(Written based on a session given at the
Search Engine Strategies conference
in Dallas in November 2001.)
Barbara Coll*, CEO of WebMama (http://www.webmama.com)
Shari Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director of
Participants of the Successful Site Architecture session were in
for an exceptional treat in Dallas recently when industry leaders Barbara Coll
and Shari Thurow discussed strategies for creating search engine friendly Web
This information-packed session should be on a “not to be
missed” list for future participants, no matter what their level of
expertise. I found myself continually saying, “Oh yeah! I forgot about
that!” as they discussed strategy after strategy. The session offered
excellent reminders of things that are so easy to forget, especially
considering how complex search engine marketing is. And, it presented new
strategies as well, important strategies that need to be placed in the
forefront of all search engine marketing endeavors.
Barbara Coll, CEO of WebMama, opened by discussing the
importance of considering search engine optimization in all areas of your
project development. “If you’ll start thinking ‘SEO
tactics’ when you’re designing your site, you’ll have better
results,” she said.
Highlights of her discussion follows.
According to Coll, site architecture can definitely impact your
results in the search engines. For example, regarding file structure, most
search engines don’t know about anything beyond two directory levels.
They’ll index 40-50 files in those directories and do it alphabetically.
So, it’s crucial for you to place your most important pages
at the first or second directory level, breaking it up into 50 files per
directory. Be sure to name your files and directories with your keywords.
Don’t use the underscore to separate keywords. Instead, use hyphens.
Don’t stuff too many keywords in your file or directory
names. Make them keyword rich but not too long.
Coll calls any pages that bring you traffic “entry
pages,” and she recommends optimizing and submitting each of those pages.
Make them stand-alone pages, just like your home page. When a visitor lands on
one of your entry pages, will the visitor know where they are, who you are, and
what the page is about? Include full navigation on all entry pages and make it
obvious what the page and site is about. Don’t assume visitors will find
the index page first.
If your visitors come through your “contact us” page,
for example, and all they see is a form, that doesn’t tell them where they
are or what the page/site is about.
Coll also recommends naming images after keywords, which is
particularly important now that AltaVista and Google have image searches. Name
your PDF’s after your keywords as well.
A very important entry page on your site is your site map.
“Site maps have food that search engines love, and they have links to
every single page that your visitors care about,” explained Coll.
Therefore, make sure you submit your index page and your site
map. Put your site map at the root level, and name it after your keywords. Use
standard navigation on the site map. Add a blurb about the company or services
at the top of the page or left column before the links. Use keywords in your
links as well. Keep your site map simple, using no or few graphics.
Custom 404 Error Page
Coll also discussed the importance of a custom 404 error page,
which she calls “error trapping.” Through your custom 404 error page,
make it easy for the users to find where they want to go. Use HTML links and
include a search box. META data on your pages is important for onsite search
engines, so be sure to include it on every page.
For information on how to create custom 404 pages for every type
of server, visit the 404 Research Lab (http://www.plinko.net/404/). The site
also features many examples of custom 404 pages.
“Skip intro” pages are the worst thing you can do to
your site, according to Coll. “Skip intro” or “splash”
pages generally have no or very little content, often contain a movie, and
frequently redirect to another page.
Your introductory page needs to contain content, so get rid of
your intro page if it doesn’t. Instead, stick Flash in a window on the
home page and include it as an element, like an image.
Remember that Web technology that detracts from the content or
provides no static content will negatively affect search engine rankings. Sites
developed completely in Flash or other interactive technologies, large animated
graphics, or movies are deterrents to content seekers and detrimental to search
Spiders don’t see image maps and don’t follow those
links. They can’t read graphics. Anything in an image is useless.
Coll also recommends not using frames. If you do use frames, she
recommends making sure that you include META and title tags on all frames and
frameset pages. Don’t allow a frame to be shown without redirecting to the
frameset first. Use a <noframes> tag and add keyword-rich content.
