designforSEO's New Rules for Search-Friendly Design
I came across this post the other day from a designer named Jacob Cass regarding his “10 SEO Rules for Designers.” He really nails it and it’s amazing how this post from June 2008 still holds water now on the eve of 2012. It made me do some deep thinking about why it still holds up and also spurred me to consider any additions I might make to the list. Jacob’s 10 SEO rules are listed here (you can read the details on his post linked above):
- Don’t Cheat The System
- Stick To Your Keywords
- Content Is King
- Clean Code Is Searchable Code
- The Home Page Is The Most Important Page
- Links Have Meaning
- Title Tags For The Win
- Alt Tags Matter
- Ignore Most Meta Tags
- Have A Site Map
- Design For Humans
Here are the changes and additions that I would add to Jacob’s list. Some of these are refinements, while others are expansions on his ideas or new ideas that have surfaced in the last few years since his post.
Rule 11: Do Your Keyword Research
Business owners and marketing departments, no matter how sophisticated they are about digital marketing practices, all fall prey to their own industry-speak and corporate slang. No matter how sure the stakeholders are about what everyone uses or what works, take the time to do your own research (or hire an SEO pro) and make sure you’re not chasing unicorns. Visitors don’t always use the terms you think they should.
Rule 12: Engage The Visitor
Forward-thinking search engine professionals have been preaching about content forever (so it seems!). In fact, a whole new profession (content strategy) has arisen from the need to develop engaging content and weave it into cohesive digital marketing strategies. The key to engagement is to position yourself and your company as thought-leaders and to curate content for your visitors.
Engaging the visitor with meaningful content has long-lasting benefits that go beyond the quick-hit of a sensational YouTube video. Become a compendium of trends in your industry, provide your visitors with innovative ways to use or think about your products or services, even bring in thought-leadership from across your industry and market sector. Become a go-to website – a bookmark-must.
Rule 13: Don’t Ignore The Value Of Your Inner Pages
Driving traffic to the home page is a good thing, but only if the home page is well-designed and visitor-friendly. If it’s a mish-mash of navigation, menus, links, pop-up windows, and choices, this won’t help the visitor understand what you want them to find nor will the search engines find the clean kernel of context they need to find you perfectly suited for a searcher’s request.
One way to manage this is to clean-up the home page and make it as focused to your core business (and keywords) as it can possibly be and to give the visitor clear direction to those areas of expertise (and content) your website offers. Then, do the same to each and every page. Think of all of your inner pages as one-stage in a long step-by-step guide to understanding what you do and how you do it. Building inner pages this way will allow them to rank for their own keyterms and content; perhaps outranking your home page over time – and that’s okay!
Rule 14: URLs need love too
URLs or uniform resource locator is the actual coding that describes where the informations that needs to be retrieved – sometimes referred to as the web address – it usually denotes a web page, but can just as easily mean a PDF, an image or an email account. It is important to the search engines that the anchor to your content be easily understood, but even better if that anchor can help clearly communicate the content that is affixed to it.
When the title tag and meta data, (like the page description) and the URL all share the same keyword threads, the search engines now have a pitch-perfect understanding of what is on that page.
Rule 15: Your Images Can Drive Traffic Too
While alt-tags are important, naming your images in search-friendly ways can have a dramatic impact on your traffic patterns and ranks. When I begin with a client who has many product photos or images from their files on their websites, I usually find that the images have retained the names/titles that were assigned by the camera device they used. This has no search value at all.
To harness the power of search, images need to include not only keywords that are appropriate to the website, product or service, but also to the target audience and their search patterns. Don’t forget to include your name or the company/website domain as well. Sure this means longer titles and a decision-tree for using this keyword as opposed to that product name, but defining these parameters for everyone who authors content on the site means that everyone does things the same way. Continuity’s reward is efficiency as well as an increase in traffic.
Rule 16: Description Tags Are Your Most Valuable Online Asset
Description tags are passages of code in the meta tags that are used to describe what the content on that page or URL is about. These tags represent another opportunity to emphasize keyword groups and distinguish between branches of content for visitors and search engines alike. These are often used by search engines to summarize your content.
