Continuing our discussion of search engine friendly design considerations I offer you part 1 of a 6 part series on SEO friendly design:
Pay attention to the crawlability of your site.
This process is also referred to as web crawling or spidering and it includes designing your navigation so it’s easy for the search engines to index, cross linking throughout the site and the construction of a comprehensive site map.
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 sites 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. If you have any interest in ranking well in the search engines you have to be polite and guide the search engines and give them easy access to all of your content.
Think of search engine spiders as young children that need strong guidance or a rich snob that’s crazy busy who let’s the door slam in your face after a meeting. Search engines are not going to stop and ask questions. They take what you give them and they move on.
The first step in the process is to build your navigation links so they can be easily followed. Text links on the homepage are obviously best but you may use graphic images if they’re properly labeled with alt tags.
You can also help the engines find their way around by including text links in your page footer to the main sections of your site. (More on this later) This practice is also 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 section or another section of interest.
Cross linking or deep linking will help you direct search engines to content that might not be linked from your homepage as a top level category.
An example of this is the article you’re reading. It might be featured on the homepage but eventually it will be mixed among all the other articles on this site so it will help if you can link to it and reference it from other articles. You can simply write your content as you usually would and include inline links to the article.
The goal here regarding design is to improve your user’s experience and add value to your content by linking to additional sources of information.
Linking in your content will also help guide your user through your site and help them discover other nuggets of information that they might have missed without the link. 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 pages on 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.
The last thing you can do is build a sitemap (or site map). A sitemap is essentially one page that is organized in a systematic way to present a link to every page on your site. This can be cumbersome for large sites and it shouldn’t be necessary to link directly to every single post or page.
The goal is to make every page on your site 2-3 clicks from the homepage. So if the spider can get to the homepage, link to the sitemap, continue to a main section and then find a deep link to an article you’ve done your job.
Sitemaps can be broken up into multiple pages as well, if the need arises. The most important point is that the search engine spiders can find the pages from the homepage within a click or two. Sitemaps can be built manually or through an XML sitemap generator.
Next… Organization and research.