What should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website?

If you are designing and developing a website, from the outset, you should optimize your website for search engines to find it. Just because you have a website doesn’t mean you will be found online! It’s estimated that around 63,000 Google searches happen per second, and around half of those users will click on the top three results, so as a business owner, your goal is for your site to appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERPs). You must develop your site with SEO in mind and use good SEO practices to get there. In addition, there are common errors that can damage your rankings. So, what should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website?

Don’t leave SEO to the end of the web design process.

Search engines use bots to crawl and scan websites – these bots are developed to look for specific data sets and perform certain actions on a website. When your website design gets in the way of the bots, it hampers your SEO efforts. If a website is not built with a search engine in mind, it is like going on a road trip without a map; the bots are bound to get lost.

Googlebot crawling a website

Be aware that Googlebot has a “crawl budget” for each site. The amount of time it spends crawling your site will be affected by the quality of the content and layout of the pages it comes across. So, when developing and coding your website, consider which pages you want to be indexed. To prevent the crawl budget from being used up on unimportant content, consider using a robots.txt file and sitemaps. This coding acts as signposts for the bots, telling them where you want them to go.  If there are pages or content you don’t want to be crawled, use robots meta tags to block the bots from these pages. 

To increase the crawlability of your website, keep the webpage design simple. If your website is a complex labyrinth of pages, it will be difficult for Googlebot to find the pages you want it to scan; it’s likely to “miss the turning.” A simple web design structure will keep the route clear, making it more likely to be indexed and enabling users to find the necessary information.

Don’t ignore crawlability and indexability issues.

If search engines can’t crawl your site, they won’t be able to index it. When a site is indexed, you could think of it as Google adding your website to its library of helpful information that it will pick from each time a search is done. Your pages need to be indexed for them to appear in SERPs.

Therefore, as you develop your website, check that your pages are crawlable and indexable. This isn’t a one-off task; you must review this regularly as part of ongoing site maintenance post-launch. If you add a new page that you want to be indexed, ensure the URL is added to the sitemaps. If pages have a noindex tag, that will act as a roadblock on the bot’s journey. So it’s essential to check that you don’t have any pages blocked by these tags by mistake. Google Search Console provides an easy URL inspection tool where you can paste your URL to check if crawling and indexing are allowed on the page. If it reveals any problems, don’t ignore them; work on finding the fix as soon as possible.

Don’t ignore your mobile design.

When developing your website, don’t assume your mobile design isn’t as important as your desktop design. Google actually uses “mobile-first indexing” for new sites. This means crawling and indexing content on mobile sites is prioritized over desktop versions. So check that your mobile site isn’t blocked by noindex or nofollow robots meta tags. Also, check that your mobile site includes the same content as your desktop design, including identical metadata. 

In addition, avoid a mobile site design that will make it hard for the Googlebot to crawl. For example, many mobile sites use “lazy-loading” content. This is the hidden content that loads as you scroll or stays hidden until a user interaction, such as swiping. Lazy-loaded content may be beneficial to SEO as it can improve the speed of the initial load time for your website. But, on the other hand, search engines may not index this content. So, if you’re planning on adding lazy-loaded content, check out Google’s recommendations which include checking content is visible in the viewport. Once you have developed these features, use the URL inspection tool mentioned above to check your lazy-loaded content is indexable.

Avoid duplicate content.

Search engines may stop crawling pages altogether if it finds too much duplicate content. Therefore, it’s essential to use unique content on all pages. This isn’t limited to just webpage copy but applies to alt text too. If some of your web pages are similar, consider amalgamating them to preserve your rankings. A common error is copying and pasting content across several location landing pages. It may be tempting to save time and effort by doing this, especially as each page serves the same purpose, just for a different location. However, it will harm your site’s health, so you should create unique copy for each page.

Avoid duplicate content

Don’t forget about site speed. 

Waiting for a slow website to load is like being stuck in traffic. It’s annoying, and pretty soon, we start to think about turning around or finding a different route. Search engines focus on providing the best results for users. If your website is slow, you won’t rank well.

Many website platforms offer tools that make building websites easier, which is great, but if you don’t use them correctly, these benefits come with a trade-off – they can create bloated website code, which takes longer for search engines to crawl. These slow web pages will use up the crawl budget. So, as you are developing your website, think about optimizing your site speed. Simple tweaks, such as compressing images and minimizing JavaScript, will help. When using a CMS like WordPress, beware of using too many plugins, as they can considerably increase loading time.

Avoid Pop-Ups

Pop-ups will increase your loading speed, which, as just stated, will impact your rankings. Google will also penalize you simply for having pop-ups on your website as they recognize that the pop-ups negatively affect the quality of user experience. This is entirely reasonable – we’ve all experienced the frustration of being unable to continue viewing content because of annoying pop-ups blocking the view. In addition, users are likely to leave a site with pop-ups and find another. Search engines don’t want users to face these problems; therefore, they will devalue sites with pop-ups. Some pop-ups are necessary and may not injure your rankings, but avoid anything that covers important content.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the practice of repeating keywords and keyword variations many times throughout webpage copy. Some digital marketing “experts” have tried to use this to get higher rankings. Although this may have been effective 20-30 years ago, as search engines have become increasingly intelligent, they can better identify quality content, and practices like keyword stuffing don’t improve your rankings. Far from it! This is known as a “black-hat SEO” practice, and search engines will penalize you for this. Even honest web developers and content creators who, as a rule, avoid unethical practices could unintentionally be “keyword stuffing.” After all, you choose your keywords based on the focus of your site, so these words will naturally occur in your website copy. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep aware of your “keyword density.” Using a plugin such as Yoast SEO can be helpful – as it will flag whether your keywords are underused or, in fact, overused. However, plugins will only evaluate the word or phrase you have inputted as your “focus keyword.” So don’t rely on these tools, but when reviewing the copy for your web pages, stay alert to the usage of your primary keyword and related keywords/phrases. What else should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website?

Avoid the mindset of “it’s done.” 

Once you have built the website, your work is not done. To get ranking and keep ranking on SERPs takes ongoing work and adjustments to your site. Techniques that were effective years ago now may be useless. Not staying up to date with the latest SEO practices can mean your pages simply slide from page 1 of SERPs to page 3, to 5, to…never be found again. Therefore, avoid saying “it’s done” because a website, like your business, is a live and evolving entity that needs to be maintained and improved upon regularly for the customer and to build visibility online. Of course, this all takes time, and if you have another job, it will be hard to keep up with the fast changes of the online industry and implement them. For this reason, many business owners hire a website designer who can also help with ongoing website maintenance and SEO.

Avoid doing it yourself.

If you are a small business, we appreciate hiring an expert is not always possible. Hopefully, this blog has given you some insights into avoiding pitfalls and unethical practices. However, building a website has a steep learning curve that can take a long time to grasp and years to become proficient in. Therefore, to create and maintain a successful website optimized for SEO, you might want to avoid a “do it yourself” approach. The team at Torque Media are experts in website development in Burlington, VT, and we are ready to help! We know what you should avoid when developing a search-optimized website and are up to date with the latest digital marketing tools to help you be found online. Contact us today if you need a website designer or help with ongoing SEO and maintenance!