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May 26, 2011

Website Redesign Best Practices – Part 2

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Site architecture can make or break a site’s chances of achieving prominence in the search engine results pages. There is usually no one single element at issue, more a combination of items that collectively add up to an overly high impediment to search engines. Improper use of Flash and JavaScript are common culprits, as is failure to use the most basic of website building blocks.


Site Architecture Issues in Detail

Search Engine Friendly URLs:

* URL’s should include a relevant keyword phrase specific to every page generated!

* Avoid capitalization AND spaces in file names. Use hyphens to separate words instead.

Search Engines can now cope with URL’s with multiple iterations of ?, & and = in them, but they are incomprehensible to HUMANS! But nonsensical URL’s do not provide any clue to the search engines as to what the page content is about. Search-friendly URLs are valuable components in the process of categorizing page content.

Explicit Image File Names:

Use keyword-rich explicit Image file names e.g.:

* http://www.mysite.com/images/new-zealand-rugby-tours-hdr-4.jpg

* http://www.mysite.com/images/school-rugby-tours-nz.jpg

Image URL’s should include relevant keywords specific to every page generated!

* Both Google and Yahoo have specific image functions that can generate a lot of traffic if images are properly named and tagged (ALT tags)

* Avoid capitalization AND spaces in file names. Use hyphens to separate words instead.

Image Alt Tags:

Use Image Alt Tags on every image – a short keyword-rich, relevant sentence that describes the content of the page / image is what’s needed. It’s essential to reinforce relevant keywords in every area of the page – Image ALT tags are an important location to insert one or more exact match search phrases.

Site Maps are Essential:

Sitemaps help shorten the “levels” to the main content – the Products. In many Shops, the nested Categories drive the real content down far deeper than 3 levels from Home. Anything lower than 3 levels in the internal link hierarchy appears far less valuable to SE’s – and rarely gets a Top 30 ranking in the SERPs! Two forms of sitemaps are essential;

* An accessible HTML version, with links to it from the Home page.

* An XML version that should be linked from the robots.txt page (and submitted to both Google and Yahoo for indexing)

For example; in very large osCommerce sites it’s possible to dramatically increase the number of indexed pages on Google by using the All_Products modification as a site map and placing the A-Z links it generates on the footer of every page.

Custom 404 Error Page

Add a Custom 404 Error Page: According to a recent poll, only 23% of visitors that encounter a 404 page make a second attempt to find the missing page. That means 77% of visitors that encounter a 404 error will immediately leave your website! By creating an effective Custom 404 Page, you can actually improve visitor retention by ensuring they find what they need.

JavaScript & Flash Disasters

Keep the use of JavaScript and Flash throughout the site to a minimum. While everything contained within <script language=”JavaScript”> and </script> is not actually processed, the SE’s are thought to assess the ratio of code to content, demoting pages with excessive code!

* The Search Engines don’t much like JavaScript (or Flash or FRAMES) – so minimize its use.

* It is better if external JavaScript (and CSS) files are “called” or “included” and the minimum amount of code is embedded in the pages.

* NEVER use JavaScript or Flash for the Main Menus!

Like it or not, Google cannot “see” anything contained in either JavaScript or Flash. If you use either mechanism for your main menu system, you are consigning the site to relative oblivion.

robots.txt File

Make sure there is a robots.txt file on the site because search engine spiders look for it! In there you can specify which, if any, directories or files are NOT to be indexed. In the majority of cases, you allow all spiders access to everything. If the file is missing, the requests for it generate 404 Page Not Found errors – and you should always try to minimize these errors. The robots.txt file should also include a link to your sitemap e.g.; Sitemap: http://www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml

On-Page Content:

Pages need text content. Without it, there is nothing for a search engine to work with as it attempts to establish what the website is about. If you seriously expect a page to rank in the Top 10 for competitive keyword search phrases, the minimum amount of content you should aim for is in the order of 800-1000 words of content. Previously, lesser volumes may have sufficed, but Google’s quest to provide the most relevant pages for any given search has upped the stakes a little. Does it seem logical that a page with 400 words of good content is likely to outweigh a page with 1000 words of good content. That content should be original, well-written, interesting, engaging, thought-provoking and/or provocative. It must be focused toward the specific keyword search phrase you are planning to rank well for. The content should include 1 or more images to add interest with relevant keywords in the Alt text. There must be some form of “Call to Action” where you specify WHAT it is that you want visitors to do, and How/Where to do it.

Page Headings:

This is the most (SEO) important “On-Page” location to specify to the search engines what the page is about. It is important to both load your Headings with main keyword phrase/s (most important at the beginning) and to ensure that all are in H1 / H2 / H3 format.

First Paragraphs:

This is the 2nd most (SEO) important “On-Page” location to specify to the search engines what the page content is about.

* It is important to place primary keyword phrases at the start of the first paragraph, and to highlight them in bold if possible.

* It is important to include text anchor links on main internal pages. Links TO these anchors (bookmarks) should be provided on the Home page and sub-pages, to pages below, and at the same level.

Text Anchors / Bookmarks / Hyperlinks

Place some keyword-rich anchor text links to internal pages from within body text because this helps set keyword relationships to those pages. Adding anchors on internal pages, and links TO those anchors, also raises the keyword count of both pages. Linking to anchors on internal pages from the Home page raises the perceived importance of those internal pages, and provides additional pathways for search engine spiders to find and index them.

Navigation / Main Menu

* This should be CSS / DHTML text-based to gain maximum traction

* NOT JavaScript / Flash because these cannot be accessed by Search Engines

* Page Rank is passed downwards through the site via accessible internal links

* The keywords in internal links are also what SE’s will associate with the internal pages

If possible, allow addition of hyperlink titles to the menu item links – dynamic links, based on the internal page’s 1st heading are not as good as the ability to manually add titles to menu item names. Hyperlink titles in the menu and in the text anchors (above) can significantly raise the keyword count on a page, as well as reinforcing what the page (that the link leads to) is about.


Ben Kemp, a search engine optimization consultant since 1997, is a specialist in website redesign, and a veteran of 25-plus years of experience in the IT industry.

Web: www.ComAuth.co.nz + www.Website-Redesign-Company.co

4 Responses to “Website Redesign Best Practices – Part 2

    Excellent article! This is the same stuff I try to communicate to clients who hire me to set up the site framework (as opposed to setting up a whole site). I’m not sure I agree that Page Rank is passed downwards, though. To my knowledge, each page is ranked on it’s own merits.

    avatar Eileen Gibb says:

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I’m going to try to improve my internal links.

    avatar Joshua says:

    Thanks very much for the tips! I’ll definitely be looking into adding a few things to my site as a result.

    avatar SEO Bedford says:

    “The robots.txt file should also include a link to your sitemap e.g.; Sitemap: http://www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml

    Was a valuable tip that I shall start using it! Thanks for sharing that with us.

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