This is what I tell my clients: use this space to make a pitch or include an offer, but do it in the first 80 characters if you can. Remember, this passage is popping up on a search engine result page for free! Use the rest of the 145+/- characters to name yourself and drop in keywords that relate. Think of description tags like Tweets. Write the passage for human eyes – make it compelling – searchers are making decisions on what you show them here and nothing else. Brochure-copy should be avoided here at all costs.
Rule 17: Your Name Means/Is Everything To You
Simply put, buying a domain name like “tantical.com” for a private investigation service is going to mean an uphill battle for you in the search engines. Success may still come, but your business is going to thrive by buzz-marketing, repeat customers and offline marketing. Likewise, adopting “Royals-Flush.com” for a plumbing service run by a guy named Royal sounds fun, but do the search – what returns for “royal-flush”? Will you ever break into the top-10 for search results – even for your own name? Unlikely.
Used to be a clever name or a play on words was all you needed on the side of your truck. But now the marketing budget required to drive traffic to something called “Squidoo” goes far beyond the simple indexing of search engine robots – those ‘bots’ simply won’t understand what it’s all about. And if what you do and who you are isn’t backed by venture capital, then you need to think out the strategy of search and maximize how it can work for you.
Rule 18: Your Visitors Should Never Be 404 Not Found
From time-to-time, every website loses track of a page, something doesn’t load right or a visitor finds a search result that leads to an orphaned page. It may not seem like this is under the “search engine” umbrella, but it is. Every time a visitor arrives to your site and bounces out, it counts against your ranks. Every time a visitor removes one of your bookmarked pages from their bookmarks means a lost opportunity. Every time a visitor lands on a 404 NOT FOUND page and doesn’t know what to do, you give them permission to leave.
Take the time to create a parachute page for your 404 NOT FOUND page. Give them a softer landing and take the sting out of not receiving what they thought they were going to get. Apologize for the confusion. Anticipate what they might be inquiring about and give them big, bold links to other pages that may serve them what they want. Give them a chance to report the trouble on your system and give them a reward (and capture their data)! In short, don’t let your 404 NOT FOUND page be a dead-end.
Rule 19: Sometimes It’s Just Too Crowded Under One Tent
As we all now know, content is king and the more content on your site, (and the fresher your content is) the more interesting your content will be to the search engines. That having been said, sometimes piling more content into a site isn’t what the site needs. Navigation can become visual chaos as menus drop and spring from every aspect of the site – all because the content and the topics have become unmanageable visually.
Take the time as you develop search-friendly practices to consider creating microsites for complex themes or unusual content threads. This gives you a chance to link-in and link-out to your main site while preserving the key-phrases on your legacy site. Making sure you don’t lose your visual brand and user experience is a key component of creating this package and making it invisible to the visitor.
Rule 20: Every Page Is A Landing Page
User experience professionals like Jared Spool have long known that Google places value on how the visitor experiences searching, sponsored links, and the landing pages they find. Google created the “Quality Score” to substantiate this and actually charges you more for your Google advertising if they find your ads are of lower interest to their visitors. Imagine what Google (or your visitors) think when they land on your website?
That’s why in my practice I find the most intelligent piece of advice I can give to anyone who is designing, marketing or doing business in the digital space is to think of every page as a landing page. Setting your sights on this goal will color and direct every decision you make as you strategize and develop each page, each shopping cart, each content thread, each interaction.
Rule 21: Start Using Media Queries Now
Media queries are the coding-language devices that tell a website what size to adopt when it is being downloaded to a device. By using simple if-then propositions, the website “knows” to use particular column numbers and widths to display the content on a given page. This has been gaining traction in the interactive design and development communities and in my opinion represents a huge value to small-to-medium business alike. Responsive web design lets you design for flexibility.
There is a lot of good information about responsive web design and the designer who is looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the competition, will be pulling this into their client discussions – I do. Conversations about the place of flexible grids and flexible images also abound. Do your homework now and make this part of your practice.