A search engine friendly website design is the starting point for any SEO campaign. When considering a new site or redesign, get us involved as early as possible. Often our involvement early in a project will cover a good chunk of the SEO fee we charge by saving you from extra redesign costs and extended development time.
Domain: Your entire primary websites content should be delivered within the domain url structure. Content located anywhere else is NOT considered to be on your website, and no amount of SEO will correct this. This includes content located on off-site blogs, sub-domains of your domain, booking engines, quote engines, MLS data, and reservation systems that reside off-site. There are pros and cons to using sub-domains, and this should be discussed with your SEO company if you are considering going in this direction.
Structure: All design elements and scripts should generally be called from an external file, not inline or embedded into the web page. The exception is high volume websites that need every bit of delivery speed they can squeeze out of the page.
URL: Every effort should be made to deliver url strings that are short, easy to read, and contain as few odd characters as possible. With URL strings that are dynamically delivered, your web designer should implement a url rewrite technology to emulate a static URL structure.
Meta: The <title> tag and <meta name=”description”> tag must have the ability to be independently structured for every page, and must not be tied to any on-page element such as the navigation or the H1 tag. I know this might seem like a remedial SEO point, but I still run into web designs on a regular basis that completely ignore this basic rule. In addition, your site or CMS must not prepend and append any text to the <title> tag.
Mobile Friendly: Your website design needs to be friendly for all modern devices. This means specifically having a platform that displays nicely on a mobile phone. Responsive design is an excellent solution as the website will adjust for any screen size. Another suitable solution is having a mobile specific website. There are pros and cons to both methods, and SEO is a big consideration.
Sitemaps: Your site should have a current xml sitemap the lists all of your pages including blog, news, press, etc. Ideally, your CMS will develop and update a new sitemap on the fly as pages are added to your site. If your site is not created using a CMS the best plan is to schedule a manual update on a regular basis. A prominent visitor sitemap is also an excellent tool to aid in navigation. A video sitemap is also an important addition and allows you to describe your video content. You can also associate embedded video that is actually hosted on another platform such as Brightcove or YouTube.
Structured Metadata: There is an ever increasing number of data formats that can be incorporated into your website design to help it perform in in the search engines and other networks such as Facebook. Rich Snippets, microdata formats and other markup elements can give your site an advantage in these outside search networks and for specific types of search or search channels.
Open Graph Metadata: OGP meta tags allow you to assign alternate title and description text for sharing within social networks like Facebook. Often an SEO optimized title in the <title> tag is short and keyword specific. This makes for poor reading when your page is shared. Some networks like Facebook provide the functionality for the person sharing the content to alter the post, and some do not (like Goolge+.) This extra step is worth the effort if you are heavily invested in social media, or you provide highly sharable content.
Content: Text is still the primary way that search engines interpret what your website and individual web pages are all about. If you require a design or page that is primarily graphic or media (Flash or video) there are a number of design tactics that can be used to place text on a web page in a manner that is approved by the search engines, but has a small footprint on the web page.
Noindex: Most websites today are tied to a Content Management System. It can be cumbersome to update the robots.txt file every time you want to exclude a page on your site from being included in Google. It is an excellent idea to have the ability to Noindex individual pages on your site from the admin.
Duplicate Content: Repetitive content such as calendars or photo galleries should be excluded from the search engines. They create a massive number of duplicate content pages on your site for the search engines to crawl, reducing the overall value and Page Rank equity of your websitesite. Your designer can hash (#) the url strings, or put the section in a directory that can be excluded. Additionally, pages need to identify the preferred version by using the rel=”canonical” attribute.
Common Page Elements: Your site design should not include excessive duplicate content that is placed in common site headers, side bars, and footers. Excessive amounts of site-wide repetitive text will dilute your sites content, and its ability to perform in the search engines
Size & Speed Matters: Your site’s load time and overall size have a direct impact on your search engine rankings. Pages that load faster have an advantage. Websites that have more pages have an advantage. Breakup your web pages where feasible. In addition, consider moving to the best server environment available. Content Delivery Networks, Dedicated servers and virtual private servers have come way down in cost – hosting is no place to skimp on cost.
Internal Linking: The search engines need to easily be able find every page on your site. Create a navigation structure that is visible to the search engines. Navigation that is deployed in a scripting language like Java or Flash can be invisible to the search engines. Use html links, consider using breadcrumb navigation on every page, and have both a visitor and XML sitemap. The visitor sitemap should have a link on every page, and every page should be on your sitemaps.
Images: Make sure that all unique images have the correct description in the IMG ALT tag. ALT text should be brief and describe the image. Design graphics should leave the IMG ALT tag empty.
Now that your design team has created your search engine friendly website, the next challenge is How to Move Your Website.