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Search Engine Ranking - 'getting it right from the start'

By Carl Hruza
Posted Friday, October 22, 2004

There are many ways that you can improve the probability of achieving higher search engine rankings.

The most effective way is to consider how search engines rank your pages - during the 'planning' phase of developing your site.

Most issues that adversely effect search engine ranking are in-built during the design, and are more difficult to remove once the design is complete. Consider that most web design contracts are fulfilled when a site is posted to the web, looks as intended and is functional. What happens to your site beyond this is not the concern of the people who designed your site, their work is complete. So if you are fortunate enough to be at the 'specification' stage of planning a web site, there are a few simple things that you should do.

Ask the designer specifically what steps he or she will implement to ensure your site is 'search engine friendly'. If you pre-arm yourself with a little knowledge of the subject, you can easily gauge from their reaction just how well your site will be prepared for search engine submissions. You are not looking for guaranteed top 10 positions at this stage. You are looking for some evidence that the designer understands the basics of how search engines work, how they 'crawl' your pages, and what they do with the information that they retrieve. If their reaction does not instill confidence that your site will be designed with consideration towards the search engines, you have one of two choices:- go elsewhere and seek the services of a company who can demonstrate reasonable knowledge of the subject, or take it upon yourself to lay down the basic guidelines to your designer.

The basic guidelines are:

Include all the important Meta tags on each page. Keywords, Description and Title tags should be included as a minimum, and each should be set to focus on the content of the specific page, remaining where possible within the 'theme' of the site. Add 'robot instruction' tags indicating which pages should be indexed by the search engines and which should not. If you have pages that detract from the overall theme of the site, use the 'noindex', 'nofollow' tags.
Avoid using 'Meta Refresh' tags that are set to automatically direct the viewer to another page. If you must use 'refresh' set the time to a minimum of 15 seconds.
Design a navigation structure that allows search engines to crawl the important content pages from the home page. This can be done easily using transparent image files and setting them as hyperlinks. Remember that using Java, Flash software or 'Frames' to facilitate navigation, can often present a 'closed door' to search engines, preventing key areas of your site from being indexed. Use the alt-attribute and name images descriptively. Some search engines read the alt text and it can help, though marginally. Name pages using keywords. Instead of 'page2.html' use 'american-ginseng.html', if your site is about herbal products! If your site uses 'Frames' there are important techniques that go beyond the scope of this report. Many search engines cannot navigate through the Framed section of a site, unless the Frames are prepared in a specific way. As a minimum, ensure your designer includes a detailed description about your business, products or services on the 'noframes' page, and ask them to research more specific information about Frames and search engines. If the site is designed using dynamic content pages as with ASP, consider designing additional pages that use static HTML. Having an 'about us' page in HTML is always a good strategy when using dynamic content pages or 'active server pages'.

These are some of the basics to consider when designing a web site.

Consider also, 'who will submit your site to the search engines once the design is complete?'. Some of the design companies offering this service use 'bulk submission' software, which in many cases can be ineffective. We recommend that the first time you submit your site to the 'leading' search engines you do it manually. Take the time to follow the instructions carefully. On directory sites like Yahoo and the Open Directory, you should only submit your site one time, so get it right.

The last point is 'Hosting'. If you are serious about your web business, try to avoid free-host sites. Most of them use redirection scripts that some of the search engines cannot follow. If you are considering a 'Mall' site, or any site that is 'template' based, find out the constraints that they impose on the information you can post to the site. Many will allow only basic text, product and image loading to the site, and may not allow you to load 'optimized' HTML pages.

Having a web site is all about 'exposure', and search engines provide the most effective vehicle for delivering your site to the masses. On average, businesses spend around $1500 on improving search engine rankings, usually following a period of being 'lost in the wilderness' of the Internet. In many cases, careful design is all that is required, and it need only add around $200 to the initial design cost of the web site.

If your site is already online then the above techniques can still be applied retrospectively, though making changes is more difficult than getting it right the first time.

About the Author
Carl Hruza - works as an Independent Consultant, and operates the web business TopWebPromotion.
Email at (


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