Friday, November 16, 2007

The Design Checklist

Before any SEO campaign can begin, a site must be analyzed to determine how well the site is being spidered by the search engines. It is also important to assess and modify the architecture of the site as needed. We always assess and recommend changes to the design of a site before doing any optimization. This ensures that a solid base is beneath the optimization and minimizes the amount of design changes we'll have to make later.

Before you begin optimization of a site, you should review the following areas. Ignoring certain aspects of the design can seriously limit the impact of the optimization.

1.) Spiderable Links

The search engines typically follow standard HTML. They do not render most scripts. The most common design problem is the inclusion of non-spiderable links. Often, these links are coded in either JavaScript or Flash, but non-spiderable code also includes HTML Forms. It is important to the optimization that as many pages as possible be indexed by the search engines. If the pages aren't indexed, they can never rank and do not provide value to the other pages on the site.

The most common usage of non-spiderable links is in dropdown navigations. The most common dropdowns are coded in JavaScript and are not spiderable. It is always ok to use JavaScript for animation or other functionality, but the link itself must be in standard HTML. There are numerous CSS/JavaScript alternatives that allow using standard HTML links with div tags to accomplish the same drop down effects without using non-spiderable links.

2.) Maximum Internal Linking

The architecture of the site tells the engines a lot about what pages are important and what pages are not. The search engines try to view sites the same way a user does. This means that pages linked to from prominent locations like a main navigation will automatically receive more attention and authority. This is why search engine-friendly CSS drop down navigations are a good thing. Our goal should be to provide as many direct links to important pages from as many other pages as possible on the site.

As a rule of thumb, do your absolute best to ensure that no page is more than 2 clicks from any other page on the site. It is not possible to link every page from every other page on a larger site, but proper organization should lead to pages being accessible through main categories that are accessible from anywhere on the site. Authority filters down. If a page is available from only one other page on the site and that page is hard to get to, the original page will never rank well. Make it easy for users to find and you'll make it easy for search engines to find.

Depending on the size of the site, it can take a good bit of planning to optimally lay out an architecture and internal linking structure. Generally, it's best to lay out a site like a pyramid. The home page should act as a true hub to the site with main categories providing maximum access to pages under its control.

3.) Portal Home Page

This ties directly into maximizing internal linking, but is important enough (and a common enough problem) to get a special note. The home page is given the most authority of any page on the site. The search engines assume most traffic will enter the site through the home page. They also assume that the webmaster understands that and links the most important pages and information directly from the home page. If the site uses a 'splash' or some minimal home page, it is seriously limiting itself.

An optimized home page will act as a hub to all information on the site. If a page is hard to get to from the home page, it will be treated as a supplementary page and NOT an authoritative page.

4.) Text Content

Good web pages provide good content. Without good content, the page has no value and no purpose on the Web. It should be assumed that good text content will need to be added to the site. If the site's design does not allow for the addition of content, it should be addressed as early as possible. The goal with any optimization campaign should be to provide the content that users are searching for. Grow your site, find out what people want, and provide it.

It is also very important to assess the visibility of the text content to the search engines. Text content should be written in standard text. Content that appears in Flash, images, JavaScript, behind HTML Forms, or in secure sections of the site will most likely be invisible to the search engines.

As we can see from the previous points, we have to address some things with each site before planning any real optimization strategies. We must determine what the search engines see. We must determine which pages are important and display them as such. We must cater to both the search engines and the users. This will provide a strong foundation for the optimization and help the site reach its potential.

Thank you for reading TreeHouse SEM articles. If you would like to know more about any of these topics, feel free to contact us. If you would like to reprint any of the above text, please contact us first.

About the Author: Steve comes from a rich Web background where he has worked on the design, development, and marketing aspects of hundreds of Web sites. Formerly from Mississippi where he attended Ole Miss, Steve moved to San Diego to pursue further challenges in the Web marketing arena.

To compete in the rapidly growing marketplace of SEM, Treehouse immediately set itself apart by placing Chief Technology Officer DeVries at the helm, who is one of the most coveted experts in the industry today. DeVries was previously a lead technical consultant at a competing local firm, achieving top rankings for major clients such as Entrepreneur,, Viacom, Workopolis, and Ziff Davis Media. DeVries' experience has brought him much industry attention and placed him in high demand as a speaker at industry events by those looking to pick his brain.

By: Steve Devries


Nate Stockard said...

This is a very informative blog. Designers need to read this every time they start. I have created a pre-design checklist that forces users to think about the behind the even more basic building blocks of design: Graphic Design Pre-Design Checklist"
Between this blog's helpful info and my checklist, designers will be on their way to successful design.

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Party shoes said...

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