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Designing Your Website (Part 3) - Search Engine Optimisation

Web site Design : Basic Considerations | Web Site Content | Search Engines | Our Services

This may seem like stating the obvious, but if you want to get people to look at your website, having found plenty of content to appear on your website, you need to get it listed by the search engines and a high ranking within the searches.  It is fairly easy to get a search engine to list your website, however, you need to ensure that it stands out amongst the other 1000+ results when people conduct a search relevant to your business.  There are therefore certain rules which you should try to adhere to.

We can provide a search engine optimisation service for your site, but bear in mind that it is pretty much a full time job, maintaining any website and ensuring that even minor changes do not affect your search engine rankings.

The reason why you have to adhere to these rules is that many search engines use a "robot" which is a program which constantly goes from link to link on web pages in order to try and find new pages to add to the search engine databases.  There are also search engines which require the information to be manually added to their database (or directory), but they still use similar rules in order to decide which web pages should appear at the top of any search results.

Although the exact methods used by search engines in order to rank pages and decide which should appear at the top of search results remains a closely kept secret in many regards, these simple rules can increase the visibility of your website.  At the end of the day, no matter how flashy and attractive your website is, with many search terms returning several thousand results; just how close you get to the top of those results can mean the difference between your business being a success or a complete failure.  Ideally you need to ensure that your site is ranked on the first page of relevant search results.

The Rules for Getting Your Site Noticed

  1. Always get your website pages checked by a decent proof reader - crucial spelling mistakes may mean that your website is never associated with certain search phrases!!  This also provides an opportunity for a third party to comment on the layout and content of your website, plus if you have one or two obvious spelling mistakes on a website, then this is likely to deter visitors.  It is also important to have your webpages checked on more than one web browser, since not everyone uses just Microsoft's Internet Explorer.   We have come across a couple of websites which would display happily in one browser, but appeared as a blank page in another web-browser (due to an error in the HTML).  We have also recently found that some websites are falling foul of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP - one site for example, displays only the source code for the website under Service Pack 2, whereas it appears to work quite happily on earlier versions of Windows XP (this is due to the tighter security features implemented in Service Pack 2)..

    Also remember that once your website is up and running, you need to ensure that all of the links are kept up to date and that the information is kept fresh and relevant.   We have been asked to proof-read websites where we have found that prices which have been altered several months previously are still stated at the old rates on some pages which leads to customer confusion and undermines their confidence in the website.  Trading standards also take a dim view of this if it is a regular occurrence.  This can be overcome by the use of Perl programs which serve the changeable information on a webpage using a database and template.  We ourselves have written similar code to serve our guestbooks, as well as Perl internet robots to check the validity of website links contained in a database based upon user defined criteria.
     

  2. Ensure that every page on your website includes a HTML title, description and keywords meta tags which are relevant to your site and to the text on that page.  Titles and descriptions should be kept fairly short and do not attempt to repeat keywords or phrases within each section as search engines tend to look on this as a form of spam.  However, do try to write a descriptive title and description (both of which should contain your major keywords), as these are shown in the search results of many engines.  Don't forget to also try to use each keyword within the text on that page and remember that each keyword can consist of more than one word, provided that each keyword is separated by a comma (we have come across numerous websites where they use spaces alone to separate keywords, resulting in a search engine robot seeing the whole phrase as one keyword).

    There is no real merit in using the same title, keywords and description for every page on your website - you should write ones which are specifically related to the content on that page.  It can be all too easy to use a standard template and find that a page has keywords which are totally irrelevant to that page.

    Further, the page title is displayed at the top of the browser window (in most cases) and used when if a visitor adds the webpage to their favourites.  We all know the frustration of returning to our favourites list to find that several entries merely say "untitled".

  3. If you use <frames> on your website, you need to beware that some search engine robots cannot handle links within frames and will not be able to load the page contained within that frame.  You are also cutting out a substantial proportion of internet users who do not have an internet browser capable of handling frames. You should always include some text within the <noframes> ... </noframes> section, even if it is just a general description of your website and a link to a site map (providing links to every page on your site).

    You also need to remember that if a search engine actually indexes the page which would normally appear within a frame, a website visitor may be lost without any links to the rest of your website.  You should therefore ensure that each frame page contains a link back to your original site and also consider using the following bit of JavaScript to ensure that the page is forced into the actual frameset:
    if (top.location.href == self.location) 
    {
                 top.location.href = "URL of your frame file";
    }

  4. Avoid using free web-site hosting services.  They tend to result in slow loading times, problems with frames and additional advertising which may not be relevant to your website or visitors.  Even worse, the advertising can destroy the look of your site, or even be of interest to your visitors and take their attention away from your site !! With good quality low cost web-hosting packages available from £1pm, this should not be considered for a commercial website.

