Search engines use your site structure to find, crawl, and rank content on your website. Here’s how you can build an SEO-friendly website structure that Google (and your users) love.
Marketing | Nov 30
Jessica Greene on October 7, 2019 (last modified on September 21, 2020) • 29 minute read
So a better question to ask when SEOing a new website is: where should I start?
To find out, we asked 215 SEOs for their opinions. Unfortunately, there was no consensus.
But in good news, the lack of consensus created a checklist you can use to make sure your new site is good to go when it comes to SEO.
Here are 10 core aspects of new-site SEO to consider—along with 215 experts’ tips—when launching a new website or optimizing one for organic search:
“With a brand new site, I always start with technical SEO,” says Takeshi Young of Optimizely. “Having a poorly built website is like having a shaky foundation for a house. While there are many pieces that are important for SEO, it helps to first have your foundation in order so that you can build off of it.”
Darren Cottingham of DT Driver Training puts it another way: “There’s no point in trying to direct traffic to a slow, malfunctioning site or trying to get search engines to index it if it’s fundamentally flawed. It would be like sending people to a shop where the door is a cat flap and all the isles are too narrow to walk down.”
“Technical SEO will make or break a new site,” says Bernadette Kelly of ActiveWin Media. “Just because a site is pretty doesn’t mean it will be found, which is where so many new sites go wrong.”
“If your new site is built with technical SEO in mind,” says Tanya Wigmore of CRO:NYX Digital, “everything else is just keywords 😉.”
So how do you ensure your new site is technically sound from an SEO perspective? Our respondents offered some tips below, and you can also check out our post on how to conduct a DIY technical SEO audit for more tips.
“The first thing to focus on for SEO on a brand new website is to make sure that it can be indexed by search engines,” says Lance Thompson of Idea Rocket Labs Marketing.
G2’s Devin Pickell agrees: “Make there’s a robots.txt file on the website that tells Google which pages are and aren’t okay for it to consume and distribute in its index.”
One easy way to see if your pages are able to be indexed is to use a free Chrome extension like Robots Exclusion Checker that will tell you if any pages on your site are being excluded from crawling and indexing.
In addition to making sure your pages can be indexed, you also want to make sure that search engines can crawl your website properly.
“It’s important to make sure that the site is crawlable by search engine bots,” says Borislav Ivanov of Best Response Media. “Very often, great efforts are made to improve overall SEO, then it turns out that the site is not completely crawlable, which automatically means that we have a lower indexing rate.”
So how do you know if your site is crawlable? Sagefrog Marketing Group’s Ben Johnston says to “check Google Search Console’s coverage section. It will reveal a lot of details about how a new site is being viewed and indexed by Google.”
Another part of making sure your site is crawlable and your pages are indexable is related to your site’s architecture and linking structure. If there are no links to certain pages on your site, search engines may not be able to find and crawl/index those pages.
“Make sure your website’s structure is SEO friendly and that search engine crawlers are able to find your inner category and product/service pages easily,” says Maggie Simmons of Max Effect Marketing.
“Organize your content in a way that makes sense for humans and search engines,” says John Donnachie of ClydeBank Media.
“The more chaotic the website’s structure, the smaller the chance of Google showing your content high in SERPs,” says Agnieszka Podemska of Miromind. “If you think about the structure before your website grows, it will be easier to keep all the pages organized and crawlable.”
“You want to build strong SEO foundations, and this starts with your website’s architecture,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers. “Once your website structure is sound, you will be able to start working on content, keyword research, link building, etc.”
“We spent months building a huge site covering lots of topics and lots of links,” says Robin Young of Fitness Savvy. “Frustratingly, we didn’t rank. But once we deleted thousands of thin pages and concentrated on our site architecture, the website began ranking well.”
Another benefit of getting your site’s architecture right up front, according to Craig Streaman of Streaman Marketing, is that “planning early on can help avoid unnecessary URL changes, the need for 301 redirects, and dreaded 404 errors down the road.”
“My first area of focus would be the domain,” says Jennifer Stratton of Bluegrass Integrated Communications. “This is the first thing Google sees, so you will want it to either support your brand identity or keyword strategy or, in a perfect world, both!”
“Changing your domain later can be a pain. Get it right the first time and you won’t have to deal with that headache and those redirect projects later on,” Stratton says.
“If you are going to go down the route of using a CMS for your business website, there are some important things to consider,” says Clare Lankester of Boutique Digital Media.
“If you use a CMS to create your website, make sure it gives you enough autonomy to edit all factors necessary to enhance your SEO. Some CMSs or website builders do not give 100% access to the backend of the website. This means that you will not be able to tick all the boxes needed to rank for competitive keywords.”
