I’ve heard this ideology before, but was just reminded again while viewing a presentation by a well respected web professional. It’s the idea that, when building a website, SEO is started at the time of launch and beyond into maintenance mode.
Search engine optimization must be considered during the initial planning stages of a site (or even during the initial planning stages of a redesign). SEO factors into many aspect of a site’s creation, from the naming of the domain, files & folders, navigation labels to the coding, design and and layout of the pages/templates. SEO is a piece of the overall puzzle, a peer and beneficiary of usability, accessibility, information architecture, etc.
Search Engine Optimization as part of the Web Design Workflow
The standard web design workflow is presented below (Thanks to Kelly Goto for writing the book on this topic). I’ve embellished and added to the workflow with SEO tasks that should take place in conjunction to the web design tasks.
Defining the Project
- Discovery: This is where you gather all of your information, learn about the audience, the competition and the industry. At this stage, the information gathered can be used to begin your keyword research.
- Planning: During the planning stage, budgets are set, schedules, project teams & project plans are laid out, user testing is scheduled, and staging areas are set up. During the planning stage, you need to ensure that proper resources are allotted to SEO activities. You also need to outline the goals for SEO, so that they can be properly managed and tracked.
- Clarification: At the clarification stage, the overall goals are communicated out and any creative brief is created. As part of the business goals, SEO tasks that support the business goals should be itemized.
Developing Site Structure
- Content View: At this stage, a high level view of the overall content takes place. If there is an existing site, the content is audited, analyzed and valued. Search engine optimization aspects should be considered during this phase, such as themes.
- Site View: During this phase, the site map is determined and any existing site organization is addressed. Naming conventions are also finalized. Especially regarding naming conventions, it’s best to consider usability and SEO aspects, as they would provide a huge benefit to the end product.
- Page View: During the Page View phase, individual page types are wireframed, navigation, naming and labeling is addressed, and key user tasks are defined. The navigation developed and implemented must be search engine friendly. Therefore dynamic navigation, such as menu flyouts, need to be critically considered and analyzed. The naming of navigational links is key to ranking, and the prior keyword research should come into play at this time. All optimization planned for at this stage should fully support the agreed upon key user tasks.
Visual Design & Testing
- Creating: After reviewing the site goals, the concepts should be developed and designs presented to the team, or client for gathering feedback. A resource with knowledge of SEO should be present to determine if there are any risks or issues.
- Confirming: At this stage, a HTML prototype is created and functionality is tested.
- Handing Off: The graphic templates and design style guide are created and handed off to the production team. An SEO guide should be provided if someone outside the core team will be implementing the optimizations.
Production & QA
- Prepping: During this phase, the guidelines should be established and file structure set. A review of the project status should take place at this time.
- Building: During the build phase, images are prepared, sliced and optimized, web pages and templates are created, client-side scripting is developed and the pages are populated with content. If part of a primarily static site, optimized page titles, meta descriptions, headings and content should be optimized for search engine optimization. If part of a CMS, optimized values for page titles, meta descriptions, headings, etc. should be implemented.
- Testing: During the testing phase, A QA plan is created and testing begins. Any bugs or issues that come out of the QA testing is resolved.
Launch & Beyond
- Delivery: This is where all the documentation about the site is compiled and finalized for hand off to the maintenance team or client. This documentation should include a document that provides a working view of the optimization efforts to date.
- Launch: At launch time, communications about the launch are distributed. As the site is going live, the site map for the site can be imported into the search engines for expedited indexing. Initial PPC ads are implemented and turned on to begin bringing in traffic.
- Maintenance: The maintenance plan and teams are formulated. Site security is conformed. Metrics are compiled and ongoing reporting is established. Resources that will maintain and monitor SEO efforts should be trained and begin their work.
The workflow above works great for design or even redesign projects. But what about sites that are in maintenance mode already? Follow the SEO-related steps in order, then implement as part of a search engine optimization project.
I’ve tried to provide a high level summary of how SEO fits into the web design workflow. If I’ve omotted something (possible) or you’d like to question or comment on something here, please submit your comment in the form below.