When it comes to building a website, the majority of business owners are mainly concerned about what their site will look like to human visitors. However, if you want your website to rank well in the search results then you need to ensure it is structured for both search engines and human visitors alike. If you’re building a new website, or indeed restructuring your current site, then you need to ensure that you follow the steps outlined in this post to develop a website that is both accessible to search engine spiders and worthy of inclusion in their index.
Ensure your website is accessible
It should come as no surprise that a webpage doesn’t look the same to search engines as it does to humans. It is therefore essential that you understand how search engine spiders ‘crawl’ websites, and the types of content they prefer to index.
If your site contains a high number of images compared to text, then it is essential that you label these images for search engines. For instance, images can be assigned “alt” tags in HTML, providing search engines a text description of the visual content. Flash or Java based content can be supported with text on the page, while video content should have an accompanying transcript if the words and phrases used are pertinent to the keyword you’d expect the page the video is hosted on to rank for.
In addition to ensuring your website is accessible, it is important that you provide high-quality, original content on your pages. Search engines are developing a stronger understanding of exactly what constitutes good quality content . Essentially, if your pages contain information that is useful to your target audience, this content will attract visitors and entice other webmasters to link to the information presented on your website.
Crawlable Link Structure
Just as search engines need to be provided with content in order to list pages in their predominantly keyword-based index, they firstly need to be able to find your content. Thus, creating a crawlable internal link structure on your website is highly important as it enables search engines to find all of the pages on your site. The first stage in creating a search engine friendly internal link structure is your primary navigation menu, however there are still plenty of sites that make the mistake of structuring their navigation in ways that search engines cannot ‘read’, thus impacting their ability of their pages to be listed in the search results.
You should think of your navigation and overall internal linking structure as a way of signposting your content to search engines. If you don’t link to certain pages on your site it can be extremely hard for search engines to find them – as illustrated in the image below:
Take a look at this great article on internal link structure from Moz, which clearly explains how the structure of your internal links can impact site accessibility.
Your site should be built using a logical link structure and site navigation. I’d suggest that every page should be reachable from at least one static text link on the site. Of course, there are other ways of signposting the structure of your website to Google and other search engines; For instance, by generating an XML sitemap, you have the ability to feed search engines data on the pages on your site that you want crawled as well as the priority or hierarchy of site content alongside information on when the page was last updated.
If you want to give your pages the best chance of being indexed by search engines, I would suggest linking to all of your key landing pages on your primary navigation menu and regularly generating an XML sitemap containing a list of all the content on your website.
Make sure that other sites link to yours
Links help search engine crawlers find your website and can help give your site greater visibility in the search results. When returning results for a search query, search engines use extremely sophisticated text-matching techniques to display pages that are both important and relevant to a users search. External links (links from other sites pointing to your website) are an important metric used by Google and other search engines to calculate the importance of a web page. For instance, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. Links (or votes) cast by websites that are themselves influential carry more weight and thus pass more “link juice“.
Keep in mind that search engine algorithms can distinguish natural links from unnatural links. Unnatural links to your site are classed as links placed specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines. Some of these types of links (such as link schemes and doorway pages) are covered in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. With this in mind, it is important to ensure your inbound link profile is deemed ‘natural’ by search engines. You can read more about how to acquire natural links to your site here.
Keywords are fundamental to the search process – they are the building blocks of search. Obviously, if you want one of your pages to have a chance of ranking in the search results for “egg box”, you need to ensure the phrase “egg box” is part of the content on the page.
Keyword usage and targeting still plays a big part of search engines’ ranking algorithms, and it is therefore important that you include these keywords in certain areas of your web pages that are seen as important by search engines. Choosing the keywords to target on each page is not as straightforward as it seems, and I would always recommend carrying out detailed keyword research on a page-by-page basis using tools such as Adwords keyword planner, and Moz’s keyword difficulty tool. These tools will allow you to research roughly how many people are searching for a certain word or phrase each month, and approximately how difficult it could be to rank highly for those phrases.
When conducting keyword research, it is important to get into the mindset of the searcher, and look to identify the words and phrases you believe your target audience will be using to find the content on your website. Once you have identified a target keyword for each of your key pages, you will then need to optimise the content on each page to effectively ‘target’ each of these keywords. You can read more about exactly where to include keywords on your pages here.
Search Engine Friendly URL Structure
Best practice URL structure is a subject which is often overlooked by webmasters. This is a huge shame as rewriting URLs can be a challenge in terms of retaining rankings and traffic for any site.
While a descriptive URL is important, minimising length and trailing slashes will make your URLs easier to copy and paste (into emails, blog posts, text messages, etc) and will be fully visible in the search results.
If your pages are targeting a specific term or phrase, make sure to include those words in your URLs (in moderation of course). The best URLs are human readable, don’t use parameters, numbers and symbols. Google recommend using hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in URL names, since phrases within URLs in which the words are connected using underscores are treated by Google as one single word, e.g. example_url_structure is exampleurlstructure to Google.
Things to avoid
- Don’t fill your page with reams of keywords, or attempt to “cloak” pages. If your site contains pages, links, or text that you don’t intend visitors to see, Google considers those links and pages deceptive and may well ignore your site completely.
- Don’t create multiple copies of a page under different URLs. If your site has identical content that can be reached via different URLs, there are several ways of indicating the canonical (preferred) version of a page. More information about canonical URLs can be found here.
- Duplicate content is an all too common occurrence these days. Over the past few years, search engines such as Google have cracked down on “thin” and duplicate content through penalties and reduced ranking positions.
- Don’t go out of your way to acquire links from any source possible. Instead, create content that will earn links to your website. Google in particular have been clamping down on websites with unnatural inbound link profiles in recent times.
You should now have an idea of how to develop a search engine friendly website structure, which will act as a platform for your content to be indexed by major search engines. If you’d like to speak to us about any of the points covered in this article in greater detail, and how we can help you. You can call us on 0115 948 0123 or use our online contact form. I’m also happy to address your questions in the comments box below.