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SEO Friendly Design: Part 1 – Crawlability and cross linking

This is the first article in a 6 part series on SEO friendly design:
Today we’re talking about SEO friendly web design. Many people don’t consider “design” an  important part of SEO. But when you consider that “design” includes related topics like UX (User experience) and UI (User Interface design), you’ll start to see how many of these practices can make or break your SEO — all while helping to improve the overall experience of your website visitors.
To get started… lets talk a little bit about crawlability.
Crawlability is essentially how well a search engine can find all the pages on your website. It’s also the engine’s ability to properly document what the pages are all about.
One of the biggest problems that many websites face in this regard is the use of graphic images as navigation and, worse yet, informational content as graphic images on the page. Yes, back in the day I too was guilty of this massive SEO blunder. But if you have any interest in ranking well in the search engines you have to do away with this practice and guide the search engines with descriptive text and links that help them to understand what your content is about, and where it all is on your site.
When I first started out as a budding web designer, I only cared about the design. I had zero knowledge of coding or SEO and, outside of the long paragraphs of content on the site, I made everything an image…. navigation, headlines, graphics and sometimes even links. As you can imagine, it’s very hard for a search engine to view an image and understand what it’s about or what it says. Google is getting better at this but it’s still a foundational best practice to create all of your content and navigation as text.
Here’s a quick tip: Sometimes you need images. Images are a critical aspect of designing a great user experience. So when you have to use an image, provide what’s called alt text in the code that describes that image for the search engines and your visibly impaired visitors .
And to close out this tip… here’s a couple metaphors… Think of search engine spiders as young children that need strong guidance, or a busy snob that let’s the door slam in your face after a meeting. Search engines are busy, distracted and on a mission… they’re not going to stop and ask questions. They take what you give them and they move on. So make it easy for them by doing everything you can to make it easy to crawl and understand your website.
The next best practice for good SEO friendly design is internal linking
Cross linking or deep linking or internal linking is another way that you can help websites crawl and understand what’s important on your website. You will also help to direct search engines to content that might not be linked from your homepage or navigation as a top level category.
A great example of this is a blog article. Articles might be featured on the homepage temporarily, but eventually they will be mixed among all the other articles on your site. So it will help if you can link to them, and reference them from other related content on the website. You can simply write your content as you usually would and include inline links to the related article when that topic or keyword is mentioned.
In addition to helping search engines index your content, this also helps the design of your site by improving your user’s experience. You are adding value to your content by linking to additional sources of information. Internally and externally.
Linking to other content will help guide the user through your site and help them discover other nuggets of information that they might have missed without the link.
Sidenote: Don’t be afraid to link users to content other than your own. Your goal is to be helpful in any way that you can and sometimes the best thing to do is link out to external content. Just make sure that the link opens in a new window so they’re not completely leaving your site.
Obviously the same theory stands regarding the search engines. Deep linking helps search spiders find their way to all the great content on your site, so you ensure that they’re thorough. Linking to pages on your site, and off your site,  also helps the search engines determine the overall subject matter of your site, therefore helping to improve the rankings for your core keywords.
Here’s an important tip: In addition to just linking content to related content, plan to link content back to top-level pages that have keywords that you want to rank for. Using the landscaping example that I mentioned previously, if you have a lot of blog articles related to landscaping services, every one of these pages should link back up to your top-level landscape services page using that keyword. Ultimately this will help visitors and search engines find their way to this important page, and you’ll find that this internal linking strategy is one of the best ways to improve your SEO and rankings because it helps search engines to understand what’s the most important topics and content on your site.
Lastly, you can help search engines and users find their way around better by including text links in your page footer to the main sections of your site. This practice is an added bonus for content heavy sites where readers end up at the bottom of a long article and need navigation to move back to the main pages or other  sections of interest.
The next thing that you can do is create a site map. This can be done manually by creating an actual page, or HTML sitemap, or you can create what’s called an XML sitemap.
An HTML sitemap can be considered good design because it may help to improve the user experience of a website if all of your content isn’t clearly visible within your top-level navigation. It can help people find their way if they’re looking for something specific and search is not an option that’s available on your site.
But the best and easiest way to create a sitemap is the XML format. This is a file that’s only used by search engines. It documents all the content on your site and it can even be uploaded directly to Google through your account. Google will validate the file and check it on a regular basis. Check out sites like to see how this can be done with little or no pain or technical knowhow.
The takeaway here is that you must help search engines and users find content on your site, by doing everything you can to link them to all your content. Providing a sitemap that links to all of your content is a no-brainer and it’s relatively easy to do.
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About Chris Auman:

Chris Auman is a veteran digital marketer with over 25 years of experience in the trenches. As Sanctuary’s founder and President, Chris has successfully guided online marketing efforts for companies large and small.

Learn more about Chris.

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