them in place!  Also, it’s just good business to set proper expectations with your users.

The next question I usually get is, do I have a “standard” Privacy Policy and Terms of Service I can recommend?  Well, I’m no lawyer, so you’re completely on your own on this – but the Better Business Bureau has a privacy policy mix-and-match build-your-own page here worth checking out:

http://spokane.bbb.org/privacyhelp/

As far as Terms of Service, I’ve never been able to find a nice standardized one – my sense is most people just find a site with one they like (maybe in the same or a similar market) and craft something along those lines.

As long as you have “Terms of Service” in one page’s Title and “Privacy Policy” in the other title, and you have links to them from every page on your website….from a Quality Score standpoint that’s the main thing.  It’s not thought that Google does much analyzing of the actual text of these pages – just focus on whatever makes the most sense from a business standpoint for you.

7. Have Your Phone Number In A Large Font At The Top Right

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people miss this key item.  Make your phone number noticeable – if you can get it somewhere on the right, near either the top, or have it be the first thing on the right below the menu  bar, and of a larger font than the rest of the page, that will encourage callers (if these are important to you).  Ideally have it on every page.

8. Have Two Separate “Contact Us” Pages, With Two Separate “Thank You” Pages

Ideally, you would have a primary “Contact Us” page, for Organic Traffic, and a second one (can be identical but with a different URL) for Paid Search traffic.  If you do that (and put a “noindex” tag on the Paid Search one, and block it in your robots.txt file), this will make tracking much easier.  The “noindex” tag can be added as follows (add it inside the “head” section of the page you want Google to leave out of its index, i.e. both the “Contact Page” for Paid Search and its Thank-You page:

<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”>

In both cases, having a separate “Thank You” page that comes up when someone submits their information, *with a separate URL*, will make tracking an absolute cinch – one need merely list the endings of the URLs in Google Analytics later and expose that data to Adwords.  I like web developers to do Contact Pages this way because then they don’t have to add any special code anywhere for tracking, other than the Google Analytics code that will go on every page of the site.

So make sure you noindex the Paid Search “Contact Us” page and its corresponding “Thank You” page, and block them both in robots.txt.

9. Put Redirects in Place for WWW and Non-WWW Versions of the Site

Basically, before you get going with Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, you should figure out, is your primary website URL going to be http://foo.com/ or is it http://www.foo.com/  – put 301 redirects in place to ensure the proper behavior, before you have to tell Google Webmaster Tools etc. which version of the site to track (that way there will only be one site, conceptually, rather than possibly two.  I have one client who who ended up with separate GWT setups for the two different versions, which can make analysis difficult.

For more on this issue, see my article:  The Highest ROI One-Line SEO Change You Will Ever Make

10. Add Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools Tracking

Google Analytics (GA) will be useful for tracking activity on the website, and if you set up its tracking, you can actually use that as your tracking for AdWords as well.  This allows you to skip the additional hassle down the road of setting up Google Adwords tracking.   Note – Google Analytics credits the *first* click that brought a visitor to your website – AdWords credits the *last* click – but unless you’re planning on being a huge AdWords spender, you probably don’t need to worry about the difference in their behavior.

In the case of Google Analytics (which is free), you’ll add a snippet of code to every page of your website (perhaps in a header for instance).

Sign up and go through the process to create the snippet here:
http://www.google.com/analytics/

Google also has a free tool called Google Webmaster Tools (GWT); this allows you to see if and how Google’s spider, (“googlebot”), is spidering your website, and whether it’s having any problems.  GWT can use the Google Analytics tag to authenticate (i.e. connect) your account to the website, or alternately you can drop a Google Webmaster Tools code snippet on just the home page of the website, just for Google Webmaster Tools.

To sign up and get started, go here:
https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en

11. Place a Customer Testimonial “Above The Fold”

This can simply be a square callout with a quote along the lines of “Company X did a great job for us – Joe Smith, Acme Co.” – and by “Above The Fold”, I mean, the region of your web page that is visible, without scrolling down, for most customers.

Don’t underestimate the value of prominently showing a customer testimonial (typically either on the far left, or the far right of the screen).  At least do so on your home page, or more ideally, on every page.

If you’re late in the design process, a simple way to cheat at adding one is to take the (typically) large image on the home page and simply edit the image and drop the callout into the image itself, then load the new image.  If at all possible, it’s far better to have one on every page though – ideally through the use of CSS style sheets etc.

12. Keep Directory Levels in URLs Shallow

The best URL for a document on “squeaky floors” is simply

http://www.foo.com/squeaky-floors

It’s best to resist the temptation to list a directory in there as well (such as /content/).  If you have to have directories (say, to match up with your menus, that’s fine) just make sure they make sense, like

http://www.foo.com/whitepapers/debt-consolidation.html

13. Use Dashes, not Underscores in URLs

This is an SEO best practice that Google itself explicitly recommends, in its search optimization starter guide.  So for instance, don’t use

http://www.foo.com/squeaky_floors

but, rather, use

http://www.foo.com/squeaky-floors

14. Make Sure Your Name/Address/Phone are Consistent

Many firms put these in a footer on every page, and also on their “Contact” or “About” pages.   If you do put them in multiple places, make sure you have the same addresses and phone numbers in each case.

