I’m asked about this quite frequently. It’s this question about how to design a website and ensure it’s set up for the best possible search engine ranking. Because being found on search engines can make or break your online success. So it’s not just a question about ranking high for a certain keyword. It’s about ranking high for the best keywords to drive results.
Before we dig into the details, it’s important to understand that search engine optimization (SEO) success is dependent on two factors. The first factor is on-site design and setup. This has to do with the structure and mapping of pages on your site, the content you offer, and several behind-the-scenes settings. The second factor is off-site promotion. This has more to do with link building and gaining outside credibility for your website. Our focus here today will be with the first of these two factors, on-site design.
A few years ago, some friends started a new laser engraving business. As they were kicking things off, they knew that the website was going to be a key piece of their strategy. So we got together and built a site around their main keyword of laser engraving. The site did well in ranking for that phrase, and it helped generate several new customers for them.
Over time, the business continued to grow, and the owners gained a better understanding of their niche. Most of the work they are doing falls into two main categories. One type of customer they get is business and corporate accounts looking to get logos engraved onto other products as promotional giveaways. The other type of customer is looking for personalization on keepsake items, such as wedding party gifts.
As they began to expand and focus on those two categories, they also felt like it was time for the website to evolve with them. The good news is that the website was rock solid with terms related to laser engraving. However, it wasn’t anywhere on the radar for terms related to these two categories. The new design would need to capitalize on these niche categories.
Keyword Research (Where a Good SEO Strategy Begins)
When we set out to design a website for search engine ranking, the first thing we need to do is keyword research. I’m a firm believer in following what the data tells me. I never arbitrarily pick a keyword phrase out of a hat and build a website.
We targeted three keyword phrases in order to show up in searches for the best possible audience.
- laser engraving (already ranking well locally for this, and didn’t want to lose it)
- promotional products
- personalized gifts
We selected these phrases after evaluating dozens of options and alternatives in Google’s Keyword Planner tool. When doing this for a local business, it’s helpful to filter results geographically. For example, you don’t want to use soda in an area where it’s more commonly called pop. Filtering geographically will get you the terms people actually use in your area to find what you’re offering. Beyond that, it’s all about finding the terms that have the highest search volume. And it’s a bonus if they have low competition. These terms present the greatest opportunities to capture visitors.
How To Design a Website for Results
Search engines are looking for authority. They want to ensure that the pages they send searchers to are the most helpful resources available. Old SEO methods of keyword stuffing pages just don’t do the trick anymore. So you need to show value. One of the best ways to show value (and authority) is through strong content. And long-form content typically shows higher authority than a few short blurbs. Therefore we built three high-authority pages mapped out like this:
- Homepage (main keyword: laser engraving) – Our target for the homepage is 1500 words of content. Within that content, we have sections with short summaries for the other target keyword phrases. And then we added other general information about laser engraving.
- Authority page (keyword: promotional products) – The target for other authority pages is at least 800 words of content. We used similar keywords, such as promotional items and custom logo engraving, but the main focus was on primary term.
- Authority page (keyword: personalized gifts) – This page has the same 800-word target and used other supporting key phrases like anniversary gifts and personalized wedding gifts.
The new website structure focuses primarily on these three pages. Other existing pages aren’t removed. However, the more we can focus on core navigation for these three pages, the better. Therefore, we add the new authority pages to the header menu and link to them from the homepage. Likewise, the authority pages link to each other and back to the homepage.
Back-End Tactics to Improve Search Engine Ranking
Strong SEO writing is an important part of this process. Additionally, there are some other back-end pieces that to take care of. It’s things like creating strong snippets (using Yoast SEO) that can make a big difference. Not only should a snippet contain your keywords, but it also needs a strong call-to-action.
In addition to this kind of metadata, we make sure other elements are properly addressed:
- Content readability – Yoast SEO does a great job scoring the page content for this. And I like to run all of my content through Hemingway App to help me find and correct difficult to read sentences, passive voice, and other readability factors.
- Link balance – Every page should have links to other internal (your site) pages, but also external links to other websites. Don’t overdo it, but make sure the page’s links are strong and add value.
- XML sitemap considerations – Static pages on the site that provide authority should be set to a high priority for the search engine bots. Additionally, less important pages (like your contact page, etc) should be bumped down in priority or removed from indexing altogether. This helps tell the search engines to determine what content is really important on the website.
Beyond this, if you have green lights from Yoast SEO on readability and SEO, then you should be all set.
Before this redesign work on the website, laser engraving was already performing well for us in local searches. Usually in the top three, and sometimes number one. The site was not ranking at all for the terms promotional products or personalized gifts. Once Google’s bots got to index the new site changes, we noticed some nice results. The homepage now seems to have a pretty strong hold on the #1 spot for laser engraving locally. And local searches for the other terms are now ranking the website in the top five!
Promotional products is currently ranking the homepage at #5…
Personalized gifts is performing even better with TWO pages ranking in the top five! Here you see that not only did the homepage rank for this term, but so did the authority page…
These results were achieved without any other external SEO work. Simple, yet strong design strategy resulted in major improvements in search engine rankings.
At the same time, there are a few other tactics which could support (or even improve) strong results like this:
- Link building and other off-site SEO promotion – Building a good portfolio of links pointing back to all of these pages could continue to enhance their credibility.
- Content marketing strategy – Producing fresh and relevant content using related keyword terms can strengthen on-site authority.
- Social media marketing – Providing social proof for these pages by sharing them regularly on social media sends strong signals to the search engines.
There’s definitely a strategy to follow if you want to build a website for great search engine ranking. And the key really is to think through all of the elements of the design and don’t skip some for convenience. If you do a good job with all of this, you’ll see the payoff in increased visibility (and traffic).