Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals Part 6


It is not always possible to have a Web site that meets all requirements of a search engine and your target market. Perhaps you are coming in on the tail-end of a Web development project or simply want to make your Web site as search engine friendly as possible, without having to do a significant re-design. In this newsletter we look at Web design techniques you can use to improve the search engine friendliness of your Web site, whether you are building a new site or improving your current one.

Tips & Techniques

The topics covered in this issue are:

  • Frames
  • Meta-Revisit Tag
  • Robots.txt, Meta-Robots Tag
  • Clean Code is King
  •  
  • Navigation Troubles
  • <NOSCRIPT> Code
  • Cascading Style Sheets
  • Dynamic Pages and Special Characters
  • Splash Pages and the Use of Rich Media
  • Use of Tables
  • Too Many Text Links
  • Custom Error Pages
  • Image Maps


  • Frames
    From a marketing perspective, you should avoid building a Web site entirely based on frames when developing your Web site. This is probably the most recognized hurdle when it comes to search engine optimization, yet it is so easy to address.

    Frames may result in some search engines’ being unable to index pages within your site, or they can result in improper pages being indexed. Also, many people simply prefer sites that do not use frames. Frames also cause problems when someone wants to bookmark or add to their favorites a particular page within a framed site. Usually only the home page address is shown.

    What I mean by “improper pages being indexed” is that content pages will be indexed, and when the search engines direct users to these content pages, they will likely not be able to navigate your site because the navigation frame probably will not be visible. To prevent this, one technique you can use is a Robots meta-tag in the head section of your HTML that does not allow bots to proceed beyond your home page. As a result, though, you can really submit only your home page, which means you have less of a chance of receiving the high rankings you need on the major search engines. Alternatively, you should include textual links to all major sections within your site to accommodate those users who enter your site on a page other than a home page, and to assist the search engines with indexing your site.

    Some search engines can only read information between the <NOFRAMES> tags within your master frame. The master frame identifies the other frames. All too often the individuals who apply frames ignore the <NOFRAMES> tags, which is a BIG no-no. If you do not have any text between the <NOFRAMES> tags, then the search engines that reference your site for information will have nothing to look at. This will result in your site being listed with little or no information in the indexes, or you will be listed so far down in the rankings that no one will ever find you anyway. To remedy this situation, insert textual information that contains your most important descriptive keywords between the <NOFRAMES> tags. This will give the search engines something they can see, and it also helps those users who are browsing with non–frame-compatible browsers.

    Now that the search engines have found you, you still have a problem. They can’t go anywhere. Create a link within your <NOFRAMES> tags to allow search engines and users with non–frame-compatible browsers to get into your site. Frames are a headache when designing your site to be search engine friendly. To make your life easier and from a marketing perspective, it’s better to avoid them altogether.


    Meta-Revisit Tag
    You cannot tell a search engine when to visit your Web site, though the theory behind the Meta-Revisit Tag is that you can define how often you want a search engine to come back to your Web site. Despite what some people may suggest, this tag is utterly useless. You need not waste your time.


    Robots.txt, Meta-Robots Tag
    The <META-NAME=”robots” CONTENT=”…“>tells certain bots to follow or not follow hypertext links. The W3 Consortium white paper on spidering (spiders are defined below) offers the following definition and discussion:

      <url1><META-NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”ALL | NONE | NOINDEX | NOFOLLOW”>
    <url1>default = empty = “ALL” “NONE” = “NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”
    <url1>The filler is a comma-separated list of terms:
    <url1>ALL, NONE, INDEX, NOINDEX, FOLLOW, NOFOLLOW

    Note: This tag is meant to provide users who cannot control the robots.txt file at their sites. It provides a last chance to keep their content out of search services. It was decided not to add syntax to allow robot-specific permissions within the META-tag. INDEX means that robots are welcome to include this page in search services.

    FOLLOW means that robots are welcome to follow links from the pages to find other pages. A value of NOFOLLOW allows the page to be indexed, but no links from the page are explored. (This may be useful if the page is a free entry point into pay-per-view content, for example. A value of NONE tells the robot to ignore the page.)

