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December 5, 2006

Create a Search Engine Friendly Web Site

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I’m a sucker for usability sessions, and if you’re into usability, Shari Thurow is your queen (not to be confused with your Sex Goddess, Kim Krause).

Queen Shari starts off today’s Search Engine Friendly Design session by defining what a search engine friendly site is. According to Shari, it’s a site that can be easily found on both the crawler-based and human-based search engines.

How you display words, graphics images and multimedia files communicates to the search engines what you feel is most important on your Web site, so you want to make sure you’re sending the right message.

Shari outlined the Eight Basic Rules of Web Design:

For Human Power Search Engines:

  • Easy-to-read – Easy-to-read from your target audience’s perspective, not from yours, your PR or legal department. Is it legible? Is it written on the right level? Are you using too much jargon?
  • Easy to navigate – People should know where they are on your Web site. It helps keeps them oriented and gives them a path to find their way out should they get lost.
  • Easy to find – Speaking externally, the info on your site should be easy to find on the search engines. Internally, your site should be laid out so that your keywords and most important information are easy to find and above the fold.
  • Consistent in layout and design – Be consistent in how you use various style elements, like CSS, color, fonts. This communicates trust and reliability.
  • Quick to download – The majority of any page should download in 30 seconds or less on a 56K modem. Fifteen seconds is better.

For Crawler-Based Search Engines:

  • Keyword-rich text – Never waste an opportunity to use relevant keywords. This includes using them in Meta tags, titles, body text and throughout your site.
  • Site and Page architecture – Make it easy for users to navigate through your site, keep them informed as to what page their on, help them orient themselves when they got lost.
  • High-quality link development – Use horizontal, vertical and contextual links on your site. Know who you’re linking out to.

Okay, so it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but at the same time, I can’t tell you how many sites we’ve come across that don’t adhere to these very simple rules, so I’m okay with giving it another mention.

Sites should be created to put users’ needs first. If you’re addressing their needs, you’re giving the search engines what they want too. It’s that beautiful two-for-one thing in action. Take advantage of it.

To understand the principles behind creating a search engine friendly Web site, you need to understand the three basic functions of the search engines. Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Ask all index text, follow links and measure popularity. That’s all they do.

Knowing that should help demonstrate the importance of using words and phrases that target your audience, as well as the importance of using keyword-rich title tags, headlines contextual links and cross links. You need to create text-based links that search engines can crawl. Don’t make them jump through a form, they can’t do it and if you make them try, your site will go un-indexed.

If you’re wondering WHY people ignore these eight basis rules even after we’ve repeated them almost as many times as I’ve been accused of being SEO Fangirl, the answer is simple: MPABS.

Now, now, don’t tweak your head like that it might get stuck. It means Most People Are Basically Stupid. (Heh, greatest acronym ever.)

The truth is site owners are used to designing sites for other site designers. They create sites users can’t navigate through and search engines can’t index. They don’t consider users needs, they don’t give a thought to linking, and they don’t understand why making users fill out a form before entering your site is an SEO design no-no. Don’t be stupid; don’t design your site for other designers, design it for your customers.

Write your content so that it appears focused to users. Employ accurate Meta tags, use introductory and conclusion paragraphs, find the best keyword density, use images and avoid using splash pages.

One of the best pieces of advice offered by Shari was to consult an SEO before your site is fully designed. Getting a search engine friendly designer on board will give you a strategic advantage against your competition and will save you money and time over the long term. There’s nothing worse than designing an expensive site, only to realize users will never be able to get through it.

Things to ask yourself when determine how search engine friendly your site is:

  • Does your site contain the words and phrases your target audience are most likely to type into a search engine?
  • Are you providing a means for the engines to access your site’s keyword-rich text?
  • Are you using a navigational structure that the search engine spiders can easily follow?
  • Are you targeting customers on their level?
  • Have you placed keywords in your titles, body text, anchor text, Meta tags, alt text, etc?
  • Have you created a site map with text links to every one of your site’s pages?

Overall, I’d say a good introductory session. I’m a fan of these usability sessions, but I’m anxiously waiting for the day we get a Search Engine Design 2.0 course — a session that goes beyond the basics we’ve heard so many times before. Until then, this is still a good refresher.
[Note from the editor: Due to a technical glitch, Monday's session reports were delayed a day.]





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