Website Design for SEO
The Search Engine Optimization Perspective
If you do not have a website yet but planning on creating one, this is the best time to think about SEO. Whether you are planning a personal consulting site, a small business site or a corporate site - the principles of a proper website design for SEO remain the same.
Ironically, proper website design for SEO is not something most web designers know, although many claim they do. The good news is that those SEO principles for website design can be implemented into a new website with remarkable ease. But even redesigning your site for SEO need not be complicated or expensive, if done properly.
Main Web Design Principles for SEO
There are many SEO principles for proper web design, but not all of them are crucial. Not all of web design principles affect your website positioning on search engines. For example, W3C validation of your HTML code is, indeed, important. But there are dozens of websites with gunky HTML code that are still ranked very high on Google for their keywords. Similarly, robots.txt file is important for proper web design but not having it will not have a noticeable affect on your SEO. And there are other web design rules and principles that are important for proper web design but do not significantly affect your SEO.
As a small business owner looking to get a new website, you need to know the main web design principles in order to achieve top SEO in the first place and then maintain this top SEO in the future with the least amount of effort.
Top 10 web design principles for top SEO
- Use a content management system (CMS)
Without a content management system, SEO will require more time and effort to implement. Without a content management system, maintaining and growing your SEO will be very laborious.
- Do not lock yourself into a proprietary CMS offered by a web design firm
Use Joomla, Drupal or Word Press. We recommend Joomla because it is more scalable and more flexible WordPress and more user friendly than Drupal. For Joomla you can find a lot of useful SEO components and plugins specifically designed to enable speedy implementation of SEO into a website. In fact, Joomla SEO has a very strong support in the web design community.
- Do not use a Splash screen
If you must have a Splash screen, ensure that you place a link on that screen that search engines can follow to find your website's content. Search engines are robots, they can't "click" buttons. But they can follow hyperlinks.
- Do not use Frames, Flash or Ajax
If you must use Frames and Flash, ensure that your web designer implements proper coding around them to reveal your website's content to search engines. In past couple of years Google has made a lot of progress in understanding Flash, but Google still admits that they are still not very good at it. Ajax is a very convenient technology that allows web designers to present new content without reloading a web page. But it must be used sparingly, do not code your whole website in Ajax.
- Do not restrict access to your whole website
If your website contains information that you don't want general users to see, place this type of information in the restricted area on your website, do not lock the whole website. For top SEO, your website must have sufficient amount of content that search engines can find, scan, analyze, and then determine your rating.
- Create a tree-like navigation structure for your website
It is said that the files placed in the root directory are considered more important by search engines than those placed in sub-directories (categories and sections). But there is a strong evidence that suggests that having all files in the root directory deems the website less specialized. It is important to strike a balance: place a good number of important pages in the root but ensure that you have subfolders as well. It is not recommended to have more than three levels of depth in your website navigation structure, however. Three levels is plenty for any website (one category can have multiple sections). Whether you have two or three levels in your website navigation structure, the key is to include your main keywords in the names of all of them.
- Create a Site Map
If you use a content management system like Joomla, install a site map component and configure it to display Categories and Sections. Submit this site map to Google and verify that it has been accepted.
- Ensure good keyword density across main NAVIGATION and CONTENT elements on your web site
This is very important for SEO. Focus on inserting your keywords in the following elements (listed in the order of priority):
- Your domain name
Your top domain name is the highest level of the website hierarchy. Having your keywords in your website domain name is one of the best things you can do for top SEO. But if this is not possible, do not despair. SEO is a point-based system. If you can't get a a domain name with your main keyword in it, you can make up for this disadvantage by having more back links, for example.
- Your URLs (search engine friendly URLs)
Technically, we are not talking not URLs but URIs (universe resource locator vs. universe resource identifiers), but for the purposes of convenience we will use the term URL, as it seems that it has become the norm to do so. Google understands dynamic URIs, i.e. those with "?" and weird characters in them. So theoretically, there is no problem with a web design that does not have search engine friendly URLs. However, URLs are the second top level in the web hierarchy, the second only to your top domain name, so not using your keywords in this area means losing a lot of SEO value. In addition, it is also not user friendly to have a string of nonsensical characters displayed in the browser search bar.These days, search engine friendly URLs are the norm of proper web design for SEO.
- Page Title Tag and H1 tag
Next to the importance of your domain name and URLs come Page Title tags and H1 tags. This is where the art of SEO copywriting comes in. It is not always easy to insert and repeat your keywords on each page without sacrificing quality of your content. But if you were to chose between quality and top SEO, consider the fact that Page Title and H1 tags alone will not spoil users' impression of your content, so long as the rest of the content is useful and well written. But for SEO those two tags are imperative. Note that it is recommended to have only one H1 tag per page, but Google admits that there is no penalty for having more than one (as long as there is just a few of H1 tags per page and not dozens).
