When optimizing your website for search, you hear Search Engine Optimization rules like “200 to 300 words per page,” “keywords in headlines,” “optimized page titles,” etc. You may be wondering, are you creating a website for search bots and algorithms or for real people to use, and is there a difference?
Encouraging Web Design Excellence
When you study techniques in Search Engine Optimization, you can easily get lost in technical terms like anchor links, image alt attributes, and meta code. It doesn’t sound like you’re making a website for real people who might buy your products or be interested in your services. Yet, when you look behind the tech talk, all of these strange rules are actually encouraging excellence in web design.
The engineers who craft the rules for search want your site to be useful to real people, and the rules of SEO are built on a careful study of how people interact with websites, what they find useful, and how they respond to websites in the real world. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Make Your Website Easy to Read and Informative
A common misconception is that “people don’t read websites; all you need are pictures and few words about how great your customer service is.” In reality, people do use content on websites to make judgments about whether or not they should try your services, and every website claims decades of experience and exceptional customer service. Your competitors have great pictures too, so what sets your business apart?
It might take some careful thought and marketing expertise to figure that out, but once you do, guess what – you’re going to need somewhere between 200 and 300 words per page to convey that information.
People don’t read websites like a book, but instead engage in “scanning” behavior, with their eyes following a specific pattern down the page. You’ll need to carefully consider the layout of those words, using eye catching and informative headlines, bullet points, short paragraphs, and useful links to other areas of your website where follow-up information can be found for those who want to know more.
So the SEO rules for content are really just encouragement to create well-crafted marketing information, and those are sites both real users and the search engine robots can appreciate.
Headlines Should Have Something to Say
The SEO rules for headlines can sound daunting, encouraging the use of keywords and search phrases, as well as geographic localizing information.
Really, it’s pretty simple. Let’s say you sell hot tubs. Proud of your business and its high-end offerings, you may be tempted to write a headline like “Living the Dream.” The problem with that is, you’re not selling dreams and such a headline is nothing more than uninformative puffery.
“Philadelphia’s Portable Hydrotherapy Spa Dealer,” is directly informative both to residents of Philadelphia and to the search engines trying to figure out exactly what you sell and where you sell it.
Meta Code is for more than Robots
If you’ve been working to optimize your website, you probably know by now that there are pieces of code associated with each of the pages on your site called the Page Title and Page Description. These are two important elements of your site’s meta code.
While your Page Title and Page Description don’t appear on the web page itself, they are not solely for the use of the search engines. When you see a result on a search page, that blue link you click to visit the site – that’s your Page Title. The informative little paragraph beneath – that’s your Page Description. Well, they might be. If you do a bad job at both, Google just might make up its own result.
But why would you want to pass up a chance to craft a clear and compelling message to potential customers searching for you online?
When writing your meta code, avoid puffed up and dramatic claims; people are looking for clear and easy to understand information directing them to the service they need.
For example, if I have a toothache and I’m looking for a dentist online, the search result that says “Pittsburgh Family Dentist, Emergency Appointments Available, Call 1-800-555-555” is directly useful both to me and the search engines trying to answer my query. “Exceptional, Friendly Dentistry Experience for Adults and Children” is not.
Menus and Navigation Should be Clear and Consistent
Developing a menu that’s simple and easy to use sounds logical, but it takes more thought than you may realize to get it right.
We recently evaluated a website whose architectural products were targeted at an audience of builders, architects, and engineers. Menu choices included: pearls, classics, elegance, and stone. While the menu did reflect the names of their product line, there is nothing here to inform either the search engines or web visitors about what each menu choice actually represents.
In this example, something like “Patterned Architectural Glass” would make an excellent choice for one of the menu items.
Your site’s menu is not the only means of helping visitors clearly navigate through your products and services. When you hear the term “anchor link,” it means a word or phrase on the page itself that links to another area or page on the same website.
This can be very useful, as it can encourage further exploration of your site by simply promising more in-depth information about a particular statement.
For example, the website of a home builder might have a statement on the home page something like this: “Experienced in new green building techniques, including the design of Certified Energy Star homes.”
In this case, both the search engines and site visitors see in these anchor links a promise of more detailed information for those interested in green building and energy efficient homes.
Image Alternate Text
When the rules say “your web pages should use the IMG ALT attribute,” what does that mean? Image Alternate Text is simply a piece of text that describes each picture on your webpage in code. Like other things we’ve discussed in this article, it has value both to web visitors and to search engines.
Visually impaired visitors to your website rely on text readers to make your website an audible resource. Image Alt text provides a means for the text reader to describe the picture, both to certain human visitors and to search engines, which are also “blind” to just how attractive the product pictures you have selected may be.
When it comes to SEO, there are far more rules and techniques than we’ve had the luxury of reviewing in this short article. Whole volumes have been written and will continue to be penned as the search world and its systems change and evolve over time.
But no matter how detailed your knowledge becomes; however, and no matter how deep down the rabbit hole you explore, the goal of search engine optimization and excellence in web design are the same – creating an informative, engaging, and user friendly experience for your audience, which are exactly the types of websites search engines want to find.