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SEO Before a Website Launch, Our Pre-Launch SEO Checklist!

SEO Before a Website Launch, Our Pre-Launch SEO Checklist!

Search engine optimization is a famous strategy for improving a website’s traffic, usually by editing the site’s content and code to slowly and surely improve rankings. But a pre-launch SEO checklist can actually help a business start off on the right foot, even before their site is live.

By focusing on SEO before a website launch it’s possible to not only make life easier down the road, but also to start bringing in customers, purchases, and revenue even faster

We’ve created a list of tips meant for businesses who want to begin SEO before their website launch. These are things that should be considered before a site goes live; after developers have finished building a site, and once it goes live to visitors, it becomes a whole lot harder to make changes. Once a website is built it can become difficult to make major SEO changes for things like URL structure, site structure, mobile design, and UI.

If you’re are in the process of building your business online, updating an old site, or launching a business from scratch, here are tips for how to approach SEO before your website launch, as well as how you can get ahead with a pre-launch digital marketing campaign.

Read on below for our website launch SEO checklist for these topics:

Creating a live domain first

Search engines can begin to rank and crawl websites as soon as they’re live – and older sites tend to perform better for organic traffic. If desired, businesses can set-up their domain/homepage with a “coming soon” message or with place-holder content that mirrors the future content/purpose of the site.

This way, the site can begin building its reputation and a business can get a jump on their SEO before website launch. However, the benefits of this strategy are minimal. This is an option, and there’s no downside to producing a single, 200-status landing page with enough content (as long as there is enough to avoid a Google “thin content” penalty).

However for brand-new domains, SEO results move very slowly. It can take days or weeks before a brand new homepage/coming-soon page would even be indexed. Even then it’s very unlikely that it would rank at all, or gain any back-links.

This is good SEO for before a website launch that’s from scratch, for a whole new business, but replacing an old site ca be a bit different…

For businesses that are building a new replacement site, best practice is to add a meta robots “noindex” tag into the HTML of each page, this will prevent search engines from indexing the site and getting it confused with the old site. Keep the dev-site in a closed-off staging area or use “noindex” commands to keep the new site hidden until the moment you are able to redirect the old site completely.

Solidifying site structure for better SEO down the road

Site structure and site navigation are some of the most fundamental SEO elements for every website in the world. Of course every website owner will think about the structure of their site anyway, but it’s important to think about the future SEO implications of this process.

Search engine ranking algorithms will use a site’s structure to understand what content is important, determine rankings, and to help discover/index pages. Googlebot and Bingbot will use href attributes to move from one page to another (a.k.a internal links that go from one URL to another).

Most websites have a “pyramid” structure which starts with the homepage at the top. Beneath that will be your most important pages, which should be easy to navigate via a navigation bar. Next comes sub-categories, individual product pages, articles, blog posts, and so on.

Officially there’s not single system or best-practice for site structure, but ‘flatter’ sites (where pages are fewer clicks away from the homepage) are more ideal for indexing – indexing bots can find and get to pages more easily. Deeper sites (where lower-level pages can be buried under many links) may not be indexed frequently – plus they are more difficult for humans to navigate as well.

In general, you’ll want to follow this hierarchy:

  1. Homepage as a top-level landing page
  2. Nav-bar pages and cornerstone content that represents the core of your business (for many sites this includes pages where conversions happen: service pages, checkout pages, signups etc.)
  3. Information pages and category pages
  4. Product pages
  5. Blogs and supporting content meant to funnel visitors to conversion pages or product pages

A Big part of setting up SEO before a website launch means thinking about what content will go where and which content will be most important for conveying your brand message.

Avoid having too many sub-categories as part of a “deeper” site structure, doing so will make your site more difficult to navigate and categories that are too similar may run the risk of competing against each other for SEO rankings.

URL structure styles

Although URLs are not an SEO ranking signal, the way URLs are handled by a site’s content management system (CMS) can play a big role in indexing and the way that search engines understand a site. This is another key thing to understand when going through your pre-launch SEO checklist, since it’s not something that can be easily changed later.

If possible stick with static URLs (URLs that never change, even user-to-user) and try to avoid having duplicate content by using the same content on multiple URLs. The URL strings themselves can be descriptive in order to improve click-through-rate (CTR) and to make them more appealing to searchers in the SERP.

Google’s Matt Cuts claims that placing keywords in your URLs can help with rankings, albeit a very small amount. Cut’s says specifically, “It does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL. It doesn’t help so much that you should go stuffing a ton of keywords into your URL.”

