Search Focus: Once Was Lost

If search is an afterthought, your site will never be found

It would seem to be the perfect pairing: Web design and development join forces to work harmoniously with search to design a holistic, customized user experience. But oftentimes, search is an afterthought and efficiencies are lost because of poor planning.

With few (and well-compensated) exceptions, Web designers, copywriters and developers typically aren't trained in the art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

This becomes a significant challenge when you want a bleeding-edge Flash Web site to appear high in natural search results, when paid search demands relevant landing pages, and when your company's goal is to increase qualified leads and/or improve sales efficiently.

Getting your Web site prepared for search engine success is not necessarily difficult. You just need to let go of the reins a little and get your search folks integrated with your development and design teams. Let them sit around "talking shop" for a while.

How Search Professionals Contribute to Site Builds

Once you identify the right search agency and your Web development project is set to kick off, get all the tactical players in the room: search practitioners, information architects, Web designers, copywriters and Web developers.

Search practitioners bring unique perspective to your design and development teams. Their core training is focused on being "interactive hybrids." Good ones understand site technologies that work for search engines, are able to recommend structural and creative approaches that attract search engine spiders, employ techniques that keep the spiders on-site and indexing pages, and have enough marketing sense to tie these technical and creative strategies to a client's online business goals.

Information architects define the information flow and structural requirements for your Web site. Their ultimate deliverable is usually a detailed site map and page-level wireframes for your site. Search practitioners should review the site architecture and make sure relevant content is not buried in sub-directories on the site. They should offer specific recommendations and contribute notes and direction, as well as make sure that menus and navigation allow search spiders to easily index the site.

Designers are onboard to make the Web site esthetically pleasing, engaging and interactive. Oftentimes Web designers and search teams butt heads. Being found and being pretty need not be mutually exclusive. Your search practitioner should take a look at preliminary and final comps to make sure that the best practices concerning find-abilty from the site map are carried over into the final design concepts.

Once the Web skeleton is set and design is completed, your search practitioner should provide you with specific recommendations for developing search-engine friendly copy.

If you do not have an SEO copywriter, ask your search agency to find one for you or provide page-level recommendations and final copyediting for your site build. This is critical for search engine success.

Finally, the code used to develop your Web site needs to be clean and crawl-able by search engine spiders. You could write books on this element of search. Suffice it to say that your search team will have some strong opinions about the use of Flash, dynamically generated content, page names, directory names, URL structure, content management systems and much more.

Web development groups are responsible for delivering the final project. As all Web sites are meant to be found, have search advisors at the design and development table to bring their knowledge and to contribute to your online business planning. If the project is done with search in mind throughout the process, your final result should be a found result.

Michael Melone is strategy director at SMG Search, a dedicated unit of Starcom MediaVest Group.

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