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Search Engine Friendly Web Design – SMX West 2009

SMX West 2009The following is a summary of a session at SMX West 2009 on Search Engine Friendly Web Design presented by Shari Thurow, Founder and SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive

5 Basic Rules of Web Design

When centered on the user, there are specific rules that form the foundation of successful web design. These are:

1. Easy to Read

The code and text should be written in a way where it is easy to read. It should continue the “scent of information” (contain relevant keywords from acquisition source) so that a user can easily discern that they are in the right place.

2. Easy to Navigate

The web site should be, first and foremost, designed for users and searchers, not for search engines. All elements that appear to be clickable should be and users should have a sense of where they are at when navigating the site.

3. Easy to Find

Being easy to find refers to both the before and after of users arriving on a page. The web site should be found/linked from major search engines/relevant sites. Important elements and contents should be found above the fold (portion of the site that is shown upon initial loading without scrolling). Contact information should be easy to find, usually in the header, footer, about us, or contact area.

4. Consistent layout, design & labeling

Consistency communicates a sense of trust, security, reliably, and branding. Consistency is based on many factors, such as, use of space, color scheme, logo usage, placement of content, etc.

5. Quick to download

Speed is determined by both actual and perceived download. If what users want is hard to see at first, then the download appears to be slower. Larger downloads can be applicable if the important elements can be found easily.

3 Building Blocks to SEO

The build blocks to SEO are centered on how crawlers/robots can index your site. These are:

1. Text Indexing

If the content of a site does not have any text or “indexable” content, it won’t rank well, which in turn, makes it difficult to find.

Some other important factors:

  • A site should make use of Primary Text, which includes title tags, visible copy, text within the header, and anchor tags/links as all search engines index these and use them in determining rankings.
  • If time allows, a site should make use of Secondary Text, which includes meta tags, filenames/domain names, and alt text, as only some search engines index these.
  • Breadcrumbs can help a lot, giving a sense of organization to users, as well as provide relevant keywords to links.
  • If applicable, try to use captions for images because visible copy weighs more heavily than alt text.

2. Follow Links

The link component refers to internal liking within the site. These should factor in site navigation scheme, as well as other page interlinking.

Some other factors include:

Navigation menu

From most search engine friendly to least friendly:

Text Links > Nav buttons > Image Maps > Form/DHTML Menus > Flash

If using non-text links, always provide 2 forms of navigation. 1 for target audience and 1 for search engines. The search engine friendly one can be a navigation placed within the footer.

Embedded Text Links

Text links placed within visible copy can help to enhance usability and search engine friendliness. However, it is important to not overdo it. Too many embedded text links can decrease usability and legibility.

Site Maps

Site maps do not refer to the URL list that can be submitted to search engines. In this case, a site map refers to a page that provides users a hierarchy to your site structure. When creating a site map, it should not just be a list of URLs or links. Having annotations great helps with legibility.


There a number of other helpful ways to improve usability and search engine friendliness. Some involved linking to related pages, upselling, and having a horizontal navigation vs. a vertical navigation.

3. Site Popularity (Link Development)

Popularity is based on number of external links, the quality of external links, and click popularity.

Some other factors that influence popularity include:

  • Having substantial and unique content
  • How other sites link to your site (What is the anchor text being used? What are the annotations?)
  • Having keyword rich text on homepage
  • Having at least one crawl-friendly navigation (even if it’s the footer)
  • Having links to relevant information/sites
  • Having a visible site map


Some other factors to think about in regard to search engine optimization and web design:

  • Always design for searchers, not search engines
  • When redesigning a site, SEO should be put into consideration in the initial phases and not after the site is built
  • Test the usability of a site to determine the effectiveness of a site. If users can’t find the information, most likely, it’s not good for SEO either


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