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Designing a Search Engine Friendly Web Site

by Danielle Sahiner, July 2006

Designing a search engine friendly Web site is not complicated, but it requires dedication and constant communication between the graphic designer, content developer and SEO analyst, as well as special attention to the site's architecture. Site architecture should not be an afterthought, nor should SEO.

According to Bruce Clay:

Strategic Web Site Development is the development of an integrated technical and marketing design that will allow the Web Site owner to realize their objectives for the site.

Your site must be both visually appealing to visitors and contextually appealing to the search engines. In order to attain both of these goals, we recommend enlisting a graphic designer to design the look and feel of the site, and a content developer/ writer/ editor to create a clear message for your site. This will cause the search engines to rank your site higher and will increase your visibility for visitors. Creating a site that is easily navigable, visually appealing, and gives your visitors what they are looking for, will encourage visitors to stay longer and come back often.

Keywords

We recommend there be at least 200 words as close to the top of your HTML code as possible. Within those first 200 words of content, you need to make sure that you are using keywords in a manner that makes sense to a visitor and will allow the search engines to "see" your site as a subject matter expert. Never stuff your pages with keywords (within the Meta tags or content) or the engines will penalize or ban you for spamming.

Keyword research can be time consuming, and perhaps even daunting, but it is an important step in getting your site ranked. Some of the most important things for users to remember when they are doing keyword research are:

Shari Thurow, at ClickZ, says it well, "Write and design your site using the words your target audience types into search queries." More information regarding keyword research can be found in the Choosing Keywords section of the Bruce Clay, Inc. site.

Once you have completed your keyword research, created your keyword list, and constructed your Meta tags, check that you have at least 200 words of succinctly written, grammatically correct content that tells your visitors what your page/ site is about. When this is finished, your site is ready for submission to the search engines.

Before submitting your site to the engines, we recommend you check it against Bruce Clay's Quality Site Criteria test. This is a great outline of the steps that should be followed during the design process as well, not just when you are ready to launch/submit the site.

Site Architecture

While the keyword research is being done, your designer should be working on site templates and site architecture. Using CSS, IFRAMES, table tricks and external JavaScript will ensure that the search engine spiders are able to crawl your site without getting bogged down within the HTML code. You want them to be able to go to the page and quickly establish what your site is about. This will determine whether or not you get ranked.

During this time, your designer should be working with the content developer to ensure that the pages that are going to be submitted hold at least 200 words of unique and valuable content.

The content developer should be working closely with your SEO analyst to make sure that the keywords are being used properly throughout the pages/ site. This means using heading (h1, h2, h3) tags, and links within the content using keywords, anchor text, etc. A good article to read about the art of SEO copywriting is Copywriting 101.

Search Engine Guidelines

A good place to look for ideas on Web design techniques is in each engine's specific design guidelines.

Google says the following:

  • Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links..
  • Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site..
  • Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
  • Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
  • Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links..
  • Make sure that your TITLE and ALT tags are descriptive and accurate.
  • Check for broken links and correct HTML.
  • If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a "?" character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages..
  • Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number (fewer than 100).

MSN says:

  • In the visible page text, include words users might choose as search query terms to find the information on your site.
  • Limit all pages to a reasonable size. We recommend one topic per page..
  • Make sure that each page is accessible by at least one static text link.
  • Keep the text that you want indexed outside of images..
  • Add a site map..
  • Keep your site hierarchy fairly flat..

Yahoo! suggests:

  • Build a quality site..
  • Get big-sites with over 100 pages will attract more attention from search engines looking for sites with quality content..
  • Say something-sites with frequently updated and new content rank higher in search engines typically..
  • Use keywords not only as a tag..
  • Exchange links..
  • Get involved and get your name out there..

Site Optimization Tips

This excerpt from an interview with Laura Lippay, SEO Program Manager for Yahoo! is very much worth noting.

If there were 3-5 site optimization tips you were to recommend to web masters, what would they be?

  1. Usability comes before SEO - better yet, they should work hand in hand..
  2. SEO isn't just about H1 tags and title tags - more importantly, you need traffic..
  3. You can listen to what everyone else preaches about what works for SEO or you can find out for yourself..


Conclusion

Designing a search engine friendly Web site is not difficult, but it is time consuming. As long as you are prepared to be methodical; do careful keyword research; create unique, interesting, well-written content; and work closely with all the members of your team, you will be rewarded with high engine rankings and recognition in your field of expertise.

Of course, if you don't have the resources, the expertise or the time to create your own engine-friendly Web design, Bruce Clay, Inc. is always here to help!