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Written by Donald Nelson   

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A good looking and user friendly website is an extremely important asset to your success on the Internet. However without traffic, even a well designed site will not produce results for you. The best websites are those that are both attractive and easy to use by your human users, and at the same time, convenient for the search engine robots that are trying to find and collect data from your site.

Oftentimes a site that may look good to your eye has some design flaws that impair its search engine friendliness. Here are a few things to look for when designing new sites or optimizing an existing site.

1. Where does your first line of text begin? You may think, “that’s easy, the first line of text is right at the top?” If you view your web page using Notepad or the html view of popular editors you may be surprised to find that the first line of your actual searchable text may be pushed down, 100 lines or more, by long strings of java script and by the html code that defines your tables.

The higher your text appears in this html view of the site, the easier it is for the robot to find it and put it in the search engine data base. You can save space in your html code by copying your java script and placing it in an external file uploaded to your server. Instead of having 50 lines of java script commands in your html code, there will only be one line pointing to the separate file with the java script.

Similarly if you simplify your table structure, your searchable text will become more prominent. The left-hand navigation bar, for example, with its separate graphic elements each in its own row, may be a place where you can economize on your code by merging the rows into one cell.

2. Is your website graphics-predominant, at the expense of searchable text? If your site begins with a splash page, such as a lovely page-filling picture of the ocean and no text except, “enter here”, then you are wasting a big opportunity. Search engines consider your main page, the one you reach when you land at www.yourcompany.com, to be the most important page. Your main text with its important keywords should be on your first page. If you already have splash page, you should consider scrapping it altogether, or at least adding a paragraph with a powerful capsule description of your activity.

If your site has a flash-only first page then the text message on that page is not visible, except for what you are able to put in your title and description tags. Search engine robots cannot read the text message that has been put in the form of a flash movie. If you want to use flash, and also do well in search engine rankings it is better to make a hybrid page where the flash is surrounded by a normal html page with text. The text around the flash movie should be optimized so that the page ranks well in search engine queries for your important keywords.

3. Have you unknowingly rendered important text as a graphic? If your site is about “wireless widgets made in California” then you would want some prominent text near the top of the page with these words. You may already have it but the text has been changed into a beautiful gif or jpg graphic either by your designer or by your html editing program. Search engines will not give that nice-looking graphic the same importance as it would text written as an H1 or H2 header. Some popular html editors render entire paragraphs as gif graphic images. All the text that appears in the image becomes almost invisible to the search engines. I say almost invisible because you can always put an alt text for any graphic, however this alt text is not weighed as heavily as normal text set as bold or in headers. So, check your pages and make sure that your text is normal text and not an image.

4. Can Search Engines Follow Your Site’s Link structure? If your site employs a drop-down menu that is run with java script, then search engines may find your main page, but they won’t follow the links to your interior pages. Similarly if your navigation area is an image map, a graphic with “hot spots” that link to your various internal pages then the search engines cannot and will not find the other pages of your site. To get maximum traffic it is imperative to have as many of your pages as possible indexed in the big search engines. You can accomplish this by adding a text-based navigation area at the bottom of your pages or a site-map page with text links to all your interior pages.

If you pay attention to these design considerations, you can greatly improve your site’s chances of appearing near the top of search results.

About the Author

Donald Nelson is a web developer, editor, and social worker. He has been working on the Internet since 1995 and is the proprietor of A1-Optimization, http://www.a1-optimization.com, a firm providing search engine optimization, copywriting, reciprocal linking, and other web promotion services. He publishes a monthly ezine, A1-Web Promotion Tips, available at http://www.a1-optimization.com/newsletter.html

 
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