Building a search engine optimized Website

by Jono Craig

No doubt about it, design a Website with search engines in mind right from the start and you will save future marketing time and money. The most likely scenario most of us encounter however are lofty initial objectives with scant follow through.

In this article, a broad search engine optimization (SEO) foundation will be described. Stay with me for the conclusion; as I blow aside some of the smoke and mirrors to reveal on-line resources for testing and fine tuning a Website's SEO potential.

1. Plan your site

Take time to map out your content before building your site.

Identify possible themes i.e. if your site is about clothing, you may have sub categories for men, women, boys, girls & further sub categories for mens casual wear, mens toiletries, mens shoes etc. Some top tier Search engines identify specific theme areas of Websites - let's make it easier for them.

Your Website folders may look like this: mens-casual-wear, mens-toiletries etc. By placing one index.html (or landing page) in each of these directories, search engine's can categorize these specific theme areas easier.

2. Content is king

Content has supposedly always been king; so what do we hail it now? More than ever, the emphasis is on unique, useful and keyword rich content.

Don't forget to research how your market will search for your product. Look at various search scenarios. Anticipate & cover them.

To participate in the search engine's (ahem, much coveted) top 10 position race requires preparation and technique. We need to understand the delicate balance between feeding the right information to both Website visitors and search engine spiders.

Define a content guideline before creating your Website content. Use on-line resources to help you ensure you have peppered or seasoned your content with a good mix of relevant keywords. The future of successful search engine results will weigh heavily on specialized Website copy.

3. Know your tags.

Meta tags can distract many web developers and if used incorrectly; can work against you. I believe three Meta tags are required at present namely: Title, Keywords & Description.

The Title tag is the most important criteria out of the three, not only will it help attract a potential search result (human) click through but can include relevant keywords & phrases for the search engines. There are other Meta tags for specific purposes i.e. to ensure a page does not get indexed or listed.

Personally I don't add keywords, which do not exist on that particular page, and I keep the number of repeated keywords to a maximum of 3. This tag is fast becoming redundant and often SEO professionals will make use of it as a reminder of their areas of focus per page. Don't expect too much from this tag.

Your Description tag however, is important, as several search engines will still refer to it. Again that balance between human click through fiber and search engine food is necessary.

4. Be careful with the use of some technologies

Friends don't let friends use frames. Although a popular design choice by many, it's important to design a site, which is search engine spider friendly. Can they get to your content easily?

In a similar manner the use of certain processing technologies (i.e. some Java Servlets) can result in one page of content seen to a human visitor and a blank page to the search engine spider.

Test your Website while it's in development - rather allocate more time getting the structure correct than waste months of on-line time with lackluster results.

5. Make a site map

Create a site map to assist both human visitors & search engine spiders. Keep it simple.

A logical layout with HTML links which include keyword rich descriptions i.e. mens casual wear - dinner jackets, will assist both audiences. Your site map should be linked throughout your site.

6. Keep your pages lean & mean.

Secondary pages or those linking off your home page (products etc.) are best optimized for search engines if they contain between 350 - 550 words.

Wherever possible break your pages up, retain the same layout; look & feel but set a reasonable page limit throughout your site.

Some search engines may exclude a page if it is above 100 KB. An ideal size? The smaller the better, keep any scripts in external files to minimize page size & to assist spider digestion.

7. Keep it consistent.

Create user-friendly navigation, which spiders can access. Certain Dynamic HTML drop-down menus can be problematic. The common denominator to both human & search engine spider visitors are standard HTML links.

Use image Alt tags to accurately describe your site's images and to subtly reinforce your keyword focus per page.

Keep your SEO goal consistent through out your site - treat each page as a potential entry (via a search engine).

8. Study the competition

Use the Web to see what your competitors are doing. Too often we reinvent the wheel instead of watching to see who is successful and then decipher how they possibly got there.

Create a competitive landscape spreadsheet - list the top competitors for several keyword phrases specific to your market i.e. mens wear london, women's shoes london etc.

Develop a keen eye for detail - see why these sites do well in particular - is it their domain name, page title, content, directory listing etc? The only way you can participate in the SEO race is by knowing who the top contenders are and what they're doing.

9. Build, measure, fine tune

Be prepared to make some changes and adjustments if you are serious about your search engine position results. Realize it is going to take time; possibly up to six months to see your careful work bear fruit.

We need to develop Websites with the objective of feeding both human & search engine spider visitors. How certain are you that they will be adequately fed by your data? Is it better than that of your competitors?

10. Avoid the snake oil

Be wary of those offering to submit your site to 3000 search engines. Successful SEO is about careful planning, focused strategies resulting in improved HTML code / data and certainly not mass submission. Your best options are to research SEO for yourself or to consult with search engine optimization professionals.

Learn how to read your Web site's log files in order to become familiar with your visitors click stream analysis or typical site walk through pattern.

Be able to identify your typical monthly site traffic pattern; which search engines are sending you visits and for which terms etc.

Work closely with your Website developers; you know your market and specifically your competitors & potential new markets.

To sum up

In summary I would like to reflect on the intricacies of search engine optimization.

There are no magic formulas. Similar to the Olympic Games there are few Gold medals to take home. I view the top 10 positions as Gold, the following 5 as Silver and the following 5 as Bronze. Anything less is a also ran scenario.

Expect tactics and techniques to vary and change. A successful SEO strategy this July may well be surpassed and less effective within 6 to 12 months.

Base your Web development on consistent, visitor & spider friendly principles.

I believe we're entering the age of the search engine; the next killer app following e-mail. For years we've learnt how to design sites with little consideration to this sleeping giant. I will see you at the finish line.

May ye search engine Gods smile favorably as we pore over top 10 search engine results...

Jono reveals some top SEO resources:

Use online resources to help you ensure you have peppered or seasoned your content with a good mix of relevant keywords:

WordTracker
Overture Suggestion Tool
Google AdWords Keyword Suggestions
Keyword Counter

It's important to design a site which is search engine spider friendly. Can they get to your content easily?

Search Engine Spider Simulator

Keep your pages lean & mean:

Webpage Size Checker

About the author:

Jono Craig is a search engine optimization consultant in pursuit of conversion marketing. Viewing Web design as a holistic process, he underlines the need to understand the relationships between SEO, usability & ultimately conversion.

His company, Craig Media, provides search engine optimization consultation to an international client base. Craig Media is networked with key several SEO companies to expand its service base.

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