SEO, or search engine optimization means optimizing the content of a web page for search engines so that the page shows near or at the top of the page of search results. Why is this a concern for web designers and web developers?
Web designers and developers don’t normally consider themselves content creators or writers. However, web designers and developers are often the people who are tasked with adding titles, headings, meta tags, and span styles to web pages. These items can all be used to optimize a web page for search engines, so it’s important for web designers and developers to have a basic understanding of search engine optimization.
SEO vs information architecture
A lot of time is typically given to information architecture at the beginning of a web development project. Information architects and front end developers plot the flow of information in a web site to develop the most logical flow and navigation schemes that will work most efficiently for users of the site.
You might say that information architects look at a site from the top down (though not all sites are top-down hierarchies). SEO begins at the other end, or bottom-up, on each individual page of a site. It is based on users searching for very specific information, using search terms and search phrases. When a user searches for information, they are free to select from the results, so the result that matches their search most closely is the result they will most likely choose.
This means that they enter a site on the page they are looking for, and often leave from the same page, either after satisfying their interest in the page, or moving from there to whatever action the web page moves them towards (often to the shopping cart on an e-commerce site).
An SEO professional will analyze the terms that are most likely to be used by people interested in a specific page (called keywords), will make sure that those terms appear in the title, the headings, emphasized text (either bold or italic). SEO specialists develop lists of up to 20 keywords for a topic, and add them to the Titles, Heads, Meta Description and emphasized text on a page. As a web designer, you won’t be tasked with developing keyword lists, however, if you are aware of how search engine spiders work, you can make sure than main keywords (including location) are used throughout a page.
Organic Search Engine Results
We’re discussing what is called Organic Search Engine Results in this article. That means the unpaid results that search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Ask and others return in their main listings. Not the paid ads, although those paid ads use the same techniques to increase relevance which helps them rise to the top of the results page.
The Title of Each Page Counts
Each page of the web site should have a unique title that will interest the person who sees it in search engine results. Take a look at Google search results. First you see the Title of the page, then the Meta Description Tag (if the web developer has included it). Search terms are highlighted throughout. After the Meta Description Tag information (or whatever information the search engine’s spider has found, usually the first paragraph of the page) comes the url.
The Meta Description Tag
Even if you habitually fill in the page Title, it’s less likely that you add a unique Meta Description Tag, yet this is what search engine spiders look for after finding the page Title. Here’s the HTML syntax for the Meta Description Tag (add angle brackets at beginning and end):
META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Your descriptive sentence or two goes here.”
You can assist the searcher (and your client of course) by adding a summary of the page to the header of the page in a Meta Description Tag. Or you can make your client aware of its importance and ask them to supply copy for each page’s Meta Description Tag, if they are interested in determining what copy a search engine shows, rather than leaving the choice up to the spider.
Headings, Pull quotes, Boxed Text, Emphasized text
The next thing search engine spiders look for are the Headings you have used throughout. So, if content comes to you without Headings, add them! Break content into short paragraphs and add Headings. Add pull quotes, boxes, emphasized text. Search engine spiders will pick these elements out and rank your page higher for the terms emphasized in these ways.
There’s more to SEO
A full SEO campaign will include many components, including identifying competition and their use of keywords, keyword analysis, adding keywords to content, links-building programs, adding fresh content on a regular basis, submitting web press releases with inbound links, etc. The web designer/developer might only participate in a few of the components. These may be very important components though, so discussing them with your clients is worthwhile and can add to the services you provide and the compensation you receive from each web project.