UNDERSTANDING WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION
Web site optimization is all about creating a site that is discoverable by search engines and search directories. It sounds simple enough, but there are many aspects of site optimization to consider, and not all of them are about the keywords, links, or HTML tagging of your site. Does hosting matter?
This question comes up frequently when a company or individual is designing a web site. Does it matter who hosts your site? The answer is no, but that’s not to say that domain hosting is unimportant. Elements of the hosting have a major impact on how your site ranks in search results.
One of the biggest issues that you’ll face with domain hosting is the location of your hosting company. If you’re in the United States and you purchase a domain that is hosted on a server in England, your search engine rankings will suffer. Geographically, search engine crawlers will read your site as being contradictory to your location. Because many search engines serve up results with some element of geographical location included, this contradiction could be enough to affect your ranking.
The length of time for which you register your domain name could also affect your search engine ranking. Many hackers use throw-away domains, domain names that are registered for no more than a year, because they usually don’t even get to use the domain for a full year before they are shut down. In fact, the typical malicious web site is online for less than four months, and usually for no more than a couple of weeks to a month. For this reason, some search engines have implemented ranking criteria that give priority to domains registered for longer periods. A longer registration also shows a commitment to maintaining the web site.
The question of what to name a web site is always a big one. When selecting a name, most people think in terms of their business name, personal name, or a word or phrase that has meaning for them. What they often don’t consider is how that name will work for the site’s SEO. Does the name have anything at all to do with the site, or is it completely unrelated? Have you ever wondered why a company might be willing to pay millions of dollars for a domain name? The domain name business.com was purchased for $7.5 million in 1999 and was recently thought to be valued at more than $300 million. Casino.com went for $5.5 million and worldwideweb.com sold for $3.5 million. What’s so important about a name?
Choosing the right site name
Where SEO is concerned, the name of your web site is as important as many of the other SEO elements that you need to consider. Try this test. Use your favorite search engine to search for a topic, perhaps ‘‘Money-Making business.’’ When your search results are returned, look at the top five results. Most of the time, a web site containing those words will be returned in those top five results, and it will often be in the number one slot.
In other words, if your company name is ABC Company but your business is selling Leather bags, consider purchasing the domain name LeatherBags.com, instead of ABC Company. com.
ABC Company may not get you in the top of search rankings, but the very specific nature of your product probably will; and both the content of your site and your domain name will attract crawlers in the way you want. Using a domain name containing a keyword from your content usually improves your site ranking.
A few more things that you should keep in mind when you’re determining your domain name include the following:
■ Keep the name as short as possible. Too many characters in a name mean increased potential for misspellings. It also means that your site address will be much harder for users to remember unless it’s something really startling.
■ Avoid dashes, underscores, and other meaningless characters. If the domain name that you want is taken, don’t just add a random number or piece of punctuation to the name in order to ‘‘get close.’’ Close doesn’t count here. Instead, try to find another word that’s relevant and possibly included in the list of keywords you’ll be using.
For example, instead of purchasing www.yourwebsite2.com, try something like www.yoursitesubject.com.
■ Opt for a .com name whenever possible. There are a lot of domain extensions to choose from, such as info, biz, us, tv, names, and jobs, but if the .com version of your chosen domain name is available, that’s always the best choice. Users tend to think in terms of .com, and any other extension will be harder for them to remember. Com names also tend to receive higher rankings in search engines than web sites using other extensions, so if your competition has www.yoursite.com and you choose to use www.yoursite.biz, chances are good that the competition will rank higher in search results than you.
Try this: Choose a random term and then use your favorite search engines to search for that term. Looking only at the top one or two pages of search results, how many of those sites have an extension other than .com? If you do see extensions other than .com, they’re likely to be .org, .net, .gov, or .edu—and you probably won’t see many of those. That’s how prevalent .com is, and it illustrates why you should try to use it whenever possible.
Considering URL structures
One more thing to think about as you’re choosing your domain name is how URLs will be structured as you begin to put your site together. Some URLs are very long and seem completely random. For example, take a look at any given product page URL for Amazon.com. If you copy and paste that URL into a document, it could be two or three lines long, and it won’t mean a thing to you after the Amazon.com part.
Ever notice how Amazon.com product pages rarely (if ever) seem to turn up in search rankings? That’s because the pages are dynamic, and a URL that exists on Amazon today may not exist there tomorrow. Dynamic URLs change. Often. And for a variety of reasons. Sometimes dynamic URLs are used on product pages, but they can also be used when content is drawn from a database on a visitor-by-visitor basis or when visitor tracking information is included in the URL.
Typically, search crawlers can’t effectively crawl sites that have dynamic URLs because the crawler can’t trigger the dynamic URL the way a user does. One way to deal with dynamic URLs is to use a program that rewrites them.
URL rewriting is a common practice in SEO, especially since Google stated that it can’t effectively crawl dynamic URLs. Unfortunately, even URL rewriting comes with a set of drawbacks. For example, because even a rewritten dynamic URL tends to be very long, they often wrap — or become two lines — in error messages or when used in blog posts or forums. The result is sometimes an incomplete URL that can’t be followed.
