Search Engine Optimisation Do’s and Don’ts
Rather like the recipe for Coca–Cola, no outsider knows the precise ingredients that make up the constantly changing algorithms used by the big search engines such as Google and Yahoo.
One Essential Ingredient
Nevertheless, the most important single ingredient of search engine optimisation is known for certain. It isn’t magic — it’s basic competence. The do’s and don’ts of search engine optimisation boil down to:
- competent writing by the website’s owner;
- competent construction by the designer.
Search Engine Do’s
Include useful information. This is by far the single most important element. Don’t be tempted to pad out a page with waffle. If your website has nothing to say, the search engines will ignore it (and so will any visitors who stumble across it).
Update your content frequently. Obviously, this isn't appropriate for all websites, but search engines give more importance to websites whose content changes often than to websites that appear to be neglected.
Poor writing is as big a turn–off for search engines as it is for human visitors. You should keep to the point, use plain language, and avoid jargon and marketing drivel. If you sell shovels, write “we sell shovels”, not “we deliver customer–focussed soil transference solutions”. There’s one more element to clear writing. At the end of the day, the bottom line is: avoid clichés like the plague.
No matter how well you communicate using speech, the ability to write clearly is a separate skill. There is no shame in hiring a professional copywriter if necessary!
Humans can usually make sense of bad grammar, but search engines are not so clever.
Correct spellign spelling is important, especially of the words the search engines will remember. If your potential customers are searching for ‘widgets’, and your website claims that you sell ‘widgetts’, those customers probably won’t find you.
Here are some of the standard SEO technical features we include in every Lab 99 website:
- We use keywords (words people are likely to use when searching for a particular topic) in appropriate places within the website.
- We use a description meta tag within the head section of each HTML page.
- We use ‘alt’ text to describe images.
- We use titles to describe the destinations of links unless the link itself describes its destination.
- Our designs are efficiently coded by hand, by us; we do not use off–the–shelf designs or bloated, computer–generated code.
- We use up–to–date, semantic and structurally sound code.
- We use valid HTML and CSS code.
- We use text rather than images for all essential information, and use recognised image replacement techniques where necessary.
Search Engine Don’ts
A frame (sometimes known as an iframe) is a device for inserting one web page inside another, usually one from a different website. Frames have their legitimate uses, but structuring an entire website with frames puts up a barrier to search engines, which will simply not be able to get from the home page to any of the other pages.
Inappropriate Use of Tables
The classic sign of the cowboy web designer, laying out web pages with tables used to be necessary but has been superseded now that all visual browsers recognise CSS. Your website won’t be completely invisible to the search engines, but a professional, fully HTML– and CSS–based structure and layout will always be given greater importance.
To human visitors, decorative Flash animations are wonderful if done expertly, but become crude and off–putting gimmicks when done badly, which they often are. Websites made entirely using Flash are almost completely invisible to search engines, unless an HTML equivalent has been created, which it usually hasn’t.
Remember those ‘click here to enter’ splash pages? They seemed like a good idea in the early days of the internet, when no–one knew any better. Burying your content one level deeper than necessary is now seen by humans as well as search engines as an obstacle, not as an invitation. The only place for splash pages is in multilingual websites, to give visitors a choice of language versions, and even then there are usually better alternatives.
Most of these problems are due to nothing more than using obsolete techniques, and are typically found in elderly websites and those created by amateurs who haven’t learned how to do things properly.
Because there is almost always more than one way to achieve a visual effect, a web page can look fine on the surface while containing very poor code underneath. Most human visitors won’t notice whether a website is technically competent, but a search engine always will.