Does it make sense for Web site designers to consult with a search engine optimization (SEO) firm during the design and maintenance of client Web sites? That depends on various factors, including the size and level of sophistication of the site and client goals and objectives.
In some cases, a client can be stuck with unexpected costs if SEO coordination is not conducted early. For instance, even though a site is nicely put together, is functional, and features many products, search engine visibility may be hampered because the site uses frames or is primarily done with Flash using a limited amount of text. Search engines like to see as much text as possible — text that includes your strategic keywords.
Search engines work with text. They read the content on your pages and in your title and meta tags, recording this information in their database. Without text, the search engine has nothing to work with. Furthermore, text on pages that the search engines can’t get to doesn’t do any good. The search engines must be able to follow links from your home page to the other pages on your site that contain good content.
Someone once said, “A Web site is like a sand castle, not a bronze statue.” In other words, Web sites are works in process and you should be prepared to make or deal with changes on a regular basis. In almost all cases, deciding to integrate good search engine practices before, during, or after the design phase is irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that site designers and their clients develop a plan for integrating search engine marketing and SEO strategies at some point before, during, or after the site is completed.
What are some of the search-engine-friendly basics to consider while designing a Web site?
- Give the engines plenty of keyword-rich text to work with. Text near the top of the page (when you look at the HTML source code) is more important, so put the text as high possible. Also remember to use your keywords in the text as much as possible, integrated into content that reads well. It’s important to place keywords at the beginning of paragraphs and headings. Write your text first for people and second for search engines. Bolding some of the keywords can also help.
- Make sure the search engines have plenty of basic links to follow. The search engines will index the text on your home page and then attempt to follow the links on your home page to other pages in your site. This process is called “spidering” or “crawling.”
The text in the links is very important, too, and should include a keyword related to the page to which it is linking. A site map is a good way to provide links for the search engines.
- Provide a site map. A site map can make it easier for a search engine spider to find all your pages. It is basically a categorized list of all the pages on your site. There must be one or more links to the site map from the home page:
- Make sure you have a text link to the site map at the bottom of the page. The text should say “Site Map,” and the file should be called “sitemap.htm.”
- The link text should have strategic keywords where appropriate.
- You should make a static list of links to all your pages, with a link to this page from the home page or the site map.
- Provide hypertext links. Ideally, links should have a keyword in the link text or in an .alt description of the image or area tag.
- Provide meta tags. Always provide a title, meta keywords, a meta description, and a descriptive comment tag in the head section of all indexable pages. The titles, keyword, and so forth should be unique if possible and apply to the particular page.
Items in the header section should be in this order, using HTML:
- The title — 5-10 words with the company name and keywords
- The description — the description in number 3 or something longer
- The meta name description contents — 20-40 words with keywords
- The meta name keywords contents — a keyword list up to 900 characters
- Other optional meta tags
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter exactly when an SEO specialist gets involved in the Web site design process, although consulting with an SEO firm early can help you avoid critical mistakes. At any rate, it is crucial for all Web designers and their clients to budget for SEO modifications before getting too carried away with marketing and advertising. Search engine traffic will provide some of the most targeted visitors you can hope to attract, so it simply makes good sense to optimize for search engines before blowing the entire marketing/advertising budget on paid advertising and offline media.