Web use has increased by leaps and bounds since the early days of the Internet. Search engines are busily indexing the most obscure corners of the Web and online commerce is booming. Whether the business is driving leads to a physical store or the conversion happens on the website itself, consumers have come to expect that anything they could want or need can be found online. Based on consumer expectations, then how do you go about establishing a internet marketing presence and getting yourself highly ranked in the search engines? The very best way is to build a Web site that includes search engine optimization (SEO) best practice principles as well as keeping in mind usability, audience and niche.
It used to be that companies didn’t have to worry too much about Web site design. Just throwing the information on the page was ‘good enough’. That’s not the case today. In today’s world, the search engines and a few million Internet users scour the Web daily looking for fresh and interesting content. The design of your site will influence how crawl-able it is for the search engines and how easy it is for users to navigate through. If the engines get bogged down on your homepage or if users can’t find what they want and get turned off, your site will lose its chance at being competitive in search engine marketing.
Step 0 – Architecture/Design Planning
Before you begin to build your website, you need to decide what it is you want your site to accomplish. You must establish what your internet marketing strategy will be. There are two basic kinds of users on the web, those interested in researching a topic and shoppers who have finished their research and are ready to act. Your site should be built to satisfy whichever of these types of searchers you are looking to attract. Determine before you begin if you are going to be selling something or if you are going to be providing information. Knowing your niche is critical to the success of your search engine optimization design project.
Know who your audience will be and who you want to target. Researchers have different needs than shoppers and it can be tricky to target both. Your target audience will determine your site focus.
Creating a web persona is a good place for you to start in figuring out who your audience is. We have a great article about creating a web persona and recommend you read it. Here are the highlights:
- Understand (and keep in mind) your target audiences’ goals and beliefs
- Develop the most effective voice for your company
- Determine what products/features will and will not be accepted by your audience
- Get to know your audience on a more personal level
- Build a shared vocabulary between you and your audience to avoid confusion
- Enable your company to make informed decisions
An interesting tool and useful tool that can help you make sure your business is customer-centric not “you-centric” is the We We Calculator. It checks your content and gives you a score that compares how much you talk about yourself to how much you talk about your customers and meeting their needs.
Step 1 – Site Analysis/Site Assessment
Once you have determined what your site is going to be about and who it’s going to target, you need to analyze your competition. How are they accomplishing their goals, can you improve on what they are doing, and can you offer something more? What is going to set you apart from them, and more importantly, put you above them?
The first step to take when identifying your competition is to determine what keywords are being targeted for your industry in the search engine marketing space. Bruce Clay has developed a whole methodology and set of SEO tools for analyzing your competition and choosing keywords. We recommend that you read our search engine optimization overview to really get a handle on targeting your competition. An abbreviated list of steps for keyword analysis that you will need to take is as follows:
- Identify Your Competition
- Use Link Tracking
- Identify Keywords
Step 2 – SEO Design
Once you have planned and analyzed your site, there are two facets of SEO friendly design that you need to consider. First, think about your users. How are they going to navigate through and use your site? You want to make it easy to understand and easy to get around. What types of colors and typography will you use to help them navigate and want to delve deeper into your site? What types of navigation will you use: drop down menus, left-hand or right-hand navigation sidebars, etc? Navigation is vital to your site. You want your visitors to be able to get around easily and keep them on your site for as long as possible, therefore you need to ensure that they can navigate with ease.
The second thing you need to think about is the search engines. While it is the job of your search engine optimization specialist to make the most of your web pages there are several things that you should consider during the SEO design phase:
- What type of architecture are you going to use for your site?
- How will the navigation put in place for your users affect navigation for the Search Engines?
- What do the search engines want to see and what will they reward vs. penalize?
- Do you already have content that you can use or will you have to have it written?
Besides using straight HTML for coding your web site, there are other options that you can use for building your web site. Three of the most popular are Flash, Ajax, and PHP. Like all technologies there may be benefits and drawbacks to implementing them but they are definitely worth looking into.
Flash has become a popular tool in internet marketing and is now widely used across the web, including our own site. However, there can be drawbacks to it, so you need to carefully determine whether or not your site will benefit from its use. One of the benefits of using Flash is the visual appeal of it. You can use it with your navigation (as we do), add interesting visual graphics, and even make a game out of it.