URL rewriting also introduces the possibility for errors, especially if the rewriting is done manually in the coding for a web page. A better option is to use static URLs. Static URLs remain the same all the time. You can see static URLs all over the Web. Even blog posts have a temporary dynamic URL, but then once the post goes into archives, the URL becomes static and doesn’t change again. It helps to more effectively rank web pages that change temporarily and then become permanent. Another advantage of static URLs is that, when used, these URLs can contain keywords that are meaningful not only to search crawlers, but also to the people who visit your web site. Static URLs are easier to read. They usually contain mostly words, with few numbers, and they never include randomly generated identifiers.
As you’re putting your site together, consider how it’s going to grow and how you’ll be naming the pages that you add to it. Part of that consideration is entirely site design and will be determined by the programming language that you use to create your site; but much of it involves forethought about how such matters will be handled. Discuss with your web site designer how you would like to have the URL structure handled. The designer will know how to ensure that your URLs are as usable as the rest of your site.
Again, it’s important to realize that domain naming is only one facet of SEO strategy. It won’t make or break your SEO, but it can have some effect. Therefore, take the time to think about the name you plan to register for your site and then how you plan to structure your URLs as your site grows.
If you can use a name that not only reaches your audience, but also lands you a little higher in search results and makes it easier to create useful URL structures, then by all means purchase it; but if no name really seems to work in the SEO strategy for your site, don’t get discouraged. You can make up for any domain-naming issues by implementing solid keyword strategies, tagging strategies, and other elements of SEO. Do try to keep your URL structure simple, though, even when your domain name might not be your first choice.
Usability: It means different things to different web site designers. It’s also been at the top of every user’s requirements list since the Web became part of daily life. When users click through to your web site from a search results page, they want the site to work for them. That means they want to be able to find what they’re looking for, to navigate from place to place, and to be able to load pages quickly, without any difficulties.
gets into the site and finds links that don’t work or that lead to unexpected locations, it will recognize this and make note of it in the indexed site data. That can damage your search engine rankings.
When you consider web site navigation, there are two types: internal navigation and external navigation.
Internal navigation involves the links that move users from one page to another on your site. External navigation refers to links that take users away from your page.
In order for your navigation to be SEO-friendly, you have to use both types of navigation carefully. Look at a number of different high-ranking web sites. How is the navigation of those sites designed? In most cases, you’ll find that the top sites have a left-hand navigation bar that’s often text based, and some have a button-based navigation bar across the top of the page. Few have only buttons down the left side, and all of them have text links somewhere in the landing page.
The reason why the navigation structure for many sites looks the same is because this plan works. Having a text-based navigation bar on the left works for SEO because it enables you to use anchor tags with the keywords you’re using for the site. It also enables crawlers to move from one page to another with ease.
Buttons are harder for crawlers to navigate, and depending on the code in which those buttons are designed, they might be completely invisible to the crawler. That’s why many companies that put button-based links at the top of the page also include a text-based navigation bar on the left. The crawler can still move from page to page, but the user is happy with the design of the site.
The other elements that appear on nearly every page are text-based links within the content of the page. Again, those links are usually created with anchor tags that include the keywords the site is using to build site ranking. This is an effective way to gain site ranking. The crawler comes into the site, examines the linking system, examines the content of the page, compares these items, and finds that the links are relevant to the content, which is relevant to the keywords. That’s how your ranking is determined. Every element works together.
Take the time to design a navigational structure that’s not only comfortable for your users, but also crawler-friendly. If it can’t always be perfect for the crawlers, make sure it’s perfect for users. Again, SEO is influenced by many different factors, but return visits from users are the ultimate goal. This may mean that you have to test your site structure and navigation with a user group and change it a few times before you find a method that works both for returning users and for the crawlers that help to bring you new users. Do those tests. That’s the only way you’ll learn what works.
It’s not always possible to please both your site users and the crawlers that determine your page ranking. It is possible, however, to work around problems. Of course, the needs of users come first because once you get them to your site you want them to come back. On the Internet, it’s extremely easy for users to surf away from your site and never look back — and returning visits can make or break your site. The catch is that in order to build returning visitors, you have to build new visitors, which is the purpose of SEO. That means you need search engines to take notice of your site.
When it seems that users’ preferences are contrary to crawlers’ preferences, there is a solution: a site map. There are two types of which you should be aware.
A basic site map is an overview of the navigational structure of your web site.
It’s usually text based, and it’s nothing more than an overview that includes links to all the pages on your web site. Crawlers love site maps. You should, too.
A site map enables you to outline the navigational structure of your web site, down to the second or third level of depth, using text-based links that should include anchors and keywords.
An example of a site map for the Work.com web site is shown in Figure 4-5. When a site map exists on your web page, a search engine crawler can locate the map and then crawl all the pages that are linked from it. All those pages are then included in the search engine index and will appear on search engine results pages. Where they appear on those SERPs is determined by how well the SEO is done for each individual page.
A second type of site map, the XML site map, is different from what you think of as a site map in both form and function. An XML site map is a file that lists all the URLs for a web site. This file is usually not seen by site visitors, only by the crawlers that index your site. A site map enables you to include links to all of your pages, two to three levels deep, that include keywords and anchor tags.
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