Whether you are just now building your website or you’re thinking about a re-design, it’s critical to build your site with SEO in mind. This is something many graphic designers don’t think about during the design process. Most marketing people are focused on look and usability, which are important, but if you’re not generating enough traffic to your site via organic, then the design and usability isn’t going to matter much.
1. Think Keywords: Remember, search engines crawl your site looking for keywords that will match a user’s search query. The more keywords you have in your website that read naturally, the higher you should rank in the search engines. Therefore, with any page you have on your site, leave enough room for a few paragraphs so you can include some of your top keywords. Yes, people like visuals, so having pictures or Flash on your pages is fine – but you still need to include copy into the mix. Including copy will also help organize the page better so you don’t just have a lot of images mucking up the page.
2. Additional Content: Once you have your main pages designed and have copy written for them, you need to think about what kinds of additional content you can create and where you can put links to that additional content. Part of a good link building strategy in SEO is to create well written content that people will want to naturally link to. Whether it’s a press page you want to add in a year, or a ‘how-to’ series of pages or an image gallery, make sure you’re designing your site in a scalable fashion that can be added-to over time. This additional content will be crawled and indexed by the search engines which will help increasing your SEO rankings and traffic.
3. Too Much Flash: Yes, a visually appealing website is great. However, keep the crazy Flash content or animated cartoon characters to a minimum! The search engines read content. If you can’t include keywords in your Flash pieces or animated cartoons then the search engines can’t read them and they are useless to you from an SEO perspective. The search engines are getting better at reading Flash, however just keep it to a minimum. Most users now-a-days don’t like having to wait for a Flash piece or images to load onto the page anyway. And yes, page load time does affect your SEO rankings. So if you’re loading your pages up with Flash and images, then you may be hurting your SEO potential. You can SEO the Flash code yourself if your site does need to use a lot of Flash.
4. Out Bound Links: Outbound links are identical to inbound links from an SEO perspective. Implementing too many outbound links from your site to another site can hurt your SEO performance. What you want to do is create a couple of outbound links to highly relevant and trustworthy websites. The search engines do not like to see you have too many outbound links pointing to irrelevant, untrustworthy websites, just like they don’t want to see too many inbound links pointing to your site from irrelevant, untrustworthy websites. And from a usability standpoint, why would you want to link to sort of relevant sites that could potentially take your business away?
5. H1 Headers: Just to prevent yourself from having to go back in and add H1 headers, go ahead and plan on this during the programming part. Each page should have a H1 header that is the title of the page. Your H1 header should contain relevant and important keywords in them and should be programmed with the H1 tag (<h1>This is the title of my page</h1>.) This tells the search engine that t his header is most important on this page. If you just bold your title the search engines will read it as normal text on a page which doesn’t have as much value as a H1 header tag. You can include H1 headers in a CSS so that each time you add a new page the H1 title will be automatic.
6. PDF’s, Videos & News Feeds: I have seen this way too many times – people think it’s great to add videos, PDF’s and news feeds to their site and that’s fine, but they typically will link outside of their site in order to view the content. If you have PDF’s, turn them into actual copy you can put on a page, don’t just link to the PDF. The search engines can read PDF’s and you can optimize PDF’s – but having the content in a read-able, easy HTML format is much better for the search engines and your rankability. The same goes with videos and news feeds. It’s great to have videos, but the search engines can’t read them, and that’s a lot of content you could be including on your website that can contain important keywords. My advice is to have the videos, but include a link so that people can read the copy of the videos if they prefer. This is good advice from a usability standpoint as well as an SEO standpoint. Also, having a news feed is great content, but don’t just link to an outside source to get this information in full. Paraphrase the news copy and include it on it’s own page within your site. The search engines will love the constant flow of updated content, plus you can include your own keywords in this copy as well. The good thing about images and videos is that you can create alternate tags that the search engines can read.
7. Navigation/Site Structure: You need to create a site structure that is easy for the search engines to tell which pages are most important on your website. By creating this kind of site structure you will be telling the search engines to rank these pages first as they will be most relevant for these keywords. Your homepage is always going to be most important to the search engines, but what comes after the homepage? If you have an ecommerce site selling architectural details, and you have 5 main categories, make these 5 pages the next most important pages after the homepage. This means creating a url structure with only one subfolder. Here’s an example: Your homepage should read: http://www.archdetails.com. While your next important pages should only have one “/” in the url. (ie. http://www.archdetails.com/corbels).
Your third most important page or set of content can have two “/” in the url. (ie. http://www.archdetails.com/corbels/how-to-install-corbels.)
8. URL Structure: Your URL structure is another vital part of SEO. When creating pages for your site, be sure to include keywords in the URLs. Here is an example of a not-so-great URL structure: www.archdetails.com/product -K3144. Here is an example of a good, keyword rich URL: www.archdetails.com/corbels-K3114. This is a pretty simple concept, but one that is easily forgotten as programmer’s code sites not thinking about keywords.
9. Duplicate Pages: I’ve seen a lot of websites recently who purposely duplicate each and every page of the site for backup reasons. There should be an easier way to backup the information on the site. If you duplicate these pages, they are technically new pages on a new URL that the search engines will crawl and index. If you have two unique URL’s with the same exact content, and this is repeated over and over again, this could hurt your SEO rankings. Search engines don’t like duplicate content. Now if you already have this duplicate page backup feature on your site, you can always remove them from your sitemap and exclude them in your robots.txt file so the search engines don’t crawl them. You can also include no follow and no index tags so the search engines don’t pass any PageRank to these pages nor will they index them.
10. Knowledgeable about SEO: Hire someone to program and design your site who is knowledgeable in SEO. This is probably the most beneficial thing you can do while building your website to ensure you are doing all the correct things to get your website crawled and indexed by the search engines. Hiring programmers that don’t know much about SEO can cost you extra money having to go back and correct things and can also cost you money by not having your site ranked higher in the search engines as it could have been from the get go.
In conclusion, do not merely focus on the design aspect of your site. It’s not just the outside appearance that matters, it’s really what’s inside that counts!