If you are completely new to the Internet and are researching the subject of SEO before launching your web business, we want to start this section of our SEO guide out with an important warning. If you are intending to hire a professional web designer to create your site, it is vital that you choose wisely. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of paid web designers out there are simply ‘designers’ who know how to make pretty pages – not how to build web sites which are SEO-based. Because of this, your key guide to the quality of their work is going to be how their other are ranking in the search engines. If their clients are ranking well, chances are, the designer knows what they are doing. If not, move on to someone who does. By reading this guide, you will gain a more detailed understanding of how to view a prospective designer’s work, so read on. It’s good you’re learning these things now before you waste months or years of time and bundles of money on a web site which will never rank well or achieve the profits you want.
Or, perhaps you have come to this article because you’ve already got a web site, but it is failing to perform well in the search engines. This guide is for you, too. If things are in really bad shape, you may need to start from scratch, or the SEO work ahead of you may involve only a few adjustments. Either way, Solas Web Design is adamant about the fact that SEO begins with the very basics of web site design, and this is something we’ve seen surprisingly little written about elsewhere, so let’s jump right in.
A basic outline for creating an SEO-friendly website, step by step
1) Purchase a domain name.
2) Purchase hosting for your web site.
3) Design and develop the site.
4) Launch the site.
5) Continue to improve and expand the site over time by expanding your content and getting in-bound links.
Purchasing a domain name – Step One
Your domain name is your address, your URL, your www. If you are running a business on-line, you should choose a .com or a .net. Organizations traditionally choose .org and .edu is for purely educational web sites. Choosing your domain name well is your first important step. We have noticed, in our SEO work, that companies that specialize in a specific product or service and choose a domain name like modeldinosaurs.com have a bit of an edge over a company, selling the same products, but with a name like bobsfunhouse.com. Those really specific URLs can be hard to outrank. Obviously, many companies sell more than one product or service, so you’ll need to choose wisely in selecting a blanket term that accurately describes your inventory. If you are a gourmet foods company, try to reflect this in your domain name. If you run a B&B, reflect this in yourr domain name.
The challenging thing is that many domain names have already been taken and you may have to finesse your domain a little bit to still get the URL you want. For instance, if orangejuice.com is taken, you might choose orangejuice.net, or organicorangejuice.com or freshorangejuice.com. Sometimes companies will use hyphens, as in orange-juice.com. We don’t recommend this. You don’t want a domain that looks like orange-juice-tomato-sauce-delicious-homemade-candy.com. More than 2 hyphens in a name tends to indicate a poor quality site, and you don’t want to look like a spammer (a bad guy).
Our best advice is to 1) keep the domain name as short as possible, 2) make sure the domain name describes your business and 3) keep it as short and memorable as possible.
It doesn’t matter much where you purchase your domain name. Don’t pay more than about $15 for one, though. There’s no need to. To see which domains are available, you can go to any site that sells domain names and they will offer you a search box to type domain names into. This will show you whether the domain name is available or not. *Remember, if you are very keen on getting a certain domain name for your business, and you see that it’s available right now, you may want to buy the domain now, even if you aren’t ready to start building your site yet. Think about how you will feel if someone else snaps it up before you do!
Purchasing hosting for your website – Step Two
Choosing wisely in this area is vital – much more important than where you buy your domain name. Your hosting is like the rent you pay each month to park your site on the web. Rates tend to be from about $7 up. We see no reason for a small business to pay for expensive hosting. There are numerous companies out there offering hosting plans to the tune of $20-$100 a month or more, and we feel that this is usually unwarranted.
When choosing a hosting company, look for these qualifications:
Designing an SEO-friendly web site – Step Three
This guide is not going to cover how to write HTML code, or the nitty gritty specifics of web site design. Rather, my purpose here is to outline the key components that go into creating a site that is understood and valued by the search engines, and by the Internet public.
As you search for a solution to your need to have a website built for your company, you will encounter 4 options:
The first option is one that many small business owners go for at the start of their career on the web. There are thousands of website-builder template companies out there, and they offer a cheap option for creating a website. They tend to make their packages sound very good and very easy to use. Unfortunately, most small business owners quickly learn that you get what you pay for. After investing time and money in purchasing and attempting to customize a template, the majority of small business owners will discover that they are unable to get their website to rank anywhere in the search engines, they are unable to get the website to look as professional as it should, or that there are technical errors with the template with which they cannot get real help from the template provider.
At least 80% of the clients who have come to us over the years for a redesign of their websites tried the template route first and wasted time and money without ever seeing a return on that investment. Because of this, we tend to steer small business owners away from this option whenever we can.
Budget is going to be the deciding factor here though, and for some small businesses, a template site may be the only way to go. If you are not yet ready to make a serious investment in a professionally-designed site, this guide will at least help you to look at any templates you are considering with an educated eye, to get a clearer picture of benefits and drawbacks.
The second option is to purchase design software like Dreamweaver. Compared to the template route, this will require a larger investment, but will result in giving you greater control over your website’s visual look. You will need to learn how to use the program, and it will be vital for you to go many steps beyond this as well. Programs like Dreamweaver are only as good as the person behind them. Technically, you could build a gorgeous-looking website using Dreamweaver, but if you haven’t studied SEO or Usability, you will end up in the same predicament as the template guy…owning a site that doesn’t rank well and doesn’t win sales. So, while Dreamweaver can be a valuable help to people who want to design web pages and don’t want to learn straight coding, it is only a tool…not an education.
Become a Pro or Hire One
The 2 options we recommend most highly are the last two on our list. If you want to be in complete charge of your website and do it all yourself, WYSIWYG software and short cuts are not likely to pay off in the long run. Learning to write HTML/CSS, to use a professional graphic design program like Photoshop, and devoting serious time to studying SEO, Usability and Internet Marketing will be the path the true do-it-yourselfer should take if he/she wants to run a business with total self-sufficiency. We did it, and you can, too, if you have the time to invest in acquiring these skills.
The final option – hiring pros – is going to be the professional choice for all other small business owners who do not want to become web designers/SEOs in order to run a profitable online business. A qualified web design firm will get the job done right for you so that your time is spent running your business rather than agonizing over templates and unfamiliar programs. Even if your business starts its life on the web out with a template, your goal should be to eventually bring on a professional firm to bring your website up to a professional level of usability, design and search-engine-friendliness.
In conclusion, our years of experience have lead us to believe that becoming your own web designer/SEO expert or hiring a qualified firm are the smartest options for the small business owner. The real decision you are making when you are ready to have your website designed is whether you have the interest/time/skills to go it completely alone, for the life of your online business, or whether you would like to hire pros whose life work involves helping companies like yours to suceed on the web. It’s an important choice to be considered carefully.
Once you’ve determined the route you’re going to take in terms of designing your company’s website, you’re ready to turn your attention to the key components that go into building an SEO-friendly site. The first thing we’ll be needing to cover here is links.