The best time to start thinking about SEO for your website is when you’re just starting out. You can get things started on the right foot and save yourself some trouble later.
If you’re learning how to build a website, there are a few main steps you should take now to get your new website SEO into place.
1. Choose Your Domain Name Carefully.
Domain names are one of the ranking factors search engines look at to figure out what a page is about. If it’s possible to choose a domain name that’s relevant, easy to remember, and incorporates the main keyword you want to rank for, that’s ideal.
It’s not something you should force. For example, if your business is called Howard’s Deli and the domain www.howards-deli.com is available, that’s probably a better pick than www.egg-salad-sandwiches.com. That’s likely to cause confusion when the customers that already know you try to find the site.
There are a few good tools that can help you brainstorm domain name ideas based on what’s available, so you don’t set your sights on a name you can’t have.
2. Select a Reputable Web Hosting Provider.
Google has been upfront about site speed being a ranking factor for SEO. Visitors are impatient and expect webpages to load within seconds (or less), so Google tries to only deliver results that will satisfy that requirement.
While you have a number of strategies you can try to make your site fast over time, one of the best steps to take from day one is choosing a web hosting provider that can deliver consistent speeds.
3. Perform Keyword Research.
Knowing how to do keyword research is a big part of SEO. In order to do a lot of the other things on this list effectively, you need to first have a clear idea of the main terms and subject areas you want to focus your SEO efforts on.
A number of SEO tools provide keyword suggestions and data on the amount of traffic and competition you can expect to deal with for each keyword. Most of them will cost you a subscription fee, but you can use Google’s Keyword Planner for free to get started:
When choosing your keywords, be sure to be realistic. SEO is competitive and a brand new website isn’t in a good position to compete for popular, broad terms. Get specific and find long-tail keywords to target. For example, something like “east chicago modern art sellers” is more attainable than just “art sellers.”
4. Plan Out Your Site’s Architecture.
If you’re starting with a simple site that just has a few pages, this may not seem all that important right now. But it’s still smart to plan out your site architecture in advance so you have a structure in place as you go.
For most websites, your site architecture should have a pyramid structure. Your homepage is at the top, with the next most important pages (typically the ones that go on your main menu) right below that. Underneath those, you’ll add any subcategories and individual pages that fall within them.
When you plan your site architecture in advance, you’ll make sure your website is organized to give priority to the most important pages in terms of how easy they are for visitors to find, and you’ll make it easier on visitors to navigate between pages on the site to find what they need.
5. Prioritize Intuitive Navigation in Your Design.
Your site architecture is a good step in this direction, but it’s just one part of making your website intuitive for visitors. When you’re building out your website, continually think about what your customers will be thinking and doing on each page they land on. You want it to be easy for them to find what they’re looking for every step of the way.
Making sure your main menu lists the most important pages visitors are likely to visit on the site.
Creating categories and subcategories based on the way your target audience are most likely to browse.
Making sure those category and subcategory pages employ the keywords your research shows people use when searching for the type of products or information on them.
Including links on each webpage to other, related pages that a visitor to the page may be interested in as well.
Including a clear call-to-action on each page, so it’s obvious to visitors how to take the next step.
Having a search bar somewhere on each page, so that visitors who know exactly what they’re looking for have a quicker way to get there than browsing between pages.
The goal in this step is to try to get inside your visitors’ heads and imagine what steps they’ll want to take as they move through your website, and how they’d go about making them. When building the site, that requires guesswork and imagination. But you can confirm (or correct) your initial assumptions by doing user testing before the site launches.
6. Define a Standard, SEO-friendly URL Structure.
When a search engine algorithm is trying to determine what a web page is about, one of the main places it looks is the URL. The URL is the main address for each page of your site on the web. Every URL on your site starts with your main domain name (e.g. www.yourname.com). For each page (other than your home page), that will be followed by additional characters unique to the page.
For SEO purposes, you should always customize the URL you use for every webpage on your site based on the keywords you want that page to rank for. But beyond writing a custom URL for each page, you also want to create a larger SEO-friendly URL structure for how to name URLs on your website.
Refer back to the site architecture you developed here. The categories and subcategories you defined can become a part of the URL structure you develop, which gives you a way to incorporate more relevant keywords into your URLs, keeping them useful and intuitive for visitors.
For example, if one of your main categories was Pets, with a subcategory of Dogs, your URL structure for each page included in that section of the website would start with www.yourwebsite.com/pets/dogs. Then you would follow that up with the main keyword for the specific page, such as www.yourwebsite.com/pets/dogs/dog-food.
That URL does the double work of telling Google that the web page is specifically about dog food, and that it also relates more generally to dogs and pets—other words the algorithm understands to be related to each other.
7. Design for Site Speed.
Your web design is just one factor in how fast your website will be, along with your web hosting package and the plugins you use. But many decisions you make in the design stage can affect how fast your site will load for visitors.
A fast loading time creates a better user experience and is one of the ranking factors the search engine algorithms take into account. When designing your website, consider ways to improve site speed, such as:
Minimizing features that slow down loading time, like animation or large, high-resolution images
Reducing the number of http requests you have on each page
Only using necessary widgets, to keep external scripts to a minimum
Sometimes design elements that seem really cool can bog down your website, inadvertently causing slower load times and a worse experience. Be thoughtful about everything you include on the site and measure how its effect on loading times balances against whatever value it offers.