- Copy, Hyperlink anchors, H2 and H3 tags, "Alt" image tags, image file names, bulleted lists
Scatter your main keywords across these content elements and repeat them often enough without overdoing it. 10-15 repetitions per page of 500 words is plenty. The key is to scatter your keywords across all of these elements, not just one. And as was mentioned earlier, for top SEO you need to have sufficient amount of words on each page of your website.
- Include your keywords in META description tag and make the description META tag unique on each page
The description META tag is what Google displays on the search results pages right after the link and the Page Title tag. And research shows that web users actually do read them. It is, therefore, important to include your main keywords in every description META tag but in such a way so that the description sentence would also allure web users to click on your link. Note that even a slight difference in wording makes a tag unique for search engines. So focus on writing alluring description META tags and then insert your main keywords inside those sentences where it can be made appropriate. Yes, your sentence might sound a touch awkward, but this is where you need to balance SEO with marketing. Without SEO, users won't find you. Having a sentence that is just a touch different from a very well written sentence won't deter web users from clicking on your link, so a wise compromise between a meaningful and alluring description META tag and keywords for SEO is what you need to achieve. Do not insert more than 1-2 keywords per one description META tag.
- Your domain name
- Create SEO-friendly internal linking structure
Use your main keywords inside the anchor text of your websites' hyperlinks, all hyperlinks. Remember, an "href" is an "href", so every "href" adds to your SEO. Internal links do add a lot of SEO value, and they are totally under your control, so your website design needs to capitalize on this. Select several key pages on your website and link to them from every other page on your website. Using permanent main menus, side bars and footers provides a great opportunity for internal linking. But Google pays specific attention to links from inside your copy, so make sure you link to your key web pages as often as possible from withing the body of your page. The "heavier" the pages you link to most often, better it is for SEO. In fact, you'd want to create several "link bait" pages and link to them. A "link bait" page is a page that contains a lot of words, H tags, bulleted lists, hyperlinks, pdfs, images, and enhanced formatting. Such pages are assumed to be particularly useful (and it makes sense!), so they are viewed as more important by search engines. Whatever you do, do not overdo it (do not make the whole page in bold, do not include a whole paragraph inside the anchor text, etc. Think of how your visitors would see your page and use it as a silent "stop" sign when implementing SEO principles into your link bait pages.
- Create a website with many pages
Search engines need to rank you as an "expert" in your field. If you only have a few pages for users to read, it is not enough to be considered an expert. For top SEO, you need to ensure that you have a lot of good content on your website that would be useful to your visitors. Each page needs to have around 500 words on it with a good keyword density (i.e. repetitions of your main keywords and their synonyms). Do not over-repeat your keywords or else you can raise a "red" flag. 10-15 repetitions per page is plenty.
And above all, to achieve top SEO you need to build quality back links, but this is outside the scope of the website design for SEO topic.
Website Owner? Need to Learn the Basics of SEO
If you own a website, you need to learn at least the very basics of SEO. To help you learn about website design for SEO, we are offering custom webinars covering Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing and related topics. You can schedule a personal webinar or get a few people from your organization to attend at the same time. All webinars are custom-tailored, with examples and case studies for your field of interest. You don't need to have any technical knowledge of know anything about web design to get a good understanding of the SEO fundamentals.
Contact us to talk about your website and SEO needs. We are offering free 15-min consultations, and we will send you our website design plan for SEO free of charge.
Basic Website Features
- Attractive modular design with a modern look and feel
- 2-column & 3-column layout with plugin/plugout boxes on the margins to accommodate various functionalities
- Flexible dynamic main menu, adjustable on the fly (select from mega, moo, split, or CSS)
- Beautifully rotating top images for branding and messaging (not Flash, search engine friendly DHTML)
- Dynamic image slider for showcasing products or services (select from dropline, CSS, moo menu, mega, and split)
- Basic SEO (search-engine friendly URIs, Title tag, description & keywords META tags, H1 & H2 tags, image alt tags)
- User login functionality for restricted content or membership
- Contact registration form with Google map integration
- Search (Joomla quality)
- Blog with comments posting
- Newsletter subscription box, together with subscriber list management capability
- Online backup capability
- Advanced editing and formatting capabilities
- Additional modules & components can be installed on demand (i.e. Google Analytics tracking, e-commerce, PayPal, etc).