Designing for Search Engines

Search engines (e.g. Google, Bing) and directories (e.g. Open Directory) are the White and Yellow Pages of the Internet. A website that isn’t listed is like an unpublished telephone number. Nobody can find it. Here are some design guidelines to help you get listed and properly ranked.

Search Engines: Bing, Google, Yahoo!Domain Name.
Free domains (like and secondary domains, (like suffer from Rodney Dangerfield syndrome. They don’t get any respect. Register your own domain name, i.e. Make it simple to type, easy to remember, and descriptive of your business. More on domain names …

Tags and Titles.
The HTML code for every page, starting with your homepage, should include a brief title describing the content, e.g. Great Widgets: Widgets for All Occasions. Be aware: most engines truncate titles longer than ~60 characters. Also include META description (~130 characters) and content (1000 characters maximum) tags on each page. They help engines index your site but will be ignored if deemed too long, duplicative, or spam.

Flash and iFrames.
Search engines don’t “see” iframes and flash movies the way you do. The content in iframes is typically attributed to the source of the material, not to your website. Google can “read” any text embedded in flash, but other engines might not. If you decide to use iframes and flash to enhance appearance and navigation, you should also build alternative pages which don’t.

Text and Images.
Search engines give more weight to larger type sizes (but not to bold-face, italics, or capitals), so design with descriptive headlines and captions. Since engines can’t “see” graphics, make sure your text tells your story. And use the alt (alternative) image attribute to describe graphics; search engines index alt copy.

Content is King.
Sorry Marshall, the media is not the message. It’s all about information. Search engines give more weight to terms at the top of a page and to those repeated several times (three or four, not more). And they love fresh content, so update your site on a regular basis.

Skip the Dirty Tricks.
Search engines aren’t smart, but they’ve been around the web a few times. Multiple submissions will get you blackballed or relegated to result page 33,442. Ditto for redirection and gateway pages (two tricks used to list one page and take visitors to another). If your site uses ASP (active server pages) or other dynamic content for legitimate purposes, make sure you also provide static pages that search engines can read and index.

In short, getting listed and properly ranked in search engines results from good website design. Keep it clean, simple and informative, and play it straight.

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