8. Use a Responsive and Mobile-Friendly Design.
More than half of all website visits now come from people browsing the web on their mobile phones. Where it was natural just a few years ago to assume most of your visitors would be viewing your website on a full-size computer, now the majority of people who find you will do so on the small screen of a smartphone.
For the sake of both your mobile visitors and the search engines that care about their experience, your web design should aim to work just as well on mobile devices as on desktops. That usually means designing a responsive website that avoids flash, and has big enough buttons for people to easily select them on a touchscreen. Using a responsive web design will ensure that everyone in your target audience can have an enjoyable experience while visiting your site.
9. Consider Visual Hierarchy for Every Page.
What people see when they land on a webpage on your site depends on how large their screen and browser window are. In other words, a lot of users will only see a small portion of the whole page. When you’re designing each page, think carefully of what you want them to see in the first seconds they’re on the page
To ensure your visitors get what they need and, hopefully, stick around past the first few seconds, design your pages so that the most important information is high up so all visitors see it faster.
10. Focus on Indexable Content.
One of the challenges of SEO web design is that a lot of the visual components of design don’t translate well to how search engine algorithms read a website. For example, the algorithm can’t translate the information inside an image or an animation, even though it may communicate something clear to a human visitor. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use visuals in your web design, just that you should think about how to make sure they can be indexed by search engines.
For any design elements that are visual rather than textual, you need to tell Google what they are. That means:
You should skip using flash animation entirely, since it’s not indexable and not supported on all devices.
If you include videos on your website, fill in all available metadata with your target keyword, including the title and description. And include a transcript on the site.
For all images on your website, fill in the metadata with your keyword (more on that in the next step)
Web design necessarily includes visuals. You can’t get around it. And you wouldn’t want to, they add to the experience your visitors have on the site. But for the parts of the site the search engines can’t see, you want to do your best to tell them what they’re missing and take those extra opportunities to include relevant keywords.
11. Target Primary Keywords for Each Page.
Your initial keyword research can help you gain an overall picture of the language to use when building your website, but it’s also good practice to choose a target keyword (or a couple) for each individual web page on your site.
To avoid competing against yourself, choose unique ones for each page.
The title tag is part part of the website Google looks at to learn what the page is about, which makes it another good spot to use your target keyword.
Try to keep your title tag short – Google will only display 50-60 characters on the search engine results page and even less of the title tag will show up in the tab at the top of your browser.
And don’t keyword stuff here. Using your primary keyword once should do the trick.
13. Optimize Images.
Every image you use on a web page provides a few additional opportunities for optimizing your page for your main keywords. When naming images for SEO it’s important to include the keyword you’re targeting (e.g. primarykeyword.jpg) and update the alt text on the page with your keyword as well.
If you have a WordPress site, then you can easily update the alt text in the media editor when you load the image:
If not, you can update the alt text in the html of the page. The html should look something like
14. Optimize Headings.
When writing for the web, headings are a good tool to better organize your copy so that it’s easy to read and scannable for your visits. As an added bonus, your headings are another signal to Google on what your page is about.
Strategically include your target keywords in the headings on your web page – but only where it makes intuitive sense to do so. You don’t want to force words in if they sound strange to the reader, but if you can use the keywords in a way that makes sense, do so.
15. Optimize text on the page.
When it comes to website copywriting tips, the most important one to remember is to avoid keyword stuffing. Search engines notice keyword stuffing and your website can be penalized for it. But as long as you only use your target keywords (and relevant synonyms) in contexts where they make sense then it’s a good practice to incorporate them into the text on the page.
In most cases, as long as you’ve chosen target keywords that are relevant to what the page is about (which is important!), then this part should come naturally.
While meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings, they do play a role in your click-through rates from the search results. When a person sees your web page in the search results, they’ll see your meta description below the page title:
Any words in your description that match the terms they searched will be in bold, helping draw their attention to your result. Since they’re trying to decide which of the results to choose, you can use this text to make a case for why your page is worth the click.
Always write a relevant meta description for every page on your website. Try to incorporate your keyword(s) for the page naturally in the description to hopefully end up with some bolded text on the search results page (as with “cloud hosting” in the example above), and use the space to provide a brief description about what’s valuable on the page.
17. Link to Other Pages on Your Website.
Internal linking gives you a way to signal to Google what your page is about through the anchor text you use. If you’re not familiar with the term, the anchor text refers to the words that are hyperlinked. Google sees the words used each time there’s a link to a web page and takes that as information about what’s on the page.
Internal links also give you a way to show the search engines how your different pages are connected and drive traffic from one page on the website to another. You ideally want your visitors to stick around to avoid a high bounce rate on your website, providing helpful internal links is a good way to make that happen.
18. Submit Your Sitemap to Google.
Before your web pages can show up on the search engine results page, Google has to crawl your website.
Usually Google’s crawlers will make their way to your website over time even if you don’t do anything, but you can speed things up by submitting your sitemap through Google Search Console. You can directly communicate to Google that your website exists and tell them all the specific pages on it.
19. Create an SEO Plan for the Future.
If everything on this list already sounds like a lot, you’ll have to get used to it because you’re just getting started. SEO is a long-term, ongoing process.
To show up in the search engines when people are looking for the information or products you provide, you have to put some real work into providing consistent value on your website and building authority around the web.
Start on your plan for long-term SEO sooner rather than later. Consider if you can learn the ropes and do the work on your own, or if you need SEO optimization services to help.
Whichever route you choose, it’s important that you decide to make it a priority and take the long view on making progress. SEO is slow and the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.