The thought that you should SEO your site before you even develop it seems counter-intuitive. And, in many ways, it is. But, not entirely. I've been an SEO for over 12 years, and I still can't get past the fact that optimization continues to be the "after thought," only coming into play long after the site has been up and running for months, or even years.
This mindset needs to change.
The success of a website's online marketing efforts can make or break many businesses. It no longer makes sense to hire your SEO only after a website has been developed. That's like doing demographic research after you have already chosen your store's location and invested thousands of dollars in setting up shop.
Just as demographic research must be done to determine where and how a business sets up their brick and mortar store, SEO is needed before you begin to program the first piece of code or design the first graphic for your website. In reality, development and SEO are so completely intertwined that they both have to be considered together. Failure to do so frequently leads to expensive re-development costs as the SEO requests changes that could have been done during the initial development stages.
You never want to have to rebuild your foundation
I frequently get calls from business owners exploring Search Engine Optimization but want to wait until their website is fully developed and operational before they sign on with any particular SEO company. This strategy seems to make logical sense because business owners often want to make sure the site looks and performs properly before dropping money into a long term commitment to an online marketing firm. But, SEO is just as much a part of the business plan as the website development.
The website marketing plan should really be one of the driving aspects of the website development. But, unfortunately, many of the things related to marketing are typically done wrong during the site development. That's not to say developers don't know what they are doing, quite the opposite. Developers can be great programmers, designers, and creators. They're just generally not great optimizers. And there is nothing wrong with that, it's just not what they specialize in.
Rolling out a site that operates at less than it's full performance capabilities is not only a waste of time, it's a waste of money, even if you're not quite ready to put the thing into high gear. It doesn't make smart financial sense to develop a site that has to be re-developed again once you get your SEO involved. Nor does it make good sense to tie your SEO's hands because you don't want to invest in site development again. Ultimately, this puts you in a lose/lose situation.
Instead, you want to have a site built from the ground up that is search engine friendly and SEO ready. It's the difference between being able to give your car a tune-up vs. having to rebuild the entire engine.
SEO before development starts you in the pole position
"Pole position" is a racing term I have adopted for my own company. It basically means to take the first position. When Nascar racers line up at the starting line, the car in the pole position is the one on the inside of the first row. This is the absolute best position to be starting from, giving you the best advantage.
Having a good SEO or SEM on board during the development stage can save countless hours, and dollars, because it starts you off in, what is essentially, the pole position--the absolute best position you can start from.
Here are just a few examples:
Database driven websites often come with their own unique set of SEO related problems. Over the years I've worked with a number of different CMS and never have two been exactly the same. Some are more SEO friendly than others, and some are easier to alter than others.
The basics needed for SEO is the ability to create default, dynamic title and description tags, with the ability to customize on a page by page basis as needed. Control over breadcrumbs, image alts, and editable body content that isn't tied to a manufacturers database is a must. Being able to dictate URLs can also be a sticking point for some systems. Basically, it comes down to the ability to control and customize the environment.
Clean and lean code can improve website performance issues more than most people think. Bloated code can slow down both spidering and page download, both of which can have an impact on a site's search engine rankings. If the developers use poor coding practices, your visitors won't see it, but they'll feel it as usability is diminished on top of everything else.
Quality content is just as important a part of the sales process as your "add to cart" buttons. Many sites are still not designed with content in mind, leaving SEOs to have to insert optimized content wherever they can, rather than having it be a seamless part of each page's design.
I still hear people say that they don't want a lot of text on the site because it distracts from the products. This is a valid concern, especially when content isn't factored into the design process. However, content is part of the information gathering and decision making process. Without it, you lose all of your persuasive ability, and you're just offering another product they can get anywhere else.
Not every visitor will read your content, but you need it for those that will and do. It's up to you to satisfy each visitor's needs and persuade them to buy your products from you, rather than from a competitor.
These are just a couple examples of how planning your SEO strategy before, or along with, your website development strategy is essential. Your website development budget should be a part of your online marketing investment, not a "development expense".
This is an important point that I think still too few online businesses are getting. If you don't bring your marketing team in to participate in the website design and development process, you don't fully understand what's at stake.
Before developing your website, choosing your design and development should be secondary to bringing your optimization and marketing team on board. The marketing team can help you interview and select the right designers that will build the site within the specifications and parameters that will be necessary for a successful marketing campaign, saving both time and money in the long run.