    The values of INDEX and FOLLOW should be added to every page unless there is a specific reason that you do not want your page to be indexed. This may be the case if the page is only temporary.


    If you are able, use the robots.txt file to instruct spiders on where they can go on your Web site. The robots.txt file tends to be obeyed more often that the Meta equivalent. A more detailed look at preparing robots content can be found in W3C’s Web development standards - http://www.w3.org/TR/1998/REC-html40-19980424/appendix/notes.html#h-B.4.1.1

    Clean Code is King
    Clean code is essential to search engine success. You want to ensure that you do not have stray tags, HTML errors, and bloated code. Problematic code is bad for the user experience and bad for search engine placement.

  • Navigation Troubles - JavaScript embedded in anchor tags, drop down menus, and pull down Menus can cause many headaches for a Web site looking to be indexed by the major search engines. The rollover effect on navigation links is quite common and can add visual appeal to a Web site. A problem arises when JavaScript is encased within the anchor tag, which can cause problems for the search engines. The rollovers look good, so odds are if your site is using them you are not going to want to get rid of them. A quick and simple solution to ensure site is indexed is to include basic links, with additional coding, along the button of your Web page as supportive navigation. This approach also gives you the opportunity to get in your keywords twice; once in the “Alt” tag for your main navigation and the second time around in the anchor tag for the supportive text links. In addition it is to your benefit to include all your JavaScript material in external files to keep the Web site code as clean as possible. Drop down menus (e.g. DHTML) and pull down menus pose similar concerns because of the coding script necessary for them to execute. If you choose to use them be sure to have an alternative means of navigation available.

  • <NOSCRIPT> Tag - The <noscript> Tag is used to deliver content to individuals accessing a Web page with a browser that does not use JavaScript or has JavaScript enabled. Because of abuse by spammers many search engines do not pay much attention to the <noscript> tag anymore. Using good, clean coding techniques the use of the tag can be avoided altogether, which in turn also improves site load time performance.


  • Cascading Style Sheets – CSS is common practice in the Web development world. It gives a developer more convenient and tighter control over how they want their Web page to be laid out, plus it requires less coding (less excess code), leaving less room for error. I already made the suggestion of including your JavaScript in external files to keep the code clean and improve Web site performance. The same benefits apply to including CSS code in external files.


  • Dynamic Pages and Special Characters

    Dynamic content has historically cause many problems for search engines because a) they do not like to be fed duplicate content and b) the query strings can cause spiders confusion. Times are getting better, but they can still cause some difficulties.

    Dynamically driven content typically has query string in the URL such as question marks (?), ampersand (&), and the percent sign (%) character. Inside the lengthy URL contains a number of calls to database information and to a template to put together the Web page you see in your browsers. Search engines struggle to figure out what exactly they are supposed index because they have difficulty understanding what information is actually meaningful and how to present it.

    There’s no question that dynamically driven sites are common place and there is nothing wrong with that. Your challenge is to work around the needs of the search engines and include pure HTML based information pages as a standard part of your Web site that the search engines can index. Likewise, there are methods of reducing the complexity of URLs into a form the search engines can process – Amazon.com is a prime example. Amazon.com has eliminated all stop symbols from their page URLs. Depending on the technology your Web site is built in (e.g. ASP, CFP, PHP) tools exist to help you re-write your URLs at the server level to make them more friendly for search engine indexing. This is the same logic applied on services such as http://www.tinyurl.com/


    Splash Pages and the Use of Rich Media
    A splash page is basically an opening page that leads into a site. Often splash pages consist of a Java or a Macromedia Flash intro that can be slow to load for some users and contain little meaningful content for search engines.

