[feat-text]Summary: At some point, private equity firms come to the realization that a business’s website is central to its growth and scalability. So, how can you tell if the website can handle growth? Will your website structure support the addition of new brands? What about multi-brand SEO strategy and technical best practices? To answer those questions and more, start here.[/feat-text]
If we know anything about the inner machinations of private equity marketing, we know the importance of viability. The private equity firms we work with constantly seek validation for the viability (or lack thereof) of a business’s digital presence. And here’s what we always ask them:
How’s the website lookin’ these days?
While it’s not the only marketing consideration for high-growth businesses, a solid website is one of the most important. High-growth companies need a website that can grow with them. What does that mean? It means you need to look for—or put in place—all the tenets of future-proof web design.
How to Recognize Scalable Web Design
A growth-ready website will be able to support both immediate and near-future growth goals. When you think about the future of your multi-location business, including expansion plans, where will your website(s) fit in? What kind of functionality and flexibility will you need in six months? What about one or two years from now?
If you’re planning to open new locations in different regions, what will your site look like across all of these brands?
All that said, don’t panic! The need for custom coding, or lingering tech issues, shouldn’t prevent you from growing. These are technical problems that can likely be fixed. The question is, how good or bad is the problem? How much money and time will it take to get things right?
And while you’re at it, ask yourself what it will take to put in place a framework to support your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy (SEO-friendly websites allow search engines to discover, crawl, index, and rank). It’s a lot, we know. But it certainly isn’t rocket science. To that end, use these four best practices to build a website that scales with you and ensures your business is found.
1. Evaluate Your Current Position and Plan for the Future
First and foremost, think about your long-term goals and plans. For example, it might not make sense to invest substantial resources and budget toward SEO activities and web design if a brand will be dissolved a year from now. On the other hand, if you recently acquired a brand with a strong backlink portfolio and high-ranking content, it might make more sense to keep that website as is. From there, you can examine organic visibility and rankings, then build a plan based on what’s working and what isn’t.
The point is to understand where a given site fits into your plans for a given business. To reach that understanding, ask yourself these questions while evaluating websites:
- What does the competitive landscape look like?
- How will your keyword strategy need to evolve as you grow? Will you be adding new services or products?
- What keywords do you currently rank for?
- Do you dominate some local markets but not others?
2. Lay a Strong Foundation for SEO
As you already know, a high-value SEO strategy requires far more than keyword-optimized blog posts. You need to have a website structure, site architecture, and URL hierarchy that supports a comprehensive SEO strategy. This framework will ensure that you can rank for target keywords and facilitate scalable digital growth.
The website should follow these architecture principles to allow it to scale with your growth efforts:
- Organized: Page types are grouped and easy to navigate wherever a person is on the site.
- Discoverable: Can people get to your most important pages in three clicks or fewer, no matter their entry point?
- Uniqueness: No duplicate content! Make sure to trim down duplicate content and create redirects where needed.
- Linkable: Do your pages have the authoritative information that people want to link to from their own sites?
- Consistent: You want continuity in terms of theme, structure, and page types throughout all sites of a given brand or brands.
- Valuable: Do your site visitors get something from your site (instead of only being sold something?).
Why is this kind of foundational site structure so important? For one, Google bot-crawlers have an easier time finding well-structured websites. By avoiding dead-end pages and making sure that all of the most important pages are always accessible, Google will know which pages it should serve its users based on what they’re looking for. Perhaps most important, people who can find and navigate your site with ease will be able to make purchase decisions with greater ease, too.
When building a new website or redesign an existing website, map out the pages of your website before you start building. In addition, make sure to implement a strong SEO technical framework. A scalable technical framework helps your content get discovered, crawled, indexed, and ranked at a much faster rate. Our recommended technical framework includes:
- Custom post types → Content silos
- Dynamic XML sitemaps
- Crawl rate optimization
- Clean URL structures
- Dynamic schema markup in theme
3. Use Scalable Web Technologies
One common trait we find among high-growth companies is that they tend to invest in the right marketing technologies. That means tech that is easy to roll out across multiple brands, capable of handling high volumes of users and load, and secure.
Here’s what we recommend:
Content Management System (CMS): WordPress
Too often, businesses invest in a custom CMS that isn’t scalable. These solutions tend to be clunky, difficult to use, and require custom coding. High-growth businesses that rapidly add new locations or brands need a more nimble solution. We recommend WordPress. This is the largest open-source content management system with robust SEO implementation capabilities. It is known for “ease of management,” which is very important for growing at speed.
You simply can’t afford to have website downtime. An inaccessible website leads to poor user experiences, missed opportunities, and lost customers or sales. We recommend Flywheel, a WordPress-only CMS with daily backups, automated plugin updates, and enterprise solutions for multi-site projects.
The last piece you need to look after is security. Your website needs to be secure against intruders for a couple of reasons. Intruders can steal information, compromise user data, and even prevent your website from functioning properly (or at all). Put simply; businesses cannot afford the hit to their reputation and customers’ trust that comes with security breaches. We recommend Cloudflare to our clients, which offers:
- Mitigation for DDoS attacks
- Prevention for malicious bot abuse
- Improved load speed via CDN
4. Plan for Migration
If you are merging brands or developing a new website for an existing company, what do you do with the old website? This question comes up a lot in the world of private equity. The first step is to determine whether or not there is usable or successful content on the old website. We recommend making this determination based on both quantitative and qualitative indicators.
From there, you can develop a detailed migration strategy. For that, you’ll need to map out your new content strategy, including the implementation of proper 1:1 redirects to maintain earned authority. In general, your migration strategy should look roughly like this:
- Planning: Where are your websites now, and where are they going? What questions do we need to answer to get from point A to point B successfully?
- Pre-Launch Prep: Just because you’re in a hurry doesn’t mean you need to roll out your new sites in a haphazard fashion. Have your new structure ready to go before go-live—perhaps in a test environment—so you can check and test for potential problems before you release your site to the general public.
- Navigation Salvage: Make sure you’ve accounted for all redirects so that traffic from old pages is automatically (and correctly) redirected to new pages.
- Migration and Launch: When conducting “the big move,” make sure you have plenty of hands-on deck to make the transition with as little disruption to user experience, web traffic, and regular business as possible.
- Post-Migration Traffic Assessment: This is a critical step in the process. Get some web traffic analysis software in place (Google Analytics is a good tool for this) to check for red flags, sharp traffic drops, or error reports. There might be some things you didn’t account for that need to be resolved due to the migration.
Build Scalable Sites, Rinse, and Repeat
A clean, well-structured, search-optimized website is all well and good. But growth-oriented businesses and multi-location brands need a little bit more. What we’re after is repeatability. Once you get the hang of the four recommendations we’ve laid out above, you’ll be able to put the website of every acquisition through this process.
The result will be a high-growth digital machine supported by the very latest in scalable SEO web design. To read more on this topic, check out Your Website Structure and SEO: A Primer.
Founder and CEO
Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).