SEO tips for old and new websitesPosted 17 May 2011 by Sandy Cosser
SEO planning for an old website is different to that for a new site. Some say its easier working with an older, more established site, while others prefer getting a site off the ground. Either way there are challenges that must be overcome and overriding principles to be born in mind. Let’s look at each in turn.
SEO for old websites
Jim Boykin (We Build Pages) is one of those who prefer working with old sites, in fact, he’s been known to turn down new website owners purely on the basis of their domain age. Some might find his reasons questionable; they might infer undue egotism on his part. Nevertheless, Boykin says that he turns away new sites because the majority take at least two years to rank competitively and site owners expect results much sooner than that. Old sites benefit from years of natural link growth, which Boykin says gives them more potential than their newer counterparts.
The thing about SEO for old sites is that you want to enhance what is already doing well and make much needed, probably belated, improvements, without making a cock up.
You need to start off with a comprehensive site analysis: is the site coded correctly, what’s the content like, what’s usability and navigation like, is there an internal linking structure, what is its current ranking status, does it already use keywords, what’s the state of its titles, descriptions and URLs, etc?
You have to take it page by page, be thorough and, if need be, brutal.
You also need buy-in from your client. People are sentimental creatures that don’t take kindly to criticism or change. So you need superb people-skills to spoon-feed your client through the process.
Some old sites are well designed and well looked after and don’t need much more than some tweaks to the code, fresh keywords and updated titles and descriptions. But some sites need a complete overhaul. If this is the case you need to establish if the client has a designer onboard or if you’re going to be responsible for design changes. Assuming total responsibility is first prize because then you don’t have to go through third parties and aren’t dependent on their work ethic, standards and workloads. Some designers don’t like to have their methods questioned and in turn will question the necessity of every change you recommend.
If you own the process you can make changes as you go along. If you see that the URLs need to be shortened you can quickly do so, and implement the appropriate 301-redirects while you’re at it. You can adjust the internal links quickly, make changes to the menu, add a sitemap and do all the finicky things that make a great deal of difference in the long-run.
If you’re not going to manage the design process you need to cultivate a good relationship with whoever is ultimately going to make the changes. Don’t deal with the head of the department when you really need to talk to the man (or woman) behind the screen. Don’t adopt a bossy know-it-all attitude and don’t assume you’re going to be given uphill. Not all designers are overly territorial. Work closely with the designer to ensure that you’re on the same page and working towards the same goals.
Two final, very important tips:
1) Don’t forget those redirects – really. You don’t want to lose link juice and all the hard work that preceded you, and you don’t want to alienate search engines with pages that no longer exist.
2) Make the appropriate updates to your analytics and reporting mechanisms.
SEO for new sites
Not everyone shares Boykin’s dim view of new websites, which is a good thing otherwise no one would ever get any where.
SEO is easier (not easy, just easier) when digital markets get to work with the design team and site owner from the get-go. Input from digital marketers is vital to ensure that websites are be properly indexed as soon as they’re launched, that usability and site navigation remain priorities and that coding includes proper HTML tags and not an over-reliance on Flash and images.
Content is also easier to manage, as keywords can be inserted into brand new content rather than being wrapped around content that already exists. As with designers, it’s always easier for SEOs to work with their own content writers. It can be more time consuming but that way they can be sure that the keyword balance is right. As a rule, digital marketers hire content writers who are skilled at achieving that balance. They are able to work wonders with words to attract users and search engines.
But, some site owners have trouble trusting strangers with their content. They feel that no one can possibly know their business or their industry the way they do (to be fair, in some technical industries this is true) and prefer to keep content writing in-house. This can work one of two ways:
1) You hand over your keyword research and a content plan and (if you’re willing) a best practice guide, outlining where best the keywords can be used and how best to use them. The client goes off and all you get to see is the finished product. Maybe you’re given the opportunity to make suggestions.
2) They write the content and hand it over to you for keyword insertion. This also requires a measure of trust as SEO content writers will inevitably have to make some changes and edits to ensure that the keywords fit properly.
The downside to the first option is that writers might not use keywords enough, fearing they will compromise the quality of the writing; or they will use them too much, fearing that they will have an angry SEO breathing down their necks.
The downside to the second option is that you can end up with a lot of back-and-forth, as neither your writers nor the clients’ writers are willing to give ground.
Develop an internal link strategy. This will help your onsite navigation and add weight to the pages that you want to rank.
Start working on a link building strategy that will help you build trust and authority almost immediately. If possible, have a small stash of blogs ready to publish as soon as the site goes live; have articles and press releases that point back to your site ready to distribute.
Also start working on your social media strategy before the site goes live and take it up a notch just before and just after the launch.
One final tip for old and new sites
- SEO is not a once-off solution. It requires constant monitoring and refining to keep websites relevant and top of mind.