Good SEO Web Design

I’m going to be teaching a class in how basic good web design principles affect search engine optimization rankings.  So, I’ve been thinking about that.

Since I’ve been designing web pages since the mid-90’s, what I will talk about here is pretty much second nature to me now and is,  I’m sure, nothing new to the many excellent experienced web designers out there.  But for those of you who are wondering if your code matches the SEO scrutiny, here are my basic principles.  I’ll be updating them as I think of more.

  1. Titles using the heading tag <h1>, <h2> etc., not a font size on a <p>.  Put your style on the <h> tag itself or define all <h> classes in your style sheet.
  2. Use those heading levels to show what’s in the site: the main topic, and each sub-topic.
  3. If you’re hiring an SEO expert, don’t bother too much with <title> tags, because s/he will put unique and good SEO titles on each page for you.  Just give your WordPress articles or pages good juicy titles and <h> headings.  But if you aren’t hiring an SEO expert, you’ll need a title that says what the page is about and is unique from all the other title tags in your site.  You will be penalized if you have several pages with the same title.  Watch out for software that does not allow you to uniquely title all your pages.
  4. Get the list of key words from the client (they will be searching for those phrases when the project is being tested ) and from the SEO expert, who should provide you with the results of their keyword research.
  5. Try to fit the keywords in the pages that you are writing, especially paying attention to the homepage.
  6. Internal links:  link keywords to other areas of the web site.
  7. Put a list of the various areas of the site after your site introduction with the link to the appropriate area being key words.  This may seem old fashioned but it tells the search engine and the user exactly where to find everything on the site.
  8. Always have informational pages on the site.  You can’t spend the whole site trying to sell to your user, whether that be your product, your service, or your point of view.  Search engines love information, so they give a lot of power to informational pages, something about your topic that makes you an expert.  These can be static pages, but now, in the era of Word Press, even more useful are…
  9. Blogs.  They are like informational pages but in a format that tells the search engines, “Hey, this site is having some action, it’s not just sitting there never changing.”  But that’s more for the SEO Expert to explain to the client or you.
  10. I leave meta tags and titling to the SEO expert.  What a relief.  But if not, fill them up with key words and phrases.  The description tag is very important.  Keep it to the point but full of key words.
  11. I fill in all the alt tags for photos, being sure to get in some key words in the process and often the name of the business if I think it will help in search results.  This is also a polite thing to do for those who are not using graphics to “see” your page, or for those who are vision impaired.  That’s the real use for the alt tags.
  12. Guide your user through the site.  Often, I watch users reading vigilently the entire home page, eager to get the information presented there.  But, when they get to the bottom, they just don’t know where to go next.  So, in my design, I try to guide them to the next logical step in their visit to the site.  Some users won’t use this at all, but some will really appreciate it.  Also good for SEO (see “6. internal links”).
  13. If possible, have a menu on the bottom as well as the top of the page.  One absolutely has to be text.  If the top menu is graphic, then the footer with text links is absolutely essential.  Use short linking words that don’t necessarily have to be the same as the top menu.  Key words again.
  14. Have every page accessible from every other page, especially the home page.  Do not have pages that are only accessible through other pages.

The really sad part of this all is that doing all the above used to be enough for a page to rise to the top of the search engines. But in the current market, you need help from a real SEO expert to give you that extra boost you need to get to the top of the search engines.  But good web design is also a key element in the SEO equation.  The two elements — good web design and SEO marketing –make the best partnership to have your web page rank where you think it should be.

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