Search Engine Friendly Website
Things to do to make a website search engine friendly
Let us now get down to things you ought to do to make a website search engine friendly. There are a number of things that need to be taken care of during the website design for the website to be optimised for search engines. Here are the rules you need to keep in mind.
KISS: (Keep It Simple Stupid). If you want someone to understand your point of view, won't you try to explain it in the simplest manner possible? That is what your visitors and the search engines also want. They would want the website pages to open fast, be easily navigable and they surely do not want to get lost in the maze of links within your website. Keep the pages uncluttered so your content does not get lost behind the glaring pictures. A very complex website may also end up in a time-out for the crawler before it has really completed collecting information from your website. You lose. The crawlers also consume bandwidth and that is your bandwidth they are consuming. You'd rather be using the available bandwidth for the visitors and not the crawlers.
KIFF: (Keep It Flat, not Fat). Okay, I just made up the acronym and you are unlikely to find it anywhere else. But the message is clear, your website needs to be flat as far as the directory structure is concerned. Make sure you do not go beyond four or five levels because that's what most people and search engines do not do. It is presumed by the search engines that if you have placed a page so far away from the index page, it must not be that important and in all probability that page will not get indexed. Therefore make sure that your most important pages are as close as possible to the top. The higher the page is in the hierarchy, the more importance it gets within your website.
Compatibility with Browsers: Your website ought to be compatible with most, if not all, browsers in vogue, since different people have different preferences based on their comfort levels and requirements. Therefore use a standard mark-up language like HTML or PHP for your website.
Keyword Research: Once you have chosen the language, platform and have a general idea about the site map, you ought to do some research on the keywords. Keywords signify the words or phrases that your prospective visitors will be searching for when they want to find information. Like we said before, the early search engines were totally reliant on keywords given by the website owner and the relevance and importance of the page was calculated based on the keyword location and destiny. The search engines have matured and now do not totally rely on the keywords provided. However, the indexing of pages continues to be done based on keywords and it will pay in the long run to use keywords which have a large search volume, meaning that the word or phrase is being used in a larger volume than synonyms or variations of the same word. Since you have an idea about your website's content, it should not be difficult for you to identify the keywords. There are tools available online which will assist you in homing on to best keywords for your pages, which will be discussed later in the "Handy Tools" chapter.
Choosing a Domain Name: The website title (Brand Name) and the domain name (unique part of Web Address) of the website plays an important role in the ranking of your site, since they give a strong indication regarding what your website is about. If you have a title and also a URL that contains the keywords, it is great. However, it is generally difficult to get a URL and website title which is directly indicative of your content and still short enough, all such titles and domain names having been already taken by others. It is advisable to keep the domain name and title short since it is easier for people to remember them. There is also the issue of branding which will indicate use of a catchy name rather than a plain-Jane kind. Use your discretion in such cases.
The URL extension: (Top Level Domain) you use also has some effect in the ranking systems. We are not sure of the sequential status given to the extension but apparently .gov, .edu, . org, are given a higher status so if you can and if your website can be classified as one of these, go for one of these extensions. The .com extension being most common, most easily available and a haven for spammers and all other wrong doers may not have a very high status. The scrutiny of these sites by the search engine also needs to be done more strictly to ascertain the genuine sites from scams. Also remember that if you change your domain name you lose all the popularity and ranking you have achieved and will have to start from scratch with respect to SEO. So think hard and go with something that you are really convinced with.
The registration period of the domain name also tells the search engine about. the seriousness of the purpose. Booking a domain for a longer/longest period as against lets say one year, tells the search engine that you are in it for good and not as a result of a whim or fantasy.
Most search engines will index your file names as well as directory names, so make sure that these are containing at least one of the keywords. However, do not stuff keywords into the name and make sure that the name stays relevant to the content.
URL Structure: Keep your page URLs simple and friendly. A URL having multiple numerals, special characters, question marks, etc. is difficult to remember. Moreover, if someone links to your page with the URL as anchor text, the visitor to their website will think twice before following the link if the URL does not provide adequate information about the page. Consider http:/some sit/folder//21x/2145/331a.htm and Consider http:/some-sit/folder/good_health. Which link are you more likely to follow? Therefore use words in URLs and avoid use of unnecessary characters or parameters. A simple and good directory structure can go a long way in helping you organise your site as well as to create useful URLs.
Hyphens in URLs: Usage of hyphen in URLs is allowed and it can act as a good word differentiator in lieu of the standard space between words. So if you have more than one keyword, in your URL you can use the hyphen to separate the keywords e.g . science-fiction. But do not go beyond including two hyphens in the URL.