Avoid complex URLs with randomized identifiers and parameters, instead keep them clear and concise with words that humans can understand.

  • A bad example might look like:

In this example users won’t be given clues about the page’s content, and the directory structure doesn’t give clues about the overall structure of your site.

  • A better example might look like:

This is another way that URL structure and design can play into your SEO before website launch. By engineering the way your CMS handles URLs, you are deciding how they can be displayed in the search engine results page (SERP). Like in the example below, search engines can interpret URL structure/sub-directories to better understand site structure.

Keyword research and finding a target audience

Most marketers and businesses know how important keywords are to SEO. But many people think that keyword-based SEO is something you do after you’re content is live. A better strategy is to focus on SEO before your website launch by building your content from the ground up to focus on search audiences relevant to your business.

This is why keyword research is so important.

Buy doing keyword research ahead of time businesses are able to build-out content on their site for topics, questions, and services/products that are designed to help their target audience reach their goals. Keyword research also allows business to break down their content for keywords based on intent and competition level:

  • Head-keywords and highly competitive keywords can be incorporated into top-level pages where they are more likely to rank higher in search results and where they can help catch searchers at the top of the SEO sales marketing funnel.
  • Longtail keywords can be used for lower-level content and product pages where marketers can create custom content for more specific topics. Longtail keywords also have a much clearer intent.
  • Intent driven keywords can also be used to create new content in blogs and low-level pages designed to net traffic for very specific queries. Bing and Google search intent marketing help marketers engage in an inbound marketing strategy that focuses on traffic for high-value potential conversions.

Create SEO optimized content

This is another obvious part of launching any website. But like we described above, it’s important to know that this is an important part of SEO before a website launch.

Once you’re finished with keyword research, you can then use those keywords (along with their implied “intent”) as the motivation for building content designed for better user experience. This is a crucial part of your site’s pre-launch digital marketing campaign – content should be built for users first, and search engines second.

One of the most important parts of creating content that is well optimized for SEO is keyword density. Aiming for 1-2% keyword density is a good start, but the truth is that here’s no evidence Google’s ranking algorithm uses any sort of metric on keyword density. Just focus on including your keywords as much as feels natural,

SEO optimized content writing means content that is honest, well-researched, and that focuses on providing users with a good experience. There’s also lot of value in writing content that is high-quality and that is meant to help users find what they need – in SEO content should be “EAT” or expert, authoritative, and trustworthy.

Build your site to fit Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

Google has given businesses a guide for how to approach SEO before a website launch. Search engine companies know that search engine optimization is an established marketing strategy, but they advise businesses to perform SEO that focuses on the best user experience possible.

The more SEO is honest and accurate, the more that searchers find what they are looking for and the more likely they are to complete their journey through the sales funnel.

As part of your pre-launch SEO checklist, make sure that your site and its content are not breaking Google’s rules:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

Performing SEO before a website launch should mean making sure you are not inadvertently using bad practices that could see your site penalized by Google’s indexing algorithm. This includes participating in backlink building schemes, hidden/cloaked content, harmful/malicious content, malware, scraped/stolen content, keyword stuffing, etc.

Meta-data optimization

This is another area where businesses and websites can give themselves an advantage by thinking ahead and working ahead before launching a site. Meta data is one of the most common strategies in SEO since it involves not just important search engine ranking signals, but also how a website is displayed in SERPs (as well as how page titles are displayed in social media posts and in browsers).

You can get a jump on your pre-launch digital marketing campaign and SEO by thinking ahead for what meta-title tags will display. Since title-tags are a ranking signal it’s important to have title-tags that are unique (not-duplicated on every page), accurate, descriptive, and keyword rich. When launching a site, the CMS you choose (WordPress, Shopify, Drupal, Magento – to name a few) will determine how your meta title-tags and meta-descriptions are handled.

If you are able to, editing and manually optimizing title-tags for SEO best practices can give your SEO a boost before your site goes live.

For setting up SEO before the website launch, many hosting platforms (or content management systems) will have built in processes for creating title-tags automatically. A good strategy here is to have the web developer ensure these are set up to generate automatically, usually with the theme files for the site or in the HTML documents that handle the “template” for certain page types like product pages, blogs, information pages etc.

By default most platforms will use the on-page title (like the H1 tag) as the meta title-tag – for SEO this is a pretty safe way to start. Within the HTML the title tag will look like: <title>Example Title</title> and will usually be in between the <head> and </head> tags (same with the meta “description” tag), like in this example:

An example of how meta data tags are implemented in a site's head tags

As part of your pre-launch SEO checklist, make sure that your site is set up to handle meta tags in the first place and make sure that your CMS allows you to customize meta data (often this is done through a 3rd party CMS “plugin”) – this way you can improve SEO strategy by making edits after launch.

