Recent studies suggest that more than 80% of new visitors to any web site get there as a result of a search engine query. If this study is to believed, it certainly suggests that working to get high rankings in the search engines might be the most effective thing you can do to bring traffic to your site.
The following 12 design tips will help you get started in optimizing your site’s search engine placement.
1. Design for Specific Search Engines – there are hundreds of different search engines, but for best results you should design your site to take full advantage of the search criteria of the big three – Yahoo, Google and MSN. If you can get high rankings in these three, you won’t need to worry about the other search engines. Knowing how these search engines rank sites (as well as why they will penalize a site) is important. The rules change often, but the tips below are the most current.
2. Know your target audience. Before you apply any of the tips below, do some research and find out what are the most likely key words and phrases your target audience will be searching for. In most cases, the key words or phrases won’t be your site name, but will be something related to the solution to a specific problem or the answer to a specific question. Knowing the question that will be asked is half the battle.
3. Use Meta tags. By now just about everyone knows about Meta tags. These are commands you can place in the html on your web page to help the search engines categorize what your page is about. The two most important Meta Tags are ‘Keyword’ and ‘Description’. The description Meta tag should describe what is on the particular page, and the keyword Meta tag should include the important key words from the page. Avoid using ‘fluff’ words and phrases as these will be ignored by the site.
Warning: If the keywords in the Meta keyword line are not found within the text on the web page, some search engines will penalize the page or simply not list it. This is done to prevent ‘meta tag’ spoofing.
My advice – have a different Meta description tag on every page. And be sure that keywords in the keyword tags are used on the page.
4. Optimize your Title tag. Many search engines give considerable weight to the html title tag on the page. It is the first element the search engine will scan and weight. Not including a title instantly reduces the search engine ranking your page will receive. When yo create a title tag, include keywords and write it to catch the attention of the users be scanning lengthy lists of titles in search engine results.
For higher ranking, make sure the title tag matches headline text on the page. And be sure to use a different title tag for each page on your site. (Pages with the same title tag will often be ignored.)
5. Use Keywords in page headlines. Page headlines are important – to your visitor as well as to search engines. Use short keyword phrases, including hot button words and phrases. Avoid ‘fluff’ and generic words.
My advice – use a strong headline on the page, and use the same headline in the title tag.
6. Use interesting text. Search engines actually count all the words on a webpage, then rank those words by frequency of use. The more often you use a word or phrase(up to a point), the higher you will rank with that word or phrase in the search engine. For that reason, be sure to include words or phrases that are likely to be searched for on your pages.
My advice – Keep your text short, on topic, and packed full of keywords. Avoid useless and meaningless words, and certain phrases that will place you in the penalty box.
7. Use the AlT tags on all images. Search engines are starting to index sites by the images found on the site. They accomplish this by looking at all the image tags on the page, and cataloging the ALT tags accompanying the image. Obviously if you don’t use the ALT tag, then images on your site won’t be properly cataloged. When using the alt tag, be sure to use a keyword or phrase describing the content of the image.
8. Use the Title tag on links. Search engines look at all text on the site, including the title tag on the links on your site. Most sites still don’t use the link title tag, so when you do, you gain an advantage. The link title should be a short keyword or phrase.
My advice – Check out how the pages on my site have a left navigation menu filled with department names. I try to make these names keywords for my site, and the link to the departments all make use of the title tag. Doing it this way means that the search engine ranks the department names twice. Once as text, and again as a Link Title Tag.
9. Provide a Link Trail. Search engines coming to your site follow the links on the front page that lead into your site. These links should provide a 2 level trail to all pages on your site. If you don’t provide a link trail, the search engines probably won’t find all your pages. (And even if you do provide a ‘link trail’ – if you use the same title tag and Meta tags on your pages, the search engine may ignore all the pages beyond the first one.)
My advice – check out how every page on my site has a one click link trail to any department on the site. You are never more than two clicks away from any page. Plus every page has at least 30 different link trails (through the departments) making it easy for visitors as well as search engine spiders to move through the site.
10. Avoid the Penalty Box. Search engines are getting smarter every day, and they will penalize a site if it violates search engine rules. These rules include:
Keyword spoofing – using keywords not related to site content
Keyword spamming – pasting hundreds of copies of the keywords on the page just to get high ranking
Numerous doorway pages – using hundreds of index pages that do nothing but point to the site
Link Spamming – submitting links to the 500,000 link submission services
Page Redirects – not necessarily a major penalty, but can cause loss of ranking
Frames on Main Page – not necessarily a major penalty, but can cause loss of ranking
Flash Movie on Main Page – not necessarily a major penalty, but can cause loss of ranking
My advice: Keep in mind that search engines are intelligent software. When they visit a page they try to determine what the page is about, relying primarily on the titles, headlines, text, links, and images on the page. That’s why it is important to focus on those elements, and avoid the ones that can put you in the penalty box.
11. Check for errors. Before you submit your page to the search engines, run the page through an html checker and a spelling checker. Search engines do check and take into consideration spelling and html errors, and will penalize a page that has too many of either.
My advice – take the time to do it right. If you get a poor ranking on a search engine it might be six weeks before the search engine comes back to re-rank you. Get it right before you submit to the search engines, and then keep it right so when the search engine returns, you will continue to get high rankings.
12. Manually submit the site. Don’t be tempted to use an automatic site submission program. They don’t work, and can get you penalized. Better to manually submit your site to the top search engines. Yahoo, Google, MSN.
My advice – Start with Google.com, then yahoo.com, and then MSN.com. Each has a place to register your site with their search engine.
This may seem a lot of work, but if you do it right and get high rankings, it will pay off.