Meta Tags: Metadata is information about data. The tags provides metadata about the HTML document. Meta tags are used to provide information about the site. Metadata is not displayed on the page, but it will be read by the search engines, browsers, etc. So, the next task is to include information about your site/page on the Head section of your code. The Title "Meta tag" is visible to visitors in the search engine results and hence it is obvious that you cannot afford to leave it blank (This is the page title and not the website title or the brand name we talked about earlier). Next are the Keyword and Description Meta tags. The keyword Meta tag contains all your keywords separated by a comma. You can put any number of keywords but be sure to limit it so as not to indicate a complete lack of clarity on your website content. All the keywords put together should show the theme of the page. The keywords entered here must exist somewhere on the page or else the search engine may penalise the page in the ranking system. Therefore, do not put irrelevant keywords in this Meta tag. More about keywords will be discussed in the chapter SEO for Content.
The Meta tag description is used to describe your website in a couple of sentences, a snippet. Earlier search engines used this information to display the summary of your page in the search results. As the search engines got smarter they started displaying the sentences where the words searched for were. Make your descriptions unique for each page. Search engines optimisers as well as the search engine experts might tell you to ignore these because of their purported insignificance. However, it's best that you do not avoid these Meta tags.
Use of Graphics: Text in graphics should be totally avoided. The search engines do not read graphics, so do not waste valuable space on a page. If the search engine finds no actual text on the page it is going to ignore the page completely and this may even earn you negative points. Not only that, the graphics also make a page heavy and search engines again hate going through heavy files. Ideally, keep your page size less than 40 to 50 KB. Exceptions will be there, of course, but do not make it a habit to make your pages very large in size. But keep in mind that we are talking about file size of individual pages and not the website. The website can be of any size and there is no restriction as long as you are not doing it just to game the search engine.
The age of the site is also a factor that is taken into consideration in ranking a website, so do not get disheartened if initially the results are not very encouraging. Give it time and you will see your website moving up provided you are meeting the other criteria being discussed in this book. Here, we should also mention that if you are frequently changing keywords or the theme of your pages you get negative points.
Tables: Use of tables does not cause any problem per se with the site. However, it has implications on the search. Since search engines read from left to right, if your table has serial numbers your important text is pushed down which has a direct bearing on the page evaluation. However, if you do have to add tables then they should be placed near the bottom of the page.
Header Tags: Header tags are used to define your headings and sub-headings in the content. Their size depends on the tag you chose from h l to h6, h l being the largest. Besides h1, which should normally be used only once on a page for the main heading of the page, the other tags can be used as many times as required, as long as you do not put the entire content in the header tags. The header tags can be specified in your CSS and you do not have to worry about it on every page. Try not to put two header tags next to each other and do not use a header tag just for the search engine. Use the normal rules of using sub-headings in the content. The sub-heading is used for splitting and organising a big article and to convey the central idea of the forthcoming content.
Frames: Do not use frames for your website. Most search engines do not handle frames well. In addition, there is the problem of page URL being same for multiple pages. This only adds to the chaos in the indexing process because the search engine finds different text and keywords in the same URL. There are times when the search will take the visitor directly to the frame as indicated in the link and the visitor may not have any navigation buttons available on the page.
The Robots Exclusion Protocol: Use a robots.txt file to indicate instructions for the spider. You can specify which all pages are not to be visited or indexed. Form pages like registration and login pages can be excluded since you will already have the links to these pages elsewhere on your website. The spider does not get any information from these pages. You need to understand that the individual ranking of each page in your website is contributing towards the ranking of your entire website. Therefore, blank pages or irrelevant pages just might end up pulling your overall ranking down. Moreover, such files are eating up into your site's "crawl budget", i.e. the time allotted for the spider to crawl your website. In case you still do not want to exclude any page on your website, still make it a point to have the robots. txt file. That tells the robot that you want it to see all the pages and that you have not just overlooked the file. Leave the robots. txt file blank or you can put two lines:
Site Navigation: Interlinking of pages contributes to easier site navigation. All your important sub-pages should be interlinked. Since the home page is the most important page, it should have the links to all the important pages, unless your website is too big in which case you can put the sub-sections under the home page. A home page with hundreds of links will only end up interfering with the usability of the site. The linking should be provided in plain text and the anchor text should have the keywords of the target page. For the same reasons as inclusion of robots exclusion protocol, it is advisable to use the rel=nofollow attribute on links leading to pages you do not want to be ranked. Another recommended practise is the use of what is commonly known as breadcrumb navigation. This comprises your pages having a row of links to other pages of your website on top or bottom of the page so the user can easily navigate to your other pages or your home page. This may also be in the form of back or next buttons.
