Tag Archives: web design

The Basics of SEO

I’ve done a few SEO posts lately, but I got to thinking of another quasi beginner’s guide – similar to the one I posted awhile back. I think this is a little more clear as I have gained more information, insight and confidence with regards to the subject.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is comprised of 3 basic elements: good site design, site age and trust, and link popularity.

Good site design basically means two things: designing with web standards and utilizing good keywords and content in SEO important tags.

Designing with web standards means using semantic tags – p for content paragraphs, ul/ol for lists, h1-6 for headers and so on. It also means using the least amount of non-semantic tags like divs and spans to provide hooks in order to style your site with CSS. Ideally, you want to have the least amount of tags possible because a large amount of non-semantic tags makes it harder for search engines to “read” your site and find content, as well as the fact that they only index so much of a page, so if a page is too large and your content too far down it might not be seen at all. Many standard tags like headers, p and lists are block level elements anyways and can by styled with borders, padding, margins and background images eliminating the need for extra divs for all but the more complex designs like rounded corners.

Utilizing good keywords and content is a major part of SEO. First, you must decide what your site is about and what you are looking to provide to users. That will determine your content and what searches you should (and can) optimize for. Second, you must place those in SEO important tags. The highest level and most important is the page’s title tag which displays at the top of the browser. For example, in this article (at the time of this writing at least) the title tag of this page reads “The Basics of SEO.” Having relevant, clear, concise and individual title tags is one of the most important parts of SEO. Each page should ideally have a unique title – for example your home page might be “YourSite.com” and your about page might be “About YourSite.com”, etc. Second is a page’s h1 tag(s) which should be, ideally, similar to the title tag but not exactly the same. Some repetition is good but you don’t want to keyword stuff. Finally, at a much lower level, are h2-h3 elements and, on a much broader level, the actual content of the site. While the actual content is not in important tags, this allows search engines to figure out what your page is about, what keywords you really are targeting, and what should be displayed in search result snippets.

Site age and trust are harder to quantify. Site age refers not to how old the domain name is but how long it has been in the search engine’s index. This is why older, popular domains can fetch a decent price at sale and can unfortunately be, at least for a short time, abused to spam search engines for profit. Trust is typically related to Google and deals with link popularity as well. Most assumptions are that trust is derived from the trust of the site plus (or minus) the trust of sites that link to and from them. The biggest factor here is black hat strategies like link rings having a lot of links to you from sites that aren’t trusted can significantly lower your own trust.

Finally, we talk about link popularity. Besides the negative effects I mentioned before this can actually provide significant and quick returns for SEO. One of the simplest things is to institute social bookmarking/networking icons on your site – digg, del.icio.us, reddit, furl, ma.gnolia, blinklist, etc. These sites, especially del.icio.us, are becoming the new search engines of choice. They are gaining trust because actual humans build the indexes and the tags associated with sites as part of the Web 2.0 movement think of them as social search engines. Many of these sites have high level of trusts so links coming from them, especially if many people bookmark you, are highly valuable. Adding these buttons simplifies the process for your users to help you out and can expose you to new users who might be using those sites to search for tags relevant to you.

Providing high quality content in your niche can also boost SEO because search engines give additional value to links to your site from other sites in the same niche. If you are seen as an authority on that subject, you will naturally gain more trust and move up in the rankings.

Sites that rank high typically do because a search engine can trust them. They have been around for awhile, have lots of links from other sites that are relevant to the terms being searched for, have lots of inbound links total, and have content that is designed to be easily understood by search engine spiders. A good analogy is to think of a search engine like word of mouth advertising. If someone asks you for the best pizza place in town you’re going to recommend places you trust. And if some place you usually recommend changes their recipe or gives you a bad experience, they will lose your trust and not be as highly recommended by you. The same with search engines – if you use black hat or spam techniques, you could hurt your trust for a long time and potentially even be banned. However, if you provide good content and are popular for that niche, then they will recommend you more and more.

Random Tidbit: A neat article on how to make a six figure income while blogging.

Merits of Good Web Design

Good web design is about reaching the widest possible audience. To reach the widest possible audience you must design with two thoughts in mind web standards and accessibility.

Accessible designs allow users to resize text even non-compliant browsers like Internet Explorer 6. They provide alt tags for images, in case someone is using a text browser, and those alt tags are descriptive of the images so that those users can gain value from them. They offer a design in which the user can skip navigation and get right to the content both for ease of use and for someone using a text browser. Many people don’t realize when they’re designing a site that the source code is how text browsers will read their site so if you have the header, navigation ads and all other non-content related items before the content in the source code than people using those browsers will have to navigate through that on each and every page. Offering them an alternative to that is one of the keys to accessibility.

What many people don’t realize is that is also how search engines read their sites. So by making your site more accessible you are making it easier for search engines to decipher what exactly is important on your site increasing your rankings and making it easier for them to understand the keywords that your site should rank for.

Web standard based designs function in much the same manner. Designing with web standards means separating content from appearance. Anything that does not deal directly with the content or present some semantic value to your site should be relocated to the CSS. You place all your non-semantic images backgrounds, bullets, etc, colors, font sizes and faces into the CSS. Then your (X)HTML contains only the relevant markup in semantically correct tags H elements for headers, strong for important text, p for paragraphs, em for text you want emphasized, ul/ol for lists, li for list items, dd/dl for definition lists and items, etc. You can then use additional classes and ids on those elements to style your site and match almost any design you can come up with typically with additional div and span tags used sparingly to help provide additional hooks for your CSS.

Designing with web standards also allows you to optimize your site for search engines since you are now declaring to them what your header elements are including hierarchy, what the title of each individual page should be using the title tag, one of the highest ranking SEO tags; and laying out the content with semantic tags so it is able to electronically “read” your content and make keyword associations like the human eyes does naturally.