Don’t list your local phone number in one case and an 800 number in the other, or if you do, show both, with the local number showing first.  This has the potential to impact you later in optimizing to rank for “local” searches (i.e. [keyword geographic area] combinations).  For more on this, read my article:

SEO for Local Search: The Complete Guide

15. If It’s A Website Redesign, Prepare a Redirect File Prior To Launch

Redirects allow search engine spiders to credit existing links that are pointing at the old versions of pages, to the new URLs.  You don’t want to lose all the PageRank value of all the links you’ve built up previously, so be sure to address this.  Use “301″ (permanent) redirects, and point the most relevant pages to their counterparts when doing so.   Avoid blanket redirects (like redirecting the entire old site, every page, to the new home page).

If you want to prioritize, you can use tools like Majestic-SEO or SEOMoz LinkScape to figure out what pages have links (at all), or which ones most links to them, and you can perhaps reduce the size of your redirect file significantly by just focusing on the high-runners.  But my preference, if there are’ few enough pages, is to try to account for all of them.

16. Advanced Architecture Considerations

For the most part, if you’re doing a website in WordPress, your design is probably going to be fine – most companies seem to be migrating towards the standard menu-bar-at-the top, three blocks in the middle (or one large picture), and three blocks of content/links at the bottom (or one block) approaches.   I see the three block design quite often now, and it does look quite sharp – people like thinking in threes, and this also breaks the page up in a pleasing way.

If you really want to make sure you’re organizing your website optimally for SEO purposes, you can read my article:

Website Architecture for SEO – The Complete Guide

…but if your site is for a Small or Medium Business – you probably don’t need to obsess over the level of detail explained there.  Your web designer or web development firm might learn a few things from it though, it may make sense to have them check it out.

Conclusion

I would caution many of you out there, I often see clients who “hate their website” (and usually their previous web development firm or designer as well).

In many of these situations, what is needed is not a new website at all – often the website is quite functional – but it simply needs an updated look-and-feel, with better graphics, fonts, menus, and the like.  This can often be accomplished simply through some updated designs, CSS template changes, and updated HTML.

It’s human nature to always wants to start fresh to avoid problems of the past (and “really get it right this time”), but if you already have a functioning website with decent customer traffic, analytics in place, and content to attract organic users – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – consider just a website “refresh” project, rather than a complete website replacement.

If you do a “refresh” though, run through the checklist above – you may be surprised how many items you have never paid attention to, that could put you in a better position to capitalize on SEO and PPC traffic.

20 Comments

  1. Justin Urich says:

    Fortunately, I was familiar with most of your recommendations. However, I’m a huge fan of completely custom websites. If you hire the right developer, who strategically structures the website to be almost its own CMS and easily scalable – custom is the way to go.

    Great tip about having different contact forms for organic and paid. Never even crossed my mind! Definitely going to be implementing that tactic asap.

  2. Ted Ives says:

    Breaking it into the two isn’t a must-have, but it’s super-convenient for this reason – let’s say you mess up the process of creating and tracking goals in Google Analytics and exposing that to Adwords (or never even set it up), you can always at least go back and look at the number of visits to those two thank-you pages and then you’ll know how many conversions came from which channel during any timeframe – kind of a backstop way of breaking out conversions by channel

    Plus you can more easily do things like A/B testing of the paid search one while leaving the organic one alone.

  3. Mark Moore says:

    Great idea on breaking contact forms apart. I really like the way you present info on this site I’ll be back.

  4. Bernard says:

    Really great post – totally agree, for SME’s wordpress gives the better platform on which to evolve your strategy and is the best future proofed system there is at the minute.

  5. Dan Thornton says:

    Nice and useful post.

    When it comes to eCommerce solutions, given the justifiable recommendation for WordPress, it’s definitely worth checking out a new WordPress based eCommerce solution like Jigoshop which has made eCommerce work really well whilst integrating in the rest of your site…

    And in terms of look and feel, WordPress, Jigoshop etc can all look completely custom – the issue I have with custom CMS sites is if the client needs to change developer etc, then they have to start again from scratch which can waste a lot of time and money

  6. Nikole Gipps says:

    WooCommerce is an excellent tool for adding e-commerce to an existing WordPress site AND it will work with Yoast’s SEO package. http://www.woothemes.com/woocommerce/

    ALSO there is NO REASON to have a fully custom site with a custom CMS. In fact, I can point to 500 reasons why it is bad – besides making the project budget several times what it should be.

  7. Mike Zaremba says:

    Great post Ted,
    I noticed that you recommended using a “noindex” tag for duplicate pages. In Googles words they recommend that you use the “Rel= canonical” instead.

    Here is their take on it:
    “Use rel=“canonical”
    “Google says publishers should make use of the rel=canonical method to ensure that any alternative pages reference what should be the main one:

    We recommend using rel=“canonical” rather than a noindex meta tag because it more closely matches your intent in this situation. Let’s say you were testing variations of your homepage; you don’t want search engines to not index your homepage, you just want them to understand that all the test URLs are close duplicates or variations on the original URL and should be grouped as such, with the original URL as the canonical.