UX based SEO and page speed

The process of building and launching a website is a good time to bake-in optimized site metrics that can’t be easily updated later – specifically things like page-load speed and UX.

These things are particularly important since in the future Google plans to use its “core web vitals” as actual ranking signals for SEO. These metrics consist of: LCP (Largest Contentful Paint), FID (First Input Delay) and CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift) and are designed to measure poor UX factors like frustratingly long page load time, pages that take too long to react to clicks/taps, and pages that shift around while loading.

Again, when working with a web-developer to build your site, think about how to improve SEO before the website launches by paying attention to these 3 metrics.

Webmasters and developers can use Google’s range of development tools including Lighthouse, Chrome DevTools, or PageSpeed Insights, to measure core web vitals on a dev-site.

Mobile friendliness

Now, having a mobile version of the site matters more than ever in order to keep up with the ever-increasing preference for smartphone browsing and mobile web use. Before launching a new website, devs and business owners should take care to include mobile friendliness on their pre-launch SEO checklist.

Mobile-friendliness for pre-launch SEO is yet another area that’s easier to optimize during the building stage – but it’s a broad topic that involves multiple elements. Generally speaking page-load time, optimized text size, easy navigation, reflexive formatting, etc. are going to be your main concerns.

Here things to consider for SEO before a website launch:

  • Text that is too small or too close together can hinder your new site’s SEO performance.
  • Typically site’s use some form of the viewport tag to help the site automatically resize to fit any mobile device screen size (<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0″> for example).
  • Page load speed is a SEO ranking signal, so making sure your site loads quickly is an important strategy for optimizing SEO before a website launch. Reducing image size, improving server response times, and minifying code are all good ways to reduce load times.
  • Avoid m-dot domains or using sub-domains for mobile specific URLs. This strategy can work but it’s not recommended by Google – if possible, focus on creating a responsive design instead.

As we described above however, the main focus of mobile friendliness lies in user experience. Search engines tend to be somewhat vague about some of the more complex elements of mobile-friendliness, so during the stage where you are setting up SEO before website-launch, ask yourself if users would enjoy browsing your site, and work to reduce pain-points in UX.

Installing analytics and tracking tools to measure launch success

This is one of the most important things you can do for your pre-launch digital marketing campaign.

A crucial part of SEO is being able to measure site traffic, track visitors/sessions, and to quantify important KPIs for your business, things like conversions, new-visitors, revenue, etc. The two primary tools for this include Google’s Analytics and Google Search Console – both of which are free.

For Analytics, businesses can install a small snippet of JavaScript – with a unique site ID – within the HTML of their site. This code sends data to the Google Analytics platform and helps marketers track data like bounce-rate, eCommerce transactions, new-users/return-users, time-on-page, etc. This data can be helpful for your SEO before a website launch since it will allow businesses to see immediately how much traffic their site is getting. Especially if your pre-launch digital marketing campaign involves multi-channel marketing like social-media, paid advertising, and email marketing which can send users to your site on day 1.

Search Console also provides detailed information on site traffic that comes from Google search. It allows marketers to see performance for specific search queries, measure clicks/impressions, and also to diagnose SEO issues for their domain with data directly from Google.

(Unlike Google Analytics though, Search Console only provides info on traffic that comes from web search – not other segments like direct traffic, traffic from ads, or traffic from site referrals).

Learn about setting up an account and how setting-up Search Console for SEO before a site launch can help your business grow online organically.

Generate an accurate sitemap

Sitemaps are an important tool for getting your business listed in search, and for SEO before a site-launch you’ll want to make sure you have one. Search engine crawling and indexing bots use them as a guide for discovering and indexing your pages efficiently without crawling unimportant pages or re-crawling duplicate page URLs.

They also tell search engines which pages are important to you.

During the development stage of the website, it’s important to make sure that your CMS is set-up to automatically generate a sitemap, and to keep it regularly updated (this will ensure that your sitemap is not bogged down with out-of-stock products and 404ed URLs).

As part of your pre-launch SEO checklist you will want to make sure that your sitemap is being generated properly and accurately, that way it’s ready-to-go once the website is live.

Learn more

Contact the Radd team to learn more about our SEO services, and to get more information on getting started on SEO before a website launch. Check out our client testimonials to see how we’ve helped business owners succeed online.

Once your site is launched, begin the next step by reading our SEO strategies for new websites.

Contact us