Shari Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director of
GrantasticDesigns.com, opened her portion of the session by outlining the
essential components of search engine optimization: text, links, and
She also discussed her definition of site architecture:
- A site’s navigation scheme (referring to image maps,
text links, and dynamic content);
- Layout of individual pages;
- How directories are set up on your Web server.
In order for you to sell your products and services, your target
audience needs to find what they are looking for as quickly as possible.
Remember your Target Audiences
According to Thurow, each Web site has two target audiences. The
primary audience is the end user. The secondary audience consists of the
directory editors and search engine spiders. Your goal in search engine
optimization is to receive regular traffic over time from both the search
engines and the directories.
Search engines do three things: index text, follow links, and
measure popularity. End users have an effect on search engine ranking.
“Your target audience should not have to perform any type
of action in order to view the most important text on a Web page,” said
Thurow. “Highlight the text on your page and copy it in Notepad, which is
exactly what a search engine sees.”
Thurow reminded participants that META tags aren’t visible
tags. ALT text is not visible, so it’s not as important to the search
engines as visible text. However, be sure to include your keyword phrase in
your ALT text.
You can use ALT text in logos, image maps, navigation elements,
Flash movies, photos, etc. “Always put width and height on image maps so
the browser knows the size of the graphic. Download time is so important,”
She also cautioned against the use of clear gifs. “Putting
keywords as ALT text in a clear gif is considered spamming by the
engines,” she added.
Cascading Style Sheets
Thurow defined Cascading Style Sheets as an HTML addition that
allows Webmasters to control Web page design parameters, such as margins,
font/typeface appearance, link appearance, colors, and placement.
CSS massively decreases download time and saves a lot of time.
But style sheets themselves don’t matter to the search engines.
Be sure to use a robots exclusion file on sections of your site
that the search engines have no interest, such as your style sheets, CGI-BIN,
and any pages under construction to keep them from getting indexed. All search
engines support this protocol.
As defined by Thurow, server side includes are a type of HTML
comment that instructs your Web server to dynamically generate elements of a
Web page before it sends the Web page to a browser or a search engine spider.
SSI’s can be used to put text elements on a page, such as text links,
headers, footers, and content. As long as what is in the SSI file is search
engine friendly, you won’t have a problem.
friendly and not important to the engines, so move it to a separate .js file.
Frames must be navigational within the frames. Include an option
Except Google, none of the engines can follow links in Flash
sites. If you use Flash, include an option to view the site with or without the
Flash. Rather than making the main page of your site in Flash, place a section
of your site in Flash. Use only Flash movies, not Flash pages. Place the site
Splash pages often contain no text, a one-way link, and a
redirect. Because the main page might be the only page indexed and often ranks
higher than other pages, and because content is so important to the search
engines, stay away from splash pages.
Thurow stated that link popularity is measured by the number of
links, the quality of links, the number of times end users click on links to
your site, how long end users visit your site, and how often end users return
to your site.
Orphaned pages can’t get good popularity because very few
links point to them. Also, orphaned pages have low click throughs, because
they’re typically advertising pages with no real content. Typical orphaned
pages include pop-up windows, landing pages for banner ads, and landing pages
for pay-per-click advertising.
In Conclusion . . .
Thurow closed with the following reminder. “Make sure your
pages have visible text. Give the spiders a suitable link architecture to help
them find visible text. Use external files whenever possible. Use the Robots
Exclusion Protocol to exclude information that is not important to the search
engines. And, keep the most important pages in the top-level directory on your
Mark your calendar and plan to attend the next Search Engine
*For a more in depth look at search engine marketing strategies
by Barbara Coll, visit her Web site and order
Optimal Search Engine Positioning.”
Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing
workshops in locations across the globe (SearchEngineWorkshops.com) as well as online SEO training
courses (OnlineWebTraining.com). They have recently launched localized SEO training centers through SearchEngineAcademy.com, and they have expanded
their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK. They have also opened
the first networking community for SEOs, the Workshop Resource Center (WRC).