Web Design & Search Engine Optimization Tips

Unlike retail storefronts where there are plenty of foot traffic, websites & e-commerce shops will not be discovered without marketing efforts.

These days just about every person and company has a website up on the internet. Saying "everyone" might be a bit of an overstatement. In essence, blogs such as Facebook profiles can be considered a website too. Although lacking much of the customizations compared to standalone sites. Just about every topic imaginable, can be found in the never-ending cyber-space. With all of the information available and the sheer amount of exposure of the internet, it is a given that more and more people are having their own site designed and optimized for the highest rankings in search engines.

The Elements of a Well Designed Website

What makes a Web Site well designed?
  • User friendly navigation and interface.
  • Clean layout and unobstructive placement of images and other content.
  • Typography
  • Content

We will first be discussing these 4 factors.

User Friendly Navigation and Interface

How users move around your site

I'm sure just about everyone has visited one of those sites that just made you cringe. Sure, not everyone knows how to design - if they did, then a company like us would not be in business. But there are still things to keep in mind when designing the navigation.

A well designed navigation will assist your visitors in getting the information quickly, and move thorough each sections seamlessly - without getting lost. Simple enough, yes? But this is something alot of designers fail at.

Before designing the navigation, most people ask themselves if they should use frames, plain html links, javascript based, Flash enabled, and etc. Most of the navigations designers prefer to use isn't suitable for 100% of the internet users. Some people disable javascript and/or doesn't have the latest Flash plugin. If one of those users visit your site, they will basically be stuck within that one page.

So if you decide to use such technologies to design your navigation, make sure to provide the visitors with an alternative method of navigating through your site. For example, one method would be to show standard html navigation if the latest Flash plugin is not detected. That way, both your visitors and search engine bots will be able to navigate through your website.

Afterall, you have created the website for a reason. You have things to say, and you want people to hear (see, read)it. Always try to keep in mind the chances that some users might not be able to properly view the website.

Clean Layout

And Unobstructive Placement of Images & Content

For most websites, it is best to keep the layout simple. Overly complicated layouts are a pain for most people to view. I'm sure you wouldn't want your first time visitors to leave your site with a headache, do you? I have personally visited certain websites (which I won't mention, ahem) that I ended up leaving with an epilepsy seizure (almost, just almost).

It is best to keep your content and menu items grouped into sections. Navigations should always be in the one or two places where it's most convenient for the visitors. Content should be placed where it is most easily viewed. Images and those cool little Flash animations shouldn't distract the users from being able to view the text. Never over-do it.

Everything is fine in moderation, keep that in mind.

The Importance of Typography

Afterall, visitors need to read what you write no?

Most people visiting your site is doing so because of certain information they're seeking. Granted, some may be just visiting because they saw the website address on your business card and they're just bored out of their mind. But if you have some interesting content, most of your visitors would be from search engines and other referral links.

You have information that people want, so it is imperative you display it properly. You really don't want visitors straining their eyes trying to read from your website. Never use non-standard, in other words - funky, ugly, weird, squiggly (you get the point), fonts. Try to keep your fonts "standard". Generally, the standard fonts would be Arial, Geneva, Helvetica.

Another reason why, is that fonts on the web are limited. In order for everyone to view the site as you had intented is to use a font that is available (installed) on their local machine. So be very careful when choosing the fonts to use. Selecting your favorite font sometimes can look perfectly fine on your computer, but may be somewhat different on everyone else's.

If you must use alternative non-system fonts, look into utilizing Google Fonts

Content is King

Without content, a website fails

Although last in the list, it is the most important. No matter how great your design is, how well your navigation helps people "navigate", how great your fonts are - none of that matters if you don't have the content to back it up. You need to have something that someone wants. The internet is quite massive, so I'm sure you can find something that others will find interesting. This is something that's totally upto you and something I can't really give much advice about.

Now that I've explained the few main factors of a well designed website, let us talk a little bit about your other visitors - The Search Engines.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The dos and don'ts

The best and easiest way to give exposure to your website is through search engines such as Google. A search engine basically crawls through all of the internet and indexes the sites/pages it finds according to relevance.

Try it out! Goto google.com and type in any word and be prepared to be amazed. When I'm bored, I type in random letters into Google and see if I find anything interesting.

So, how do we optimize a website for search engines? Well, this subject has to be one of the most discussed and debated topics. There are alot of opinions and views floating around. we never say any of them are wrong. The below are from our views and perspective. But we're pretty sure most people would agree. *(end disclaimer)

The basics apply to all search engines, but we'll be focusing on Google. Why? Because it's the most popular and widely used.

What affects Google search rankings
  • Title tags - Obviously, the title of the web page.
  • The domain name and the names of the pages.
  • Incoming links from other external sites.
  • Content, content, and more content.

There are other factors Google take into place when ranking website, but the above are the most common ones.

Before you embark on your journey on search engine optimization, think of a few keywords that best describe your site. Also bear in mind which keywords people will use to get to your site. If you are selling something, think as a customer - not as the seller.

Come up with 2-3 main keywords. Those are the ones that you think will be most beneficial as targeted traffic. Then think of some sub-keywords, the "not so important" ones. These could be phrases that contain your main keywords, or other words that best represent your content.

