SEO Design and Development Best Practices

It’s not often you get to overhaul a Web site to improve search rankings. Typically, we must work with what we’ve got, that is, perform SEO (define) within an existing Web site’s constraints. Most likely, that Web site wasn’t initially designed with search engines in mind.

That’s why when an opportunity comes around every few years to redesign and redevelop a Web site, it’s your chance to flex your SEO muscle and help fully integrate SEO best practices on the ground floor of a Web site.

Problem is, how far do you go? Do you sacrifice aesthetic for an optimally search-engine-friendly site? How do you strike a balance between what the users and the search engines see?

When developing a Web site from scratch, you can apply multiple SEO best practices related to design and development. You don’t necessarily have to follow every measure to a T to obtain a search-engine-friendly Web site. Plus, you’ll inevitably be forced to compromise on some factors. Integrating as many best practices as possible will serve you well in future SEO endeavors.

There are some important SEO factors that are influenced by the way a site is built, such as information architecture (IA), wireframes, design, and development practices. This isn’t an exhaustive list; rather, it focuses some key tried-and-true practices. Consider the following:

  • Use keywords in the URL. This can be accomplished by ensuring your file-naming conventions make good use of your keywords.
  • Include targeted content on a page. Ideally, each page should contain two to three paragraphs of descriptive, keyword-rich body text.
  • Place keywords closer to the beginning of the file code. CSS (define) can be used to visually position the text wherever you want it, while making it appear higher up in the code for search engines.
  • Use header tags instead of
    tags or images. If a page heading or title contains a keyword, it should ideally be text. If possible, use the important keyword in an

    tag, a secondary keyword in the

    tag, and so on.

  • Limit HTML file size. Keep a lid on the number and size of images and unnecessary code.
  • Add alt text for images. Be descriptive. This is another opportunity to tell search engines what the page is all about. All images should have alt tags, including logos, headings, and so on.
  • Use internal text links instead of image links. Search engines use the content contained within a link to determine what that page being linked to is all about. It needs to be text so they can read it.
  • Deploy search-friendly DHTML. Avoid JavaScript DHTML (define), if possible. Use CSS for cover effects. However, if your site has a menu built this way, be sure to include a secondary text-based navigation.
  • Avoid frames-based Web design. Frames and inline frames (iframes) generally make it difficult for search engines to crawl Web sites.
  • Ensure correct application of the robots.txt file. This enables you to restrict or allow access to your site by search engines. Employ it carefully and properly.
  • Follow proper site redirect architecture. Avoid 302 (temporary) redirects and employ 301(permanent) redirects to ensure the search engines index your content appropriately.
  • Avoid hidden text and other potentially deceptive practices. Any tactics that are considered black hat SEO will probably get you penalized. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.
  • Steer clear of splash pages. Most splash pages are very graphic-heavy and text-light. They offer little value to users or search engines.
  • Avoid query strings in URLs where possible. I strongly recommend keywords be placed in the URL instead of query strings. URL aliasing can be used for ugly URLs.
  • Create clean, valid code. Search engines appear to prefer code that is lighter, cleaner, simpler, more semantically defined, and in line with W3C standards. CSS can help you achieve this.
  • Use tables appropriately. Tables distort the flow of the HTML code and may push more important elements like the body copy further down in the code than is desirable. A CSS layout enables you to influence where in the code elements appear.
  • Avoid duplicate content. You should never have the same content on multiple domains or within the same site. If you have various versions of your URL, choose one main one and redirect all the others to that.
  • Join us for SES Chicago on December 3-6 and training classes on December 6.

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