A quick search of Google News shows dozens of cases where homeowners, business owners, and community code enforcement officials are embroiled in battles over improper building permits. In many cases, the builder is forced to tear down the structure – at great expense. Communities put permitting procedures in place so that an even-handed process is applied and ensure safety, prevent shoddy workmanship, and preserve home values. You must stand in line, fill out forms, and pay fees when your project is already complex enough, they reason. So lots of people try to get around it, and some succeed. Houses crack. Fires start. Communities get uglier.
In the website construction industry, we can draw a parallel between SEO advice and building permitting. Pressures placed on any web development project can cause marketing goals to be ignored or at least diluted. The builder doesn’t have to “live” with the results. They get paid and can easily vanish independent of the commercial success of the venture. The SEO gets called to come fix the mess. But the mess is already sealed in the walls. The cracking foundation has already been built upon.
Many companies invest heavily in their web design and construction, and then call on SEO experts to come in after the fact to make suggestions to help traffic flow. Unfortunately this often results in bad news. The website was not designed with search in mind, and you have to re-build it if you want organic traffic to flow. This is the equivalent to being forced to tear down that addition to your home, or that big warehouse building you just put together. You’re stuck. The expense to rebuild it is too high. The expense not to build it is too high (paid search.) I’d like to make the plea to the business community to consider thinking about SEO earlier.
I propose that people involved in web development look to the construction industry for guidance. Involving an SEO/SEM consultant before, during, and after your web development plans are in place can be a money-making proposition. I think that in some ways this is like permitting your building project. In my opinion, SEO/SEM experts should be project managers for any web development project where marketing the site is a core business directive. Decisions will be made with the social, search, and traffic goals take center stage, not the aesthetic “high” of the site being finished and wowing a committee.
The parallels exist at every project level.
- Tossing around the idea. Even at this highly abstract and conceptual phase, you’d be well advised to at least get an SEO expert to dog-ear a few pages for you in a builder’s catalog. What types of designs work or not for the environment you have. Even high level choices like a domain name and business name are urgently important to the long term success.
- Getting SEO objectives in the same priority list as building objectives. The purpose of the project often gets very blurry during construction. If the purpose is to expand the business through increased traffic, then every decision must be based on those objectives. Nobody is more experienced in answering “what if we do this?” questions as they relate to marketing as an experienced SEO.
- Avoiding Emotional Blindness. Architects are considering dozens of variables when talking with you about design. Discussions can focus on functional aspects and aesthetic interests, and lots of emotion is involved. What will the space feel like? How will it gel with the overall corporate image? While the architect recalls the feedback from previous projects what has or not worked, that information is vague and may not apply. It’s not until the general contractor is contacted do things get nitty-gritty – and this can be too late. Having an SEO/SEM involved can shape the critical marketing objectives along with the aesthetic and functional goals before firm plans are drawn up. “How will people flow through the building?” is an architect’s question. “Where will those people come from?” is an SEO question. If you ask those together, and find an answer that serves both, you will end up with a better outcome.
- Avoiding assumptions made under pressure. Assumptions fly at amazing frequency during the “heat” of design. Everyone loves to be putting ideas into photoshop and seeing their vision realized. But are the assumptions valid? This is a very expensive question to get wrong. Setting up controlled experiments at this phase can poll users through their behaviors. While not every site can do this, ecommerce and lead generation sites can. What layout works best? What navigation works best? This is not a purely “SEO” question, but more about applying a scientific method to parts of the site which will affect design. The painter loads building plans into a computer to try color combinations. The HVAC contractor may put ducting layouts into a simulator that measures airflow. A solar power contractor might put a test panel at the building site to measure sun exposure through the day. All of this seems reasonable, so with a website design, we should also use prototypes to measure (through pay per click experiments) what works.
- Transitions. Many building projects involve joining structures or major logistical efforts, such as moving property inside a building. Buildings may be connected with older structures, or entire companies might be moving in. SEO has a similar challenge. If you don’t develop your URL redirects properly, for example, you can significantly impact the smoothness of a transition. The moving company has the objective of getting stuff from old location to new location, and will be under pressure to accomplish this. The SEO will be thinking about how that affects the original SEO objectives.
In the end, your site will be constructed in a way that gives long-term marketing benefit, corporate consistency, as well as high aesthetic joy. The presence of permits adds a bit of friction to the system whether it’s in the real, grungy world of construction or the quiet hum of ecommerce, but the outcome of a systematic sign-off process in each step will justify the hassle. What was the point of the new website? To hang on the wall and appease the CEO? To make the designer’s portfolio look snazzy? I’m doubting it. You want a tool – that looks great – but that does the job well.
The result of a site where on-site optimization is difficult or impossible is reduced profitability and increased web marketing costs. Paid Search (pay per click) is the beneficiary as it becomes a crutch for all traffic, rather than a healthy part of an organic/paid balance.
The goal is to launch a profitable, easy to optimize site that meets a multitude of goals – and to avoid having to rebuild the site in short order. Involve a current, experienced SEO from the beginning and even consider them as your project manager – with sign-off power – if you want to be successful.
permit photo by Adam Campbell, used under (CC) construction photo by Crispin-Semmens used under (CC)