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Todd Bertsch : Web Design Search Engine Optimization

Web Design Has Changed

Part 2: Search Engine Optimization

By Todd Bertsch

I can't find my website listed in search engines.

Better get on the SEO train.

SEO — Search Engine Optimization (basically means, tweaking your website to be crawled by search engine spiders). Sounds gruesome doesn't it?

Before I begin, let me preface this article by stating that I am not by any means of the word, an EXPERT on this subject. I'm a web designer of 8 years that has jumped on the SEO Train as it takes off. SEO is somewhat of a magical process that only a select few at Google can probably say they are experts in. However, there are many SEO shops out there that will sell you their services. Just be careful. Ask for references, and ask to see some real case studies. This is a tough game that changes by the day it seems. So you need someone in the trenches everyday working to get your site to the top of the list.

So I'm not an expert, but I have been highly involved in this area in the past year and did my research as others have done. So I've put together a compilation of tips and suggestions that seem to be consistent throughout the net. Especially on the more credible sites. Many of the suggestions below are just basic common sense web standards that we have always done in traditional web design. And there are some new ideas to think about as you build a site from the ground up. None of these ideas will have a negative impact on your site. In fact, even if you did not gain SEO, you would gain in other areas like; retention, download time, simpler user experience, accessibility and much more.

So without further adieu, here is my list of suggestions for improving your search engine rankings. This will be a work in progress to accommodate this ever changing arena.

Tips for SEO — Search Engine Optimization

Titles — It's #1 for a reason. Most search engines still rely on the title of your web page as the single most critical factor in listing your site. So be smart and make your title descriptive and keyword friendly. Not too much. And don't make it "salesy". These spiders are smarter than you think. There is much controversy over how many characters to use for your title. My research has seen numbers from 50 to 200. I usually stick with no more than 125. Don't ask why.

Meta tags — These may not be as important as they once were, but none the less they won't hurt you either. Keep them in. These include: Keywords & Description. If you do not submit a description or include one in your code some search engines will use the first 100 some odd characters for your website's description. In most cases this is not the text you want to be your sales pitch to potential new customers.

Rich, relevant and keyword heavy text — Integrate your top searched keywords and phrases into the content of your site. It must be relevant. Don't get to overzealous…the crawlers are smart. If you think it doesn't make sense when you read it…well it probably is more like Spam and you should revise it.

If you're new to search and not sure of what keywords to target, there are many good tools to use. First try reviewing your web analytics. Most of these web analytics will give you some indication of how your users are coming to you from search. Or you can use Overture's FREE keyword suggestion tool. Click on Keyword Selector Tool.

Content Headlines — Make your content headlines keyword rich when applicable and right above the content with a link to the entire article.

In the code for these headers use the H1, H2, H3 tags. Crawlers look for these and consider these headline titles as important content.

Alt tags — These are like the Meta tags of old. They may or may not be useful for some of the search engines, however it will not hurt to use them. In fact, it will only help you with "Accessibility" to your site and help those of which have dialup. Again try to use the keywords your targeting but in a relevant way. As for length of characters…wish I knew. Everyone says something different. I try to stay no more than 50 characters.

Navigation & Links — Internal links are important for crawlers looking for relevant copy and links. Make your labels of your navigation in text, NOT images. And make them descriptive with your keywords. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have these text links duplicated in the footer text as well. For now this seems to be a web standard and not looked at as Spam.

Link Popularity — Probably the hottest topic right now, is how to get high link popularity. Unfortunately this is probably the biggest proponent of getting a high page rank and listing in Google right now. And the most difficult to achieve. It takes TIME! Be patient. Research your competitors. Create good relevant and timely content that people would like to link to. Yes, people. That's why Google views these so highly in their website's rankings. If lots of people link to it. It must be good stuff. STAY AWAY from LINK FARMS. The last thing you want is to get black listed from any search engine. By participating in a link farm you just may end up there. Do it the right way. Here are a couple of options to consider:

Associate Program: Create a robust and professional Associate program.

Reciprocate links: Ask clients or vendors to reciprocate links with you.

Blogs: Some research has said that by having a blog hosted by a third party and linked to your site with lots of relevant content and links it will get indexed and boost link popularity.

Submit to as many FREE directories as possible: Many of these directories are spidered by the main search engines frequently. Do a search for directories in your website's genre. Also submit to Many say Google spiders this site regularly. This is hard to get in, but worth it.

Files names — Yes, believe it. Down to even the files names. Everything counts. Again, try to use your keywords as much as possible in your files. Whether it be for your page names, images or site structure.

Site architecture — try to keep the depth of your site to 3 levels. I've read that some search engines stop indexing after the first 3 levels.

The code — Keep as much keyword rich relevant text near the top of the page as possible. This is where the spiders start to make a first impression about your site. Make it a good one. Try not to clog your pages with JavaScript or countless font tags. Use client side files for your java and CSS for your font attributes. This will clear the way for spiders to find the good stuff on your site.

Domain name — Although it's not as important as it use to be, try to register a domain name that has at least one of your keywords in it. This will also draw attention to your listing in the rankings as each keyword will appear in bold (for most search engines).

Re-directs — If you have re-directs to any of the pages on your site use a "301" re-direct instead of "401". Not sure why, but that's what Google likes. It's been proven that it works.

Consistency — Try to keep the basic structure of your site to a consistent design and structure. Of course keeping integrating new content, but keep the foundation the same. As Google spiders your site, the more times you re-design your site the more your site will be in page rank flux.

Bad or broken links — Some research has mentioned that if a spider catches a bad link it will stop indexing and move along. Even if it's not true, this is a good practice to enforce anyhow. NO user wants to click on a link, only to find out the page doesn't exist. DAMN, I hate when that happens. Don't you?

Search engine submission — Submit your website manually. Do NOT use one of those automated "FREE submission to 2000 website's offer". Many search engines do not like these automated systems. Regardless of what these one-off companies promise do it YOURSELF.

Google page rank — Download the FREE Google toolbar. Turn on the option for "Page rank". Take a look at your website pages and your competitors. Google's listing weigh heavily on this page rank.

BE PATIENT! Getting a HIGH Google page rank and listing is a difficult task to achieve. Especially for keywords with high market saturation through top big brands. Competition can be tough. As you get further down the listings, the less FREE clicks you'll get.

By following these 16 tips you should be on your way to climbing up the search rankings. At the very least your customers will benefit from a more content relevant site, with less clutter and easy navigation.

Oh, I forgot # 17: LUCK. It doesn't hurt in this ever changing, highly competitive game. •

Next: From Pixel-to-Pixel We Go »

© 2005 Todd Bertsch. All rights reserved.

Todd Bertsch received a Bachelors degree in Fine and Applied Arts, with a concentration in Graphic Design, from the University of Akron. More »