The process of developing or redeveloping a website can be overwhelming. Choosing designs, finding hosting, switching domain names, and creating content is just the beginning. With all the work to do, Search Engine Optimization is sometimes considered to be something that will happen in the future. That is not the case! Great SEO should be built into the site from the very beginning.
Here are nine important SEO-related questions to always ask a developer when considering them to create your website.
1. Do you have experience with SEO practices?
Some SEO optimization techniques can be implemented after a site is built, but there are several that need to be part of the site structure. These tasks become big time wasters if they have to be fixed after development is finished.
Page architecture. Some elements on a website serve multiple purposes and are often used by developers in a different way than SEO specialists. A great example of this is heading tags. Heading tags come with specific styling that is built into the theme and many developers choose them for design purposes. They also play an important role in the way Google sees page structure, however. If a developer isn’t familiar with SEO practices, they may end up using H1 headings multiple times on a page and cause issues for Google when indexing it.
Clean code. The cleaner the code, the faster a site will be. Site speed is a huge factor in SERP ranking, especially mobile site speed. Whether creating a custom theme or using a pre-built one, the code should be as minimal as possible without sacrificing functionality.
Site security. Sites must have HTTPS security, as well as added security on the backend. Luckily, HTTPS protocol is becoming standard in newly built websites. Additional security measures can be installed using plugins and coding techniques to prevent hackers from attacking your site or sending malicious code.
Google Core Web Vitals. The newly released Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a set of guidelines important to Google’s ranking algorithm. CWV has three components: Longest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). To do well in these areas, a site must be fast, lightweight, and have minimal layout shift when loading. Knowledge of these areas is essential when building an SEO-friendly site from the ground up.
2. How easy will it be to make updates to the site?
Inevitably, there are going to be changes made to the site after it’s launched. In fact, it’s an important part of SEO. Regular updates show search engines that the site is active and providing the most up-to-date information.
Websites need to be user-friendly on the backend so that users with or without technical knowledge can make content updates. It should also be reasonably easy for another developer to make changes to the site structure and elements. A website that can only be updated by the developer that created it is a poorly built site.
3. What host do you use?
A host transmits data directly to a user accessing the site, so it has a major impact on speed. Factors like host type and price are good indicators of host quality. For example, a very cheap plan with shared hosting will probably be slower. But a reliable company, like WPX or SiteGround, that has moderate pricing and good reviews will help speed up a site.
Another spec to note is what type of server the host uses. Most hosts run on either Apache or NGINX servers. Apache is more accessible to make changes, while NGINX may require more effort to implement SEO techniques like converting assets to next-gen images.
4. What Content Management System (CMS) do you use?
The type of CMS a site uses will influence the ability to easily update content, site speed, and opportunities for optimization. Unfortunately, there is a delicate balance between ease of use and customization in platforms.
While platforms like Wix or Squarespace are easy to use, they don’t offer all of the features necessary to properly optimize a website. On the other hand, a custom CMS is very customizable but can be difficult to interact with, especially for beginners.
WordPress CMS is a great mixture of customization and user-friendly functionality. The use of flexible themes and plugins helps create a custom site experience and consistent backend, which is probably why 60% of all websites with a CMS use WordPress.
5. Are your sites mobile-friendly?
In addition to Google’s push for Core Web Vitals optimization, a mobile-first initiative is underway. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the number of mobile users is rising. Mobile internet usage has grown 504% in daily media consumption since 2011 and 53.62% of all website traffic was generated through mobile phones in 2020.
This means it is imperative that a developer is able to make a mobile-friendly website, including responsive design and quick loading pages. If a website cannot be viewed in a meaningful way on a mobile device, it’s impossible to create an effective SEO strategy.
6. Are your sites Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant?
There are several reasons to make a site ADA compliant. A huge reason is that avoiding it can land you in legal trouble. The ADA was established as law in 1990 before the internet was as popular as it is now. In a 2016 case involving UC Berkeley, the DOJ ruled to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as standard practice. Since then, millions of dollars in lawsuits have been filed against private companies that do not make their websites accessible to all users.
Aside from legal issues, building an ADA-compliant website also makes business sense. The point of optimizing a site for search engines is to get as many users engaging with the site as possible. An ADA-compliant site makes more people able to access it, therefore widening the pool of potential visitors.
7. Do you use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?
A CDN is an excellent tool for lowering page loading speed. CDNs cache information in locations that are geographically closer to visitors than the site host. This cuts down on the time that it takes to load pages, improves website security, and reduces bandwidth costs. Platforms like CloudFlare and Amazon CloudFront are becoming more popular and, while they can be added after a site is built, are much easier to add during the development process.
8. How do you handle redirecting users from URLs on the old site to URLs on the new site?
In a site redesign or migration, URLs will likely change, especially if there is a domain name change. When that happens, the old page must be redirected to the new one—much like forwarding mail when someone moves. While this task is sometimes performed by an SEO specialist, it is important to handle redirects correctly. Redirects that are not properly installed can cause 404 errors, confuse search engines, and forfeit link equity.
Redirects can be put into place at the server level, using cPanel, or using CMS plugins or modules. There isn’t one method that is more reliable than the others, but choosing the appropriate approach for the situation can make things easier in the long run.
9. Will I own my website once it’s finished?
It may seem like a silly question, but developers sometimes register the components of a website in their own name instead of their client’s name. This can make it difficult to make major changes in the future, like migrating hosts or hiring a different developer. After paying thousands of dollars for a new site, the last thing you want to hear is that you don’t even own it!
In terms of marketing, this will cause roadblocks in sharing login credentials with your newly-hired SEO company. It can cost extra time and money while the logistics are settled—time and money that could have been spent making your site more visible on the internet.
As with any big decision, it’s important to do your research before committing. Find out what your developer knows about building an SEO-friendly site, then make your decision. Digital marketing is much smoother and more effective when working together with a site that was built for SEO.
About the Author
Mandie AlliettaTechnical SEO Specialist II
Mandie joined Top Of The List in 2018 and has a degree in Web Development. She lives in Grand Rapids, MI with her dog Winnie.
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