by Robin Nobles, Guest Writer
A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, November 14-15, Dallas, TX.
Participants of the Successful Site Architecture session were in for an exceptional treat in Dallas recently when industry leaders Barbara Coll and Shari Thurow discussed strategies for creating search engine friendly Web sites.
This information-packed session should be on a "not to be missed" list for future participants, no matter what their level of expertise. I found myself continually saying, "Oh yeah! I forgot about that!" as they discussed strategy after strategy. The session offered excellent reminders of things that are so easy to forget, especially considering how complex search engine marketing is. And, it presented new strategies as well, important strategies that need to be placed in the forefront of all search engine marketing endeavors.
Barbara Coll, CEO of WebMama, opened by discussing the importance of considering search engine optimization in all areas of your project development. "If you'll start thinking 'SEO tactics' when you're designing your site, you'll have better results," she said. Coll noted that a number of key factors were important in designing search friendly sites.
According to Coll, site architecture can definitely impact your results in the search engines. For example, regarding file structure, most search engines don't know about anything beyond two directory levels. They'll index 40-50 files in those directories and do it alphabetically.
So, it's crucial for you to place your most important pages at the first or second directory level, breaking it up into 50 files per directory. Be sure to name your files and directories with your keywords. Don't use the underscore to separate keywords. Instead, use hyphens.
Don't stuff too many keywords in your file or directory names. Make them keyword rich but not too long.
Coll calls any pages that bring you traffic "entry pages," and she recommends optimizing and submitting each of those pages. Make them stand-alone pages, just like your home page. When a visitor lands on one of your entry pages, will the visitor know where they are, who you are, and what the page is about? Include full navigation on all entry pages and make it obvious what the page and site is about. Don't assume visitors will find the index page first.
If your visitors come through your "contact us" page, for example, and all they see is a form, that doesn't tell them where they are or what the page/site is about.
Coll also recommends naming images after keywords, which is particularly important now that AltaVista and Google have image searches. Name your PDF's after your keywords as well.
A very important entry page on your site is your site map. "Site maps have food that search engines love, and they have links to every single page that your visitors care about," explained Coll.
Therefore, make sure you submit your index page and your site map. Put your site map at the root level, and name it after your keywords. Use standard navigation on the site map. Add a blurb about the company or services at the top of the page or left column before the links. Use keywords in your links as well. Keep your site map simple, using no or few graphics.
Shari Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director of GrantasticDesigns.com, opened her portion of the session by outlining the essential components of search engine optimization: text, links, and popularity.
She also discussed her definition of site architecture:
- A site's navigation scheme (referring to image maps, text links, and dynamic content);
- Layout of individual pages;
- How directories are set up on your Web server.
In order for you to sell your products and services, your target audience needs to find what they are looking for as quickly as possible.
Remember your Target Audiences
According to Thurow, each Web site has two target audiences. The primary audience is the end user. The secondary audience consists of the directory editors and search engine spiders. Your goal in search engine optimization is to receive regular traffic over time from both the search engines and the directories.
Search engines do three things: index text, follow links, and measure popularity. End users have an effect on search engine ranking.
"Your target audience should not have to perform any type of action in order to view the most important text on a Web page," said Thurow. "Highlight the text on your page and copy it in Notepad, which is exactly what a search engine sees."
Thurow reminded participants that META tags aren't visible tags. ALT text is not visible, so it's not as important to the search engines as visible text. However, be sure to include your keyword phrase in your ALT text.
You can use ALT text in logos, image maps, navigation elements, Flash movies, photos, etc. "Always put width and height on image maps so the browser knows the size of the graphic. Download time is so important," said Thurow.
She also cautioned against the use of clear gifs. "Putting keywords as ALT text in a clear gif is considered spamming by the engines," she added.
Cascading Style Sheets
Thurow defined Cascading Style Sheets as an HTML addition that allows Webmasters to control Web page design parameters, such as margins, font/typeface appearance, link appearance, colors, and placement.
CSS massively decreases download time and saves a lot of time. But style sheets themselves don't matter to the search engines.
Be sure to use a robots exclusion file on sections of your site that the search engines have no interest, such as your style sheets, CGI-BIN, and any pages under construction to keep them from getting indexed. All search engines support this protocol.
Thurow closed with the following reminder. "Make sure your pages have visible text. Give the spiders a suitable link architecture to help them find visible text. Use external files whenever possible. Use the Robots Exclusion Protocol to exclude information that is not important to the search engines. And, keep the most important pages in the top-level directory on your server."
Barbara Coll, CEO of WebMama
For a more in depth look at search engine marketing strategies by Barbara Coll, visit her Web site and order "Tactics for Optimal Search Engine Positioning."
Shari Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director of GrantasticDesigns.com
Mark your calendar and plan to attend the next Search Engine Strategies Conference! The conference will be held in Boston on March 4-5, 2002. See you there!
Robin Nobles is Director of Training for the Academy of Web Specialists (http://www.acws.com). Robin has taught well over a thousand students in her online and onsite search engine positioning courses during the past several years. Her latest books, Web Site Analysis and Reporting and Streetwise Maximize Web Site Traffic, can be ordered through Amazon. Visit the Academy's training site to learn more about their search engine ranking courses and software solution, at http://www.onlinewebtraining.com
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