I posted a little while ago on the subject of Google’s website design and what we could learn from it. Today’s post is about designing your website with Google and SEO in mind. So here it is. 7 tips on how your web design choices can get you better rankings in Google.
1. Unique titles and descriptions
Allow Google and other search engines to get a handle on the content of the page. The search engine’s aim is to match relevant, high quality, content to the searcher’s intent. Unique titles and descriptions help Google know what each page is about and are an important part of your SEO. A whole site with the same Titles and descriptions on every page is an awful waste. You should be able to set and change the Title and Description tags for each page. If you have a Content Management System it should allow you that flexibility.
2. Site structure and spiderability
How your pages link together has important effects in terms of how Google will be able to find and index the content on your site. At the very minimum, your web designer needs to give thought to making sure that search engines can follow links to all of your content.
Better still, it would be nice if they understood how linking relationships between various documents reinforce their themes and help with SEO. It would be good if they understood the use of keyword rich text in your internal links.
3. Use of Flash animation
Animation can add a lot to a site. We use it on this site and on the sites we design. When we use it, we understand the effect it has for Google and for SEO. You want your content to be readable by the search engines so that they can determine the relevance of the page and give you higher rankings. Google and other search engines cannot read your flash content. If your whole site or very important parts of your content are hidden in Flash animations then Google won’t be reading it and your search engine rankings will suffer.
You want to use animation for its benefits while keeping most of your content indexable by the search engines. You need to understand these principles when designing for yourself. If you are contracting the design of your site, work with a designer who understands.
4. AJAX and it’s effects on SEO
You can achieve some very, very, cool things with AJAX. AJAX is the shorthand for the use of a combination of technologies which in essence allow parts of a web page to be loaded with different content or perform functions without needing to reload the whole page. It has many benefits and can greatly smooth out the user experience.
There are important SEO considerations to the use of AJAX though. Google will read the page as it is initially downloaded.
For example: Let’s say you have five tabs on a page and clicking on each tab makes an AJAX call to repopulate the main content area with the relevant tab’s content.
When each tab is clicked, however, the browser makes a call for only the extra information. That information is not on the initial page. It is not available to Google and therefore it is not indexed and has no chance to get you search engine rankings.
AJAX can be used to help your rankings but many of its pretty cool effects can be harming your site’s potential in the search engines if it is implemented without an eye to SEO.
5. Content first for accessibility and Google
Google and other search engines will give more weight to more prominent content. I.e. that which comes higher up in the underlying HTML of your page. Often you will have a column to the left of your main content column. This will typically come first in the underlying HTML.
It is an easy enough task to structure the HTML of your page so that it displays how you want it but puts the main content column first in the HTML document. Will your designer know this? Will he bother?
6. Search Engine Friendly urls
The url is the web address of each individual page. It is displayed in the address bar of your browser and points at the individual resource you are trying to access. Search engine friendly urls become an issue when your site is drawing content from a database. This might be because you are running a directory or an online shopping site etc. or it may be because there is a content management system installed to allow you to change the content of your site.
Systems that draw content from a database need to pass parameters in the url to tell the database what content is required. When done in it’s simplest form you get urls like this:
You can see that this url is pretty ugly. The search engines don’t like it because multiple parameters in the url makes it hard for them to do their job. I suppose how and why isn’t terribly important here. They are getting much better at it.
Generally speaking, however, you are better with no more than one or maybe 2 url parameters and understanding how they will be treated. You are even better with none.
Here’s a search engine friendly url:
That page is served out of a database but we have prepared the site to make it accessible via a url with no parameters.
It is probably better to think of search engine friendly urls as human readable urls. Honestly, people make too much of the direct effects search engine friendly urls have on SEO. But humans find the second url above much more appealing than the first. Which would you be more likely to click on? To link to? Which one gives you some indication as to the content you are about to click through to?
So, human readable urls will result in more clicks where your url is displayed = more visits. They are more likely to be linked to, more likely to be bookmarked. These things all effect your SEO and your rankings in Google (albeit indirectly).
7. Duplicate Content
Unique content should ideally be available at only one, unique, address. If you have the same content available at two different addresses then you cause confusion for Google and the other search engines. This confusion will not help your rankings. Developers seem to find new and interesting ways to screw this aspect of SEO up every time they put a project together. If your designer is not thinking about SEO during the web design process you’ll end up with needless barriers to the rankings you want in Google and other engines.
We do site assessments from time to time for clients or potential clients considering SEO work. We have looked at some very good sites. To date, we are yet to see one that does not have some fundamental error standing in the way of their SEO success. They are not always big errors and not always important but they are avoidable breaches of best practice. Search engines are an important source of traffic and Google is an important audience for your site. If you want to get rankings, then make sure someone is thinking about Google, SEO and your web design from the very start of your project.
Having got to the end of all that, I think it’s probably best if I point out that this list is not in any specific order. It is simply a list from the top of my head of some of the things that could help your SEO that seem to be missed in most Web Design projects. Doing these things won’t shoot you to the top of Google. SEO is a process and this post barely scratches the surface. These are things that we would think about while implementing any web design project and before we even begin to seriously consider SEO.