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August 8, 2006

SEO – Successful Site Architecture – SES San Jose Recap

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This afternoon’s Successful Site Architecture session was all about creating a site that will please the search engines and bring you sweet, sweet search engine rankings. Moderated by Barbara Coll (WebMama.com), with speakers Derrick Wheeler (Acxiom Digital) and Matthew Bailey (Site Logic Marketing), this one was all about knocking down barriers to indexing and achieving good organic rankings.

As a webmaster, your mission is to enable your site to show up for the keywords that will bring it a high level of traffic and encourage conversions. But before you can appear on an engine’s SERP, you have to get indexed. As Matt Bailey noted, rankings don’t matter if your site can’t be crawled. Word, Matt. Woooord.

Derrick Wheeler defines successful site architecture as the process of systematically satisfying the needs of the search engines and the needs of your users. It’s a mouthful, but it’s important. Both the engines and users must be able to access your site. Both targets are equally important.

Something to keep in mind: The search engines want to index your site. And no, it’s not because of the we-index-more-pages-than-you battle currently going on between Google and Yahoo. Well, not entirely anyway. The source of all your indexing woes is not the search engines. Believe it or not, it’s you!

The panel highlighted some common mistakes site owners make when creating or designing their sites.

  • Using wordy or complicated URLs: Why make it difficult for your users to find you? Matt says a good test to see if you’re using a far-too-complicated URL is to see if you can type the URL into an email to your friend. If you have to section off the URL into five 6-character pieces to tell someone about it, that URL is far too long. Keep it short, people.
  • Not externalizing your code: Always use style sheets. This makes your content the primary focus on the page. Externalizing the code reduces page clutter and brings the content up higher in the page. This gives the search engines the most important information first. Not externalizing your code will result in everything get pushed "off the fold" and may hinder your rankings.
  • Requiring Cookies for Access: Never require that a user have cookies enabled to visit your site. If you do, the only page you’re going to get indexed is your error page since the search engines can’t enable cookies and will never be able to index it. As you can imagine, that would be bad. The same applies for requiring that users have JavaScript enabled.
  • Making site access dependant on a user action: Similar to the above problem, computers can’t operate drop down menus. If you require a user to select a language or a country before they can access your site, the search engines will be trapped on your homepage and will be unable to index the rest of your site.

Matt Bailey then stepped up to talk to the audience about accessibility. In today’s world this means making sites accessible not only to the blind or to people using screen readers, but also to people viewing your site via a mobile phone or other mobile device. Unfortunately, he didn’t expand as much as I would have liked. I fear I’m becoming an accessibility/ usability nerd. I blame Susan. Regardless, you can’t deny that this will become increasingly more important as more people begin accessing the web on the go.

Towards the end of the session, brave audience members volunteered their sites for review by the panelists. Then everyone picked apart their sites and pointed and laughed at them offered constructive criticism on how they could make their sites better. Hee. Lots of good laughs were had. But in a good way, of course.

And that it’s for Day 2 of SES San Jose! I hope you enjoyed the day’s updates. I’m off to go get ready for Google Dance! See ya tomorrow, kids!

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