Problem Pages and Work-Arounds

No matter how much time and consideration you put into your SEO strategy, some elements of your web site will require special consideration. Certain sites — such as portals — need a different approach than a standard web site might require. How you deal with these issues will have an impact on the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.

Painful Portals

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The use of portals — web sites that are designed to funnel users to other web sites and content — as a search engine placement tool is a hotly debated topic. Many experts will start throwing around the word ‘‘spam’’ when the subject of SEO and portals comes up; and there have been serious problems with portals that are nothing more than search engine spam. In the past, portals have certainly been used as an easy link-building tool offering nothing more than regurgitated information. Sometimes the information is vaguely reworded, but it’s the still the same information.
Search engine operators have long been aware of this tactic and have made every effort to hinder its usefulness by looking for duplicate content, interlinking strategies, and other similar indicators. Using these techniques, search engines have managed to reduce the usefulness of portal web sites as SEO spam mechanisms.

However, because search engine operators need to be cautious about portals that are nothing more than SEO spam, if your site is a portal, then optimizing it will be a little harder. As with all web site design, the best objective for your site, even for a portal, is to help your visitors achieve a desired result, whether that’s purchasing a product, signing up for a newsletter, or finding desired information. If you make using your site easy and relevant, your site visitors will stay on your site longer, view more pages, and return to your site in the future. Portals help you reach these goals by acting as excellent tools for consolidating information into smaller, more manageable sources of information that users find easier to use and digest.

Too often, people optimizing web sites focus on the spiders and forget about the visitors. The sites you are developing have to appeal to the visitors and provide them with the information they’re looking for, or all you will have at the end of the day are hosting bills and low conversion rates. Portal web sites enable you to create a series of information resources that provide full information on any given topic, while structuring a network of information covering a much larger scope. Though the visitor is of significant importance when building a web site, the site itself is of primary significance, too. There’s no point in creating a beautiful web site if no one’s going to see it, and portals are a fantastic tool for increasing your online visibility and search engine exposure, for a wide variety of reasons. Perhaps the most significant of these reasons is the increase in keywords that you can use in portal promotion. Rather than have one web site with which to target a broad range of keywords, portals enable you to have many web sites, each of which can have its own set of keywords. For example, instead of trying to put ‘‘deer hunting’’ and ‘‘saltwater fishing’’ on the same page, you can create a hunting portal that enables you to have separate sites for deer hunting, saltwater fishing, and any other type of hunting activity you’d like to include. 

On one page it’s much easier to target the two key phrases ‘‘deer season’’ and ‘‘Mississippi hunting license’’ than it is to target two key phrases like ‘‘deer season’’ and ‘‘marlin fishing.’’ Targeting incompatible keywords or phrases — that is, keywords or phrases that aren’t related to a larger topic — makes it harder to have both readable, relevant content and reach the keywords that you need to use. There are other advantages to creating web portals as well. Having a portal enables you to have multiple home pages, which gives you the opportunity to create sites that consistently appear in a top ranking. You also have more sites to include in your other SEO strategies and more places to include keywords. However, there is a fine line between a useful portal and one that causes search engines to turn away without listing your portal on SERPs.  As with most issues in web design, keep it user-friendly and attractive. If you have any concerns that the actions you’re taking with your site or the design methods that you’re using could lead to negative results for the SEO of your site, don’t use them. If you have a feeling that a strategy won’t work, it probably won’t, and you’re wasting your time if you use a design you’re not comfortable with.

Fussy frames

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Some web site designs require the use of frames. Frames are sections of a web site, with each section constituting an entity separate from the other portions of the page. Because the frames on a site represent separate URLs, they often create display issues for users whose browsers don’t support frames, and for search crawlers that encounter the frames and can’t index sites where the frame is the navigational structure.

You have a couple of options when frames are essential to the design of your web site. The first is to include an alternative to the framed site. This requires the use of the noframes tag. This tag directs the user’s browser to display the site without the framed navigational system. Users may see a stripped-down version of your site, but at least they can still see it. When a search crawler encounters a site made with frames, the noframes tag enables it to index the alternative site. It’s important to realize, however, that when you use the noframes tag, you need to load the code for an entire web page between the opening tag and closing tag. Another issue with frames is that search engines often display an internal page on your site in response to a search query, but if this internal page does not contain a link to your home page or some form of navigation menu, users are stuck on that page and cannot navigate through your site. That means the search crawler is also stuck in that same spot. As a result, the crawler might not index your site.

The solution, of course, is to place on the page a link that leads to your home page. In this link, include the attribute TARGET = "_top". This prevents your site from becoming nested within your own frames, which locks users on the page they landed on from the search results. It also makes it possible for crawlers to efficiently crawl your site without getting stuck.  That link back to your home page will probably look something like this: 

<a href="index.html" TARGET = "_top">Return to Home Page</a>

Frames are difficult, but not impossible, to get around when you’re putting SEO strategies into place. It’s a good idea to avoid them, but they won’t keep you completely out of search engine rankings. You just have to use a different approach to reach those high rankings you desire.

Cranky cookies

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Cookies are one of those irritating facts of life on the Internet. Users want web sites tailored to them, and cookies are one way companies have found to do that. When users enter a site and customize some feature of it, a small piece of code — the cookie — is placed on the user’s hard drive. Then, when the user returns to the site in the future, that cookie can be accessed and the user’s preferences executed.

When cookies work properly, they’re an excellent tool for web designers. When they don’t work as they should, problems arise. The main issue with cookies is that some browsers allow users to set how cookies will be delivered to them; and some source code prompts the user to be asked before a cookie is accepted. When this happens, the search engine crawler is effectively stopped in its tracks, and it doesn’t pick back up where it stopped once the cookies are delivered. In addition, any navigation that requires cookies prevents a crawler from indexing the pages. To overcome this issue, you must code cookies to ensure that the source code is not designed to query the user before the cookie is delivered. 

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