Make Friends With Search Engines

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Mike McDonald of WebProNews sits in on Search Engine Friendly Design, and finds a sensible approach works best for site owners.

Want your site to be search engine friendly? Undecided about that splash page? Share your experience with site design and search engines on WebProWorld.

Design for your audience. That’s the first focus of any site, according to Shari Thurow at this first-day session. Shari works as the webmaster and marketing director for GrantasticDesigns.com, and has been a past contributor to WebProNews.

Shari advised her attendees to design for the audience first, then for human-based engines/directories, and finally for the indexing crawlers. Make the landing page one that will load in 30 seconds on dialup (it’s estimated half the US still connects via that method.)

Site developers should ensure keywords and phrases appear prominently and early on a page. Burying content in images, Flash files, and Javascript tricks won’t do the job.

“If you have this foundation, it’s not that difficult to get search engine traffic. At that point, once you have the foundation, SEO becomes largely a matter of tweaking,” Shari said.

Shari makes a critical point about images, stating that CAPTION should always be used because not all search engines use ALT text. ALT primarily exists for text-based and text-to-speech browsers.

She notes that all search engines make use of the following items:

Title tags;
heading tags;
ordered lists;
text at the top of a page;
anchor text.

Meta tags, ALT content, and domain names don’t have as much importance, contrary to suggestions made in the early days of search.

The right kind of links have become important. Link quality, from relevant sites, means a lot more than link quantity, especially the type thrown out by “spam blogs” and other auto-generated sites that try to game the system. Search engines like text links the best, with navigation buttons next in line.

Shari says a site should always have two forms of navigation. An example would be navigation buttons as the primary feature, and text links in place later on the page. Just don’t overdo those text links.

Other tips include having a well-made FAQ section; using contextual or “breadcrumb” links in moderation; providing tips, a location page (reinforces the concept of the site as a legitimate business), and for specific niche knowledge, a glossary; and the use of category and product pages, invaluable for placement of keywords and descriptions.

Avoid designing splash pages and other items that can be flagged as spam by the engines. Focus on the site’s usefulness and usability, and you’ll have a search engine friendly site.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

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