New websites make me cringe on a daily basis. Not because of bad design and not even because I’m a creature of habit. It’s usually because they are a huge investment. A huge investment that overlooks one critical thing – is it actually going to drive more business?
It saddens me to see smiles wiped off people’s faces when they see their Google rankings and organic traffic completely obliterated. The story is always the same – you invest in a shiny new website, even with a complete rebrand. It looks AMAZING and you can’t wait for your customers to see it. But there’s a slight (massive) glitch. No one seems to be using your website except for your marketing team and most loyal clients.
And with no people finding your site, enquiries have dropped off a cliff, business grinds to a halt and now you’re left with falling revenue and a hole in your pocket.
But but but, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build a new website. No, in fact, it’s probably long overdue. And rather than run scared, you should do this one simple thing to avoid killing your business website (and guarantee that it flies higher than ever before) – speak to an SEO expert.
1. Spend your investment £££s to get results
A new website is an investment. For a simple but decent small site, you are looking at somewhere over £10k. And larger sites, you’re looking at 10s of £10ks.
Not an investment to be sniffed at. And you are not going to take kindly to having to spend more when you find out your new website hasn’t been optimised properly.
Getting a good SEO expert involved at the outset means you spend once. And you spend right. Get it done once. The initial increase to your website budget will pay back many times over when your new site hits the ground running.
The right SEO experts will make sure your site is optimised from the start. They will play a big part in how the website is structured so that it works for the user and Google. And they will make sure that it silently meets Google’s requirements. (I say silently because Google has openly told us in a report that they don’t like pages that have been obviously SEO’d).
Worst case scenario, you get your website built at vast expense. It doesn’t deliver. You approach an SEO and they have to reorganise the website = more expense… and months with a website that doesn’t work…
I will get to more of my advice on working with website design and build agencies further on in this article. For now, hold on to this:
Absolutely no disrespect to web agencies, but don’t think that just because you are spending £20k on a website, it will be optimised for the search engines. Even if the web company tells you it will be. Unless the agency you choose is SEO-led, they are unlikely to be experts at SEO.
The first warning signal to look for is if the web company doesn’t have any info about SEO on their website. A service section titled ‘digital marketing’ on their website which doesn’t delve into SEO as a sub-service, is a strong sign that they are not SEO experts. They may have a base understanding of SEO. But they won’t have the extensive experience a dedicated SEO agency or consultant will have.
Likewise, digital marketing does not mean you are an expert at SEO. There are plenty of marketers out there who say they do digital. But show them a rel=canonical, an xml sitemap or structured data, and they will run and hide.
2. Preserve any hard work and rankings your site has already built up
Let me tell you a story…
A client came to us in the summer of 2022. He had spent circa £20k on a new website but his business wasn’t doing well. He said, “it is like a tap has been turned off”.
It didn’t take long for us to find the problem. During the site redesign, a whole section had been recreated as subdomains. This impacted the site visibility overnight.
The web agency meant no harm. They just didn’t realise that what they were doing would have consequences for the main domain’s visibility on the search engines.
We worked with the client and web agency to get the pages back onto the main domain, and we have a very happy client with a website that is now on the up.
We also now work closely with the web agency who gets us involved in the early days of their website builds.
The moral of the story? Get an SEO expert in at the start. Don’t risk losing all the hard work and rankings that you have built up over time.
An SEO expert will build on where you’ve got to and help your site get to the next level. Rigorous pre and post migration checks will make sure nothing has broken in the process and there are no issues with the site.
I have lost count of how many businesses have come to us because they can’t understand why their website isn’t doing what they thought it would.
Some of the most common problems include:
- 404 pages where a page was on the old site but isn’t on the new site, and a redirect hasn’t been added. Not good for the user and Google doesn’t like it either
- Poorly designed navigation (for user and Google)
- Optimisations that were working on the old site that haven’t been carried through to the new site (i.e. same page but a different page title and heading)
- Poor keyword research and optimisation for search terms
- Lacking pages for key services
- ‘Optimised’ content that hasn’t been written for the user first
- Not user intuitive
- No trust building elements
- Lack of, or confusing and complicated call to actions
- Forms that are too long or don’t work altogether
Keep your HTML code similar
I am sneaking in very timely tweet from Barry Schwartz yesterday regarding a LinkedIn post by Gary Illyes from the Google Search Relations team, who said “when you redesign a site, its rankings in search engines may go nuts”. This is what we are trying to prevent as it is widely known that you risk losing rankings when you launch a new site. Gary covers some advice to reduce your rankings going nuts, down to considering how much you change the core HTML.
Gary recommends “try to use semantically similar HTML when you redesign the site…”. Change the design, but keep the HTML looking similar.
3. Include content that converts
For most sites, the end goal is to generate an enquiry, a registration, a sale, etc.
