Search Engine Optimisation for Web Developers

These days, most Website owners head to a search engine optimisation company if they want to improve search engine traffic. However, all too often, the chance of search engine success is decided long before that.

Search engine compatibility is becoming a crucial addition to the standard Website specification. And it’s too late post-launch for a Website owner to realise that their content will never be indexed by search engines in its current form. Often, it’s up to the Web developer or designer to take the initiative and guide the client through the process of developing a site that’s optimised (or at the very least, optimizable!) for search engines.

Let’s take a look at the most common design and development considerations that impact on the optimisation of today’s Websites.

Navigation And Accessibility

The first step to achieve search engine visibility is to ensure that search engine spiders are able to access all pages of the Website. If your Web pages are not accessible to a spider, no amount of content optimisation, Website popularity or submitting to search engines will improve their performance — they simply won’t be added to the index. This will mean that you need to provide alternatives for the following navigation styles, to name a few:

  • Flash
  • Form-based navigation
  • Java applets
  • Some Javascript/DHTML menus

“Why?” I hear you cry. Well, unfortunately, search engine spiders do not come equipped with all the plugins available to your average Web browser. This means alternative navigation is required unless you want the search engine believing your site contains one page of content.

The best recommendation to overcome 99% of accessibility issues is to maintain a network of HTML text links throughout your site, and include a text-only sitemap to ensure search engines can find and index all your individual pages.

Site Architecture And Content Delivery Technologies

Another sticking point for search engines is the technology used to deliver the content. Assuming the first consideration is addressed and the search engine can find all the URLs the site has to offer, the delivery technique or Web application you’ve used can have a dramatic effect on whether the search engine will be able to read the content at that URL.

Here, again we find our old friends: Java, Javascript, Flash and images as the main offenders. If your site design is heavily laden with these technologies, your client needs to be aware that the search engine will have difficulty determining content, which can lead to poor search engine penetration. At this stage you will want to decide whether these technologies are crucial to the site’s success, or HTML is going to do the job just as well, with the added benefit of potential search engine rankings.

Frames can also pose difficult challenges for search engines, as they need to be interpreted differently than normal Web pages. They can also make it difficult for users to bookmark and deep link into your site (which can heavily affect your future online marketing strategy). The same goes for dynamic URLs that become extremely lengthy with the use of PHP, ASP, Cold Fusion and other scripting languages and Web applications. Although search engine support for dynamic URLs is increasing, keeping the amount of variables stored on the URL to one or two is highly recommended, as is dropping session ids from URLs.

NB: There are several articles on SitePoint about URL rewriting that provide tips about not only creating search engine friendly URLs, but solving some common security issues at the same time. My personal favorite is Tamas Turcsanyi’s mod_rewrite: A Beginner’s Guide to URL Rewriting.

Content Optimisation

Now that your page is accessible and search engines can understand your content, your clients’ Website will be on level pegging with most of its competitors, and the potential for search engine success has grown enormously.

But before you dust off your hands and fire up the Quake server to congratulate yourself on a job well done, consider the ongoing content optimisation that the Website manager will be expected to carry out on a daily basis if they’re to really give the site some teeth in the search engine wars.

A great feature you can work into a content management system is the functionality to allow your client easy access to the title, heading, alt and Meta tags of each page. This will empower the content manager to take the site to the next level in terms of flexibility and search engine friendliness.

With this functionality, the content manager can include popular search terms directly into some of the most important HTML elements that the search engines use to assess page relevance.

Conclusion

By considering the questions raised in this article,

  • Are all my pages accessible to search engines?
  • Is my content understood by search engines?
  • Are the important page elements editable for the end user?

you can adjust your design plan accordingly, and rest assured that you have once again provided your client with every possible opportunity to achieve great penetration in the all-important search engine game.

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