We have worked with dozens of companies that say their web designers “know SEO” only to have to give them the bad news that we have to make significant changes to their sites just to get them properly indexed in Google, much less ranking well. Below is a short list of some top issues to consider when designing a web site that’s optimized for search engines. These tips are too important not to share with the programmer and the designer. You should always have:
- SEO-friendly programming such as clean URLs (i.e., site.com/keywords-separated-with-hyphens.html) and clean CSS-driven code that loads fast (or you may have to redo it later).
- Important content placed not too far down in the file structure. If you have content at yoursite.com/folder/foldername/another-folder/wow-this-is-too-far-down/name-of-yourpage.html it will be seen as less important. (Bet your programmer didn’t tell you that one!)
- Home page HTML text that uses your main general keyphrases and related keywords.
- Headlines that clearly express what the page is about with keywords woven in.
- Scraplines (mini statements similar to a tagline but not connected to your logo) that express benefits and your unique value proposition.
- Calls to action—clearly visible actions you want people to take. Don’t design your site before you’ve mapped these out for each stage of the buying cycle.
- Persona development and content targeted to demographic/persona segments. Make sure you are clear on the types of customers who will come to the site and build content into the design that lets them go down “aisles” made just for them.
- Credibility factors—awards, affiliations, testimonials, etc.
- Scan- and skim-friendly elements like bulleted and numbered lists.
- Useable navigation. If you have to use drop-down menus, use mega drop-down menus; Jacob Nielsen, the godfather of usability, says they are far superior to old-school drop-downs because they often contain images, icons, and/or well-thought-out bars of color to categorize the options. For more information, see useit.com/alertbox/mega-dropdown-menus.html.
- The ability to add more content into the navigation later by having enough high-level concepts in the initial design.
- A reasonable amount of text, even on the home page (ideally 300 to 500+ words when possible, and some SEOs prefer considerably more). If you have to go light on home page text, try to have at least one small paragraph with a heading above it, both of which use your main keyword.
- Use H1 and H2 tags on your pages to aid the search engines in finding out quickly what each page is about. The h1 to h6 tags are used to define HTML headings. h1 defines the most important heading. h6 defines the least important heading.
- Text links to other pages (interlinking) using keywords, not simply “read more” or “click here.” It is incredibly powerful from an SEO and conversion perspective if you link to subpages on your site from within your own copy. Links that are in the context of paragraphs as opposed to in footers, navigation, and sidebars, etc., are loved by the search engines.
- Implement tracking and reporting (such as Google Analytics and Clicktale.com), even on a site you are about to redo, so you have data on what customers have been doing and what content they like. If a page that is visited often on your site is hard to get to, add better calls to action on it in the new site design. Highlight that page and stop burying it!
Did your web designer ever suggest things like this?