Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Posted in Web content and marketing, Web design

Tips to improve your web site's Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

A question that often comes up in my discussions with clients: "What can we do to get noticed by the search engines?"

Dozens of books have been written on this subject, so we won't try to cover every last point here.  Instead, let's do an overview.

First, perhaps the most important thing to getting your site well-indexed by search engines: good writing.  This means concise, well-structured content, written for your intended audience (not you—your customers), that contains keywords and keyphrases that your audience will use as search terms to find you. 

Unfortunately, given all the other aspects of web site design to consider, the actual writing of content can be an afterthought. This is a mistake.  No matter how attractive and usable your site, without carefully considered, engaging writing, your site will not reach its potential for search engine indexing, and you will not engage your audience.

Semantically Correct Content

What does this mean? It sounds annoyingly cerebral. Well, not really.  Essentially, semantically correct content refers to structuring your content in a logical way, using various levels of headers to indicate sections and subsections.  HTML, the code which sits behind every web page, has header tags ranging from <h1> to <h6>.  Using them properly to structure your content makes it easier for both search engines and your audience to understand your web pages.

Let's say we're writing about cooking classes.  A sample page's structure might look like this:

<h1>Latin American Cooking: Dishes by Country</h1>

<h2>Mexican Dishes</h2>

<h3>Huevos Rancheros</h3>

(Description of the dish.) 

<h3>Swiss Enchiladas</h3>

(Description of the dish.)

<h2>Brazilian Dishes</h2>

<h3>Feijoada</h3>

(Description of the dish.)

<h3>Rio Skirt Steak</h3>

(Description of the dish.)

...And so on.

 Of course, in between the header tags, you would add some relevant and engaging information about each dish.  Whether you are building your site in HTML, Dreamweaver, Expression Engine, or other software, you will have the means to do this.

Keyword and description tags

Also know as meta tags, these pieces of HTML should appear in every page of your site. They should be populated with keywords and a description that corresponds to the page.  For example, to create these tags for our sample page above, we could do this:

<meta name="keywords" 
content="latin american cooking,
mexican, brazilian, classes, dishes" />
<meta name="description" 
content="XYZ Cooking School presents
Latin American cooking classes:
learn to make the dishes of Mexico and Brazil." />

Notice the words in common between the "keywords" tag and the page outline above.

Question: How do I do all this? Do I have to write HTML?

No, you don't. Sites built by Versa Studio, and by other experienced web designers, will give you a user-friendly tool with which to create and manage your meta tags by simply typing them in to the appropriate fields.

Human-readable (and search engine-friendly) URLs

A URL, or web page address, in this form will be readable by both people and search engines, and indicate where a given web page falls within a site's organization.  For example, if you see:

http://finedining.com/wines/regions/napa-valley/

You can expect to be looking at a page about wines from the Napa Valley region.

By contrast:

http://finedining.com/wines.aspx?regionID=241

Doesn't tell you or a search engine what kind of content to expect.

Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Expression Engine can generate logical URLs like this automatically.

Minimize the use of Flash 

Macromedia Flash, a graphics and animation platform, is very popular for generating all sorts of screen fireworks. In some cases, the use of Flash is appropriate and useful.  However, in many other cases, Flash elements look cool but do not provide particularly useful information to search engines, nor to site visitors.  Search engines cannot read the contents of a Flash file.  Therefore, it is wise to limit the use of Flash, structuring your pages around graphic and text content, while using Flash for parts of the page rather than the page itself.

On a related note, consider whether your use of Flash is appropriate and effective for your business and your site's audience.  If you're going to the web site for a bank to check mortgage rates, do you really want to wade through flying text, photos fading in and out, and dance music?  Those elements might be cool, but what exactly do they have to do with the purpose of your visit?

By contrast, if you're make a web site for an art gallery or a music conference, such elements might be in the right place.

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