Search engine optimization has become very popular again. It seemed to be the next big thing a few years ago, but most website owners were discouraged by the results and began buying traffic instead. The term for this practice is actually called ‘SEM’ or ‘Search Engine Marketing’, and it often gets confused with ‘SEO’ or ‘Search Engine Optimization’. The reason is that for many years SEO companies pushed clients into signing PPC contracts or pay-per-click links to generate traffic from search engines, and boasted this as their SEO strategy. Although it does produce results, it comes at a large cost, and tracking is often highly unreliable. This means that you are paying for clicks with no guarantee that they will generate any business- your account is still charged, regardless.
Today, it has become more popular again to generate organic results from search engines and not pay as much for PPC results. This means that good SEO techniques have become critical in the success of a website’s Internet marketing plans. There are lots of factors that go into good SEO, but we’ll take a look at the design aspect of website SEO, as that is the first place to start when generating results.
There are two main aspects to website SEO and they are called on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Both aspects are crucial in search engine results; off-page SEO is the ongoing support once a site is built, so without having good on-page SEO, the latter won’t make as much difference. This means it’s good to start with compliant on-page SEO in order to go live with a new site or existing site and know that it will be able to get optimized properly. You can think of your on-page SEO factors as the foundation of your SEO strategy, and the off-page factors as needing to be maintained constantly to ensure high placement in the Search Engines’ organic search results.
There are several big factors with on-page SEO. The following is a short list along with a brief description of each. Each aspect has a significant weight to it for SEO purposes and so it’s important to look as each one and make sure they are optimized on your website.
On-page SEO Factor:
- Title Tag - This is one of the most important elements on the page for SEO purposes, so make sure the title is relevant and has your keyword strings built into it. However, don’t over stuff keywords here or separate similar words with a comma or hyphen. Also, it’s a good idea to keep it down to about 10 words or 150 characters.
- Meta-description – Again, this is important to search engines and is often the blurb of text under the title in search engine results. You should use keywords again here but don’t let it go over 50 words.
- Meta-keyword – This is were you actually put the keyword strings that search engines will pull from. However, these are strings and not one-word symbols, so plan your phrases carefully. You should keep this to below 10 keyword phrases. A keyword phrase is up to 6 words long and should be separated by commas.
- H1 Tags – This is the next most important element on the page- the search engines will look for your H1 tags and will treat those words as keyword phrases. This means that you want to put keyword phrases that you are trying to generate into H1 or H2 tags. However, don’t put more than 8 on a page as the search engines will think you are trying to “keyword stuff” the page.
- ALT Tags – This is a must and just means that every image on a page should have an ‘alt tag’ to describe what the image is. Search engines penalize sites for not having alt tags on their images, so it’s important to make sure every image is equipped with one. What adding an Alt tag does is put a text message onto the image in case the image doesn’t load, or if the person is viewing the page with images off. Also, new software that allows for seeing-impaired people to surf the web uses the alt tags to describe to the viewer what they are seeing.
- Title Tags – This is just as important as alt tags and goes into every link to help identify where the link is going. There are several advantages to this, one of which is that you can put more keywords into your title tag. There is a cool roll over effect that opens when hovering over a link with a title tag, and again, instructs reading software for visually impaired people to parse what the link is and where it’s going.
- Font Tags – There should be no font tags on a page. All styles should be moved into CSS and made available through a style sheet. Search engines treat code like this as a distraction and so your website may be penalized for having too much extra code. This goes into the design aspect and becomes crucial in getting top placement for several reasons. Search engines look at the load time of a page, as well as the W3C compliance, so having the extra code makes the page load slower and puts the pages out of validation.
- Bold Text – It’s also a good idea to put some of the keywords in actual bold text somewhere on the content page. Search engines looks at the bold tags as important information so by putting relevant keywords in the bold tags you’ll get better results.
There are a few other factors that are considered on-page, but they are not really design related and more back-end related such as 301 permanent redirect from http:// to http://www. This sets up both points as one place and will improve back link and other off-page SEO. Utilizing no-follow links is another way to help direct search engines to the right places, as well as having a robots.txt or sitemap.xml, which are the main driving forces for most crawlers now and will help keep your website indexed withe major engines.
Lastly, there are a few other on-pages things than can help improve SEO like keywords in url links both internal and external, time until the domain will expire, and the length of time it’s been live. All of these things help to build page rank. Based on page rank, a website will come up in a certain order in organic searches, so the key is to build up page rank and gain the top spots. Design is a big part of the SEO process and without it everything will fall to the wayside, so be sure to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” when it comes to design.