Designing a good looking web-site is not enough - one must ensure that quality customers visit it regularly. Search Engine being one of the most important sources of traffic to any web-site - web designers should pay enough attention to make their creation search engine friendly.
To understand search engine friendly features of any web-site, it is important to examine how a search engine works. There are essentially two kinds of search engines - directory and spider based search engines.
Directory Type Search Engine
This type of search engines list websites under categories (sometimes called category database). They have large number of categories to fit all kinds of web-pages. Largely managed by human beings, the two outstanding features of any directory are accuracy and selectivity.
Directories are extremely selective about web-pages to be accepted. A directory will not list your URL and will never become aware of your site unless you register with them. They do not make use of spiders or robots that crawl the web looking for new sites.
Examples of Directories are Yahoo, DMoz Open Directory. Look Smart etc.
Listing of a web-site in a directory type search engine depends a great deal on editorial policy of concerned directory. For example, Yahoo charges USD 300 to examine a business web-site within a specified time. The web-site is indexed if Yahoo editor finds it list-worthy. On the other hand, DMoz open directory works with voluntary editors and does not charge any money for inspection or indexing. However, the listing process may take long time.
Designer should check requirement of individual directories to decide on categories, title, meta tags etc. Submission for such directories should always be manual - one should not try automated submission for directory type search engines.
Listing in a quality directory is usually difficult and time consuming. However, the respect and page rank it provides is worth the effort.
Spider Based Search Engines
Unlike directory-type search engines, spider-based search engines (also called crawlers, robots, worms) seek out web-pages by 'crawling' through the WWW and automatically index sites using its own indexing rules or algorithm. It will not wait for you to submit, but try to seek out as many web-sites as it can find and index them.
By simply telling the search engine what your URL is, its software robot will go there automatically and index everything they need. How much it will index and to what degree depends upon its algorithm - usually a closely guarded secret.
Overwhelming number of search-engines in the WWW are spider-based. Examples are - Google, AltaVista, Lycos, InfoSeek etc.
Getting listed in a spider based web-site is not difficult - all it takes is to submit your web-site URL - manually or through an automated process. However, position of your web-site in search result (popularly called ranking) will depend upon many factors - some within your control, others beyond. We shall discuss these factors in detail in a future article series
How to make a Web-Site Spider-Friendly
While listing in a directory or high ranking in spider based search engine require special effort - certain design features can help you considerably. Besides, there are certain negative design features that can create difficulties for search engine spiders, keeping your web-site outside the reach of search engines.
Frames is a technique of splitting browser's screen into number of windows for displaying various kinds of information. It used to be a popular technique of web-designing in the 90's. However, frames can confuse a search engine spider so much that it may abandon the web-page or index it wrongly.
It is better not to use frames. Even search engines capable of indexing a site through frames don't recommend it. Whatever you are trying to accomplish by using frames can usually be done with the help of Cascading Style Sheet (CSS). Some browsers are not frames-compatible, so there is additional danger of visitors not being able to see your site at all. Bookmarking of individual pages within a frame becomes difficult without lengthy scripts being written.
Flash/Graphics Based Web Sites
While web sites that offer visitor more esthetically-pleasing experience may seem like the best choice for someone searching for your product, they are the most difficult to optimize. Since search engine robots cannot read text within graphics or animation, what they see may be just a small amount of text - and small amounts of content may not result in top rankings. If you really must offer the visitor a graphics-heavy or Flash web site, consider creating an html-based side of your site that is also available to visitors. This site will be much easier to promote on the search engines and your new found visitors will also have the option to jump over to the nicer looking part of your site.
Dynamic Web Pages
Content in a dynamic web-site resides within a database - outside the reach of most spiders. URL of dynamic pages from such databases are usually long and have characters such as ?, #, &, %, or = along with seemingly random numbers or letters - enough to confuse any spider. As a result, search engines may leave a dynamic web-site or at best index it partially.
Improper Use of HTML
Inefficiently designed web-pages that use large amount of html codes for fonts, colors, lines etc. - specially in the beginning of the page can cause negative impact. What search engine robots see in such poorly designed pages are clutters of font and formatting tags, very little text.
Meta tags is a way of storing information about a web-page. Information stored in meta tags is usually not visible by browsers but easily accessible by search engine spiders. It is a way of informing spiders about content of the web-page, relevant keywords, how to index etc.
In the absence of meta tags, spiders may index web-pages in its own way - which could be quite un-predictive. It is far more prudent to guide the spider with desirable information so that the web-page gets indexed under right keywords.
A few simple steps in the beginning of design process may go a long way in making sure your web-site attracts customers. Success of a business web-site is gauged not by its look - but how much it helps in business.
Happy and Productive Surfing
Dr. Amit K Chatterjee
- Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad
Vol: 6, Issue 14
; October 7' 2005