Designing for Search Engine Success

Designing for Search Engine Success


Feature article Shane Borelli

When preparing to build a new website, or redesign an existing website, planning for success in the search engines is a crucial First Step. Even before you choose a color scheme, choose a design strategy that will enhance your chances for success - not work against them.

While many website designs work well in the search engines, some work much better than others. And there are a few website designs that are just plain difficult and best avoided. If receiving traffic from search engines is important to your website, then discuss design implications with your web developer or SEO consultant before the website design is agreed upon, and the actual building begins.

What difference can website design make?

By "design", we do not mean background colors and font styles, but rather how the website is pieced together both structurally (site architecture) and contextually (information architecture). The difference between good and bad design choices can be clear as night and day. The difference may mean having all of your website information indexed in the search engine databases - or none of it.

Take Flash for example:
Flash is a powerful, vector-based animation software that allows web designers to create beautiful websites with rich graphics and robust interactive functionality. Sounds good, right?

The problem is that, until very recently, no search engine could "see" Flash files, or any of the content inside them. Even now, Google is the only search engine that does read Flash files. Google reports this is only a trial period, and they will read only links inside Flash files - not any other content, such as text. This means that even the most appealing, informative, and useful website may never see any significant traffic from the search engines if the site is built with Flash and without regard to how search engines work.

Patch it up or start over?

Virtually any existing website can be modified to perform better in the search engines; starting over from scratch is seldom necessary. However, sometimes starting over is the smartest thing to do.

Workarounds have been developed and refined to enable the use of advanced design features, including Flash, without losing important exposure in the search engines. If properly implemented, these workarounds do work and you can seemingly "eat your cake and have it, too."

The caveat is that once you start implementing large-scale workarounds - it's hard to stop. Each time new content is added to the website, the necessary workarounds must also be added or modified. Therefore, a website that is rife with workarounds may easily become more expensive to maintain over the long term than simply starting over with a better design strategy.

The lesson here is to plan well - speak to an experienced developer or SEO consultant - and build your website right the first time.
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