In our ever-changing online world, it can seem like an SEO’s life is a never-ending attempt to keep up with algorithm changes. Constant fixes, undoing of old work performed by previous agencies, and trying to predict what the next shift will bring. It can be exhausting and even appear futile.
But what if there was a way to make life easier? A way to future proof your website so that the next algorithm update didn’t destroy your last year of work? A way to ensure everything you do won’t have been undone or need to be redone in 18 months’ time?
And there is a way! In fact, there are several. And I’m going to discuss them right here, right now.
These steps cover a range of areas – some of the points are technical, some are content-focused, and others are link-based. However, all of them aim to ensure that whatever website work you undertake from now on, you won’t be regretting in a year’s time. So let’s get future proofing!
1) Keep Things Simple
When you’re creating a website, or building new areas within it, a key concept is to keep things simple. Whether you’re working on the CMS, the URLs, or the website structure, keep things as clean and straightforward as possible.
This helps for numerous reasons. One, having a simple CMS makes it much easier for you to make alterations but should also mean you’ll need to make fewer of them as there is less scope for things to go wrong or break. Secondly, search engines are unlikely to change the way they crawl websites anytime soon, and having a logical, flat website structure, with clean code and short URLs, makes it easier for them.
Short, logical URLs are also great for users, as they make it much easier for them to remember them and also to link back to your site correctly. Make sure your URLS reflect the architecture of the site and avoid unnecessary parameters as much as possible.
You should always remember that a consistent website design and structure is great for the user-experience, because it is easy to use and intuitive to navigate. Keeping users happy should be at the forefront of any website’s aims, so this really is an essential point!
(An extra bonus – a simple site is also likely to load quickly, which should earn you brownie points from search engines and users alike).
Top Tip – Use a tool such as Slickplan to manage your sitemap and navigation structure.
2) Ensure Everything Works
Going hand-in-hand with keeping things simple, is checking that everything works smoothly. If you’ve already implemented an intuitive site architecture and are using a sensible, well-ordered URL structure, your internal linking should be easy to use and monitor.
The same goes for building new pages – if the site structure is flat and clear, then it will be much easier for you to know where to add new pages and how to build them seamlessly into your website.
Effective internal site linking is essential for both users and searchbots, so ensuring it works should be a top priority. Designing a straightforward process for it will make things much easier in the long run, and should mean you have to make fewer alterations or fixes. So, whether you’re creating a new site or looking to improve your current one, take a good hard look at the internal linking structure. Make it intuitive and ensure it all works perfectly now, and you’ll have far fewer issues down the line.
Another top tip is to conduct regular link checks to ensure you don’t have any unresolved on-site issues. Make sure your website is clear of 404s and don’t leave 302s in place if the change is permanent. Simple stuff, but it’ll all help to guard your website against future problems.
3) Watch Your Links
We’ve talked about internal links, now it’s time to look outwards. It is vital for the future of any website that you keep a close eye on all the links pointing out of and back to your website. Spammy link building strategies will only ever bring you trouble – a fact that many websites have unfortunately learnt the hard way.
It is vital for the long-term future of your website that you only accept links from good-authority, relevant websites, created in a genuine fashion. Similarly, you in turn should only link out to good authority, relevant websites. It’s simple, it’s something Google has repeated again and again, and yet it seems to be something lots of people still can’t get their heads around.
If you already have a website up and running, now is the time to conduct a thorough link audit. Find all of your neutral, suspicious, and downright bad links and work through them. Create a comprehensive list of every link you’d be ashamed to admit to and get it removed. Ask the websites initially, and create a disavow file if you have to, but make sure you purge your website of this rubbish. I know this sounds arduous, but you and your website will thank me in the long run.
Promise to yourself that from now on there will be no spammy link building tactics and that you will be prepared to deny links to and from websites that you don’t trust. It may seem drastic initially, but the search engines will reward you. It may take time, and you may only see the benefits when the next update doesn’t negatively impact your site, but it’s worth it.
Top Tip – Use LinkRisk to evaluate your link profile and identify links that could be harming your site.
4) Create Quality Content
It’s a point that’s been hammered home again and again over the last couple of years, but good quality content is the crux of any well-performing website. If you want your website to do well and stand the test of time, then its content has to be brilliant.
To guarantee brilliant quality, content needs to embody three things.
Firstly, it has to be relevant to your audience. This means it gives users the information they are looking for and, as a result of this, makes good use of the appropriate keywords. Of course, this should also help your site to rank well, but that shouldn’t be your only priority.
Secondly, it must be clear and easy to read. This means that your quality of writing and standards of grammar must be impeccable. If your writing is poor quality or difficult to understand, no-one will trust your website or refer others to it; it’s that simple.
Thirdly, it must be up to date. This ties in with the idea of relevance, but deserves its own point. To make sure your content remains useful and current, you will need to review it regularly. However, you can make this easier for yourself by creating lots of evergreen that won’t need much, if any, future editing.
To make life simpler for yourself, it’s best to create a thorough content inventory of your site, which you can update as you create and add new content. It’ll also make it easy for you to identify content that may now be old or outdated – giving you the chance to either update it or remove it completely.
Top Tip – Create a thorough content map for your site, define your sales funnel, and plan out how to address each point of the process with your content.
5) Be Mobile Optimised
When it comes to making your website future proof, I have so far deliberately steered clear of any trends or fads. As a rule, they tend to come and go and don’t leave a lasting impression on search results. However, the trend for mobile cannot, and should not, be ignored.
Mobile web traffic has been growing at a phenomenal rate, and only the incredibly foolish would choose to ignore it now. As such, you must make sure that you have a website that not only renders and functions on a range of mobile devices, but that it is just as easy to use and looks as similar as possible to your desktop version.
Having a great desktop site already in place should greatly assist you when it comes to creating a mobile version. Your site will already be clean, logical, easy to use, well-linked, and providing great content. All you should need to do is tweak a few bits and pieces with the layout and clicks vs hovers, and you should be good to go.
Get your mobile site working well now, and you’ll not only be able to benefit from the ever-rising number of people searching via mobile, you’ll also have one less thing to worry about further down the line. It should also help to hone your skills when it comes to creating and maintaining a simple, easy to use site, as mobile is much less forgiving than desktop.
So there we are, those are my five essential steps to future proofing your website.
How would I summarise them?
1) Don’t try to cheat the search engines – you’ll always lose out in the end
2) Be proactive and keep an eye on things – fix little problems now to avoid bigger issues later
What steps would you recommend to future proof a website? Have I missed any key points? Have you already tried to implement any of these principles? Or have you been hit by a penalty and are trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again?
I’d love to hear from you. Either grab me on Twitter @SamanthaKHall or leave a comment!
Image from Flickr