When it comes to SEO, most people agree that the most important things a site can have is high quality content and strong inbound links. These are the things the search engines are looking for when determining your ranking and and deciding if your site is the one that is going to meet their searcher’s needs.
However, much like how the wrapping on a present affects what the recipient thinks of it, the design of a site can greatly affect how search engines perceive it. As such, it’s important to weigh SEO into a site design before implementing it.
Unfortunately though, there is a lot of disagreement as to what constitutes a good SEO-friendly design. Still, there are a few rules that seem to be almost completely agreed upon and they are all rules that you should apply in your site design.
Though it may not be critical that your site be 100% HTML/CSS/etc compliant, you definitely want it to be free of any obvious mistakes or major problems. Non-compliant code can trip up search engines as they try to index your site and hinder them from adequately spidering your content. This in turn has an effect on your SEO and can bring down the rankings of your site. So you’ll want to make sure to eliminate any kind of potential issues.
Invalid code can also cause issues for users trying to access your site from different browsers. You’ll need to make sure that your website will work and load properly in all of the main Web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. When an invalid code issues cause problems in specific browsers, you’ll lose traffic due to those users not being able to access your site; this could also lead to a bad reputation for your site.
Use CSS When Possible
Not only does CSS make it easier to have valid, compliant code, but it means that there is less code on your page, which in turn raises the content/code ratio and also helps to reduce the file size of your pages. This makes indexing your site faster and cleaner for the search engines.
CSS is also great because it gives you greater control over the structure of your Web pages. Google likes pages that are well structured because it allows for more efficient indexing, which also helps to increase rankings. With CSS you can really let search engines know what’s most important on your Web pages and this really benefits your SEO.
Make sure that your page’s metadata, including title, description and keywords are filled in correctly. These elements, in particular the title, are critical to how a site is ranked and displayed in the search engines. Without the proper metadata, your content will more than likely never get seen or show up on a search engine. Unfortunately, none of these things can be efficiently auto-generated; they all must be done manullay. It will really take some time to get the hang of creating great titles, descriptions and keywords, but in the end it’s worth it.
Every site that is dynamically generated should include a sitemap that is automatically updated and resubmitted to Google as new content is added. Google Webmaster Tools, make it easy to upload your sitemaps and various plugins, such Google XML Sitemaps, make it easy to generate them. Sitemaps tell Googlebot about the structure of your site and helps to properly index your site more quickly and efficiently. This will then help you increase your search engine rankings and gain more traffic.
Avoid Flash, Images and Frames
Finally, it’s important to limit your use of things that the search engines can not read, or at least not read as well. Those include Flash, even though Google has been improving its indexing of such content, images, especially when simple text would do, and frames. Using any of these methods are sure to hurt your rankings and traffic. Good, readable text, both on the page and in the code, is always the best approach.
While flash is stylish and frames allow you to do some unique things on your site, neither one of them can be optimized properly with metadata. Images are okay if used sparingly and mixed in with relevant content. They are a great compliment to text and should be used in addition to text, but not in place of text. Using a full image for an entire Web page is a big no-no. Again, you cannot fully optimize images and to search engines your pages will just look empty. If search engines think your pages are empty, they will not be indexed at all and this will again hurt your rankings and traffic.
In the end, there really is no magic to creating good SEO-friendly Web design. It’s all about making sites that are easy for the search engines to read, attractive to visitors and present readers with the content they want to see.
It might seem like an impossible balancing act, but in reality it isn’t very difficult as long as one uses modern and accepted site programming techniques.