One disadvantage you may discover about using Flash though is that not everyone has the Flash player and not everyone may want to download it. This is where evaluating who your audience is becomes very important. If you are catering to a crowd who is technologically savvy, then you are probably ok. However, if your audience is older and didn’t grow up with the internet and personal computers, then you might want to use a more conservative approach in the technologies that you use on your site. Also, keep in mind that pages using Flash may not index well and you may end up losing rankings if you are using Flash on the pages that you want to be indexed.
Ajax is shorthand for Asynchronous Java Script and XML. It is a web development technique for creating interactive web applications. The term Ajax is relatively new but the technologies behind it were developed in the 1990s. Ajax is rapidly gaining popularity in the programming community because it can make the exchange of data behind the scenes faster, thus ensuring that your pages load faster. This is one of the most important components to keeping people on, and coming back to, your site. To learn more about Ajax, read this essay by Jesse James Garrett who came up with the acronym.
PHP is a general purpose scripting language embedded within your HTML code. Along with other uses, it also allows web developers to create dynamic web content to interact with databases. In order to use PHP you need to make sure that your server supports PHP and that it is enabled. Contact your systems administrator if you are not sure. Keep in mind that PHP cannot create web pages; it is mainly used for server-side scripting. PHP.net is a great resource to consult to find out more about PHP and how it can enhance your web site. One advantage to using PHP is that your visitors will not need to download any special applications to access the pages on your site that use PHP. However, one disadvantage to using PHP is that it does require some basic programming skills to implement it into your web site. However, it is not difficult and you do not need to be a programmer to understand it, learn it and ultimately write it. You just need to have available time to sit down and learn it.
Step 3 – Web Design Implementation
After you have architected the site, you need to decide who is going to build the templates and write the content. Do you have an in-house design/web development team or will you hire an outside firm? What about search engine marketing – can you do your own or will you have to hire this out as well? Remember to follow our Quality Site Criteria guidelines. These are absolutely vital in ensuring that your site has the proper ‘curb appeal.’
Adding keywords to your content is an important search engine optimization component for each page that you submit to the search engines for spidering. So where should you add them and how, and how will it affect your design?
It has been shown that pages in which their keywords (and keyword phrases) are listed prominently in the META TITLE and META DESCRIPTION tags consistently rank higher than those that do not. You must also be sure that you use those keywords and phrases throughout the page content. We think that linking pages together using the keywords of the landing page in the anchor text of the sending page is a must for good SEO. “…use text links within paragraphs when possible, especially when the pages are related. If the topics are not related, then use image links so the search engines do not see the text and get confused.”
You must be careful about how many images you use on a page. While images may help the page look pretty, you must remember that some people turn off images so that pages load faster, while others may be using screen readers, voice recognition, or speech synthesizers because they are visually impaired (which can include color blindness and dyslexia, not just low or no vision).
Step 4 – Website Testing
Testing your site is important. You need to perform some case studies. Get some people (coworkers not involved in working on the web site, family, friends, etc.) who will go through every inch of your site and let you know where they get bogged down, and where they get confused or lost. Use their comments to fix the problems. Then have them go through the site again. After that, get new people to go through the site again to find things that may have been missed the first two times.
Step 5 – Site Maintenance
Once your site has been launched and submitted to the search engines you need to decide, if you haven’t already, who will be responsible for updating and maintaining your site. If you used an in-house team, then most likely they will be able to continue with the maintenance of the site. You also need to figure out who’s going to keep an eye on your competitors and continue to SEO your site. If you used an outside firm for this, can you afford to continue with them or should you look into taking SEO classes yourself or offering an SEO training course to your Web design team?
You are going to need to continue to monitor the search engine rankings and based on the movement of you site, you may need to tune your keyword list. This is where the job of the designer most likely will end and the job of the search engine marketing expert or SEO will begin. However, we will discuss it a bit here.
Tuning your keyword list involves using the search engine that has the fastest indexing service so that you can quickly determine which keywords and phrases are working the best and which are not. Again, make sure that your keywords are in all the META tags (title, description and keywords). It is important to include them in your image ALT attributes as well, and try to use them in the opening lines of the page so that the theme of the page is known right from the start.
SEO Web Design Methodology