“My personal preference is HTML5 or WordPress websites because I can guarantee access to and editability of everything I need,” Lankester says.
“I think it’s easy for people to get carried away with using so many plugins to make the design and functionality of a website move along,” says Ryan Klein of Market My Market.
“It’s much easier to just enable plugins to add layers to a website than to figure out how to leverage existing plugins, explore more options in the WordPress theme, or frankly just utilize HTML and CSS a little further since many superfluous plugins are filling in for these gaps in development.”
“Plugins are notorious for injecting inordinate amounts of code, conflicting with one another, breaking on the continuous updates to WordPress and/or PHP, and from an SEO standpoint, contributing to an increase in website load times,” Klein says.
Nathan Thompson of Pavilion Broadway recommends focusing on your site’s speed: “Google has clearly indicated a preference for sites loading—ideally—below one second.”
Sameer Somal of Blue Ocean Global Technology agrees: “Customers expect your website to load in at least two seconds, and 40% of internet visitors will leave your if it takes more than three seconds to populate.”
“For a brand new site, the most important things are great website design and making the site mobile-friendly,” says Jitendra Vaswani of BloggersIdeas. “Many brand new sites don’t focus on these things, and they never get good rankings on Google.”
T3’s Andrew Vinas agrees: “Making sure your website is mobile-friendly is extremely important when building a brand new website.”
“Google is looking to reward websites that offer a great mobile experience, so make sure to test your website and work with your team to make improvements needed to benefit in the mobile-first world of search,” Vinas says.
This will help your site get discovered and crawled sooner and ensures search engines know which pages of your site that you want to be indexed and crawled.
“If I had to choose just one SEO strategy to focus on when building a new website, it would be accessibility,” says Tyler Roberts of Nomos Marketing. “Making sure that your website is accessible to those with disabilities not only helps you with ADA compliance, but it also incorporates many best practices for SEO.”
“For example, accessible websites utilize alt text for images, have clearly marked H1 and H2 tags, and have descriptive internal links.”
“Accessibility often gets overlooked when developing a new website, but I find that it helps guide good design and SEO,” Roberts says.
“Meta tags are the most basic elements of SEO, and they play an important role when search engines classify your site’s pages,” says Marta Ceccato of Sapiens Media Coaching.
“There are three key meta tags that you should use:”
“Using meta tags is a great way to optimize your site. You don’t need to be able to code to add meta tags to your site. There are many plugins and solutions that you can leverage, depending on the website creation tool you are using,” Ceccato says.
Revium’s Kyle Douglas agrees that metadata should be a focus: “For new websites in particular, the most common thing I see when onboarding new clients is a lack of metadata—page titles in particular.”
“Metadata is the low-hanging fruit that can boost your rankings and traffic. Take the time to write your meta titles and descriptions for each page well before your website launches, and ensure that it is entered in your pages before the website goes live.”
“This sharpens up the focus of each page and really forces you to think about the unique value that each page brings. If the meta of two pages are almost identical, chances are you can combine those pages into one powerhouse piece, rather than two thin, almost-duplicate pieces,” Douglas says.
“When your site is new is the best time to create a simple URL structure,” says Salva Jovells of Hockerty.
“URLs are important elements that, for some reason, get overlooked frequently,” says Ellie Moore of the bolt way. “If your URL has a lot of numbers and punctuation marks in it, then just like users would have a hard time understanding it, so will search engines.
In addition to making sure your site is technically sound before you launch it, you also need to set up the tools and reports you’ll use to track your site’s SEO performance so that you’ll know which activities and campaigns are performing well and which are falling flat.
“One specific thing I would focus on is to set up Google Search Console, connect it to Google Analytics, and create a KPI dashboard of how your SEO efforts are performing,” says Drew Beechler of High Alpha. “Track the number ranking keywords, impressions, and organic search users to your website.”
Editor’s note: Once you’ve created accounts in Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you can grab this free Improve Your Google Search Position KPI dashboard that shows real-time data for the number of keywords you rank for and the number of times your results were seen in search.
Filip Jedraszczyk of Listonic agrees that setting up your tracking tools is a key first step. “There’s no point in investing time in developing your website if you are not able to evaluate whether the changes you make really improve the website and generate traffic.”
Most of our respondents agree that tracking tools are key for SEO. In fact, Google Analytics and Google Search Console are the two free SEO tools that our respondents say they recommend the most:
“For new websites, site owners often get caught up in getting everything technically correct—so much so they forget why they started the website in the first place,” says Adam Bastock of Abastock.
“Focus on the user. Technical SEO is important, but if you truly put your user at heart, you’ll get close enough before needing someone to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes,” Bastock says.
Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing agrees: “The very first thing we would do for a brand new website is audience research. That way, we’ll know who to optimize the site for. We can’t make any progress on the other basics (metadata, keywords, links, etc.) without knowing where we should be targeting our efforts.”
“Understanding your market, gauging your audience’s behaviors, and matching that to search intent to ensure you know which stage of the funnel particular search queries might fall into creates the backbone for an awesome SEO strategy,” says Jason Berkowitz of Break The Web.
“You must know the people you want to track,” says Renee Bauer of Hello Marketing Agency. “Know their pain points, motivators, decision criteria, and buying processes. Otherwise, you miss opportunities and focus on the wrong things.”
“Before writing any content or building any links, perform an audience audit,” says Comcast’s Chris Countey. “You need to know as much as you can about who’s asking questions your brand can answer and how they’re asking those questions.”
“That should drive everything your business does, including how to build the best web experience,” Countey says.
“If you have a brand new website and are not sure what your SEO strategy should look like, check out your competition,” says Wesley Ward of Hausera. “By looking at other successful companies in your niche, you can get an idea of what tasks you should prioritize.”
Ben Foster of The SEO Works agrees: “How competitive your niche is can influence which tactics you should implement first to start to see SEO results. If you are operating without an understanding of your competitive marketplace, then you are just box-ticking.”
“Perform an in-depth competitor analysis to create a list of all your competitor websites,” says Anil Agarwal of BloggersPassion. “Use tools like SEMrush to identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses along with their content marketing and link building strategies.”
“If I had to lay out an SEO strategy for a brand new website, I’d firstly analyze my competitors and find all of their top-performing pages (along with keywords) and backlink sources. It gives me an idea about what to target if I want to get more organic traffic and quality links to my new site,” Agarwal says.
And Morgan Flores of RyTech recommends “analyzing hyperlocal competitors and digital competitors. There is a difference, but both can cut into the bottom line. This is especially true for brands that sell services to people in close proximity to their hub.”
“Analyze competitor on-page elements:”
“You get the idea. All of this information tells a story. It acts as a roadmap,” Flores says.
Several respondents said that a great place to start with SEO for a new site is to figure out the best way to position your business, products, and services.
“Find a really narrow niche,” says David LaVine of RocLogic Marketing. “You want to be so narrow that it starts to feel like you’re missing out on market opportunity that you’re well-positioned for.”
“Why start so narrow? Because most broader niches already have incumbents, and since you’re the new website on the block, you have no authority built up and no supporting content yet. You’ll need to differentiate to stand a chance in the world of SEO,” LaVine says.
Aaron Wall of SEOBook shared similar advice: “Think deeply about what will separate your site from existing sites and how you can emphasize that point of differentiation.”
“Online markets are winner-take-most markets, so alienating some subset of your audience to be a perfect match for another is probably going to be a better play than being known as the 37th choice in a particular field,” Wall says.
While some respondents said that you should start with technical SEO, some with on-page SEO, and some with off-page SEO, Mazepress’ David Alexander recommends “starting with the foundations—a small handful of solid pages that focus on your key objectives as a business.”
Another reason to focus on foundational pages is that these pages create credibility for your business, which Nathan Claire of Buying Jax Homes says is key:
“Since the site is new, it doesn’t have much reputation with its visitors nor Google. It will be important to build this credibility through client testimonials, information about the founders, and complete transparency on what problems the company solves and how they achieve those solutions.”
“Trust can make or break any business-to-customer relationship, so it’s crucial to build rapport and make yourself stand out as a very legitimate company,” Claire says.
So which pages are foundational? Two other respondents shared their thoughts.
“Sadly, your new website has a low domain authority and just isn’t going to rank for much,” says Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios. “But there is one great opportunity for search traffic: build out the about section so it has a page for each person.”
“Don’t just make a single about page. Add links that will bring the visitor to a bio page for each key team member. These pages are very likely to appear in search for each person’s name, outranking their social media profiles.”
“It’s a quick win, free, and fast. Yet so many new websites miss the chance to leverage this bit of personal SEO for the teams,” Crestodina says.
“My advice is to build up your service pages, explain all of the different things you offer to customers, and include keywords that your prospective customers may be using,” says Nathan Chandler of Zippy Shell Louisiana.
“Service pages should be between 1,000-2,000 words and can lead to subpages that break down each service even further,” Chandler says.
“Keyword research should be your number-one priority, something you do before writing a single word of content,” says Eilish Brown of Raisin GmbH. “Even the most beautifully designed, sleek, UX-approved site faces invisibility in the search results if the content fails to target search intent.”
