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How to Maximize SEO before you Launch your Website

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a high priority for every digital marketer, making it all the more surprising that so many organizations launch websites without taking care of the details that help to maximize SEO.

When moving forward with developing the foundation for your SEO strategy, it is important to remember that the objective of the search engines is to deliver the most relevant content to its users. It’s crucial to take the necessary steps to help the search engines find and index your content and deliver this to the users who value your information.

The following is a checklist, developed by Verndale’s strategy team, to help steer you in the right direction when setting up your website for future SEO success and to help drive more qualified traffic to your site through search referrals.

Pre-launch SEO checklist

Set up web analytics tracking. Web analytics tools like Google Analytics offer a wealth of information that can help you enhance your user experience and improve SEO. Be sure to set up analytics tracking for your website prior to launch to ensure you don’t lose any valuable data.

If you’re already using Google Analytics for an older version of your website, make sure you use the same tracking ID so you can easily compare and analyze performance metrics post-launch. (This is assuming your tracking requirements remain consistent from pre-launch. There are certain times when implementing a new tracking ID may be preferable, but for websites that are just underdoing a re-design, you should use the same tracking ID).

After your website has been live for a few weeks, you can analyze traffic data, user engagement metrics, top pages, referral data and much more. This data is useful in identifying how your users are interacting with your new website and whether or not you’re attracting qualified traffic to your website.

Implement Google Webmaster Tools. Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is a valuable resource for every digital marketer. Webmaster Tools provides you with detailed reports that help you evaluate your website’s visibility on Google.

It’s particularly important to implement Google Webmaster Tools when you’re launching a new website because GWT provides you with valuable information such as: site errors, crawl errors and URL errors. This provides an extra level of protection in case you forgot to implement redirects on some of your pages, allowing you to minimize lost link equity.

Google Webmaster Tools also provides search query reports which detail some of the keywords that are driving traffic to your site, as well as the exposure your web property is receiving from those keywords in Google. You can use this information to further identify areas where you should optimize content on your website. To determine this, ask yourself - Are there pages or keywords that have low click through rates? Are there missed opportunities for content creation?

Fix broken links and complete redirect mapping. Broken links can be a user experience and SEO disaster. There are a lot of tools online (such as Google Webmaster Tools) that can help you find broken links so you can repair them before launch.

Additionally, it is essential to complete a redirect mapping exercise if your URL structures are going to change. Implement 301 redirects to preserve link equity between old pages and new pages.

Publish an XML Sitemap. Prior to launch, you should publish an XML sitemap and include it in your robots.txt file. The XML sitemap helps search engines more effectively crawl and index your website. Post-launch you can submit this Sitemap to be indexed by some of the major search engines. This will also help the crawlers find any new pages that you may have created for your new website.

Include a robots.TXT file. The robots.txt file is the first place a crawler goes to when indexing a site. It should specify the location of your XML Sitemap and disallow any directories that you do not want search engines to index.

Use ReI = Canonical for duplicate content.  If you have multiple pages that contain duplicate content which you want to remain active, remember to implement a canonical tag so the search engines know what page to index and assign link equity to. Duplicate content can also be harmful to SEO, as it may appear that you are engaging in SPAM-like activities.

Conduct audience research and develop a Keyword Map. Conduct audience research and analyze your user’s search behavior to help identify the language they use. Remember, you want to deliver high value content to people who are interested in what you have to offer. It’s difficult to effectively communicate with your audience if you’re not speaking the same language.

After you’ve identified your user’s search behavior, begin plotting your content strategically. Identify the keywords that most effectively describe your content, and map relevant keywords to particular pages.

Write descriptive meta tags with relevant keywords.  Write descriptive meta tags (such as meta titles and meta descriptions) to help search engines and your users effectively identify your content.

Meta titles let search engines know what each page is about and should include the relevant keywords for the page. Write these titles for your users, so they can more easily identify valuable content and click through.  Note* title tags should not exceed 67 characters including spaces.

Meta descriptions describe the page and appear next to your page link in a list of search results. They don’t directly affect the way a search engine ranks your page, but they help users identify relevant content and prompt them to click your link. Descriptions should be 156 characters or less – anything longer may be cut off by the search engine.

Use optimized URLs. Search engines evaluate URLs to figure out what a page is about and how to rank it. An SEO-friendly URL will include keywords related to the page’s content. 

For example, a URL like:

http://store.example.com/products/cell-phone-accessories

Will get more traction on the keyword “cell phone accessories” than a URL like:

http://store.example.com/index.php?product=1425&sort=price&print=1

Develop an Internal Linking Strategy. When linking to internal pages on your website, you can help search engines contextualize your web content by using relevant keywords to link to other pages. For example, rather than “Learn more” or “Click here,” it’s better to use links like “2014 Season Schedule” or “Wicker Patio Furniture.”

Optimize Your Images. Images can have a significant impact on SEO, but only if search engines know what the subject matter of the image is about.

Rather than giving your images titles like “image003,” give them names that tell the search engine what the subject matter is: “www.domain.com/images/chrome-two-handle-faucet.jpg.” Don’t go overboard though - limit your file name’s character count to 100.

Alt attributes offer another opportunity to assist web crawlers in contextualizing the content on a webpage. When writing alt attributes for an image, it is important to write descriptive and meaningful text. Limit your alt attributes to approximately 16 words or 120 characters (including spaces).

Checking off each of these items before launching your website can help you dramatically improve your SEO page rankings. Remember, digital marketing is about delivering relevant content to qualified users, and providing a positive customer experience by developing more opportunities to engage with your content. It’s important not to engage in SPAMMY behavior and not to keyword stuff.

Looking for more information on how to fully optimize your digital assets? Learn more about our strategy chops or contact our strategy team.