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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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9 Responses to “Website Redesign Best Practices – Part 3

    Great articles, thanx for that.

    avatar Rob Willox says:

    On the whole would agree with most of the elements highlighted except for both description and keywords tags.

    It’s long been known and recognised that the keywords tag is obselete in terms of its contribution to SEO and even leaving it out completely will not adversely affect search rankings.

    Similarly, with the description tag, Google’s Matt Cutts has confirmed that it plays no part in their search algorithm and as such contributes nothing to search page positions.

    However, he does confirms its importance, as outlined above, in encouraging clickthrough and subsequent conversion.

    A well constructed description tag, including appropriate searched for keywords, is more likely to be used verbatim as against Google choosing snippets from the page.

    So, Title is no1 for search and description can contribute considerably to conversion. Both should be page relevant, page specific and accurate.

    avatar Kim says:

    Great article! I am looking for group that would rate my site for free or little money. After designing and looking at it for so long it seems like lose sight of what can be made better or changed. Need a different perspective with target market in mind.

    avatar Beamer says:

    Excellent article, Ben. I have been saying the same thing since forever. Many people think that keyword meta tags are “obsolete” because Google or Matt Cutts says so. I found out that properly written meta tags DO matter when it comes to relevancy.

    I build websites for clients and you better believe I go all the way with meta tags and pure white hat SEO. This is why my clients rank high on the SERPs. In addition, I make darn sure that the title, description, keywords and content are 100% relevant to each other. I send the spiders and the site is indexed in 3 days on the first page. Yes, this even works for new domains without links coming to them, which I let happen naturally without buying or begging for them.

    Many will disagree me. That’s all well and good. They can disagree all they like, meanwhile my clients are ranking high for the keywords in their meta tags that Matt Cutts says don’t matter.

    avatar Stu Morris says:

    Great article Been,
    Just a note to a previous comment. Everyone likes to point out that description tags are useless for rankings, but imperative to click throughs. I guess my point would be that why muddy the waters to explain the difference if they are equally important. Leave out your description tag and you may be unpleasantly surprised what Google makes up for you.

    I found that a bit confusing – I guess by off-page you actually mean on-page but hidden from site visitors? (In seo we usually think of off-site or off-page as the linkbuilding to the content).

    Keywords – seriously? Don’t bother, you are only confirming your intent to competitors. Anyone thinking they are ranking because of keywords needs to remember “corelation doe not equal causation”!

    avatar SEO Bedford says:

    Since when “Titles, Descriptions, Keywords are essential off-page elements” became off-page elements? For someone who claims 14 years of experience in the SEO field should know that those are ON-PAGE elements. Inbound links are OFF-PAGE elements. lol

    avatar Ben Kemp says:

    A long overdue point of clarification – in different geographic regions, its not unusual to describe the the same thing by diferent terminology.

    Off-Site SEO covers external factors such as link-building and social media etc.

    Off-Site SEO deals with site-specific elements… When it comes to pages; the text and images are on-page items, whilst those things the visitor does not see are off-page items… Titles, Descriptions, Keywords, Image Alt text…

    And of course, the Queen’s English includes the ‘u’ in words like colour… We have footpaths, not sidewalks… 🙂

    As for Keywords… you make your own choices, but I will contineue to use them correctly.

    Last but not least, don’t overlook the obvious…. Google is NOT the only game in town, despite the best efforts of Yahoo to abdicate its responsibilities to loyal users… And Bing clings on to a piece of the market AND does acknowledge its assessment of the Keywords tag in its relvancy ranking algorithm. 🙂

    avatar Cailyn Harley says:

    I was almost swayed by the comment above. Good thing you replied. Thank you for clarifying and also thank you for this article. I’ve been meaning to have my website redesigned by a web design company in Arizona, but I felt the need to learn more so I can set my standards. Thanks again!

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