“Solid keyword research is the basis of a future-proofed information architecture and is all-important when it comes to scaling up your site content when you have more resources at hand in the future. You can come back to it again and again, and it can really help when making content decisions,” Brown says.
Zarar Ameen of CANZ Marketing agrees: “Keywords are crucial. Yes, page loading time is important. So is mobile-friendliness and all those other SEO techniques. But using keywords you know people are searching for is a tried-and-tested technique which is sure to get you the traffic you need.”
“If you start off targeting the wrong set of keywords, you’re going to waste a lot of time and budget,” says Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles. “It’s much better to spend the time planning your keywords and laying out your content plan before getting started.”
If you’re not sure how to conduct keyword research, check out these 14 free keyword research tips and techniques. If you’re not sure which keywords to target, consider these tips from our respondents.
“For a brand new website, I would focus on finding the right keywords,” says Camilla Hallstrom. “These aren’t keywords with the most traffic. Rather, they’re keywords that are easier to rank for and drive the right traffic (i.e. buyers).”
“Because your site is new, you’re going to have a hard time ranking for high competition—and even medium-tail—keywords,” says Steve Toth of SEO Notebook. “This is where long-tail keywords become your friend. With long-tail keywords, the volume is typically lower, but the intent is usually very high.”
“The other great thing is that you don’t need backlinks to rank for long-tail keywords (in most cases). Use tools like Google auto-suggest, people also ask, related searches, Keywords Everywhere, and AnswerThePublic to find long-tail keywords.
“It takes some research to find the keyword opportunities to succeed, but if you focus on smaller volume and stronger search intent, you can get amazing results in a short time,” says Adam Hempenstall of Better Proposals.
“If I were to work on an SEO strategy for a brand new website, I would focus on identifying the highest traffic, lowest keyword difficulty keywords,” says Antonella Pisani of Teaspoon of Goodness.
Michael Pozdnev of I Wanna Be a Blogger says that one way to do this is to “use the KGR (keyword golden ratio) tactic. The fewer articles in Google on your keyword, the more likely your content will be to get on the first page.”
Pozdnev says a good way to check the number of articles in Google Search for a keyword is to use the allintitle search operator:
“For a brand new website, I’d try to answer specific questions in my content to try to appear in featured snippets on Google search results,” says Gregory Golinski of YourParkingSpace. “Featured snippets get 50% more clicks than normal search results, and you don’t need to be number one for a keyword to be featured.”
“You just need to check what kind of questions customers ask in your industry. A great website to do that is AnswerThePublic. If you use the right keywords and your answers are really helpful, you have a very good chance of being featured in snippets.”
“If the questions have already been answered by others, make sure you can answer them in a better or more in-depth way,” says Nick Leffler of WPHubSite. “If you try to do the same thing as everyone else, then the SEO efforts for the new site will fail.”
“The best thing you can do for new-site SEO is to create super helpful content for your target audience,” says Jason Fisher of BestLifeRates.org. “That’s really it.”
“Dive deep into what your target audience looks like and really put yourself in their shoes to figure out what questions they may have. Then, just generate really strong, helpful, and in-depth content that answers their queries. Everything builds on this,” Fisher says.
Sean Matula of Small Business Consulting Strategic Marketing agrees: “Whatever your business or market, if you do not have excellent, engaging content that is of value to the customer, there is no point in doing SEO in order to drive traffic to your site.”
Plus, as McKenna Koster of Advice Media says, “The more people go to your website for relevant and informative content, the better Google will rank your website.”
“If I could only focus on one thing for SEO, it would be creating best-in-subject-matter content that targeted very specific long-tail keywords that reflect a specific question or problem my target audience is searching,” says Tyler Tafelsky of Yisoo.
“In short, I would go after the low-hanging fruit, not only in an effort to rank for those long-tails but also to help cultivate link equity over time. This sort of content also tends to perform well on social media platforms, so it has cross-channel benefits beyond just SEO,” Tafelsky says.
But before you jump in and start creating content, consider these tips from our respondents.
“The first part of an SEO strategy for a new website is to fully understand what the site is about, the topics you will cover, and how you want to structure the site around those topics,” says Ryan Guina of TheMilitaryWallet.
“So the number-one thing to do is to build your content strategy while keeping in mind how it will impact the rest of your site,” Guina says.
Greg Barkley of Effective Spend agrees: “I would make sure that there is a very solid content strategy in place to find and rank for your money keywords. Content is going to bring in organic gains faster than anything else.”
“Most new website owners believe they need a blog to succeed, but they often begin their content campaign without the proper research,” says Nate Masterson of Maple Holistics. “While it’s true that a blog can be tremendously helpful for a budding SEO strategy, they require serious planning in order to fulfill their potential.”
