Optimize your Website for Search Engines

by Mike Barry
CEO Fort Collins Web Works LLC

Google will rank your website high in their search engine results if you design it for your customers. This means you should include lots of quality unique content that your customers need, make it easy for customers to navigate, and promote your website.

Organize your website

1) Choose a directory structure that makes sense. This will make more sense to your customers and be easier for the search engines to crawl. The amount of time that a search engine spends crawling your website is limited so you don't want the search engine to spend more time trying to figure out how to get to all your pages. If it runs out of time, all your pages won't be crawled and added to the index until the search engine crawls your website again. Group closely related pages in the same directory. Limit the depth of your directory structure to two or three levels if possible.

2) Create a simple, easy to understand way for your customers to navigate around your website. Customers should be able to get from any page to almost any other page using a navigation bar. This saves them time and makes it easier to find what they are looking for. If your website has hundreds of pages you would only want to include the main pages in your navigation bar, with links to more specific pages from the appropriate main page. Simple text links are easy for search engines to crawl and they will work on all browsers, even if your customer has disabled javascript for security reasons.

3) Create a sitemap for customers and a sitemap for search engines and a sitemap for your images. Sitemaps list all the pages in your website with a description of their contents. Customers use sitemaps to find information if they are having trouble navigating with your menu system. They are especially valuable finding pages that might not be included in the main menu system for some reason. Search engines have their own sitemaps, usually in XML format, that they use to find all the pages in a website if they are having problems crawling your website.

4) Create a custom 404 page for your website. When a customer goes to a broken link on your site they will see an Error 404 page. The default 404 page just tells them that there is on webpage where they were looking. A custom 404 page could give them a list of the main pages where they could go to find the information they are looking for, or even a sitemap so they could look for pages that might interest them. You don't want to lose a customer due to a typo.

Create pages for your website

1) Choose a topic for each new webpage.

2) Select a keyword phrase for your new webpage. Your keyword phrase should reflect what your page is about, be something that your customers will search for, and not be so general that billions of websites are competing with you for your keyword phrase. You can use Google's keyword tool to judge the popularity of a keyword phrase. It will even suggest related keyword phrases.


3) Choose a URL for your new webpage that is easy to understand. The URL is the name of the file that contains your webpage. Your URL should be as short as possible and contain words, preferably your keyword phrase. This will make more sense to a customer and be easier to remember than a URL created from a string of random characters or numbers. Search engines also read URLs and use any words they find to help them understand what your page is about. The last line in your listing in the Google search results will contain your webpage URL, and your customers will often use it to help them choose which listing to persue. Lower case characters are recommended for your URLs.

4) Use the same URL to refer to a webpage. You can access a webpage using several different URLs. (I.E. www.mywebsite.com, mywebsite.com, www.mywebsite.com/index.html, mywebsite.com/index.html...) Choose one way to access your pages and use it for all your links. You can confuse customers and search engines by using different URLs to access the same page. Search engines rank pages higher if they have more incoming links, and if you share your incoming links between different URLs, each URL will appear to have fewer links than it should and they may rank lower in the search results.

5) Create a title for your new webpage. The page title is inserted into the head of your webpage, inside <title>...</title> tags. Each page of your website should have an accurate unique page title. Search engines considers the page title very important and they use it to help understand what your page is about, so your page title should reflect the contents of the page and contain the keyword phrase that you have selected. The page title will also be the first line in the search results, so it should attract your customer's attention and encourage them to click your listing to view your website. Your page title will be truncated in the search engine results if it exceeds 70 characters, so keep it under 70 characters long.

6) Create a description for your new webpage. The description is inserted into the head of your webpage inside the <meta name="Description" content="put description here" /> tag. The description is a summary of your webpage contents, and it should be accurate and unique. Search engines will read the description for more details regarding your webpage, some will use this information to help rank you in the search results and some don't, but the description is very important because it is often displayed in the search results under your page title. If you don't provide a description tag, search engines might create a description based on text in your website or other websites, and these may not be appropriate. Customers will probably read your description to help them decide which of the listings to click on. Don't use double quotes in your description, double quotes indicate the end of your description text to a search engine. Your description will be truncated in the search engine results if it exceeds 160 characters, so keep it under 160 characters long.

7) Add unique high quality content to your page. If your customers like your content they will probably tell others about it, and they will tell others about it and on and on. Search engines will notice when customers add links to your website and your ranking in the search engine results will improve.

  • easy to read
  • no spelling mistakes
  • no grammatical mistakes
  • don't hide text in images
  • organize your thoughts, use paragraphs and headings
  • unique content is more interesting to your customers

8) Your links should be obvious, short and explanatory. Make sure your customers can find your internal links (links between pages of your website), use a different color or underline to make them obvious. Use short descriptive anchor text for your links. Good anchor text will encourage customers to click through to your other pages, and help search engines understand what the target page is about. Don't use "Click Here" or a URL for the anchor text, it doesn't describe the target page.

9) Optimize your images. Include keyword phrases in your image filenames and ALT tags. Search engines use both of these to understand your images and calculate your ranking in the search results. Keep your filenames and ALT tags as short as possible, but still meaningful. If your customer is using a browser for the blind or just has image display disabled then the ALT text will be substituted for the image. Most browsers and search engines understand JPG, GIF, PNG or BMP formats. Be sure to include a sitemap specifically for your images.

10) Use heading tags to emphasize text ( I.E. <h1>...<h6>). More important heading text is displayed larger so both customers and search engines understand the relative importance.

11) Protect your website's reputation by blocking links to undesirable websites. When you link to another website you are telling the search engines that you think the target website is good. If you link to undesirable websites (that search engines have already determined to be SPAM), the search engines might think your website is less desirable and decrease your ranking in the search engine results. You can prevent this by adding a 're="nofollow"' attribute to links that point to undesirable websites. The search engines will ignore these links.

Promote your website

1) Add your website URL to your business cards, letterhead, emails.

2) Tell customers when you add new content that they might find interesting. Newsletters and blogs are great ways to do this.

3) Add your business to Google Places and be sure to include your website URL.

4) Use social media like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to notify customers that you have added new content to your website.

5) Network with your vendors and customers, ask them to link their websites to yours.

6) Post articles to blogs related to your website. Be sure to provide valuable content and send customers back to your website for more.

refs: Google

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