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:
Pages and Special Characters
and the Use of Rich Media
Use of Tables
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
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.
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
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:
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 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.
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
is encased within the anchor tag, which can cause problems for the search
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
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.
- The <noscript> Tag is used to deliver content to individuals accessing
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.
– 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
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
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 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:
Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 1
Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 2
Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 3
Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 4
Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 5
Link popularity is a closely related topic and I advise you to review the article on my Web site at:
Visit my Web site at http://www.susansweeney.com