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Although web designers don’t have to specialize in knowing all things SEO, it certainly can’t hurt if they know at least the basics. There are a lot of simple things that can be done when building a website for a client that will help increase the likelihood of the website having good search engine results.
SEO is not just optimizing your website for Google; there are other popular search engines used as well. (Although as anyone in the SEO world will probably admit, that’s not really true – it really is all about Google.)
I focus on Google here because they are unique in the variety of tools that they offer to help optimize a website for their search engines, a lot of which I have personally used for some of my clients.
A sitemap.xml file is a listing of the pages on your website in a format that is friendly to the search engines. You might be more familiar with a site map that is intended for humans to use; it’s the same concept, but the XML format is in the language that the search engine crawlers read.
There are a variety of tools out there to generate site maps for your website:
A robots.txt file is a set of instructions that tells the visiting search engine crawlers what they can and can’t index on your website.
For example, you can give instructions to tell certain search engines not to crawl your website, or that all engines shouldn’t crawl a particular directory on your website. The most basic instructions tell all search engines that they can crawl all directories on your website.
When you subscribe to Google’s free Webmaster Tools, there is a tool that will create a robots.txt file for you. Once you create it, make sure that it goes in the root directory of your website.
This one should be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning anyways. Submitting your URL to the search engines helps them find your website quicker – although sometimes it will still take some time after you submit it before the engines crawl your website.
At the bare minimum, you should submit your URL to the three major search engines. Here are the links for where you can do that:
The same benefit as telling the search engines what your URL is applies to your sitemap as well – it will just help them find your website and content easier. From personal experience, Google makes it very easy to do – there is a tool within their webmaster tools that lets you do that.
A page’s title tag is the first thing search engines look at when determining what a particular page is about. Title tags are also what potential visitors see and read when they’re looking at a search results page.
Most websites include the company name in the title tag, although there is still a good deal of debate about whether the name should be at the beginning or end of the title tag.
The most important thing to do with your title tags is make them relevant to what the page is about. It’s important to include one or two keywords in it as well, but don’t stuff your title tag full of keywords – that will just make your website look bad, and there are limits for the number of characters that can appear.
From the standpoints of usability, accessibility, and SEO, there are arguably fewer things that are more important than using your header tags properly. Not only do they visually break up your content on the page, but they also give users who are glancing through the page an idea of what is being written about.
How should header tags be used?
These two attributes don’t usually play a prominent role in the average user’s experience with a website, but they’re still important and shouldn’t be overlooked. There are also some small SEO benefits that can be gained from using them.
The ALT attribute is used when coding an image onto a page; think of it as some alternate text that appears should an image not load on a page. This attribute is important from an accessibility perspective because the screen readers used by blind people won’t show them what the image is, but if there is some descriptive text in the ALT attribute, they will pick up on that.
From an SEO perspective, the ALT attribute is another opportunity to get some code onto your page that the search engines will be able to read. Making it as relevant as possible to what the page is about can help contribute to stronger search engine rankings.
The TITLE attribute is usually used on links, and is often one of the small touches that a great website has. You’ve all seen the TITLE attribute in action even if you don’t realize what it is; if you hover over a link and a little tool tip appears, that’s the TITLE attribute in action.
From an SEO perspective, it’s again all about relevance, so be sure that what you’re putting in the TITLE attribute relates to where the link takes someone. Doing so will also help from a usability standpoint, which is just another added bonus.
Contained within the header of every page’s source code are what are called META tags. They are invisible to a website’s visitors, but are there because search engine spiders read them.
The two META tags that you need to concern yourself with the most when it comes to SEO are the description and keyword tags.
Want to know the most important aspect of SEO on a website? It’s the content. It always has been, and it always will be. You could use all of the tips mentioned above, but unless they are all relevant to the content on the page, then you’re just wasting time.
Yes, it’s true that most people will not read your content – but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it, because the search engine crawlers do read it and weigh it highly in their algorithms. The tricky part is that you also can’t write content that is entirely for the search engines, because real people need to read it and make a connection to it. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Here are some tips to help you write SEO-friendly content:
SEO-practitioners often forget that the search engines are not the end unto themselves – they are only a tool that real people use to help them find what they’re looking for. So even if they can get the search engines to think that a page is great, it’s only as great as its ability to either keep people on the website, or to get them to make a purchase or complete a transaction of some sorts.
And in an interesting twist, yet another thing that the search engines factor into their algorithms is how quickly someone leaves your website from the search engine results that brought them there. This is just further proof that SEO can be summed up in one word, which I’ve already used repeatedly: relevance.
These are some of the simpler steps that you can easily incorporate on your website. There are a lot more out there, so fill out the comment form below to share your best SEO tips, tricks, and tools with everyone!
Please only share SEO techniques that are considered “white hat” or ethical – no “black hat” or unethical tactics that can backfire and get you banned from the search engines. Thanks!