Designing a Website So the Search Engines Will Like You
Before you go and spend big money on a professional website designer, or start designing yourself, read through this article and make sure that you or your designer knows how to design a website that the search engines will like.
Being a web designer myself, I know firsthand what they teach you in college about being a good designer. While I learned all of the important design concepts like color theory, the importance of graphics and white space, ect ect, I came away knowing nothing about how to actually design a site to get ranked in the search engines.
Because of the lack of training in design schools, there are many, many web design companies out there today that know nothing about designing a web page properly.
It wasn't until I started doing some research that I realized there was a whole world of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques that I didn't know about. Most designers love to make your site aesthetically pleasing. Maybe they use newer technologies like Flash design or really graphic intensive pages. While these techniques make your site look pretty they are not practical if you ever want a visitor to find your site in a search engine.
Here are some basic concepts to learn before beginning your website design.
I know it's tempting to have an all flash site because lets face it they look really awesome. The problem with having an all flash site though, is that it is basically nonexistent to the search engines.
A flash source file is embedded in the html and therefore offers no content to which the search engine spiders can look at to rank you. Unless you are already well known in your particular industry or have a very identifiable brand (think Pepsi or BMW) then you should not use an all flash site.
But what if you really, really want to have flash? Here are some ways around this problem.
First, you can create two websites for your visitors. An HTML version and a Flash version. You can let your visitor decide where to go. That way you won't leave them frustrated if they have a dial up connection and are not surfing with broadband. There is nothing that will tick your potential customer off faster than having to wait ten minutes just to view your fancy flash intro. By having both versions available you also give the search engine spiders a content rich HTML site so they can rank you accordingly.
Secondly, you can add flash components in your main site to give off some cool effects without taking forever to download. For instance, I have seen a lot of websites lately where the top header portion of their site is made in flash or their buttons are done in flash to make them stand out more. These are two good ways to use flash without overdoing it. Just make sure that your body copy is keyword rich to offset the flash.
This next part assumes that you already have researched and gathered targeted keywords to work with. If you have not done keyword research for your services or products you are selling, then you have some work to do before this next step. You can check out http://www.westmarketing-design.com/articles.htm for more information on doing keyword research.
There is a phrase that you will hear in the SEO world and that is "keyword rich text". This simply means that when you write your body copy for your website that you need to word it a certain way so that you include your keywords. Now that doesn't mean that you insert a keyword every other word. The search engine spiders consider that to be spam. What it means is that you give your body copy a lot of thought, making sure you have keywords placed within your copy that make sense to the overall service or product that you are selling.
Here is an example of a keyword rich paragraph selling an information product on public speaking. The keywords are in quotes.
Are you interested in becoming a better "public speaker" or improving your "public speaking skills"? You can become a "paid public speaker" and make lots of money for "speaking in public" to a wide variety of audiences. Learn all the latest "public speaking tips" and tricks, including learning how to "overcome stage fright" and "add humor" to your presentation.
All of those keywords were researched and found to be very targeted to the phrase "public speaking". Now I went a little overboard in my keywords for the example, but you get the idea.
There is another phrase called "keyword density". This refers to how many times a particular keyword or phrase is found in one website page for every 100 words.
You walk a fine line between having enough keyword density to having too much and having the search engines consider your site to be spam. Be aware though that not all search engines are created equal. Some might like a keyword density of 5 percent, while another one might favor 7 percent. I suggest testing your copy for a month or so and keeping tabs on your search engine ranking. If you get high ranks, keep your copy the way it is, but if it is lower than you want, try tweaking your copy and keyword density to see if you can get the desired ranking.
**More Places for Keywords**
There are other places that search engine spiders look for keywords besides your website copy. If at all possible try to get a domain name with one of your keywords in it. For instance if you sell dog collars, a name you might want for your website would be www.dogcollarsales.com or something like that. It might take some thinking and some time to come up with a related name that someone hasn't already taken, but it can be done.
Another good place for keywords is in your page title. Instead of putting the name of your business which most people won't know, instead place a keyword rich sentence or phrase. Using the dog collar business example again here is a title page you could use.
Dog Collars - We sell dog collars and other products for your beloved pet.
It clearly tells the search engines what the page is about. Remember that the title of your website is indexed by the search engines and is part of what is shown to someone who is searching on that keyword.
So if I typed in dog collars into my search engine, the title from above and my meta tag description would show in my search results. Make sure you put some thought into your title.
This rule also applies to your meta tag description which is also viewed when a search engine pulls up your site. Make it only one or two keyword rich sentences. The meta tag keyword has less impact today then it did a few years ago, but I still recommend adding a few keywords. Don't go overboard and write out 50 keywords or your site will be considered spam to the search engines.
Most websites that are designed today rely heavily on graphical content and not much else. Another tip on keyword placement is to try to place a keyword rich sentence near the very top of your page. Some people have spots for banners and such at the top of their pages, this is the same kind of idea and can be made to look pretty and not out of place. This is important because the search engine robots start at the top of your page and work down. The closer to the top of the page you have keywords the more the search engines will think your page is relevant.
**A Frontpage Trick**
Search engine spiders will look at a block of text and if any words or phrases are typed in an H1 size then they consider that phrase to be of the utmost importance to the page. This is a great place to have a keyword look very important to the search engines.
Now for those of you who don't know, an H1 size is pretty big and would definitely stand out on your page and can oftentimes look a little ugly. There are ways around this if you know CSS well, but if you are designing your site yourself and have no clue what CSS even is then I can help you.
*This tip is only for those of you who are using Frontpage as your web editor.*
You can show the search engines that the text is in an H1 size, but then change the size of the text back down to whatever size you want instead. Here's how you do it.
In Frontpage select the text you want to use and set it to an H1 size. Then go over to the font size drop down and change it to whatever size you want to use. It's that easy.
Now one drawback to using this technique is that there will be empty space around the phrase that is designated as an H1 size. Basically it is still taking up the same amount of room it normally would, it just doesn't look so blatantly obvious. This technique is best used for titles of paragraphs or break points in paragraphs, so that it won't look weird to your visitors.
**The ALT Tag**
This design tip is a pretty clever way to get an extra keyword or two into your site. The ALT tag is an HTML tag that is used when you want to give a written description for a graphic element on the page. It was designed initially so that if someone couldn't download your pictures, they could see an alternative description in text describing the picture.
Instead of describing the picture you can place a keyword in the alt tag instead. Here's an example of what the HTML code would look like.
img border="0" src="myimage.jpg" width="640" height="150" alt="keyword phrase"
These are just a few proven techniques when designing your site to improve your search engine ranking.
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