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April 10, 2007

Search Engine Friendly Design

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[From Marie Howell, Bruce Clay UK & Europe SEO. Marie joins us from Bruce Clay's London office for SES NY and will be adding her session recaps to Lisa's this week.]

Introduced and moderated by Andrew Goodman, designer and usability professional, Shari Thurow (Search Engine Visibility) was the main speaker of this fundamentals track looking at designing a website in a way that is easy for the user and for the search engines to spider and understand the content of your site.

Looking at Search Engine Friendly Design

Search engine friendly design is NOT a web design for the search engines. It is a design for the user, with the search engines in mind. User friendly web site design allows your product or service to be found on the crawler based search engines, human based search, web directories and internal search. You must design for your visitors and you must consider the target audience including how they interact with the site, eye tracking etc. You must consider how you arrange words, graphic images and multi media files, all of which show the search engines what you think is important on your web site.

Shari said to remember the 5 basic rules of web design:

  • making it easy to read for the target audience (including images, HTML, CSS). If it is not easy to read people will hit the back button and you have lost a potential customer.
  • The user must have a sense of place on your pages: your site must be easy to navigate. They may be going directly to a category or product page and they must be able to move to different products. You must, therefore consider your use of white space, fonts, typefaces, site real estate, etc.
  • Shari stressed that the majority of your web pages must download in 30 seconds or less on a dial-up (SOURCE: Yahoo!) in order to address visitor need.
  • The site must be consistent in layout and design. It must be easy to find on the search engines, within 7-8 clicks (preferably less)

The most important sections should be above the fold and you must have contact information. Consider also:

  1. How are you letting your users and search engines understand what the pages are about?
  2. What do Search Engines do? They index text, follow links, measure popularity. All of the search engines have the text and link criteria in common. Not all measure popularity.
  3. Do you use words and phrases that match what your target audience types into search queries? Shari stressed that the time to bring in a search engine optimisation specialist is at web design time. Successful SEO depends upon the text component, link component,
  4. Popularity. All 3 of these components are essential in the SEO process. If it does not, your competitors’ sites will rank more highly and receive more search traffic.

Text:
It is imperative to use queries that the searchers are looking for. A good usability test is to show a subject a site for 5 seconds and then ask them what it is about. Keyword-rich text is important. Shari advised that you ensure that titles tags, headings, contextual links and cross links are there. Ensure there is an introduction and conclusion on your pages.

In her vocabulary, primary text is the text that all search engines use (title tags, visible body copy) and secondary text is the text that some use, e.g.. meta tag content alternative text and domain and file names.
Shari said to use keywords in titles, anchor etc. Focus your efforts on primary text, put keywords prominently on page ad use keywords frequently but not overdoing it (spam).

Links:
For a site navigation scheme, some of strategies are more search engine friendly than others. Text links are the most SE friendly. Navigation buttons and image maps are graphic images. Navigation buttons are more SE friendly than image maps, so do not discount navigation buttons: more people click on them than anchor text. Embedded text links stand out and are a natural call to action so it is important to use those, too.

Informational pages:
These contain information that your target audience is interested in; they do not contain a lot of sales hype, but factual information, are spider-friendly web pages, and often have a simpler layout and visually match the rest of your web site. Unlike doorway pages, their primary goal is to provide information and always reside on your web server. They have no extra clicks or unnecessary redirects, There is high quality link development on the pages and the end user and the SE spider will see the same page.

In multiple product sites, category pages will have breadcrumbs to help to optimise them whereas product pages will have optimised text. Cross linking is important and your site needs to have hierarchical and vertical links to ensure effective cross linking.

What is popularity?
Popularity is the number of links, quality of links, number of visitors etc. Factors that affect popularity are unique content, substantial content, how other sites are linked to your site and site usability. The quality of your link is far more important than the quantity of the links. High quality link development takes time and instantaneous link development is probably spam. This is a long term strategy.

Another snippet Shari shared with the audience was about links and link farms. Link development is a gradual upward curve, she said, and the SE can detect if it is spiky and will be able to identify if it is not from a newsworthy item (e.g. hurricane) a link farm. Shari stressed that when an SEO agency offers ‘permanent positions’ and ‘guaranteed positions’ on the search engines, these are NOT possible. No-one can guarantee ranking.

Although marketed as a fundamental session, the information shared by Shari Thurow was in-depth, offering detailed and technical information to suit all levels of SEO experience. An incredibly clear, informative and enjoyable session.

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3 responses to “Search Engine Friendly Design”

  1. Stoney deGeyter writes:

    I had a hard time getting past the first sentence because it really makes no sense at all. If you’re designing for the user then that’s called user-friendly design (and you can add ‘with the search engines in mind’).

    ‘Search engine friendly design’ is something very specific and has little to do with anything mentioned in this article.

  2. Susan Esparza writes:

    Stoney – I think Shari’s point was that when we discuss search engine friendly design, we need to remember that the focus of a Web site must be the user and not the search engine.
    Designing for the user in a manner that also is friendly to the search engines is perhaps a better way to understand Shari’s point.

  3. Stoney deGeyter writes:

    I agree, designing for the user is of primary importance and at the same time designers also need to make a site search engine friendly. I just wanted to point out that you can design for users and still have a very un-search engine friendly website (and vice versa). This article would have been great except for the title and the first sentence.



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