We all have come across this word “Search Engine Optimization”. Some must have read it somewhere; some must have heard their web designing company talk about it, while some must be providing the services for the same. For those who are still aloof from this terminology, let us touch base with the term quickly.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), also known as search engine positioning or organic (natural) SEO, means to optimize website content as well as search engine popularity to gain high search engine visibility. The ultimate goal is to attract more potential customers to visit your website.
The start point of SEO services is generally at the stage when the website is ready for launch. But actually, this should be moved right to the planning stage of the website and the design of the website should be made such that the website becomes search engine friendly. Many web designers start designing the website but they hardly know what SEO and what ideas they can implement in the early stages of web designing. If this is done at the early stages, the final outcome would be a website which the search engines cannot stop falling in love with. Here are some points which web designers or people looking at getting a website can keep in mind while designing websites:
- Main Text – Search engines use a text based reader called a “spider”. These spiders read a web page from left to right and from top to bottom all the while ignoring the design aspects. All they are interested in is the text – specially the top 20 lines of your webpage. Make full use of this early paragraph area to include relevant keywords. The numbers vary from engine to engine, but you can assume the first 50 words are crucial, the next 50 are important; the 50 following that are likely to be read. Try to get the important keywords — the expressions you expect your visitors to use in their searches — included in the first 150 lines of the text.
- Directory Structure – Many a times web designers tend to keep a flat directory structure where they have all the website pages in the ROOT folder. This is good if the website is small and there are not many pages to maintain. But when it comes to big websites, breaking down the webpages in different sections works the best. For example (see figure), a website selling books may have their home page in the root folder while segregating each books webpage in their respective directories like Science-Fiction, Adventure, Cooking, etc.
A quick tip: do not plan to put your webpages more than three levels deep. A good hierarchal structure can play a significant role in how well the site gets spidered and pages re-indexed in the search engines.
- File Names – The filenames in a website play a crucial role. Using a file name for a web page like “first-page.html” or “xyz.html” would load the page fine when accessed, but will certainly take away a chance of stuffing a keyword. Try to name the pages such that it carries the Title of the webpage instead of “page1.html”, “page2.html” and so on. Taking the earlier example of a website selling books; it would be a good idea to name the web page selling a book on cocktail recipes as “cocktail-recipes.html” instead of “page1.html”. Some other points to keep in mind are:
- Do not use space in the file names as a space is denoted as %20 when it is rendered in a URL. So a page like “my web page.html” would look alright when you see it in your computer but when called from a browser would be rendered as “www.yoursitename.com/my%20web%20page.html”. This makes it difficult for people to remember the URL.
- Separate the words in your file name with hyphen (-). Since we are not able to use a space to separate the words in a file name, use a hyphen to split the words so that it becomes easy to read and identify. Moreover, the hyphen character is regarded by search engines as a word separator, much the way a space is.
- Use lowercase to name your files. Under Windows OS, you may have got used to the fact that “MyWebPage.html” refers to the same file as “mywebpage.html”. This is not the case with all operating systems. For example, Unix-based systems like Linux and FreeBSD consider them to be two different files.
- Image Names – Now this is one of the common mistakes that has been found in websites. Many webmasters or graphic designers prepare the design in software like Adobe Photoshop and then use the automatic slicing tool to slice the images. Next they bring this in to a static HTML and replace the places for text with actual text and white spaces with spacers to reduce the file size of the web page. But they tend to forget that the images carry names like “image01.jpg”, image02.jpg” and so on. For those who take care to rename the images, many a times, rename them as “logo.jpg” for the company logo or “header.jpg” for a header image. This should be avoided. The idea is to name the actual file correctly by giving it a key term. For example “blue-tshirt.jpg” would yield better results than using some random name like “image01.jpg” because this gives the site extra context. Also make sure that when these images are put in to the website, necessary ALT tag content is also provided. The benefit is that sites like Google Images can index them better and after all that is another way of getting traffic to the website.
- Sitemap – A sitemap is a tool that aids search engine crawlers’ gain contextual meaning about a site’s web page. Create a site map that links to the major sections and sub-sections of the website. Sitemaps are a useful tool for making sites built in Flash and other non-html languages searchable. Preferably the site map should be linked to from every page and the recommend file names for the site map are “sitemap.html” or “site-map.html.” You can even use online sitemap generators which crawls the website and prepare an XML sitemap. Google recommends using this and submitting the same in Google Webmaster Tools.
- Anchor Text – The anchor text is the text inside the “A” tags that links to other pages either inside the website or to some other website. It is important for the anchor text to contain a description of where the link is taking the visitor but this is even more important for search engines because it tells its crawlers where the link is going. Avoid using words like “Click Here” as an anchor text. Instead use a relevant keyword for that web page or website.
- Title – It can be said that the Title of the website is one of the most important factors for a successful search engine optimized website. The title is nothing but the text that you see in the reverse bar on the left side of your browser. The title is very crucial for the ranking of your website as it is this Title tag that is used by the search engines to show your listing in the search results. For example, a website of a book store in Ahmedabad carrying a title tag like “Welcome to ACME” will not mean much. People probably won’t click on that link because they don’t know who you are. It would be a better idea to rephrase the title to read “Buy books online on adventure, cooking, science fiction and more in Ahmedabad”. It is also a good idea to have each page in the web site use a unique title and should reflect keywords that are relevant to that page. Remember that it is not only the home page that will lead a visitor to your website and so it is important that each page in the website is properly optimized.
- META Tags – Meta elements are typically used to specify page description, keywords, author of the document, last modified and other metadata. Here is an explanation of the common meta tags:
- Description: The description is displayed in the search engine result page and helps to distinguish your site from the others in the list. The description tag should be written in such way that it will show what information your website contains or what your website is about. Write short and clear sentences that will not confuse your visitors.
- Keyword: The keyword tags should contain between 4 and 10 keywords or key phrases. They should be listed with commas and should correspond to the major search phrases you are targeting. Every word in this tag should appear somewhere in the body, or the website might get penalized for irrelevance. No single word should appear more than twice or it may be considered spam.
- Robots: One other Meta tag worth mentioning is the robots tag. This lets you specify that a particular page or a directory should NOT be indexed by a search engine or which pages in your website should the spiders follow and index.
- Valid Code – Many webmasters or designers overlook a very important aspect of website design – the validity of the HTML code. Search engines have to parse the HTML code on the website to find the relevant content. If the HTML code contains errors, search engines might not be able to find everything on the page. Search engine crawler programs obey the HTML standard and they can only index the web site if it is compliant to the HTML standards. After the website is designed and the relevant HTML generated, validate the html and CSS code and make the code W3C standard. A quick tool to validate the html code can be found at http://validator.w3.org and to validate the CSS code, visit http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator
Graphic and web designers love beautiful websites and SEO experts love optimized content and code. Neither should be ignored as these days, both are equally important. What good it would be if you have a nice and flashy design but no one to visit the site as it is not loved by the search engines? Keeping in mind some basic web designing principles during the planning stage would give immediate benefits and reduce the work load of SEO companies or experts.
Do you have any tips or techniques you use while designing websites in a search engine friendly manner? If so, do leave a comment as it would help many as it is always a good idea to share knowledge.