Title of Your Pages

Now, the title of the pages are something that most people brush off. But it may be one of the most important factors in the placement of your site in the search engine. You want your title to have the keyword that represents your content. Let's say you're designing a website about shrimps. A bad title would be something like this:

"SHRIMP, PINEAPPLE SHRIMP, LEMON SHRIMP, COCONUT SHRIMP, PEPPER SHRIMP, SHRIMP SOUP, SHRIMP STEW, SHRIMP SALAD, SHRIMP AND POTATOES, SHRIMP SHRIMP"

Now, this is called keyword stuffing - and it is frowned upon by search engines. Believe it or not, such titles won't get your good rankings. Just because you repeat the word shrimp over and over, doesn't make your site more important. Google is much smarter than that. It uses pretty complex algorithms to analyze your site and its contents - and can pretty much know if it is relevant or not.

When thinking of titles, it's best to be as specific as possible. You don't want to choose words that are too popular (yet). I recommend you to use phrases that contain your keyword. So if one of the pages in your weloveshrimpsyay.com is about shrimp salad recipes, you'd want to make your title something along the lines of this:

"Tasty Shrimp Salad Recipes"

Although you might want to make the title a tad more descriptive, you get the point.

Domain Name and File/Directory Name & Structure

If you haven't purchased a domain name yet, think very carefully first. If it's possible, it's best to have a domain name that includes your main keyword. Your domain name doesn't have to be your company name - unless the name is widely recognized, but if that was the case - you'd already have a website by now.

Also, actual file names and directory names & structure has some effect on search engines. If your website has many different pages, it is good practice to organize them into different directories. But make sure to name those directories appropriately. For example, with the shrimp website we talked about earlier - a well thoughtout directory structure would be something like:

www.weloveshrimpsyay.com/shrimp-salad/recipes/

Also for the filename, try to keep it descriptive and relevant. Do not use random letters and numbers. Remember, search engines take any context where the keyword would be in consideration. Some have more importance while other won't. But every little bit helps when it comes to optimizing for search engines.

Incoming & Outgoing Links

Try to find websites offering relevant information and ask them to link to you. If you're not a high-traffic website yet, you may have to either pay them or link them back. It's better to have your site linked one way, than to have a link out to them also - which is called a reciprocal link. But try not to link and/or get linked from suspicious website and sites that aren't relevant to the information on your website.

Having a bunch of unrelevant outgoing links (links from your site pointing to an external source) will negatively impact your site. Always try to link to places that have direct relevance to your website's content.

The Rel="NOFOLLOW" Tag

The rel="nofollow" tag is something that was really meant for spammers. I'm sure you've seen spammers that comment on popular blogs with their advertisement links. So basically, without the blog owner's intention - the website link that was spammed ends up receiving a free incoming link. Which in turn, help their site move up the ranks AND end up negatively impacting yours. The rel="nofollow" alleviates that problem in ways that a search engine like Google would ignore (as in not giving any credit in ranking) those links that contain the tag.

Initially meant to thwart spammers, certain webmasters are taking advantage of this tag. For example, you may request a link exchange to a relevant website. You place their website link on your page, and they do the same. You'll be giving them a legitimate link, while they'll be cheating you with providing a link that gives no credit for search engine rankings. While not all search engines take this tag into consideration, some claim to but doesn't work as it should - Google takes it into consideration fairly well.

So how do you find out if they're using such tags to cheat you? First, goto the page that has your link, then click on the "Page" on IE (or "View" on Firefox), then clicking on "view source". Holding the control button on your keyboard then pressing the "F" key will bring up the search box. Search your domain name. If you see the rel="nofollow" tag on the enclosing link - like this:

<a href="yourdomain.com" rel="NOFOLLOW">

then you're not getting any credit for that link.

Link Exchange Sites

If you search around for websites to place your link in, you'll come across certain sites that offer a great amount of link exchanges. I don't want to really get to deep into this topic, but those sites are generally a bad idea. In most cases, it can negatively impact your rankings. So be very careful.

Content

If you have plenty of relevant and useful content, then you really don't have to worry too much about search engine optimization. I said "too much", not, "at all". You'd still want to optimize your overall structure and the content as much as possible. But with enough content, your job will be much easier.

Google takes many factors into consideration when analyzing your websites content. It'll scan through all of your text and see how much keywords are there in relative to the content. So if you're trying to optimize your site for a keyword such as "cute kittens", the keyword to content ratio shouldn't be too low nor too high. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all optimal "keyword density" percentage. But one rule of thumb: if the content is starting to sound redundant with too many of the same keywords, you should tone it down.

Just remember to use the keyword in moderation. You don't want to make Google think that you're stuffing your keyword everywhere. Keep in mind that as much as people won't visit your site if you don't provide them with the content they want, search engines will not consider your site highly. Have plenty of relevant content to keep the visitors and search engine bots happy.

One Last Thing

PageRank is not as important as people make it out to be. Having a higher pagerank doesn't necessarily give you better ranking in SERP (search engine result page). Unless you care for the bragging rights, don't worry yourself too much over it.

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