“For instance, publishing infrequently, short content, or unorganized blog posts aren’t going to yield good results. In practice, a proper blog requires countless details planned out in advance,” Masterson says.
“When doing an SEO strategy for a brand new website, the one thing I would focus on is making sure the website meets the quality criteria described on Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines,” says Danilo Godoy of Search Evaluator.
Godoy continues: “In a nutshell, according to Google’s guidelines, high-quality pages:”
“The content you create must be in-depth and thorough and provide more insight, information and value than the pages created by your rivals for the same terms,” says Martyn Hannah of Ghostfoundry. “This often means speaking with experts and analysts and conducting additional research.”
Reuben Kats of Falcon Marketing agrees: “When I write content for RockHer Haute Jewels or Complete Care Community Health Clinic, I make sure I ask the doctor or diamond cutters to give useful tips or a better explanation for that certain service or product.”
“Research is a must, and one should find reliable sources that attest to the information provided,” Kats says.
Editor’s note: Not sure if your content is high-quality or not? The right data can answer that question for you. Consider grabbing this free Blog Quality Metrics dashboard to track key engagement metrics like dwell time, goal completions, returning visitors, and pages per session.
“Incorporate unique photos and videos into your content,” says Kellen Kautzman of Send It Rising. “Google knows whether or not you are the first website to publish a photo, so unique photos are very important.”
“Similarly, by incorporating videos into your content, you are increasing time on site, thereby highly increasing the probability of your site ranking,” Kautzman says.
“If I were launching a new site, I would focus on the internal linking structure, ensuring that search engines are able to define the hierarchy of your pages,” says Julia Tiedt of SmartBug Media.
“While the content on a page is an important part of SEO, linking also plays a big part in search engines’ secret sauce when determining rank.”
“Planning your internal linking strategy is also a great way to identify where you have some content gaps,” Tiedt says.
“With new websites, you want to make sure they get ranked as quickly as possible,” says Steve Yanor of Sky Alphabet Social Media. “This means making sure that the primary SEO objective is crystal clear: what core search term do you want to rank for? Is it ‘best Vancouver interior designers’ or ‘commercial interior design.’”
“Once you know what the objective is, you can start to implement the strategy so that a collection of related pages (often called pillar pages) support the primary keyword,” Yanor says.
MarketMuse’s Stephen Jeske agrees: “Pick a very narrow subtopic within the company’s field of expertise and create enough content to satisfy every user-intent profile possible. Your site must answer every possible question about that specific topic.”
“Once you’ve accomplished that, move on to the next adjacent topic. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, your website will be the Wikipedia of its industry, and you will get some serious organic traffic,” Jeske says.
While some respondents said to start by creating content, others, like Bonjoro’s Casey Hill, think it’s better to start by earning backlinks:
“The most important thing to focus on for a new website is high-quality backlinks from relevant, high domain authority websites. Churning out a bunch of keyword-optimized content—if you don’t have any established domain authority through backlinks—will not give you a good SEO boost because it won’t be able to garner traffic.”
Nathan Fishman of Nate Fishman Digital Consulting agrees: “Link building is what ultimately gets a new website found online. Without backlinks, websites will struggle to rank for keywords.”
Our respondents offered several suggestions for how to start building backlinks to your new website:
“You can have the best content in the world, but if you don’t work on your domain metrics, you won’t rank,” says Tom Baker of Airbyte “Constantly look at your backlink profile, trust score, and citation flows.”
“The number-one thing I would focus on is working with stakeholders to educate them on how important SEO is,” says Dan Foland of Postali.
“Many non-SEOs don’t realize that SEO is crucial to every step of the process. It’s not uncommon for an SEO to get told for the first time something like, ‘We just launched a new website. Can you SEO it now?’ when they really should have been brought in at the beginning of the project.”
When talking to stakeholders, it may also help to have an idea of how much you should spend on SEO each month. According to half of our 215 respondents, you’re best off spending more than $500 each month.
Now that you’ve read through all of these new-site SEO tips, you may be wondering how many of these tips you should follow before launching your website. We’ll close with two opposing opinions and let you decide on your own.
Simon Rodgers of WebSitePulse says you should “never put your website online unless it is fully completed—UX, design, site architecture, internal link structure, on-page SEO, everything.”
On the other hand, WPBeginner’s Faizan Ali recommends launching as soon as possible: “Create a ‘coming soon’ page and optimize the basics. It’s the best way to start creating buzz for your new website, collecting emails from interested visitors, building social followings, and getting a jump start on SEO.”
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