Before you even begin to design your website, I highly recommend reading this entire article, along with the second part, which deals with what search engines hate. Aside from this, the only other prerequisite is that you or your web designer know and understand basic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets. Feel free to rummage through the DevArticles archives for a wide variety of articles covering these two languages.
The first thing to consider is what hosting company to use. A good hosting company will put your site on their web server and register your domain name. Make sure you pick a company that allows you to upload web pages that you’ve created on your own; it is vital to have control over the HTML on your pages. The company should also let you use your own domain name. And finally, they should offer some log-analysis tool, which tells you the number of visitors you had and how they got there. WebHosters should have several articles in its archives that discuss how to choose a hosting company.
When choosing a domain name, make sure that it is short, easy to remember, and easy to spell. You should also always opt for the .com top-level-domain, because most people remember .com better than any other. If you are going to use a keyword, terms search engines perceive as capturing the essence of your site, in your domain, make sure you use dashes (-), periods, or slashes to separate words. This will help you find a unique domain name for a popular keyword, but keywords in domain names generally don’t help that much. It is also recommended not to use a domain forwarding service.
It’s important to remember that the searchbots (what search engines use to index pages) do not follow all the instructions placed in the page’s code when it loads a page in order to index it. This is because there are two types of instructions that allow the server and the browser to create the page: server-side instructions and client-side instructions. Server-side instructions are visible to searchbots because the web server follows the instructions before sending the information to the searchbots. Client-side instructions are not visible to searchbots because these are instructions sent to the browser after the server has completed its task. The searchbots get the page directly from the server.
I mentioned keywords briefly in the last section. It goes without saying that these are vital when it comes to SEO. However, there are a few basic concepts you should keep in mind when designing you site. For one, it is a good idea to make a list of keywords relevant to your site’s main focus. Be sure to rank them in terms of what is searched for the most. Each page in your site should be optimized for one or two keyword phrases.
The best place to put a keyword is right at the beginning of the TITLE tag (more on this later). As an example, let’s say I have a website dedicated to duck fashion. Obviously, my main keyword phrase will be “duck fashion,” but each page will be optimized for a different, yet related, keyword, such as duck hats, duck shirts, duck shoes, duck fashion shows, and so on. You should also try to incorporate other keyword phrases throughout each page, when appropriate. A site with many pages containing the keyword phrase will be ranked higher when it is searched for than one that only mentions it on a single page.
Whatever you keyword phrase is, make sure you give it prominence within a page component (TITLE tag, DESCRIPTION meta tag, body text, etc.). A word at the top of a page is more prominent than one at the bottom. The same goes for a word at the beginning of a tag compared to one at the end. Search engines look for prominence when determining what a particular page is about.
When a user searches for a keyword phrase, the search engine tries to determine the ratio of the search phrase to the total number of words in each page. This is called keyword density. It is important to create a balance because it is possible to overdo it. If the search phrase makes up 40-50% of the words in a page, the search engine will disregard it. But if the density is too low, the search engine might think it’s irrelevant.
The last two sections of this article will deal with how to create your site in terms of the structure of your pages and the text you put in them. Search engines obtain some information about your site from its directory structure. So it’s a good idea to name your files with keywords. Just make sure you don’t use too many dashes in your filenames. And be sure to avoid underscores ( _ ) all together. The directory structure itself should be as simple as possible. Create a new directory for each navigation tab and keep all files related to it in that directory. This will keep each page close to the root domain and save you from a complex, multilevel directory tree.
Few things are more important, as far as search engines are concerned, than the TITLE tag. On most search results pages, it is used as the link and main title of the site’s listing. And of course, search engines use them to determine what the site is about. Here’s how to use the TITLE tag most effectively:
Put the TITLE tags below the <HEAD> tag.
Use 40-60 characters (including spaces) between <TITLE> and </TITLE>.
Put the keyword phrase at the very beginning. You can repeat them once, if you like. Make sure you limit the number of small, very common words (the, a, as, of, etc.).
The DESCRIPTION meta tag is also often shown in the search results page. Its text is often shown below the text from the TITLE tag. It’s main function is to describe the page to the search engine. Google doesn’t necessarily use the DESCRIPTION in its results page, unless it can’t find the keywords on the page, but they, along with other search engines, do index it. You should place the DESCRIPTION tag directly below the TITLE tag, using the same guidelines as for the TITLE tag, but this time you can use up to 250 characters. It should look like this:
<META NAME=”description” CONTENT=”Blah blah blah.”>
You will most likely want to include some images on your site. A helpful way to boost your search engine ranking would be to include the ALT attribute, which means alternative text. Nowadays, ALT text appears when you hold the mouse over an image, or for programs that speak the page to blind people. They are also read by search engines and assuming you don’t overload them with keywords, they might help your ranking a little. Place keywords in the image ALT text like this:
<IMG SRC=”name-of-file.jpg” ALT=”This text should be between 40-60 characters”>
You also need body text on each page. It doesn’t have to be that much, but it should equal a couple of paragraphs in length. Search engines are very biased toward content, so you should take this opportunity to really define what you site is about using keywords, of course. You may want to avoid embedding text in images, which would be useful for web designers who create all their pages in a graphic design program. However, apparently Google now claims they can index this type of text.
Headers in HTML (<H1>, <H2>, etc.) are a great way to tell search engines what keywords are important. Search engines in turn weigh them more heavily than keywords in body text. However, <H> tags often cause design issues when displayed in the browser. Because of this, designers have started to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to design their headers. Before you even ask, there is a way to get the best of both worlds. You can do this by defining the style for a particular HTML tag, which in this case would be the <H> tag. Check out the following example:
font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
Now, the browser will read this style whenever it sees an <H1> tag on your page.
You can also format certain words (keywords) within the text of a page to inform the search engine that they are more important than the rest of the text. These techniques are easy to use and fairly obvious. They include making the text bold or italic, putting keywords in a bulleted list, or using title case (first letter in each word is upper case).
Links are another vitally important tool when it comes to SEO. They not only help searchbots find the other pages within your site, they also tell the search engine about the pages with the link and the page being linked to. Make sure all the pages in your site link to and from each other. Also, create them using the same keywords you used in your TITLE tags. Do not use one that says Click Here, or something similar. This only refers to links to and from pages within your site. For more information about links to and from other sites, check out the articles in SEO Chat.
If you are making a site for a local business, you’ll want to include your full address (street, city, state, zip code) in some way. Put it somewhere near the top of the page, including your TITLE and DESCRIPTION meta tags, and mention the city and zip code at least once in your body text.
These are just a few of the basic things that search engines love. So keep them in mind when you design your site. Stay tuned for my next article, which will discuss what search engines hate. Think of it as the yang to this article’s yin.