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June 2, 2011

Website Redesign Best Practices – Part 3

In this third article on redesigning a website, we are going to look closely at off-page content issues, such as meta-tags, links, domain names etc.

Off-Page Content

The page Title tag is the single most important on-site element! There are also other opportunities for increasing the density of key words and phrases – some are listed below;

Title – The No.1 On-site Element

The maximum recommended length is 8-10 words, or 70 characters. Full manual control is important. In a CMS or ecommerce scenario, if all that can be offered is dynamic, it should be ordered as follows: Product Name + Category + Tagline :: maximum 70 characters. Do NOT use stop words, or irrelevant words. The best Title tag is one that is unique and strictly relevant to each individual page, and this is crucial to attaining top search engine rankings.


Items such as Titles, Descriptions, Keywords are essential off-page elements which significantly influence the search engine’s appraisal of your site, and have an impact on whether searchers actually click on the search results link and come to your site. Use Them, Wisely! In a CMS / Shopping site, especially if very large, it is probably best to have a dual-action system. e.g. populate the Title/Description/Keywords meta-tags automatically from page content by default, but allow manual override as / if required.


Unique Description meta-tags must be provided on all pages. The maximum recommended length for a Description is 200 characters (Google will display 150 only, but other SE’s will show 200). Manual control is best if possible. If dynamically generated, then an output string like this is best; Product Name + Category Name + 1st Paragraph of Product Description :: maximum 200 characters. It is extremely important to search engine rankings that a carefully crafted Description, unique to every page, be provided. This helps the search engines to properly categorize the site. A well crafted description will also be used verbatim in most search engine results displayed to searchers, meaning you can control what is shown to searchers in SERPs. And, of course, the Description should in fact describe the page it’s on. The Problem: when descriptions are not supplied, the search engines will do their best to generate one from existing content, which can often look like rubbish, or be duplicated on all pages. Where a “generic” description is provided, all the pages look the same in the search results. Your Descriptions are meant to help “sell” the product…


Unique Keyword meta-tags must be provided on all pages! Manually controlled if possible. If dynamically generated, an output string like this is best; Product Name + Category Name + 1st Paragraph :: maximum 250 characters. NB: strip out special characters – e.g. & : ; etc, and it’s not absolutely essential to place commas between words. NB: This tag is not heavily relied on by most search engines. However, it is a useful discipline to insert the targeted keyword phrases for the page into the tag – as a reminder, if nothing else. However, the terms must focus on the page content, not simply be stuffed full of vaguely related words. Every page must be set to target a specific relevant set
of keywords / phrases!


You need to be careful about Links – simplified, it now works this way…

* A link to your site from another site is a vote for you and is added to your total vote count.

* A link from you to another site is a vote BY you, and is DEDUCTED from your total vote count.

Reciprocal links are neutral…

* Outward links can bleed away your Page Rank.
* Outward links to inappropriate sites WILL hurt your rankings.

Sculpting outward links so they don’t count as a vote outwards is done by adding the rel=”nofollow” attribute to the links. Wholesale use of nofollow is unwise… it’s unnatural and potentially you may be penalized for it. Its introduction was to cover “untrusted” links only, but abuse of the original intent and purpose is forcing Google to rethink its use.

Domain Names

Be aware that any move to switch domain name as part of a rebranding process is fraught with peril. This was covered in Part 1 of this series of articles. However, sometimes it makes sense to switch domain names. If the current domain is only a year or so old, is badly named, has no incoming links to speak of, and current rankings are negligible, there may be much to be gained by a new, more relevant domain name. There are a variety of Domain-related issues that impact on your search engine rankings.

* Use relevant / specific keywords in the Domain Name, but not excessively so. Two or three keywords is regarded as sufficient…

* Separate them by HYPHENS because it helps make sense to viewers!

e.g.: vs. Hosting

An aspect overlooked by many site owners is the importance of the Domain Name “Country Code” to your site rankings, traffic and consequent success. The problem here is the “decentralization” of search – the way in which the major search engines have split their indexes up into country-specific search opportunities. Google (and other SE’s) know where you are, or where you should be associated with, by either the Country Code (.Co.NZ) or the IP address allocated to your site. IP addresses are allocated in numeric blocks or ranges, by country.

Web Redesign Summary

The examples shown in this series of articles illustrate that it’s not the tools, it’s the quality of workmanship that makes the difference. If you’re a website designer, you owe it to your clients to ensure you do more good than harm! If your stupidity causes the newly rebuilt website to vanish off Google’s radar screen, it does not matter one iota if the site looks stunning! Page redirection is such a fundamental requirement, its verging on criminal negligence to overlook it! Not using freely available, fully automated sitemap and meta-tags generation tools is quite unprofessional. It confirms the designer’s incompetence, so by all means, add your name to the footer credits to let the world know who to avoid! Of course, if your underlying objective is to keep people like me in business, feel free to ignore all my well-intended advice.

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.

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