SEO is important for websites in the business world; this is common knowledge. Proper SEO begins long before you have a developed website you're trying to populate with content. In fact, for the best results, you should consider SEO before you even choose your web host.

Why Start Early?

SEO involves a wide array of factors. In fact, Google has stated that they use over 200 different factors when determining your site's PageRank. Obviously, some of these factors are incoming links, keyword density, formatted titles and the other common ideas. Some, however, are more esoteric. Some are minor, but may swing the balance in your favor when you're competitors are close.It's best to start early because web design is expensive. More importantly, you have to consider the lost profits caused by an improperly coded site. Every sale lost because of a preventable mistake is lost revenue. If you design your site from the ground up with SEO in mind, you'll miss fewer sales.

Before the Code

The web host you choose matters for your SEO. Never pick a free web host, no matter how good their offer seems. It may be an investment, but you need to pick business hosting. Why? Business hosting provides:
  • Guaranteed 99.99 percent uptime. Every second of downtime is lost revenue for your company
  • Highly customizable infrastructure. Your site may run on a code base that isn't supported by basic free hosting
  • Fast, reliable traffic. Page load speeds are incredibly important for PageRank, both in the eyes of web crawlers and those of your customers
  • No restrictions. Some free and cheap hosts require that you waste page space advertising their service, or restrict you to non-commercial sites
  • Custom URLs. There aren't many hosts that append themselves to your URL any more, but you still need a custom URL of your own

A Foundation of Solid Code

If you develop your website in-house, make sure your coders know what they are doing. If you contract out, make sure you can examine a site the developer has made before and make sure their code is well formed. There are a few reasons for this. First, there are web standards that must be followed. Sometimes code will be parsed correctly despite being malformed, but this can lead to problems down the line. It also may cause issues when a user browses your site on a Mac, using a different browser or using a mobile device. Your code needs to follow web standards and be easy to modify. Well-documented code is a bonus if you're not retaining the developer's service for updates. Second, you need to pay attention to scripts. Using a scripting language may seem like a good idea to give your page more interactive and dynamic elements. To a certain degree, this is true. Users like to interact with your site, and doing something innovative within your industry can be attractive to new visitors. On the other hand, poorly written scripts can crash or slow down your site, causing users to back away. Having too many scripts at once will slow down page load times and possibly cause hangs as well. You also run into the issue of parsing those scripts on mobile platforms.

Structure and Layout

How appropriate is the design you plan to use for your site? A daycare business doesn't need a site that looks industrial. On the other hand, a product manufacturer should avoid a site filled with bright colors and childish decals. Your site needs to fit your industry and your business plan. Your navigation structure is incredibly important. Internally, it needs to be sensible. Web crawlers follow links through your site and they rank pages by how deeply embedded they happen to be. If it takes four, five or more clicks to reach a page of content, that content will be ranked lower than if it was easily accessible from the front page. Conversely, if your front page is nothing but uncategorized links, it will penalize your site as a whole. You need a logical layout that doesn't bury content. Your page structure is important in terms of URLs as well. The difference between www.mypage.com/greatcontent and www.mypage.com/content11/page21/article15/339193.asp is immense. Users occasionally type your URL themselves, so it needs to be readable. A well-formed URL is another SEO factor.

Don't Forget the Tags

In modern web design, a few tags are incredibly important that weren't present in previous generations of web design. Older, established web designers may not be aware of these new tags, so you need to make sure they're implemented.
  • rel=canonical. This tag is incredibly important in terms of avoiding Google's duplicate content penalties. When you have a site with dozens of products, you probably have different filters to sort them. You might have a page with the results sorted by price, and a page with the same items sorted by name. To the search engine, these are identical in content. In this case, you should specify one of the pages as the canonical page. Google will disregard the other identical pages and you will avoid duplicate content penalties
  • rel=next/rel=prev. There may be many reasons for you to split up an article into several pages. The problem you may encounter is that Google by default will treat each paginated section of the article as its own page. This drastically reduces the SEO power of those articles. In order to avoid this, add the prev and next tags to the links in the series. This tells Google that the pages in this chain are all part of the same article and should have their SEO components, link power and other aspects combined
  • Proper use of H1/H2/H3. H1 is the header tag for your primary title. Do not use H1 for every heading in the article. Subheadings should be in H2 tags, with sub-subheadings in H3, and so on. Improper use of headers skews Google's perception of the page, and can mess with formatting if you change your page layout down the road
  • Properly-utilized meta tags. The meta title and meta data tags used to be far more powerful than they are now, but they are still powerful SEO tools. They are a way to specify what content Google displays for your page, as well as giving you an extra subtle bit of keyword juice. Every page, every category and every section needs its own meta data

The Necessity of High Quality Content

Obviously, your site needs a constant flow of content. This keeps your SEO refreshed and alive, gives your users reasons to return and keeps Google indexing your site. Activity and quality in your content show Google you're providing value to your users, and will benefit your PageRank. Pay attention to your keywords, your links -- especially anchor text -- and your formatting. You also need to make sure your content is visible in the source code, which means no hiding it away behind scripts. If it's hidden in the source code, Google won't index it, so it does you no good. If you pay attention to the structure, code and content of your site from the ground up, you minimize the possible lost conversions you might otherwise encounter. Follow these tips and you're well on your way to powerful SEO.