Making sure your website landing pages have been created with this goal in mind is a no-brainer.
Websites with high conversions will have nailed their page structure and written words.
When structuring a landing page, we follow the age-old acronym AIDA. The page layout and content capture the reader’s Attention, generates Interest, creates the Desire and encourages Action. Andy Maslen, author of a great book called Write to Sell, adds in Conviction too.
AIDCA – Attention. Interest. Desire. Conviction. Action.
There is a skill to writing content, especially when writing on the web. An SEO will make sure your content cuts through all the cr@p. They may not be the person writing the content, but they will know how to brief the writer. They will also ensure the content is written for ‘people-first’. And that ultimately, it has the best chance of achieving the conversion.
- A website designer will make a site look nice (very important).
- A website developer will make sure the site is built properly (very important).
- An SEO will make sure the website drives traffic and conversions (very important).
4. Get impartial SEO advice to get results
Any SEO’s number one priority is to get your website delivering, whether that is more traffic, enquiries and other interactions.
Their job is to make sure your website is going to be able to do what they need to make this happen.
A good SEO agency is going to provide clients with impartial, unbiased advice on their web build. More so if they don’t build websites in-house, which most good SEO agencies don’t, but they do work closely with web professionals.
We always start a website project with a wish list, and we make sure it’s signed off by the client and web agency. That way we all know where we stand and what each party involved will deliver.
5. Future-proof your website
A brand new or rebuilt website isn’t just for today – it’s a key asset for the future of your business. The question is, who is going to be part of that future?
A website developer wants to get the project finished so that they get paid.
An SEO agency is thinking not just about the here and now, but about how the site performs beyond the build.
An SEO will be asking lots of questions…
- Is the platform going to work?
- How is it going to be built?
- Are we going to be able to move the navigation around?
- Can we add redirects?
- How easy is it to upload content?
- Can we install plugins as we need them?
- And lots more…
Website agencies need to provide clear answers so that SEO can get to work, and keep delivering results in time to come.
A word on website agencies
We work with a carefully chosen handful of website developers and website agencies. We love working with them because we know they will deliver fantastic websites and are going to build them properly. We know they don’t tie the client in with a custom-CMS no-one can understand. We know they will deliver a well-designed site. We know they build clean code that helps our job as SEOs. We know they will work to our requirements and follow our briefs.
Unfortunately, not all website agencies measure up.
My top 3 red flags are:
If they pitch their custom-CMS (content management system), unless there is an exceptional case as to why you need one (rare amongst SME’s) or you are running a large and very complex website, walk away.
For the majority of businesses, a content management system such as WordPress or an ecommerce system such as Shopify or WooCommerce, do the job perfectly. You are not tied into the agency that built the site as there are so many developers out there who can pick up your site and work with it.
#2 SEO included in your website build
Another concern. If SEO is included in the cost of your website, it will most likely be basic.
They may say they can SEO your site, they may have some experience of SEO. But SEO incorporates wide-ranging knowledge and it changes quickly. What knowledge they had 1 year ago, may not be relevant now.
We often see websites optimised by web agencies that follow outdated SEO principles. In some cases, principles that are now frowned on by Google, i.e., keyword stuffing, keyword cannibalisation, mis-planned internal linking, etc.
Beware how your site is built. Taking WordPress as an example, it can be built in various ways. So don’t assume that you will be able to easily edit your site if it is in WordPress – you need to dig a bit deeper.
We have had clients with WordPress sites that have been built using obscure widgets, so we or the client still can’t update it. It can get unnecessarily expensive if you have to pay your web developer every time you want to make a change on the site. And it’s frustrating when you thought you were getting a user-friendly WordPress site.
My recommendation would be to request a WordPress site built using a visual composer – a drag and drop website building tool. Ask the website developer to recommend the best one at the time you are building, as some are not great for page speeds.
What you need to grill your developer about when planning a new website
Here’s a quick checklist to help you when discussing a new website project with an agency or developer:
- What CMS platform will they use to build your website?
- Will I be able to easily edit the website? Ask if they can show you a demo of a backend of another website
- Will you set up a staging site? (This is a duplicate site not available on the search engines, where they will do all the work so that your live site stays where it is until your new site is ready to be moved over)
- Will I be able to amend the navigation, adding or removing pages and sections?
- Will I be able to add redirects?
- Can you make sure the website collects enquiries in case there is an issue with them sending to my email?
- How do you keep the page speed fast?
- Will you add a cookie consent?
- Will you add Google Analytics 4 tracking?
- What pre and post migration checks do you carry out? (make sure they are going to URL map the old site to the new site, and add any redirects to pages that will be removed)
So there you have it, my 5 reasons why you need an SEO expert involved with your web build.
We of course class ourselves in the SEO experts category, so if you are building a new site, give us a shout. Even if we can help and point you in the direction and £££s are not wasted, we will be happy.