So by practicing good design you are not only naturally increasing your audience by allowing the largest number of users to view your site but also helping to improve your rankings in search engines for terms relevant to your content. In addition, by separating content from appearance you can easily update the look of your site by changing the CSS and potentially adding a few more hooks cutting redesign time drastically.

In conclusion, good design means using accessible designs and standards compliant code. This brings you the largest possible audience, the lowest possible redesign time for future updates, lower bandwidth (because CSS is cached), and search engine optimized code.

Random Tidbit: The Google maps flight sim is pretty cool.  Though I wish they had more cities.

Great Geek Job

I had seen a recent article about 8 things intelligent people, geeks and nerds need to work and I began to realize that my job has nearly all of them.  They’re pretty flexible as long as you get your work done, they have good benefits, most of us share our iTunes (legally on the local network) so we can jam while we work – though some of my co-worker’s collections are questionable, they let us work from home when we need to – the big winter storms we had for example, and they dress code is pretty lax.  Plus it’s a small company, so you pretty much know everyone else and I can’t name one person that I don’t like.

So if you’re a developer looking for a great company, feel free to come on over.  We could use the help and we’re definitely going places.  You won’t be sorry you did.

Random Tidbit:  I found an interesting article about how Microsoft is dead after fighting with a Vista box that wouldn’t behave (or maybe it was and the behavior it’s supposed to have is illogical, who know’s right now.)  This article takes a different slant than others in that they still make a lot of money, but they’re no longer the big scary monster they used to be – Google is – and the only way to get back up there is to acquire a lot of the top quality startups.  Pretty interesting.

Ranking in Google

I pulled an article from my feeds the other day from SEOmoz that was very interesting.  Basically, it’s a discussion and compilation of what is important SEO-wise for sites from 37 of the top people in the field.  For those of us who can’t afford our own search engine marketers and/or don’t have a lot of experience separating the myths from the facts it was very eye opening.  It confirmed a lot of what I had believed and implemented, as well as adding some new ideas to my head.

It is a rather long article, so I’ve compiled a sort of top 10 list of things that they found to be extremely important.  These are not in order of importance.  All factors are taken from the article and are attributed to SEOmoz.  Summaries are provided for convenience by BogeyWebDesign.

  1. Page title tag – using keywords in your title tag not only shows up in results but is likely one of, if not the, highest ranking SEO element.  Christine Churchill said it best: “If you have time to do only one SEO action on your site, take the time to create good titles.” One interesting negative factor is repetition of title on many pages – keep your titles as page specific as possible.
  2. Link popularity of site – incoming links, both in quality and quantity.  It also talks about sub-categorizing this further as links inbound from high ranking sites in your niche also help.
  3. Age of site – not when registered but from the date of first index by search engines.  Google especially factors this in with regards to trust.
  4. Anchor text of inbound links – the text around the links coming to your site.  Has started to depreciate though according to their experts.
  5. Keyword use in body text – how much the search term appears in your actual content.
  6. Relationship of content to keyword – how much your content actually matches those keywords.  This could also hurt you if you pull in for a keyword but don’t support it – in the case of spammers putting high use keywords to pull in for say selling ED medicine.
  7. Keyword Use in H1 Tag – the trick is to avoid too much repetition of keywords.  Perhaps a broader one in your title, with more meaty relevant content around the keyword in the H1 tag.
  8. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links – do inbound links to your site focus on a similar topic.  Again, building link popularity in your niche.
  9. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community – another factor they rated high that relates to being popular and relevant in your niche.
  10. Rate of New Inbound Links to Site – how often do people link to your site.  The more popular you are, the more relevant you likely are to the subject.

So it seems that not only should you build a key site, but by becoming a player in your niche/topic – through white hat tactics – you will gain more credibility.  It makes sense.  For example, when you google “css” one of the top links is the CSS Zen Garden.  What is that site known for?  Revolutionizing the use of CSS on the web.  And most sites that have content on CSS likely link to them one or more times.  I probably have a dozen if not more links to that one site on mine.

The bottom line?  Design a clean, relevant site with keywords prominently displayed in the right places – title tag, H1’s – and work to become a resource to other sites in your niche as well as people who might be searching the web for that content.

Random Tidbit: Also on SEOmoz is a nice tool to help you see the page strength of your site SEO-wise.  I used it on my site and between that and the article have already taken steps to strengthen my site including changing my homepage title tag and trying to get my site re-indexed – especially considering I’ve added dozens of pages of new content.  I think I might delete my old blog since repetition issues might be the case.

5 WordPress Plugins Everyone Should Use

I’ve finally started to get my site up and running and have been actively searching for various plugins to enhance my site. So far, I’ve come up with a short list that anyone should start with in order to have the basic functionality – for yourself or a client – without paying a lot from a hosting company or anyone else to have them.

  1. Akismet – because of the good code, SEO-wise, that WordPress generates you get a lot of traffic. Unfortunately, that means you get a lot of bad traffic too – including comment spam. A must have.
  2. Google Analytics – a simple google account and you have access to all the advanced stats you could ever want or need – does any more really need to be said?
  3. Google Sitemap Generator – with the same google account you can generate an XML sitemap – that will dynamically re-create itself and notify Google everytime you add a post – that will allow the 3 major search engines to index your entire site easier.
  4. Share This – nearly every social bookmarking site known to man is included, as well as a feature for people to e-mail your site/post/page to friends. Easily allow your users to index your site for you with popular sites like del.icio.us and get traffic from sites like digg and reddit.
  5. Add Meta Tags – although less important for SEO, this plugin lets you dynamically generate keyword and description metatags based upon your categories and the content of your post.

Random Tidbit: Excellent article on five principles to design by.