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Content Production

A web project manager’s guide to SEO

Becky Taylor • 1 minute

Managing a new website build or redesign project requires the ability to balance many spinning plates.

When a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) brief also gets thrown into the mix, it can be easy to feel intimidated by all the terminology that comes along with it. But panic not, SEO is not a black art that you need technical skills to understand.

The biggest influence you can have on where your site appears in search engine rankings is through the site’s content. Provided you’ve got a decent CMS (Content Management System), the power is largely in your hands.

Here are some easy SEO rules to follow when planning or writing content for your website:

  • Write for your target audience. Relevant content will have more impact than anything else. Write with a specific audience in mind. Think about the words and phrases your target audience use and include those terms in your content—but keep sentence flow natural, otherwise you could be “keyword stuffing” (see next).
  • Use keywords naturally. Using keywords in your content will influence rankings but over-using these words (often called “keyword stuffing”) can have a negative impact on your rankings. Google can identify and penalise this behaviour. If you were reading anything, be it a book, article or news story, if the same few words were repeated throughout, it would get annoying. Avoid the temptation, it won’t help in the long run.
  • Nail your headlines. Whether you’re writing copy for your services page or a new blog post, getting the headline right is critical. It should strike the right tone to draw attention yet clearly explain what the content is about. Don’t mislead visitors to get clicks. If the content isn’t what they thought it was, they’ll leave straight away which defeats the point. Aim for something interesting but clear, somewhere between 4-9 words.
  • Incorporate long tail keyphrases. When establishing the keywords you want to target, think beyond short, broad keywords. Let’s use a design agency as an example. The client may dream of ranking on page 1 for “brand development” but these short, broad terms are not just highly competitive – they don’t reflect how people search online. We are much more specific in our searches. So in our example a search is more likely to be “brand development agency {location}” or “brand development for {project type}”. Think about the longer, more targeted phrases and questions your audience may use when researching during a purchase decision, and write content around that.
  • Provide alt text for images. Don’t worry, this is as techy as my advice will get. Images bring content to life and add to a story in a way that words can’t. Humans get it, search engines can’t (yet). So what that means is you need to provide descriptions of your images so that search engines can read both your text and images. Your CMS should be setup to allow you to provide alt text (alternative text) for images. Alt text is also really important for accessibility, for site visitors who use screen readers.
  • Provide unique meta descriptions for every page. OK this one has a techy term too, sorry! But metadata is straightforward. It is content within the code of your site that provides page descriptions to search engines. Whilst it won’t have impact upon rankings, it can help increase click-through rates. Meta descriptions are picked up by Google alike and displayed in the description of your listing (although Google will replace it with other page content if it’s deemed more suitable). Treat meta descriptions like my headline advice—strike the right tone to draw attention yet clearly explain what the content is. Keep these ones between 150-160 characters.
  • Publish regularly. An important signal to search engines is how fresh your content is. SEO will only be successful with regular attention and action. The most logical way to do this is publishing helpful resources such as blogs, news, case studies and reports on your website on a regular basis. Don’t let this slip to the bottom of the to-do list.
  • Tell people it’s there. SEO is about generating inbound traffic but rather than just waiting for visitors to roll in. You can bolster this with promotion through your own newsletters and social channels. When you publish new content, share it to help create links back to your website and get the ball rolling on traffic.

Don’t let the term ‘SEO’ put you off. It’s really all about content and as a person involved in managing web projects, this is likely to be something you’re already comfortable with. In addition to this, there are of course some basic technical requirements your web team should have in place to make sure your content has the best chance of being found. You can cross reference the following list with your development team’s plans:

SEO checklist for your dev team

  • Create search engine friendly URLs. We’re talking words, not gobbledegook like ‘node/134010’! Use hyphens rather than underscores between words. Hyphens are used as word separators while underscores do not specify any function, hyphens help search engines read the URL.
  • Use subfolders. Subfolders add value to parent pages. For instance, a services category should support the parent services page and should look like domain.com/services/category-1/ not domain.com/category-1.
  • Make it easy for clients to provide meta descriptions. You can’t complain clients don’t use this function, if they’ve not been taught why it’s important or if it’s not easy to use.
  • Help clients create the best title tags. Search engines only display the first 50-60 characters of a title tag in search results. Restrict the amount of characters clients have to play with to avoid showing ellipsis that cut off title tags.
  • Use 301 redirects. Make sure when switching domains or restructuring URLs that you use 301 redirects to transfer any SEO authority to your new URLs.
  • Get rid of bad backlinks. If historical, poor quality backlinks are lingering, use Google Webmaster tools to make these ‘Nofollow’ links, so  that Google disregards them. Nofollow is an HTML attribute value used to instruct search engines bots that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. 
  • Speed it up. Usability is a key signal for search engine rankings. Optimise wherever possible to get site load as fast as possible.
  • Remove blocking robots.txt files post launch. Some developers will use robots.txt files to block search engines from indexing development sites, just make sure you remember to remove it when you go live.

SEO might feel like a minefield but it doesn’t need to be. Your web team should set you up with the right structure and tools, and from there it’s all about publishing fresh, relevant content. Tricking search engines is a thing of the past. So are guarantees. Where you appear is down to competition and the mercy of search engines. To have the greatest chance of increasing your search engine visibility, focus on sharing practical resources about what you know, not what you do.

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Our content processes used to involve an ineffective mix of spreadsheets, documents, and a slew of file storage solutions. With GatherContent we've solved all of those problems and more. Mark McClendon — Partner & Executive Director, VML

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Becky Taylor

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