SEO Best Practices for Web Site Design

Most designers and webmasters know the importance of building a site that will attract search-engine traffic, but not all of them are proficient in search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.

Most designers and webmasters know the importance of building a site that will attract search-engine traffic, but not all of them are proficient in search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.

Sites designed with heavy graphics, frames, Flash, dynamic databases, or other codes that are not HTML based require specific optimization techniques to get properly indexed by the major search engines.

By consulting with SEO specialists early on, you can avoid expensive re-design costs that might be needed to improve search engine visibility.

SEO Best Practices

There are a number of techniques that can be used to ensure your site is indexed and well positioned in the major search engines. While SEO techniques change constantly, the following are currently important for good positioning.

  • Domain Name Selection
  • Web Site Copywriting
  • Meta Tags (Title, Description, Keywords, Heading, Alt Tags)
  • Basic Links, Hypertext Links and Site Map
  • Directory and File Names
  • Spider Analysis
  • Robots Exclusion File
  • Link Popularity

Domain Name Selection

Your domain name (URL) can be a key factor in both search engine and directory positioning. Domain name research is important, and it's wise to get professional help in making this decision.

Web Site Copywriting

Web page copy is of major importance for search engines, directories, and customers. Search robots need machine-readable content (text) in your pages and HTML tags to index your site. Directory editors decide whether or not to list your site based on unique and relevant content. Customers make buying decisions based savvy marketing copy.

Text near the top of the page is important to search spiders, as are keywords at the beginning of paragraphs and in headings. Write your text first, then create meta tags relevant to specific page content. Write for people first and search engines second. It's not easy to write compelling marketing copy that skillfully integrates your keywords, so it's a to have your content written by a pro copywriter.

Meta Tags

Despite less reliance on meta tags, it pays to provide title, description, keywords, heading, and alternate tags in the head section of all your indexable pages. All your meta tags should be unique and apply to a specific page.

[See the Pandia Post article How to optimize Web page elements for examples on how to code such HTML tags. The Editor.]

  • Title Tag -- Use 5-10 words to write a keyword-rich title that's relevant to the page. Begin with keywords, using sentence case. It's important because most engines use the copy as the link to your page in search results.
  • Description Tag -- Very important because it's often used by search engines as your site description in search results. Use 15-20 words, starting with several strategic keywords (170 characters). Make it compelling and relevant to receive qualified traffic.
  • Meta Keywords Tag --List your strategic keyword phrases up to a maximum of 744 characters. Use keywords that are relevant to the page, with or without commas.
  • Heading Tags -- Place these tags at the top of your pages, using strategic keywords relevant to the page. Can be unsightly if not created properly.
  • Alt Tags -- Also called image tags as they contain the text that appears when you mouse over an image. Use keywords to describe the image appropriately.

Basic Links, Hypertext Links and Site Map

You must ensure that search spiders have plenty of basic links to follow. Search engine spiders will index the text on your homepage, then attempt to follow links from there to other pages in your site.

  • Most search engines can't follow dynamic links (question mark in URL), so you must provide basic links or image maps.
  • Dynamic links and links generated by JavaScript are not followed by most search engines.
  • The text in your links is important and should include keywords related to the page it's linking to.
  • A site map is an excellent way to provide links for search spiders.

Hypertext Links-- Ideally, your links should have a keyword in the link text or in an .alt description of the image or area tag.

Site Map-- Makes it easier for search spiders to find all your pages. Also useful for site visitors. This tool includes a categorized list of all the pages on your site. You must provide one or more links to the site map from the home page.

  • Place a text link to the site map at the bottom of the page reading "Site Map," with file name "sitemap.htm."
  • Include strategic keywords in the link text link.
  • Create a static list of links to all your pages, with a link to this page from your homepage or site map.

Directory and File Names

Because many engines and directories index file names and even directory names, it pays to create these using keywords whenever possible. Use at least one keyword phrase in your file/directory names, preferably at the beginning. Don't stuff keywords and keep the names relevant. Use hyphens or underscores to separate the words in your file and directory names.
Spider Analysis

Spider Analysis can provide a record of activity telling you what happens when search spiders enter your site to index pages. It shows whether or not your site has been spidered, by which search engine(s), on which pages, and on what dates. Spider Analysis reveals which pages are considered more relevant and which should be re-optimized and re-submitted. It also can identify and eliminate harmful spiders like email-harvesting robots. Many SEO firms offer spider analysis services.

Robots Exclusion File

It's important to have a robots.txt file present in your root directory because some search spiders will not crawl a site if they don't find the robots.txt file.

Link Popularity

Most search engine algorithms now include link popularity, which started with Google's PageRank. This technology works by first identifying the link structure of the entire Web, then ranking individual pages based on the number and importance of pages linked to them. Identifying your inbound links and increasing the number of important, relevant inbound links is an essential part of your SEO strategy.

Don't Forget to Budget for SEO

It's essential for Web designers and their clients to budget for SEO in the design process. It's a marketing strategy that gives you highly targeted visitors, good conversion rates, and a good return on investment. Incorporating SEO Best Practices into your Web design process can help you avoid costly mistakes.

Note: This is an archived article written by Per and Susanne Koch. First Published on June 2012.