URL Path: Ideally the URLs follow the directory structure by adding the sub pages in front of the other. So a page three levels down would look like http:/some-site/service/seo/pricing. In such a case if someone is to remove the /pricing" part of the URL in the address bar, he would reach the SEO page. Now consider a URL like http:/some-site/service/seo/2010/news. Does the 2010 page exist on your website, because if the user drops the "mews" part from the URL with the hopes of finding more generic content and if the page does not exist the user will get a 404 error page stating Page not found.
404 Error Page: There will be instances when users will come across a non-existent page on your website because of a broken link or by typing the wrong URL. In such cases, they get the "404 Page does not exist" error. It is a good idea to make a custom 404 error page which not only informs users of the unreachable page but also has a link to your home page or some other interesting pages on your website. Make sure that your web server is configured to provide a 404 HTTP status code so that the search engines do not index non-existent pages, which can be a big blow to your rankings.
Link Integrity: To start with, your website will have links to other pages and as the size grows and more content is added the links will grow in numbers. Broken links attract a penalty from the search engines, therefore you or your Webmaster has to ensure that the link integrity is maintained throughout the website and regular checks may have to be carried out. There are tools available for this and they will be discussed later in the book.
Cloaking: Do not cloak any of your pages. Cloaking is the technique of showing different content to the search engine spider than what is being shown to visitors. Search engines are on to this practice and regularly check pages for cloaking. So avoid it unless you want to get banned in a hurry.
Landing page optimisation: The landing page is the one where your visitor lands after clicking on your link on the search engine result page. If you remember, the search engine result provides a summary or an extract of the page. Now you have to deliver to the visitor what the search engine description said you would. This will go a long way in keeping the visitor longer on the website. There is going to be a constant tussle in your mind whether to give importance to usability, content or relevancy and it is a certainty that there will be a trade-off amongst the three to deliver the best results for your website. If yours is a business website, it is the conversion rate which should be given importance. That is, if a certain keyword is getting you a lot of traffic and the other one is getting you lesser traffic but more conversions or sales, it is obvious which one you should go for.
Accessibility: Accessibility means making websites accessible to people with all abilities and disabilities. All search engines care for accessibility. Moreover, it would be rude to people with certain disabilities if you do not provide ways for them to understand what you have put on your page. Accessibility options may include, but are not limited to, facilitate use of screen readers (software which helps visually challenged people to hear what is on the screen), enlargeable images and text, sign language versions in videos, etc. Therefore, wherever possible try to enhance accessibility. Simple things like providing alternate text for images, underlining hyperlinked text, etc., can make a lot of difference.
Internal Site Search: Make sure you give a facility to your visitors to be able to search within your website for content once they have landed there. Google site search, a facility provided by Google, can be incorporated in any website or blog. This affords a chance to your visitor to not only explore further but also to search your website in case the landing page does not cater to his needs.
SEO and website security: Website security by itself is important and does not require any explanation, but in context with SEO, the website security assumes major significance. It takes months, if not years, for a website to realise their SEO goals. A hack can lead to a drop in traffic or loss of content, both of which will affect your rankings in the ensuing period. The hard work and efforts of months will be put to waste in a few seconds. So make sure that your website is secure.
User generated content: Explore the feasibility of implementing pages for user generated content in your website. This could be in form of product reviews discussion forums, and so on. This will give your website additional content in the user's language, which will get in the more popular synonyms for your keywords.
Comments: Comments are the best way to indicate to the search engines, as well as the visitors, that the page indeed is good and engaging. Therefore, make sure that you provide a space for comments, by your readers, in your Blog or website. Also, do remember to reply to any comments you get because the engagement will open doors to further vistas like the visitors providing a link to your page on their Blogs/websites.
Site Map: A site map is a tool for making a hierarchical and categorised list of all the pages of your website. If you have a site map, it becomes easier for search engines to find all the pages on your website. Devote a page to Site Map and have a link for it on your home page. The file can be named Site Map and if you are using a text link put your keyword in there too.
Optimising a very large website which has dynamically generated web pages is not possible manually. So some kind of automation for optimisation is required wherein keyword theme, heading tags, title tags, descriptions, etc., can be generated by the software. This would require advanced knowledge of optimisation and programming and is certainly beyond the scope of this book.