Build Your Website with a
Search Engine Friendly Design
Donald Nelson, copyright 2004
A good looking and user friendly website is an extremely
important asset to your
success on the Internet. However
without traffic, even a well designed site will not produce
results for you. The best websites are those that are both
attractive and easy to use by your human users, and at the
same time, convenient for the search engine robots that are
trying to find and collect data from your site.
Oftentimes a site that may look good to your eye has some
design flaws that impair its search engine friendliness. Here
are a few things to look for when designing new sites or
optimizing an existing site.
1. Where does your first line of text begin? You may
think, “that’s easy, the first line of text is right at the
top?” If you view your web page using Notepad or the html view
of popular editors you may be surprised to find that the first
line of your actual searchable text may be pushed down, 100
lines or more, by long strings of java script and by the html
code that defines your tables.
The higher your text appears in this html view of the site,
the easier it is for the robot to find it and put it in the
search engine data base. You can save space in your html code
by copying your java script and placing it in an external file
uploaded to your server. Instead of having 50 lines of java
script commands in your html code, there will only be one line
pointing to the separate file with the java script.
Similarly if you simplify your table structure, your
searchable text will become more prominent. The left-hand
navigation bar, for example, with its separate graphic
elements each in its own row, may be a place where you can
economize on your code by merging the rows into one cell.
2. Is your website graphics-predominant, at the expense of
searchable text? If your site begins with a splash page,
such as a lovely page-filling picture of the ocean and no text
except, “enter here”, then you are wasting a big opportunity.
Search engines consider your main page, the one you reach when
you land at www.yourcompany.com, to be the most important
page. Your main text with its important keywords should be on
your first page. If you already have splash page, you should
consider scrapping it altogether, or at least adding a
paragraph with a powerful capsule description of your
If your site has a flash-only first page then the text message
on that page is not visible, except for what you are able to
put in your title and description tags. Search engine robots
cannot read the text message that has been put in the form of
a flash movie. If you want to use flash, and also do well in
search engine rankings it is better to make a hybrid page
where the flash is surrounded by a normal html page with text.
The text around the flash movie should be optimized so that
the page ranks well in search engine queries for your
3. Have you unknowingly rendered important text as a
graphic? If your site is about “wireless widgets made in
California” then you would want some prominent text near the
top of the page with these words. You may already have it but
the text has been changed into a beautiful gif or jpg graphic
either by your designer or by your html editing program.
Search engines will not give that nice-looking graphic the
same importance as it would text written as an H1 or H2
header. Some popular html editors render entire paragraphs as
gif graphic images. All the text that appears in the image
becomes almost invisible to the search engines. I say almost
invisible because you can always put an alt text for any
graphic, however this alt text is not weighed as heavily as
normal text set as bold or in headers. So, check your pages
and make sure that your text is normal text and not an image.
4. Can Search Engines Follow Your Site’s Link structure?
If your site employs a drop-down menu that is run with java
script, then search engines may find your main page, but they
won’t follow the links to your interior pages. Similarly if
your navigation area is an image map, a graphic with “hot
spots” that link to your various internal pages then the
search engines cannot and will not find the other pages of
your site. To get maximum traffic it is imperative to have as
many of your pages as possible indexed in the big search
engines. You can accomplish this by adding a text-based
navigation area at the bottom of your pages or a site-map page
with text links to all your interior pages.
If you pay attention to these design considerations, you can
greatly improve your site’s chances of appearing near the top
of search results.
Nelson is a web developer, editor and social worker. He has
been working on the Internet since 1995, and is currently the
director of A1-Optimization (http://www.a1-optimization.com),
a firm providing low cost search engine optimization,
submission and web promotion services.