Search Innovation Marketing
April 1, 2004
Search engine optimization for today's search engine robots requires that sites be well-designed and easy-to-navigate. To a great degree, organic search engine optimization is simply an extension of best practices in web page design. SEO's relationship with web design is a natural one. By making sites simple and easily accessible, you are providing the easiest path for the search engine robots to index your site, at the same time that you are creating the optimum experience for your human visitors.
This approach ties well into the notion of long-term search engine marketing success. Rather than trying to "psych out" the ever-changing search engine algorithms, build pages that have good text and good links. No matter what the search engines are looking for this month or next, they will always reward good content and simple navigation.
Search engine robots are automated programs that go out on the World Wide Web and visit web pages. They read the text on a page and click through links in order to travel from page to page. What this really means is that they "read" or collect information from the source code of each page. Depending on the search engine, the robots typically pick up the title and meta description. The robots then go on to the body text of the page in the source code. They also pay attention to certain tags such as headings and alt text. Search engine robots have capabilities like first-generation browsers at best: no scripting, no frames, no Flash. When designing, think simple.
Creating search engine friendly design is relatively easy. Cut out all the bells and whistles and stick to simple architecture. Search engine robots "understand" text on the page and hyperlinks, especially text links. The relationship of SEO and web design makes sense when you start with good design techniques for your visitor. The easier the navigation and the more text on the page, the better it is not only for the visitor but also for the search engine robots.
Search engine robots may have difficulty reaching deeper pages in a website. Aim to keep your most important pages no more than one or two "clicks" away from your home page. Keep your pages closer to the root instead of in deeply-nested subdirectories. In this way you will be assured the optimum indexing of your web pages. Just as your website visitor may become lost and frustrated in too many clicks away from your homepage, the robots may also give up after multiple clicks away from the root of your site.
If there are so many problems with indexing, how will you ever make it work?
The use of static pages is the easiest way to ensure you will be indexed by the search engine robots. If you must use dynamically-generated pages, there are techniques you can use to improve the chances of their being indexed. Use your web server's rewrite capabilities to create simple URLs from complex ones. Use fixed landing pages including real content, which in turn will list the links to your dynamic pages. If you must use querystrings in your page addresses, make them as short as possible, and avoid the use of "session id" values.
When using Flash to dress up your pages, use a portion of Flash for an important message, but avoid building entire pages using that technology. Make sure that the search engine robots can look at all of the important text content on your pages. You want your message to get across to your human visitor as well. Give them enough information about your product to interest them in going the next step and purchasing your product.
Got imagemaps and mouseover links? Make sure your pages include text links that duplicate those images, and always include a link back to your homepage.
Use a sitemap to present all your web pages to the search engine robots, especially your deeper pages. Make sure you have hyperlink text links on your page, and a sentence or two describing each page listed, using a few of your keyword phrases in the text.
Remember that the search engine robots "read" the text on your web page. The more that your content is on-topic and includes a reasonable amount of keyword-rich text, the more the search engine robot will "understand" what the page is about. This information is then taken back to the search engine database to eventually become part of the data you see in the search engine results.
Last of all, it is very important to test your pages for validation. Errors from programming code and malformed html can keep the search engine robots from indexing your web pages. Keep your coding clean.
The best way to assure that your pages will be indexed is to keep them simple. This type of architecture not only helps the search engine robots, but makes it easier for your website visitors to move throughout your site. Don't forget to provide plenty of good content on your pages. The search engine robots and your visitors will reward you with return visits.
Daria Goetsch is the founder and Search Engine Marketing Consultant for Search Innovation Marketing, a Search Engine Optimization company serving small businesses. She has specialized in Search Engine Promotion since 1998, including three years as the Search Engine Specialist for O'Reilly Media, Inc., a technical book publishing company.
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