Is your web site ‘search engine friendly’?

One of the key criteria for a successful web site which is often overlooked by both web developers and site owners is ‘search engine friendly’ design.

There are a number of technical site design issues that can seriously impact the level of visibility of a web site in the search engines ie both whether a site can be indexed by search engines and how it is ranked and displayed in search results.

Here’s a checklist which briefly outlines some of the things both to focus on and avoid if you want to ensure your site has a good chance of being found in search engines.

Things to Do:

Think carefully about what you want your site to be found for in search engines and how you think people will search for your site. Then use these keywords and search phrases liberally in the text on your web pages.

Ensure the home page of your site is ‘search engine friendly’ – some engines will only ever index the root domain (ie www.xxxxxx.co.nz) and others give priority in their rankings to the home page. This means your home page should always have some keyword focused page text, good title and meta tags and hyperlinks to other key pages to enable engines to crawl inside your site (see below).

Ensure all other key pages have well written, keyword focused titles and meta tags. Meta tags are most effective when they reinforce what is already on your page.

All pages should have at least 100 words of descriptive and keyword heavy HTML text – avoid content free pages (see below). The only way for search engines to deduce the subject matter of a web page is from the words in the text.

Ensure important keywords are used EARLY in the page text i.e. in headline and first paragraphs of web page. Most search engines rank sites higher if keywords appear early in the text. Avoid copy such as ‘Welcome to our site’.

Use ALT tags with all graphics to describe these to anyone not using images. Some engines will index words found in the IMG ALT tag, and for this reason, use as many keywords as you can in these tags.

Ensure there are links from the home page to other key inside sections and pages which will allow search engines to crawl your site. You want search engines to index as many pages from your site as possible

These links must be in a form that can be read by search engines ­ ie avoid server-side imagemaps, mouseover links or fancy JavaScript ‘drop menu’ navigation ­ or ensure your site also has regular hypertext links to bypass these.

Add a site map page with text links to everything in the web site and submit this page to the search engines. This will help them locate pages within the web site as well as assist users.

Provide substantial and quality content ­ most directories, and an increasing number of search engines, use human editors to review web sites and decide if they will index them.

Things to Avoid:

Content-free pages eg splash screens that say little more than “click here to enter,” pages in which much of the text is actually in the form of images with no ALT text – it looks pretty, but search engines can’t read those graphics and pages that consist mostly of imagemaps.

Plug-ins like Shockwave and Flash can fall into this category as well and may prevent search engines from indexing your site.

Automatically refreshed or redirected pages – frequently used by web designers for ‘splash’ type home pages. Many search engines consider this to be ‘spam’ and may not index your site for this reason.

Invisible page text or tiny text stuffed with keywords – be sure that your HTML text is “visible.” Some designers try to spam search engines by repeating keywords in a tiny font or in the same colour at the background colour to make the text invisible to browsers.

Framed sites ie where there a 2 or more frames making up the total web page ­ commonly a navigation frame on the LH side and a content frame.

Using frames either prevents search engines from finding pages within a web site, or it causes them to send visitors into a site without the proper frame ‘context’ being established. Most search engines cannot follow frames links causing them to miss much of the site. If using frames, it is vital to take measures to ensure that ALL of your web site can be indexed by the major search engine’s spiders.

Dynamically generated pages, such as pages generated via GCI or atabase delivery. This is becoming more common for sites containing high levels of content which may change frequently eg product listings, events listings. However, dynamically generated pages are not able to be indexed by many of the search engines. These pages do not actually exist but rather are generated ‘on the fly’ in response to a query. Also, dynamically generated pages commonly use symbols in the URLs which search engines cannot index eg the ? symbol.

Many of the above site design issues can either be avoided completely or there are workarounds which will make your web site more ‘search engine friendly’. Don’t prevent search engines from indexing your site by doing things they CAN’T or WON’T deal with. For many businesses, especially those targeting international markets, search engines are a vital component of your online marketing plan.

(For further assistance with these issues, please contact us at Net Action Ltd.)