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Step 3 - Site Preparation

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Before starting your search engine optimization project there are several key factors you must consider prior to even selecting the first keywords. You need to confirm your website's readiness in terms of overall structure and navigation. Your search engine optimization efforts have to begin with an easily navigable and logically laid out website structure.

If your home page has any graphics or flash animations you may have to reorganize your web pages to make them search engine friendly. This is done by (1) creating static HTML web pages in place of those hard to index pages or (2) by using other optimization methods. As a rule of thumb, you should not have more than 10% of text in images or flash based objects, and it's absolutely important that your internal site navigation is based on static text links. We will discuss this further in Chapter 4, Page Optimization and why it is so important.

Search engine optimization works best with statically linked websites. Although the Search Engine spiders have improved a great deal since the days of their initial appearance, some spiders still cannot reliably index dynamically linked pages such ASP, PHP and Java script with "?" or session IDs embedded in them.

Creating a better site for the search engines and your visitors

The purpose of any site preparation is to get your website ready for the search engines and your visitors. Although it may seem these two goals entail different tasks, what's good for the search engines is also good for your visitors. Usability case studies prove paying careful attention to your users' experience on your site pays big dividends down the road.

Let's examine the reasons why we want to create a structurally sound website with great user usability.

  • Pay attention to your users' experience, get your friends or colleagues to test drive the site and ask for their feedback. A great user experience will ensure the hard work you put into your site to attain a top ranking will pay off in higher page views and better conversion. Your efforts won't go to waste by turning visitors away with a bad website design.

  • The major search engines, Google, Yahoo! and MSN are "crawler based" This means they regularly visit your site and "import" your newly created pages and any updates into their index. It's your job to ensure that nothing restricts the search engines from discovering every page on your site that you want your visitors to find on the engines. Since the search engines follow links from your home page to every other page on your site, you need to create an optimal linking structure.

What should you watch for?

Each of these key elements below can have a substantial effect on your overall search optimization goals and search engine ranking so please pay careful attention.

  • Internal link navigation based on static text links works best as internal linking with keywords embedded in anchor text create a powerful combination of page relevancy.

  • Frames should be avoided wherever possible otherwise it will stop search engines in tracks and your web pages will be left out of their search engine index. As of today many engines are able to follow links within framesets, but it's best not to take any chances.

  • Flash should be limited to important concept illustrations or special affects, but don't build a flash only website if you want to achieve high search engine ranking. The biggest problem with a Flash based websites is the formatting used in regular content can't be replicated. For example we can't bold, italicize keywords or add bullets and headings to add emphasis to help the search engines understand our pages better.

  • Images should be only used for illustrations and not for navigation or embedded text. Search engines can't read text embedded in image objects. Unfortunately a lot of menu systems use a combination of JavaScript and rollover images. If you suspect your site uses this type of menu system, change it right away to either completely static link system or DHTML without the use of JavaScript.

  • Dynamic content and e-commerce website should ensure their product and category page URLs are not simply a number or some cryptic code, but a well formed URL re-written code. There is a built in URL re-writing engine in Linux based servers and there are many third party tools available for URL re-writing on IIS servers. The URLs can be reformatted so they contain the target keywords pertaining to the page.

  • Dynamic navigation using JavaScript is a big no-no, but DHTML based menu systems are ok. Check carefully the documentation of the menu system you consider buying for search engine friendliness. Unless you are using JavaScript to open pop-up type of windows for the user to open and close the use of JavaScript for navigation is strongly discouraged.

  • Page size and loading speed is not as much of a concern as it used to be in the early days of the Internet, but overloading your pages with heavy graphics or flash is still not a good idea. Think of your users and their time. If you notice your site's bounce rate is very high it may be due to visitors getting impatient and leave before the pages load.

  • HTML code errors are most often not seen by your visitors and the search engines are very forgiving when it comes to sloppy source code, but you should aim for nearly perfectly validated HTML pages. You can use many freely available online and desktop tools to help you validate your HTML pages. Here is the most popular HTML code validator Validator.w3.org.

  • The use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) is strongly recommended to substantially reduce the size of your HTML pages. Wherever possible use CSS classes to make your HTML source code more readable and to reduce the ratio between text and HTML codes.

  • Broken links to pages and images are not only embarrassing, but also can send a signal to the search  engines about the quality of your website. Use a freely available link checker called Xenu to check your links regularly.

  • Image maps are not search engine friendly. Search engines generally can't follow links associated with parts of an image. An image map designates different sections of an image as clickable links and allows one image to serve as a hyperlink to target multiple URLs. Keep in mind the search engines are blind when it comes to image maps.

  • Add a site map to your site once your main pages are uploaded. This should be one of the last steps in the page optimization process, but we decided to mention it here as it uniquely relates to usability and search engine friendly web design. A site map is a catalog of important links on a designated page. The link to each page ideally will have descriptive text. The number of links on a site map should not exceed 50 on a single page. If your site has more than 50 pages, you need to create additional site map pages within a new category.

  • Add a site search tool to your website. Installing a site search tool on your website is great way to increase your site's usability and at the same time you can get into the minds of your visitors by seeing what they are searching for. The search keywords used in a site search could also be a warning sign that certain information on your site is not easily accessible. By regularly reviewing your website's search log, you can uncover potential usability problems. Our favorite website search tool is the  Zoom Site Indexer. This tools is MS Windows based and can easily index hundreds of web pages in minutes.

  • Reliable hosting is a key essential for well indexed website. If your site is down for even one day, you can expect the search engine to remove some of your page and in some cases the complete website. We can recommend two hosing companies we have used for years now. For Windows hosting please check out Alentus.com and for Linux based hosting we recommend Dreamhost.com.


Site preparation and search engine friendly website design can not become an after thought in your website promotion campaign. Seemingly minor obstacles for search engine spiders to access your website's web pages can turn into major headaches later if they are not addressed properly. Search engines can only rank web pages that make it into their index. It's your job, as a webmaster to ensure every web page that is important to your site gets crawled by the search engines. This may mean website re-design for established websites with low search engine traffic. Look for the obvious signs of search engine spider obstacles such as frames, JavaScript navigation, or long URLs with session IDs. Once you have cleared the way for the search engine crawlers to reach every page on your site, focus your efforts on improving your site's usability.

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