    Some Web sites use splash screens that consist of an eye-pleasing image and an invitation to enter the site. Many splash pages implement techniques that automatically send you to the home page once you’ve seen the splash page, and others will invite you to “Click to enter” in some form or another. Why do people use splash pages on their sites? For one, they usually look beautiful. Another reason is to provide the user with something to look at while images or content for the home page loads in the background. Individuals also use splash pages as a means of advertising. Splash pages are usually very attractive in appearance, but they often lack content relevant to search engines.

    If you do use a splash page on your site, be sure you include the proper meta-tags within your HTML header. This is important so that search engines that use meta-tags can access this information. This ultimately affects your ranking and how your site is displayed to users in the search results. Be sure to include a paragraph or statement on your splash page that pertains to your site’s content. This can help boost your rankings on some of the major search engines that both do and do not use meta-tags. Some search engines will review your opening paragraph and use this information when developing a description for your site that is presented in their search results. Also, include a link into your Web site for the target market and the search engines. Many splash pages exercise the Meta-refresh tag and as we covered in the last newsletter, this should be avoided.


    Use of Tables
    Tables can pose indexing issues with some of the search engines. Tables are a common feature found on many Web sites to display information and position content, but if implemented incorrectly, they can cause the search engines some confusion. Also, by using tables close to the top of a page, you are potentially forcing the content you want search engines to see farther down on your page. Because some search engines look only so far, you might be hurting your chances of receiving a high ranking. If you are using tables, place any important information pertaining to the page content above the table if possible to help prevent any potential problems.
    |
    Here’s an interesting problem some search engines suffer from: Assume you have a Web site, the main color of the background is white, and you have a table on the page with a dark background. If you were to use white in the table, some of the major search engines would pick this up as using same-color text on the same color background and would ignore your site’s submission because it will be considered spam to them. Using tables is okay; many people do it—just be careful with your choice of colors.


    Too Many Text Links
    Including too many text-based links on a Web page can have a negative impact on your search engines rankings because it results in keyword dilution. Quite simply, if you look at a Web page and it looks like it is being dominated with links then you likely need to cut back.

    Custom Error Pages

    A custom 404 error (page not found) page should be created for your Web site. This page will displayed when a user attempts to access a page that does not exist. The custom error page should contain your company’s branding and contain links to all major pages of your Web site, similar to the Site Map.

    If you redesign or rework your Web site then odds are pages are going to get moved or no longer exist. It is possible that people will have pages of the old Web site bookmarked and those pages may no longer been applicable with the new Web site. Also, search engines will have indexed select pages of the current Web site and those pages may also no longer exist under the new design. The custom error page allows people and search engines to easily make updates. Also, the custom error page adds to the professionalism of the design.
    Image Maps
    Image maps are single graphics that are split into “hot spots” or sensitive areas that when clicked lead you to different pages or resources within the web site. The problem with image maps is they basically lock search engines out and prevent them from indexing your web site properly or not at all.

    If you do decide to implement image maps, always include text hyperlinks so that the search engines to give you a more accurate index can use them. Another option is to include a site map, which is basically the entire layout of your web site in the form of hypertext links. Submitting your site map to the search engines is also a good idea, as it will assist the search engine in making sure it indexes all the pages within your web site.

    I guess you could say the perfect Web site from a search engine point of view would be all text and only use basic HTML. A web site designed in this fashion would certainly not meet the expectations of your target market, which is why the techniques covered in this newsletter are so valuable. With the next issue it is time to start submitting your newly optimized Web site!

    _________________________________________________________


    Tools & Resources

    For a refresher or if you missed the first two newsletters in the Search Engine Optimization series you can view them in the archive on by Web site at:

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 1
    http://www.susansweeney.com/hottopicvolume2issue7.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 2
    http://www.susansweeney.com/hottopicvolume2issue8.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 3
    http://www.susansweeney.com/hottopicvolume2issue9.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 4
    http://www.susansweeney.com/hottopicvolume2issue10.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 5
    http://www.susansweeney.com/hottopicvolume2issue11.php


    Link popularity is a closely related topic and I advise you to review the article on my Web site at:

    Link Popularity Tips
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue4.php

    Visit my Web site at http://www.susansweeney.com