There are some very important interferences of SEO (search engine optimization) with the web product management that you need to know before developing your new product. No matter if you think about hiring (external) SEO consultants once the website is online, there are some aspects of SEO that you will have to keep in mind right from the start of creating an online product strategy.
“But I am the Product Manager! Why should I think about that now? The SEO guys will take care of this once it goes to development…”
If you thought something similar to this after reading the headline, I recommend the entertaining blog post Building SEO into the Development Process by SEOmoz and see why good SEO involves almost everybody in your company.
You can really save a lot of time and improve the performance of your website by doing this right from the start. Or do you prefer to get a SEO analysis with dozens of required technical changes, just because you thought it is ok to start thinking about SEO “after the launch”? I guess not, so this is why here you will get a summary of the most important SEO issues that will affect your product strategy. If you are new to search engine optimization there are a lot of good SEO blogs in the web. For getting a basic overview I recommend the original Google Guides: the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (download PDF Version) and the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
See below SEO Factors with high impact on product planning:
Most search engine traffic will land at sub-pages of your website and only a few users on your homepage. This means every page of your website might be the first page new visitors see, which you need to know while working on a design concept for your website. Get rid of the idea that most new users see first the homepage! Every page that is not easy to scan for the users and hard to understand on the first view is almost useless. Search engines might send lots of traffic to them, but after taking a look in your web analytics you might see very high bounce rates… Goodbye Conversion Rate!
Keywords in the URL matter for search engines, so you should give your subfolders and subdomains optimized names. Especially avoid duplicate content (the same content with different URLs) to get indexed by Google. This can actually relatively easy happen with dynamically generated pages.
All URL related specs needs to be well-planned in the early stages of development, because the URLs have a high technical importance and URL-Rewrites might become tricky to implement. Changing them later might imply high extra resources to get the URLs in the right shape for SEO. Moreover a change to a new URL structure will need 301 Redirects, which need to get tested deeply, because screwed up redirects or masses of duplicate content are really bad for SEO.
SEO friendly web design
This mostly means for the webdesigners to produce HTML code according to the Google Webmaster Guidelines. But SEO-friendly coding implies some design constraints you should be aware of. Especially the use of plain text for headlines etc. means that some fancy looking solutions might become impossible or at least harder to do. Another story: Flash sites. Flash is cool for animations and other multimedia content, but problematic for SEO. Avoid building full-flash pages and better use flash only for the parts of your site that cannot be done without it. In any case avoid putting lots of text content in flash files.
Text content rich pages
Text content matters! the more text content you have on your pages, the more interesting they are for search engines. The PM Challenge here is to think about where and how to implement interesting text contents to your page without distracting from the primary calls to action of your pages. Better think about this early while doing a design concept and try to achieve easy extendable wedesign solutions.
Internal link structure
Search engines crawl your site by following the links on it. Well, that is obvious, but why can this affect your product concept so much? Because Google also looks at how many links point to a specific site, how prominently they are placed in the page, what importance (PageRank) has Google assigned to the linking page etc. Your challenge here is to achieve a for the users useful website + an intelegent internal linking that emphasizes your “best” webpages from SEO point of view by linking them more often. A pretty common feature that is nice for SEO and users are “related links”. That way you can get display your favourite pages links related to the link pages content.
Anchor text optimization
You still insist on having fancy images for your links? Well, at least make sure that for your internal links also always exist alternative text links with good anchor text. Avoid Anchor texts like “here“, “click this” etc. or are you optimizing for the keyword “here”?
Schedule SEO tests
Very important! Deep SEO tests can become time consuming, because many things like bad redirects etc. are not that simple to test and can get easily overseen. Btw., for a quick and easy broken links check I recommend: Xenu Broken Link Checker
Very likely you were already thinking about this since users love fast pages like the search engines do. Whenever you add features, keep the speed performance in mind and think about caching dynamical generated pages if possible. A good way to track your server speed is via Google Webmaster Tools. For a quick check in a browser I recommend the network check function of the Firebug Firefox plugin.
Last not least after all this SEO input: Do not forget that there are users out there that might want to use your website! So please do not “over-optimize” your website for SEO and always keep an eye on user feedback and your Google Analytics to see how users accept your page. Please let me know what experiences you have made with SEO and Product Management and leave a comment!