Before we dive into site structure in detail, we need to first understand why site structure is important for natural SEO. A common misconception is that when you perform a search that the search engine goes out and quickly searches the Internet and brings you the results.
A search engine sends out agents (a.k.a. spiders, robots, crawlers) to surf the Internet and bring back what they find and deposit that information in the search engine's databases. So when you search, you're actually searching a database that has collected and stored information on the Internet.
Why is this important? Making friends with these agents or robots is a vital part of SEO.
Much of how you structure your Web site will be to befriend these robots, welcome them into your site, offer them something to drink and load them up with "relevant" information that they can take back to their home database. This type of site structure is commonly referred to as "Search Engine Friendly Design."
Search Engine Friendly Design
Developing your site to be "search engine friendly" is one aspect of SEO best practices. The idea is to simply design your site so that the visiting robot can read and take notes (or index) all relevant aspects of each page of your site.
If your site is designed poorly or doesn't have links to all of your pages, then the robot will bypass those pages and only report on what it sees. Designing your entire site with Flash or using images in place of text are great ways to be mostly "invisible" to search engines, because the robots can't accurately read Flash content or text embedded in an image (yet).
One Page at a Time (No SEO Shortcuts)
The first principle to understand in designing your site is that you don't optimize your whole site all at once. You're optimizing each and every page of your site individually.
Many people think they only need to optimize their home page and then they're done. Many times when you click on a link from a SERP, it will take you to a specific page on your site. Thus, SEO is a very time-consuming and tedious ongoing process that needs to be carefully thought out and executed.
So let's look at the most important elements on each page that will require attention. To understand these concepts, it helps to have some basic understanding of HTML. HTML is the language that Web browsers and search engine spiders read and interpret.
The first set of tags to look at are meta tags, which often have the mystique of being the magic solution to get top rankings in search engines. Not. The best value you will get is the ability to control to some degree how Web pages are described by some search engines. So let's take a closer look.
Meta Keywords and Description Tags
The meta keyword and description tags allow you to influence the keywords and description of your page in some of the search engines. These tags are typically located in thesection of an HTML page and look something like this:
The meta keywords tag is sometimes useful as a way to reinforce the terms you think a page is important only for the search engines that support it. That's it.
The main benefit is to help reinforce what your page is about. I recommend no more than two to three keywords in each tag for each page of your site. It's also important that any keywords listed are directly related to the content on that particular Web page.
For the meta description tag, the text you want to be shown as your Web page description goes between the quotation marks after the "content=" portion of the tag. Generally, 200 to 250 characters may be indexed, though only a smaller portion of this amount may be displayed. Again, the idea of good meta keywords and description tags is simply to give the search engine some "help" in determining what a particular Web page is about.
In Part 2, we'll look at the other content and tags on your Web page that are more important, including some tips on organizing your content and links. One of the most important aspects of your site for SEO is your navigation and linking structure, as well as the proper use of page titles, header tags, font weight/color, etc.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!