Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Have we lost it? SEO integration with design and build

There was a time when websites were built by people who didn't have SEO high up on their agenda. It was common for brands, big and small, to create a whole site and then appoint an SEO agency as part of their launch strategy.

It was rubbish.

New sites went live with all sorts of serious problems. Huge amounts of money were wasted as big changes were made. Agencies were left looking pretty silly.

Things got better. With that much money in the equation progress was inevitable. Four things happened;
  • Clients / brands understood the importance of technical SEO in the build
  • Web developers improved their SEO skills
  • SEO agencies dealt with senior decision makers
What about the fourth? An important but often forgotten consideration is this;
  • Google got better
Search engines can now cope with a wider range of web design and coding techniques. I still wouldn't build a site in AJAX and frames but Google is better able to understand your JavaScript, for example, than ever before.

What's the problem with SEO and web build?

SEO changes. The stage in the web design and build project that SEO is generally thought about hasn’t changed.

Back in early 2014 I wrote about Innovation in SEO and the "technical build". My argument back then was that getting the coding right, worrying about URL structures and similar wasn't enough. The build strategy in today's SEO world had to consider how the site would operate now that we're all publishers.

Examples I gave at the time included;
  • Having an easy and appropriate location on the site for linkbait publishing
  • Landing page strategies for retargeting, affiliates, etc
  • A page retirement strategy built into the CMS
It's now 2016 and I see very little progress. These considerations, and others related to current SEO techniques, are more important than ever. Sites are going live with an SEO disadvantage and CMOs and CIOs are beginning to waste their money again.

When was the last time an SEO took a look at a core revenue driving page of your site (a product page, for example) and said "That would be an excellent page for outreach"? Or "It'll be easy to make that page a key part of the publicity campaign"? Have you been asked by the boss to prove that the blog is driving sales?

Are we really all publishers now?

Yes, whether it's Facebook updates or your Fitbit sharing your weekly step total in an email to friends; we're all creating content.

When it comes to SEO this means we've so many more brands competing for attention. Just take a step back and look at all the companies still pumping out infographics. Look at the brands working with bloggers on co-creation projects. There's been tremendous growth in branded communication and content.

This all equates to publishing. Publishers (games, books, music...) are on the same evolutionary path as marketing agencies. It's about growing audiences and making money from those connections. It’s too early to say where we’ll meet – transmedia campaigns based around IP franchises with profitable commercial models and loyal fans, perhaps – but there will be a meeting. Just look at publishers like Buzzfeed or The Drum who already have their own agency-like agency assisting content units.

There may be some who haven't come to the same conclusion as the rest of us. They may not think we're in a messy battle for attention. It doesn't matter as even this small tribe recognises that modern SEO is very much about getting certain audiences interested in and aware of certain content (even if they’re just doing it for the links).

What does this mean? What do we need to do?

It means that we need to start making web sites - digital assets for our company - that have a fighting chance during the coming years of "peak attention".

Brands need websites that will be relevant and useful. Having a web site with a blog annex isn't enough.

Sure, you might have a cool video of a fashion vlogger trying on some of your hats but do you have the means to turn that into a custom landing page, social enough to be interesting and yet ecommerce savvy enough to sell hats? No? Just going to publish the video on a blog post, link to some of your hat product pages and email some fashion bloggers to see if they care? That's not going to be enough.

In this example, if you had had the opportunity to integrate modern SEO in to your new website then your hat product pages should have been able to display the video. They should have been able to act as a hub or anchor point for the story. If you were, somehow, able to get fashion bloggers interested in the video then such an approach would hugely increase your chances of earning those vitally important editorial links to your product page.

This is hard

Yes, this is hard. This is one of the reasons so few people do it. A range of skills and collaboration is needed.

Another reason why so few sites are built in this way is because SEO is not a consideration while this sort of site design is being thought about. It's rare to find SEO minded people in the room so early on in a new website's lifecycle.

But it should happen

My hope is that SEO can get back to where it needs to be when it comes to site design and build.

New projects like AMP may help - sites being expanded with a Google defined mark-up designed to load quickly in mobile.

The importance of SEO will help. Savvy client-side decision makers will help too and there are plenty of those (fighting against old company structures and silos, generally).

Image credit: Kevin Dooley.

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