    Using noindex rather than rel=“canonical” in such a situation can sometimes have unexpected effects.”

  8. Ted Ives says:

    Mike – Thanks, had not come across that…

    Of course, if that actually matters, that means Google must be using “noindexed” pages for some other, non-specified, non-indexing purposes – perhaps for flowing PageRank or Anchor Text?

    Really interesting food for thought!

  9. Great summary of many of the big wins in planning for a redesign. We are in the final stages of our giant site migration over at PayPal. I wish it was as simple as remembering to re-install wordpress plugins! :)

    Another great post Ted! We should catch-up sometime soon.

  10. Mat Bennett says:

    Useful post, but I’ve got to challenge one part:
    “If you’re agonizing over which CMS to select, just go to trends.google.com and search on [wordpress, drupal, joomla] and whatever else you’re considering – you’ll see that WordPress has them all beat by a wide margin.”
    I’m not sure how number of mentions on the web correlates with suitability for a particular project in any way.
    I’m not knocking wordpress. It’s a great solution for many projects. However having the right tool for the right job is paramount and basing that on Google trends data doesn’t make any sense to me, sorry.
    Wordpress is always going to get more mentions. It is a fantastic CMS for certain projects and built on the success of having incredibly low barriers to entry and an emphasis on blogging. That gives it mass market appeal. In terms of sheer numbers of domains nothing comes close. That still doesn’t make it right for any project.
    Historically, I’ve always favoured bespoke builds, including bespoke CMS. That approach would be insane if you wanted a simple site and blog, but pretty sensible when you are looking at projects with significant custom features that need to be tightly integrated. These days I am favouring Drupal. It’s has the most horrific learning curve (In some ways worse than learning to code), but the blend of flexibility and in-built features on top of a well thought out data structure is pretty powerful.
    Horses for courses.
    If you are looking for some general trend data then http://trends.builtwith.com/cms is pretty useful. This is based on a (sample) of installations, rather than mentions, which is inherently more accurate. It still shows WordPress as being utterly dominant, but is interesting how share changes in more popular sites – with Joomla dropping off fairly rapidly, Drupal gaining ground and enterprise level commercial systems starting to appear.
    Sorry – long reply to one minor part of your post. In reply to the rest of it: I thoroughly agree :)

  11. Ted Ives says:

    Mat – great points, I agree. Where I was coming from (and it probably didn’t come out) is, if a web design firm wants you to go with some platform no one ever heard of – run away!

    That trends.builtwith thing is interesting – I’ve just recently started using a firefox plugin called wappalyzer – just Google it – they have a ton of stats they gather too, and best of all have a bunch of data on e-commerce platforms which has been hard to come by. It seems like everyone I run into has some e-commerce platform that doesn’t even appear in anyone’s pie chart (!)

    I am a definitely a fan of Drupal over Joomla – what I’ve been told by a business partner who used both to redo an entire site, twice, is that Joomla is quicker and easier to use, and you can quickly get 90% of a site set up, but the last 10% of the tweaking is pretty difficult. Drupal is longer to learn but once you have the hang of it, it’s straightforward.

  12. Mat Bennett says:

    Drupal does have a legendary learning curve. Best illustration of it that I have seen is http://i.imgur.com/B3De4.png which isn’t far off being an accurate representation of my own Drupal journey.

    I’ve not used Joomla much. Bit middle of the road for me: neither one not the other. However your 90/10 point probably is good. WordPress is by far the fastest to start with, but seems to hit more barriers fairly quickly. Drupal starts you with a 50′ high wall of a barrier then slowly removes it and Joomla is somewhere between the two.

  13. Breaking it into the two isn’t a must-have, but it’s super-convenient for this reason – let’s say you mess up the process of creating and tracking goals in Google Analytics and exposing that to Adwords (or never even set it up), you can always at least go back and look at the number of visits to those two thank-you pages and then you’ll know how many conversions came from which channel during any timeframe – kind of a backstop way of breaking out conversions by channel

    Plus you can more easily do things like A/B testing of the paid search one while leaving the organic one alone.

  14. Definitely one of the better starter guides I’ve read – so much of the SEO world is (it seems deliberately) confusing. I’ve saved this one for later.

  15. Ad #7: if you provide a local phone number only, people from abroad will have to find out first where you are located. Why not give the full address?
    Generally: a relaunch should consider the requirements of mobiles. Either make your layout responsible or (better for loading time) add an especially optimized mobile version.
    @Ted, AB-testing: can you recommend a tool with which to AB-test sitewide? I’d like to test with different css styles, but of course on each site, so that the layout/design will be consistent.

  16. Will says:

    Another great post Ted! I really like the way you present info on this site I’ll be back.

  17. Hi there,i read your blog frpm time to time and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you
    get a lot of spam feedback? If so how do
    you stop it, any plugin or anything you can recommend?
    I get so much latly it’s driving me crazy so any assistance is very much appreciated.

  18. Great post. Some times its better to start from scratch and build a brand new website.

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