Obscured by a dense and clinging aura of marketing “hype”, essentially simple process of search engine optimization is one of least understood and most exploited facets of internet. Any webmaster's inbox is flooded daily with spam mailings offering "The secrets of being number ONE!" – All of which are pretty much same except for billing addresses, and most of which should be filtered unread straight to Recycle Bin. Over time it has been painted as an increasingly complex discipline to point where we speak of SEO "Gurus" and every mailing uses words like "secrets" and "mysteries" to describe a basically simple process.
The Plan The first two features to mention are so obvious that far too few people consider them in light of Search Engine Optimization. The name (URL) and then website itself.
1. Sorry, who? Whilst “Richard Olmshaw Computer Systems” may be a good name for your shop, it is not a good URL. We want simple & memorable. If people remember you and your site then you do not have to expose them to competition my making them perform searches for you. (I'm a viral marketing fan when it comes to URLs)
richardolmshawcomputersystems.com is doubtless available – but unless you know company are you likely to remember it? rocs.com – Initials are easier but Resource One Computer Systems, Inc. in Dublin has beaten us to it. olmshaw.com is available - but name alone does not suggest computing nor is it unduly memorable except to Mrs. Olmshaw. A compromise then (as most names are) olmcom.com is available – so let’s go for that. With all endings now available, you may wonder why we keep hammering venerable “.com”. Chiefly it is because it is still number one in minds of public – they expect web addresses to end in “com” so why disappoint them?
2. Great site – What’s it for? The next biggest issue of site is…the site itself. This is not as obvious a statement as you might think. Webmasters enjoy intricacies of design - and so fancy rollovers, complex Flash animations, 3D animations, java menus and effects all appeal to them greatly. This can get to be a problem. For me, you can draw line between a good webmaster and a bad webmaster is when selling his/her abilities with these technologies has become goal of site - rather than apparently simpler selling of product for company that is paying bills.
For me, key test is “3 L’s” – Loadable, Legible, and Logical. If any one of three is not answered, it’s a lost case whatever way you look at it. Slow loading Flash extravaganzas with no “skip intro” button will drive away anyone not equipped with a cable modem or with infinite patience. Plus they may well not run at all on corporate systems behind a comprehensive firewall or on still popular NT4.
Remember search engines cannot follow Flash menu systems in order to explore your site in search for content. (L1 failure) Other navigation systems with shopping lists of buttons or links – fancy or otherwise – bewilder and perplex. No one will hang around for you to make their head or their eyes hurt. (L2 failure) At same time going where you want to be on a site must not require a clairvoyant or a printed map. (L3 failure) This is where I would suggest you begin to find difference between “design” and just “building a site”. I always consider “multiple visits” factor too. Perhaps a putative fourth “L” should be “Liveable” as in can you live with site on a day to day working basis. This is because what is amazingly clever and really cool first time is “a major nuisance whilst you wait for that dumb-assed animation with headache music to finish” by tenth. Just keep Flash & Java non mission-critical and skippable. If they serve no specific function within your site other than “looking good” consider ripping them out all together even if your webmaster does get sulky when you tell them.
3. Keywords and Metatags. Search engines decide on their own how they rank one site above another. Different features are awarded varying degrees of attention based on search engines automated “opinion” of what constitutes a “good “site. This is search engine’s “algorithm”. So, on one engine your keywords will be read together with your text and a combination of two used to find search phrases that will pinpoint your site among masses. Further – what works for Inktomi may well count against you for Yahoo so a compromise is required in how you prepare page. And at moment no-one really knows what Google wants anyway plus they seem to be changing their algorithm on a weekly basis. The specifics of these systems are kept very strictly secret to prevent people (like us) from manipulating search engines for their own ends – but these features are known to be important everywhere.