July 27, 2008

Search Engine Friendly Web Development

Like most people, I have been searching online since search began. First on Yahoo then on Altavista and then finally on the Search Engine of all Search Engines, Google. I fell in love with Google because of its simplistic design and user interface that focused on one thing and one thing only – search.

Google is a prime example of a well thought out website design: Focused on one service, simple enough for anyone and everyone to understand, effective in getting users to search on it and service-oriented in that search results are supplied within seconds.

When creating /developing or even choosing a template for web design and specifically for commercial websites, it is imperative that you put yourself in your user’s shoes.

Here are a few questions you might want to consider:

• Will users be able to navigate seamlessly? (without thinking too much)
• Will users find what they are looking for in less than 2 clicks from a given landing page?
• Will users find relevant and timely information on your website?
• Will first time users come back and visit your website?
• Will your website be convincing enough for users to perform an action? (whether it be clicking on to another page, submission of an email inquiry, or other actions which clearly define the effectiveness of a given website) ie. On Google the action performed is when keywords are entered into the search field.

Below, are vital guidelines in Search Engine Friendly Web Development: Please note that these guidelines have been crossed-referenced from official web sources namely the W3C and other trusted bodies and Institutions.

21 Important guidelines for Coding a Search Engine Friendly Website:

1. CSS should be used for both appearance and layout.

2. Designs should be optimized for a screen resolution of 1024X768 but keep in mind that 20% of internet users still use the screen resolution of 800X600. Depending on your target market, your screen resolution should be optimized to meet your user’s needs.

3. Recommend to use XHTML version 1 transitional and validate it using the W3C online mark-up validator

4. Each page should include a doctype statement

5. Ensure that your website looks the same across all browsers (firefox, explorer, safari, etc.)

6. Frames should not be used

7. Allow Search Engines to index your site properly using appropriate keywords in your title, header, meta tags and body.

8. Webpage should be functional without using java, javascript, flash or browser specific tags. Use these elements for navigational purposes only, to enhance the website but users should be able to navigate seamlessly and access all information with Javascript turned off.

9. Include a meta description tag at all times to allow the search engines to do their jobs in indexing and presenting your website in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)

10. All tags and attributes should be in lower case to comply with the doctype standard of XHTML version 1.

11. Quote all attributes to ensure that browsers render the code correctly

12. Filenames should be in lowercase with no spaces

13. Tables should be coded in proportional widths to accommodate all screen resolutions

14. Page design should employ a flexible layout

15. Check the majority of your users limitations using Analytics, which will inform you of your user’s capability and limitations when browsing.

16. Logical arrangement of files and folders for a sound site architecture.

17. Create an XML Sitemap and submit to Google sitemaps for faster indexing of additional pages, especially if website has over a thousand pages

18. Redirect pages accordingly and prevent error links or restricted URLs

19. Integrate consistent Search Engine Friendly (SEF) URLs for all web addresses

20. Follow the W3C’s guidelines in accordance with Fonts, Graphics, Color, Flash and Printing.

21. Speed should be relatively fast as a recent survey from akamai supports that a large percentage of users click off when the webpage does not load within the 4-second timeframe.

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