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SEO-based website design – what it is and what it isn't.

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
One of the benefits we’ve found this year with becoming more active within the web design and SEO community is that it has helped us to narrow down our relative position in the industry in comparison to the other businesses we chat with on the blogs and forums we visit. When we started Solas Web Design, we had the general plan of offering web design services. Our picture was pretty broad. Time and interaction have made it clear to us that we are not programmers and not Internet marketers, though these two fields do sometimes overlap what we do. At this point, it’s become pretty clear to us that our area of specialization is in building SEO-based websites.

What is an SEO-based website?
Basically, it’s a website that has been developed by a web designer specifically to be free of search engine stumbling blocks. It’s a sad fact of life that a major percentage of web designers out there continue to confuse graphic design skill with web design know-how. Kids fresh out of design school and even more experienced designers who really should know better continue to produce splash/flash/image heavy web pages that read as utter blanks to the search engine spiders. Pages like these are often sold to unsuspecting clients who have no idea that that they are signing up to become lost in a sea of millions of websites that will outrank theirs because they are older, have better backlinks, or provide actual text content instead of gimmicky animations. Or, sometimes, poorly-informed clients even force their designer to create pages that the designer knows full-well will never rank. The customer is always right, as they say, but it sure is agonizing to have your hands tied because your client feels that an animation of clouds flying across the screen will sell their product.

SEO-based web design is all about presenting the most useful information in the simplest format in the least possible time to both human and search engine visitors.

SEO-based web design steers clear of Flash animations. Though some optimized sites do make a minimal use of flash somewhere on the website, perhaps in a linkbaiting campaign that has been designed to draw backlinks because the animation or video will be of considerable interest to the public, we strongly advocate against the notion that cartoons sell products. Products sell themselves if they are good, but the customer needs to have the item placed in their hands when they want it – they don’t want to sit through a 1 minute montage of business men striding through Chicago on a windy day being corporate. Though Flash will not harm your rankings, it completely misses the important opporunity of presenting real, written content to your visitors and to the spiders.

SEO-based websites depend on a homepage that puts all the vital information in the visitor’s hands at first glance. This is the complete opposite of what splash pages achieve. A splash page is a page (often created with Flash) that makes the visitor click on an ‘enter/welcome’ button before actually getting to the real ‘meat’ of the site. It’s been said before, and I want to restate it here…if someone clicks a search engine listing to visit your site, they have already agreed to walk in the door. Don’t halt them at the entrance saying, “but now you’ve got to click this if you really want to come inside.”. What a bad sales strategy! And, because your homepage is likely to get most of the traffic, you really need to think carefully about what you want that traffic to see…a welcome mat, or your products/services?

SEO-based websites pay attention to those all important details like Title Tags, Header Tags, and URLs on EACH and EVERY page of the website. Not just on the homepage. Over the past few months, we’ve done some reviews of store building templates for the folks over at eBay and in this process turned up sample after sample that would not allow the user to control or modify these 3 vital elements of website design. Read our article Judging Template Based Website and Web Store Builder Packages for a handy checklist of what we saw going on with some of the packages we reviewed. When we build websites, the tags and URLs are all written to correctly and effectively describe the contents of each page. If a web designer or template doesn’t allow this, it’s a bad deal.

SEO-based websites are not a guarantee of high rankings. Anybody who guarantees you a top 10 Google ranking is pulling your leg and trying to pick your pocket at the same time! Rather a website designed with the search engines in mind is more meant to ensure that no road blocks are being put in the way of the crawlers. Improper handling of the items mentioned above can prevent your site from being indexed, can prevent pages deeper in your site from being indexed or can, in fact, get you banned if the designer is either uneducated or a bad guy.

SEO-based websites are not magic or a mystery. Most folks would be able to learn the basics of search engine optimization if they had the wish or the time to. Any designer who won’t explain exactly what they are doing and why it is important is not out for your best interests. We eductate our clients about how search engines work and why, while their human visitors are certainly of top priority, one must always keep the search engines in mind when constructing a page.

SEO-based websites will never be about any of the following: meta tags, submitting to search engines, paid rankings, keyword stuffing, spamming, or cloaking. The mere hint from a designer that these are your keys to success is all the proof you need to look elsewhere.

Additionally, it does seem to us that the actual term SEO currently encompases two phases of work and skill: the development of the site and then its promotion via additional content writing, networking and backlink baiting. Our firm does handle both phases for our clients, but we think of the first as being upfront, and the second as a long-term plan for the success of the website.

Why you want an SEO-based website
The purpose of search engines is to provide answers to queries. An example of a query would be ‘books about Vikings’. The person typing this query into Google, for instance, wants to find some books about Vikings. Google’s job is then to provide that person with a list of pages to choose from. Google makes a very quick decision about the pages within its index that best match the query – this is what ranking is all about.

But if Google can’t index your website because of roadblocks, it will not bring your website up as the answer to the question. And, if Google doesn’t know about the page on your site that sells a book about Vikings because it can’t reach that page because the page has no link going to it, or contains no text, your website will not be brought up. In other words, if Google can’t find your information, it will not be presenting you to the exact people who need to know about what you’ve got to offer.

Though it is possible to market a website solely through word of mouth, bypassing the huge rewards that being included as a valuable part of Google’s index offers is just plain silly. After all, you’re building an Internet site so that people can find it on the Internet. Being found is what SEO is all about. And SEO begins from step one, with the name of your business, the URL, the layout of your site, the creation of your pages, etc., etc., all leading up to the launch.

This year, thousands of people will put up websites on the Internet, built any old way, thinking that’s all there is to it. And then they and their website will sit there, wondering why nobody is knocking on the front door. Don’t you be one of these unlucky fellows. SEO is the way to go if you want to please your customers, please the search engines and please yourself!