Website Design Equals a Tidy Store
Continuing on with our series of articles about top seo factors, let’s talk about website design. If, as I tried to establish in the previous installment of this series, we can accept that a is the online equivalent of prime retail space in a busy shopping district, then we can logically conclude that a well-designed website is akin to having a tidy, well-organized store.
Interestingly enough, this is one of those qualities that you typically don’t notice until it’s missing. You’re not likely to be moved to comment on a store that you can get around in easily – after all, that’s what you’ve come to expect. But if you find yourself in a store that is constantly out of what you need, or in which there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the layout or departmentalization – toothpaste in the dairy section, for example – you’ll quickly get annoyed with the place, probably abandon the search for whatever you came in for in the first place, and likely never return to that particular establishment.
Well, search engines might be said to react just that way to a website that is too small, all flash and no substance, disorganized, overly automated, or outdated. So consider the following points when designing your website to give search engines the best possible shopping experience.
Size Matters in Website SEO
A small “brochure site” with only a few pages (or worse yet, just one page) is not likely to achieve high rankings in search engines. There are those who will tell you that a one-page site is better than nothing, but in search marketing terms, one page is nothing.
Search engines are designed to return the most relevant and valuable results to the people doing the searching. It’s understood that anyone using a search engine is trying to fill a need. That may be a need for information, or it may be a need for a product or service. Regardless, it’s highly unlikely that a search engine will consider your single-page brochure site to be the best resource to fill that need when there are thousands – or even millions – of larger, more robust sites that speak to the same need.
Look at it this way – imagine you’re looking for a good chiropractor in your area and all you have to make your decision on is a couple of printed handouts. The first handout is a typical business card with the doctor’s name, address, and phone number on it. Not much to go on. The second handout is a 32-page, full-color brochure that details the doctor’s education, practice history, preferred treatment methods, and even includes testimonials from existing patients.
In that scenario, business-card guy doesn’t stand a chance.
Likewise, a one-page website will not stand a chance against a robust, topical, multilayer website offering the same product or service.
Which isn’t to say your site has to include hundreds of pages or elaborate functions just for the sake of being big. It simply needs to have enough content to adequately meet the need of anyone searching for what you offer. Generally speaking, the more critical, elaborate, or expensive, the need, the more information it will take to fill that need. For example, deciding which bicycle shop to patronize is going to take a lot less information than choosing which oncologist to consult.
Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast formula to determine how much is enough, but site traffic, search rank, and visitor feedback are powerful indicators of how well you’re striking that balance. And always err on the side of too much being just enough.
A Picture is Worth Zero Words
Photos and graphics are good, and your site should certainly include them, and even feature them, when appropriate. That said, where many site designers go wrong is using pictures, or pictures of words, rather than just using words.
You’ve probably seen a website where the main body of the page appears to be a letter, but is actually just a picture of a letter. And while that may be a creative and attractive way to provide the information, it makes it impossible for search engines to read that letter, understand what it says, and index it for search results. So, rather than a few hundred words of text, all the search engines have to go on is the name of the image file, maybe an alt. tag if the image is optimized (not likely), or perhaps a caption (also not likely if the image is being used this way).
Compounding this problem is that this model also sacrifices the contextual cues that help a search engine determine what a site is all about. The search engines can’t see the text, so they can’t see which words or phrases are in boldface or italic. Likewise, they can’t read the headlines and sub-headlines that help organize and clarify the content.
In search engine terms, images really don’t speak for themselves. And they certainly aren’t worth a thousand words – you’d be better off having the thousand words. So whenever possible, if you want the search engines to get your message, you need to say it, not display it.
Dynamic Websites Cause Distraction
If you have, or hope to have, an e-commerce site – one that includes a catalog of items that visitors can place in a shopping cart and then ultimately order and pay for right there on the site, you will very likely be faced with the challenge of managing, maintaining, and optimizing a dynamic, database-driven website. The pages of these sites are automatically generated using a boilerplate template that is populated with details from a large database of products that you offer for sale. While this is a practical and effective way to build and maintain an online store, these type of sites are the bane of search marketing.
If you’ve ever looked at the URL of a dynamically-generated page, you’ve likely noticed that they can be ridiculously long and frequently contain characters such as?, #, &, %, or = along with huge amounts of seemingly random numbers or letters. That makes it virtually impossible for search engines to make sense out of the page and how it relates to what people might be searching for. Therefore, these pages will often be ignored by search engines and will simply not be indexed.
There are a couple of ways to combat this and help the search engines understand what a page is about, even when it has an indecipherable URL.
The first is to create permanent content on your site that’s relevant to the products you’re offering in your e-commerce store. This content can take many forms, including articles and blog posts about how to use or make the most of the product, expanded manufacturer’s descriptions, and consumer reviews (Amazon has used these with enormous success). Of course, a blog that appeals to your core consumers is always a good idea – just be careful not to make your blog an endless series of product infomercials. Offer something more than just promotion if you want to really connect with your customers and build loyalty and brand affinity.
Once that permanent content structure is in place, the second method is to encourage search engines to index your dynamically generated pages by creating a powerful internal link structure that begins with a comprehensive sitemap. This will make it easier for the search engines to find and index your permanent content and to then see the correlation between that content, the words and phrases people enter into search engines, and the products you offer for sale.
Final Word On Frames
Don’t use frames in your website. Really, that’s the final word on it. Frames are a 90’s-era construct that are no longer supported by many search engines and web browsers. If a search engine sees frames on your site, your search rankings will suffer.
As it is, this technology is so outmoded that it wouldn’t even bear mentioning if it weren’t for the fact that some of the most popular “instant website” services still use frames. So, while it may be incredibly easy to build a website using the free site builder that your hosting company offers, there’s a very good likelihood that search engines will rank your site poorly or ignore it altogether.
Fortunately, there are many user-friendly options for building your own site quickly and easily, my personal favorite being WordPress.
Fresh Content is King
Having made the case for permanent content, it’s important that it not be misunderstood to mean “old” content. You should be constantly updating, expanding, and freshening your website with new articles, pages, images, and blog posts.
This not only shows the search engines that the site is vital and healthy, but also lets you take advantage of new search traffic by keeping up with industry trends and news. Again, the simplest and most effective way to do this is to maintain a blog that speaks directly to folks who are most likely to buy your products and services.
Who’s Minding Your Store?
Those are a few of the critical SEO web design factors that you must keep in mind when your aim is to achieve high search engine rankings. Of course, this just scratches the surface, but by paying attention to these details, you’ll give your site its best chance to perform well. If you’d like to know more about these factors, or the countless others that impact search engine performance, I recommend finding a good internet marketing company in your area.