As someone who’s worked with many developers over the years it’s very common for me to see how SEO to easily forgotten. Developers are great at developing sites to your requirements. Their job is to follow your direction. If you list out a ton of new functionality, remove key navigational pieces, requests pages with tons of images and little content – that’s what you will get. In many cases whatever the customer wants is what they will get, most of the time. The impact on SEO will fall on you the client as you requested these few features and pages that aren’t SEO friendly.
You can’t really blame developers – I mean you could; but it’s up to you to do your research and to ask the right questions so that you can work with a developer who will help maintain your hard SEO work.
Why am I writing this article?
Unfortunately, sites can be redesigned without much thought on how the new changes will impact the web sites rankings. Many assume that changing a site has little impact on search results and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
A good majority of inquires that come to me are from clients had recently gone through a redesign and are confused by the loss in traffic. While a small loss and fluctuations are expected – a 40%+ drop is not.
It’s also discouraging for someone who has spent a substantial amount of money on a redesign to now have to pay an expert to solve issues that could have been prevented. Plus, the client may also need to pay to have the same developer implement these changes. My hope is that I can educate buyers on what they need to ask before they start spending money.
Ask the right questions!
Before you start to work with a development company, individual or agency that you know as much as you can about their SEO knowledge and ability. I’ve laid out the top 5 issues I’ve seen over the years that have “killed” a site SEO.
Does the agency have a dedicate SEO Expert?
If your development company doesn’t have a dedicated SEO expert on staff, hire your own. When hiring a company look past industry words such as “SEO friendly” and “SEO best practices”. These terms are vague and is no guarantee that SEO expertise will be involved in your project. The following points will outline why this is important.
Do you understand how Google crawls websites?
The short answer is through links of the site. The ideal number of clicks is 3. It should take no more than 3 clicks to navigate through your entire site. If your home page is a box search box, guess what? Google’s won’t be crawling your site. If you have pages with only one way to get to them, Google won’t rank those pages.
Do you keep track of changes made on the site?
This next one is more for ongoing site changes, unless your redesign is going on in stages (I hope for your sake it’s not) on a live site. This is also a good tip whenever you’re having work done on your site.
This question is very important. If a change is made to your site constantly and rankings drop, what do you do? Freak out? Call your web developer and ask them what’s going on? Pay a third party to investigate? Well, if your agency is tracking changes they can easily go back to a few days before traffic dropped and easily identify what changes were made to the site.
This saves you, the client a lot of stress. The best-case scenario is that the changes can be reversed and traffic be restored. Even, if that doesn’t help and SEO expert can still use this data to help solve the problem.
Are you familiar with canonicalization and how to prevent issues?
Canonicalization is a very serious and real issue I see way too often. It’s typical to see after a site’s been upgraded to a secure url structure. However, it’s not uncommon to see after a redesign or new site build. All of these versions of your site to search engines are different:
You get the point. All of these should resolve to one final url. If you can type any of these variations and they don’t resolve to the final url (that you or your development choose as the final url) or the redirects are not set up properly, you have issues that should be addressed ASAP.
How do you handle 404 pages?
Broken pages (404 status) are okay to have. You don’t want them in large numbers, but having them won’t hurt you. Ask your developer how they typically handle broken pages. If your developer automatically redirects broken pages to the home page. These will trigger softy 404 issues which over time can impact your SEO. This produces and result Google and other search engines frown upon. If you sold woman’s clothing and you discontinued a particular shoe, the expected result is that the page is not found. You could redirect users to a similar shoe made by the same designer or a similar type.
You don’t want to send users to the home page as the user is expecting to see shoes and Google knows this because Google has crawled the page before and knows what it is about.
You can set up reports in Google analytics to report on pages marked “not found” and you can then manually review them to find the most relevant replacement if one exists. It’s also a good idea to create this report monthly to catch any potential issues such as pages accidentally being deleted or pages that were mistyped sending traffic to pages that don’t exist.
What if I’m already in the middle of my project?
If you’re already working with a developer and don’t like the answers you’re getting to these questions then it’s time to hire an expert like me!