How Web Design Can Affect Search Engine Rankings
By John Metzler
Uniquely built web sites can create unique issues
when being promoted on the search engines. From a basic 3 page brochure
site to a corporate site with hundreds of dynamically generated
pages, every web site needs to have certain design aspects in order
to achieve the full effects of an SEO campaign. Below are a few
points to take into consideration when building or updating your
1. Size Matters.
The size of a web site can have a huge impact on search engine rankings.
Search engines love content, so if you have only a few pages to
your site and your competitors have dozens, it's difficult to see
a top page ranking for your site. In some cases it may be difficult
to present several pages of information about your business or products,
so you may need to think about adding free resources for visitors.
It will help in broadening the scope of your web site (which search
engines like) as well as keep visitors on your site longer, possibly
resulting in more sales.
2. Graphics-Based Web Sites.
While web sites that offer the visitor a more esthetically-pleasing
experience may seem like the best choice for someone searching for
your product, they are the most difficult to optimize. Since search
engine robots cannot read text within graphics or animation, what
they see may be just a small amount of text. And if we learned anything
from point #1, small amounts of content will not result in top rankings.
If you really must offer the visitor a graphics-heavy or Flash* web
site, consider creating an html-based side of your site that is
also available to visitors. This site will be much easier to promote
on the search engines and your new found visitors will also have
the option to jump over to the nicer looking part of your site.
* EDIT [July 2008] :: Google has updated their algorithm to take advantage of Adobe's searchable SWF library, enabling the indexing of Flash content for the first time.
3. Dynamic Web Pages.
If most of your web site is generated by a large database (such
as a large book dealer with stock that is changing by the minute)
you may find that some of your pages do not get indexed by major
search engines. If you look at the URL of these pages they can be
extremely long and have characters such as ?, #, &, %, or =
along with huge amounts of seemingly random numbers or letters.
Since these pages are automatically generated by the database as
needed, the search engines have a tough time keeping them up to
date and relevant for search engine users.
One way to combat this problem is to offer a search
engine friendly site map listing all your static pages just to let
them know that you do have permanent content on your site. If search
engines see links going to and from these dynamic pages within a
good internal linking system, this may also lead to the pages getting
indexed. The link popularity of your site may carry more weight
in this case as well, so if you can't offer as much static content
as your competition, make sure you have an aggressive link campaign
on the go.
4. Proper Use of HTML.
There is quite a bit of sub-par web design software out there. Word
processors usually have a way to create HTML documents which can
be easily uploaded to a site via ftp. However, in many cases the
code that the search engine robots see is mostly lines and lines
of font and position formatting, not relevant content. The more
efficiently written web sites usually achieve higher rankings. Our
choice for web design software is Macromedia Dreamweaver, as it
is an industry standard. It also makes using CSS (Cascading Style
Sheets) a breeze, which can drastically cut down on the amount of
text formatting in HTML code. Hand-coding HTML to design sites is
also a good method if you are proficient enough.
There are some no brainers too: Web sites with
abnormal amounts of hyperlinks, bold or italicized text, improper
use of heading, alt, or comment tags can also expect to see low
5. Choosing a Domain Name.
The golden rule to web development of any kind is to keep your visitors
in mind above all else - even search engine optimization. When choosing
a domain name, one should pick either your business name (if you
have a high-profile business name such as Chapters or Coca-Cola)
or a brief description of your products. Domain names can always
help with search engine optimization, as it is another area of your
web site that important keywords can appear. Forget about long-winded
domains such as www.number-one-best-books-on-earth.com as no one
will ever remember it and it will be hard to print on business cards
or in ads.
If you need to change your domain name for any
reason you obviously don't want to lose existing rankings. An easy
way to do this, and one that is currently supported by most search
engines, is the 301 redirect. It allows you to keep your existing
rankings for your old domain name, while forwarding visitors to
your new web site instantly.
6. Using Frames.
Don't use frames. Frames are a thing of the 90's (and in the Internet
world that is eons ago) and are not even supported by some search
engines. The search engines that are able to index your site through
frames will most likely frown upon them. Whatever you are trying
to accomplish by using frames can usually be done with the help
of PHP includes or CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Some browsers are
not frames-compatible, so there is the danger of some visitors not
being able to see your site at all. Bookmarking of individual pages
within a frame becomes difficult without lengthy scripts being written.
7. Update Your Information.
Not only does stale information look poorly
on your organization when it is read by a visitor, you could also be missing out on some good rankings by not having content include new trends in your field. Web sites that continuously update
and grow their web sites usually experience higher rankings than
stagnant sites when dealing with an industry that experiences a high rate of growth or change. While the age of a web page is looked at as part of a search engine algorithm, it has no bearing on searches for items recently in the news. Consider creating a section
of your site devoted to news within your organization, or have a
constantly updated blog.
Many shortfalls of web sites can easily be attributed
to designers who just don't keep the user or search engines in mind.
Search engine algorithms are quickly improving to try and list the
most user-friendly sites higher, given that the content and link
popularity are there to back it up. So first and foremost, know
your target market and make your web site work for them before focusing
on search engine optimization. If you build it (properly), they
An expert at organic SEO, John Metzler has held executive positions in SEO firms since 2001. He offers ethical search engine optimization services at FreshPromo.ca.
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Other SEO articles:
:: Why Optimize Your Site for Search Engines?
:: Google's New SEO Rules
:: What Constitutes a Complete and Effective SEO Campaign?
:: Keeping Your Website Content Relevant
:: Getting Back To SEO Basics
:: Google PageRank: Not Worth The Worry
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