Search Engine Optimization is critical for any website’s organic search results and starts before the first line of code is written for a new website. While great content will always be king with respect to SEO it is nothing without the proper support of a website that ensures that content goes into the right places and is easily accessible.
This article will take you through a number of best practices with respect to how to design and build a website that is ready for great content to be entered. These best practices will not take your website to the number one rank but they do help you reach that rank with the help of your good content and some SEM.
Speak the Same Language
The first step is to ensure that you are speaking the same language as the search engine crawlers. Crawlers are the automated bots that come and visit your site and determine if you have anything interesting that should be added to their search database. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) helps to set the web standards that all bots use to understand your website. These bots are built using the standards as a reference and when a bot crawls your site, it expects your site to comply the W3C’s standards. Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone who only partially speaks your language. Context and portions of the conversation are lost. The same thing happens to bots. They can become confused and miss out on portions of your perfectly written content.
W3C provides two validators that are a must for all websites. The first is an HTML Markup Validation Service, found at http://www.validator.w3.org, which will show you the errors within your code and provide suggestions on how to fix those errors. The second validator focuses on your CSS to ensure it also complies with the standards. You can find the CSS validator at http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/. Both validators allow you to check your code by URI, File Upload, and Direct Input.
Alt and Title Tags
Images help make a website speak to the visitor. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Your website images should be worth more than a thousand words. Every single image on your webpage should have an ALT and a TITLE tag whether it is a product image, your company logo, or a button image. Bots consider the text with these two tags as part of your overall content. These tags do many different things. They increase your potential for keywords, they tell the search engines the purpose of the link that the image represents, they are used for image searches, and they tell your visitors what the image means. Image searches can play a major part of any website’s hit count. Some sites attribute more than 20% of their hits to image based searches.
I usually suggest having a different ALT and Title tag. Some browsers, like FireFox, only display the ALT tag, whereas IE displays the Title tag. It also gives you the opportunity to have two different text versions for the same item, which increases your potential keyword count.
There are many different images on a webpage and the one thing your content editors will be asking to do is to have the ability to change the tag text without involving a developer. This brings up the concept of a proper Content Management System that supports SEO.
An SEO Friendly CMS
There are many fields on a webpage that go beyond the basic content. The title, meta-description and meta-keywords, and image ALT and Title tags all play an important role. It is important that you build a website that allows your content editors to change all of these items. It will reduce your company’s total cost of ownership as developers will not constantly have to get involved to make modifications to static web content and will make your Search Marketers very happy end-users. The ability to update these fields should be considered part of a website’s core functionality just like its design and security is. A website with administrator controlled content will be able to adjust for new niche keywords quickly and easily.
Speaking of things that need to be quick, speeding up the time it takes to completely load a website is one of Google’s ranking factors.
There are many things that are out of a developer’s control, such as a slow connection, or a temporary slowdown on the server. But there are a number of things that a developer can do to ensure that a site loads quicker. Here are a number of different things to consider:
Shrink your images: Reduce the sizes of your images using Smush.It, which is a lossless tool to reduce large images to smaller ones. You can either upload files to be smushed or you can point it at your URL and let it smush away. Consider using CSS Sprites to speed up your images even more.
No inline CSS: Remove all inline CSS and move it to your single CSS file.
The last comment I have on speed is to make use of Google’s Webmaster Tools Site Performance to review the speed of your website from the end user’s perspective.
Bringing it all Together
Planning on implementing a dynamic SEO focused CMS system that has valid source code and reduces the number of round trips for information will greatly increase your chances of ranking high in the various search engines’ organic searches. It will reduce your future busy work when the content editors want to change the keywords for an image AGAIN, and will ensure that your end users receive a responsive meaningful experience.