  5. Do not rely just on graphics for your web-pages.  We have seen one particular website where every page consisted of various beautiful graphics (even the text was stored as a graphic).  Search engine robots cannot see the page in the same sense as a human - they need text to read and digest, this means that they cannot generally understand images (GIF, JPEG, PNG, etc.), flash movies and banners,. JavaScript and other script languages, or other multimedia file formats.  

    You must also remember that there are even some people who still browse the internet with text-only browsers.  You should therefore at least add some descriptive text to every graphic by using the ALT HTML tag. Graphics also increase the time taken for web-pages to load and many visitors will be put off if they are waiting an age for a page to load - although you may decide to use this to your advantage, by using some promotional software to earn you some revenue, whilst also providing your visitors with an invaluable service, such as the following:

*** Is this Page Taking Too Long To Load??  Then Consider Onspeed's Internet Accelerator !! ***

ONSPEED - The Aternative To Broadband - Quicker Internet Access over dial-up

  1. If your website uses a database to generate pages - ensure that this database is kept up to date and all of the links remain valid.  You also need to remember that this database is one of the main resources of your website and probably of the most interest to potential visitors.  It is therefore essential to ensure that the database itself can be indexed by the internet search engine robots.  You can either do this by creating a series of static HTML pages for every single database entry, which are refreshed every time that the database is updated (or even whenever a search engine robot crawls your website), or by using an alphabetical index which includes links to the script which generates the pages, for every entry within the database - see www.northcote.co.uk (a free Listed Company Information Portal) for an example of how this works in practice (click on the alphabetically tag). 

  2. The more pages on your website the better - we have seen one website which used two variants of the website name (a .com website address and a .co.uk website address).  The .com website consisted of a single page which provides contact details and a link to the main .co.uk website.  It is highly unlikely that the .com website page will appear anywhere near the top of any search results, due to the lack of information and the fact that the website only has one actual page.  If you want to use two or more domains, then each should ideally be maintained as a mirror of the original.  Also try to keep the filenames for each page and pictures meaningful and relevant to content.

  3. Search engines tend to put older pages towards the bottom of its listings, on the presumption that the information may now be out of date.  It is therefore imperative that you keep your website up to date and regularly updated.  Remember that it is not enough to just resave your page in order to alter the date that it was last amended.  Search engines are likely to check for changes in text and page size as well.

  4. Ensure that your front page includes details of the services / goods which you offer - we were surprised when we viewed one website to note that their front page did not even mention half of the matters included in the keywords listed in the HTML.  If you want to promote a certain keyword to be linked to your services, then you need to include details of that keyword on your front page as this is the first page which most visitors will see.

  5. Do not try to spam Search Engine Robots - with millions of webpages to look at, search engine robots are becoming more intelligent, and will look for various attempts on webpages to include the number of times that certain keywords or phrases appear on that webpage.  For example, repeating the same phrase many times within the title, description or keyword list itself will be seen as spam.  Another common fault here is to include text which has the same colour as the background for the webpage, or which appears in an extremely small font size - both of these methods are an attempt to include a large amount of text within a page which would make no sense whatsoever to the human reader, but which, if present, would increase search engine rankings.  Most robots will see this as an attempt to spam the search engine and penalise the web page as a result.

  6. Try to increase the number of websites which link to your own and provide a common text to be used for the links.  This will help to ensure that your website is found more easily by the 100s of search engine robots which crawl the internet every day, whilst at the same time, reinforcing the strength of a particular phrase (or keyword) associated with your website.  We use a program called Arelis to maintain links to our websites.

  7. Ensure that the first words of text on your website make sense - this may seem such a simple bit of advice, yet a search on many common phrases under a search engine will reveal various websites where the listing in the search result does not make any sense.  This is because various search engines include a summary of the first so many words on your website in their search results, rather than storing the whole of your webpage.

  8. Consider Creating a News Feed which other members can use on their website - this is fairly easy to achieve using an RSS file which is linked from your main pages.  Many websites are looking for up to date information for their website and this provides a good means of creating links to information on your own site, without too much effort. We have used one of these feeds to show the optimisation news below. A description of the RSS newsfeed format appears here.

  9. Finally, have a look at the website promotion tools which we recommend for actually ensuring that your website is submitted to the major search engines and gets noticed.

     

Top Tips

  • Consider your choice of webhost carefully - avoid free hosting or any host provider which may make your site unreliable or place it within a frame.

  • Ensure you adhere to HTML and accessibility rules - cater for text only browsers and those without java script or frames

  • Add relevant keywords, titles and descriptions to each page on your site.

  • Avoid spam and hidden words - this will result in your site being penalised

  • Adopt a good search engine optimisation strategy and stick to it.

  • Regularly check your site for errors, broken links and typing mistakes

  • Use Google tools, such as Google sitemaps to ensure that the cached version of your site indexed by their spider is always up to date.

  • Consider the advertising you offer on your site and the links other people place on their sites to direct traffic to your own.



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