Top Usability (and Search Engine) tips
By Michael Moncur (October 05, 2003)
Are you disappointed by your site's performance in search engines? There are many search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, some more valid than others, and some more likely to harm than hurt you.
Fortunately, it turns out that many of the best techniques for getting noticed by search engines are very similar to common-sense usability guidelines. Here are several techniques you can use to make your site better for your users—and for the search engines.
Use H1, H2, and H3 Headings
When you learned HTML, chances are one of the first tags you tried was a simple H1 heading. The heading tags, ranging from H1 to H6, are designed to mark content that is more important than a simple paragraph—headings and titles.
The various header tags result in large, bold fonts that should be more visible to users. While you can do the same thing with tags like <b> and <font>, search engines use header tags to find important parts of the page. So use the standard tags. If you are unhappy with the way they appear, use CSS to control their appearance rather than resorting to a non-standard approach.
Keep your keywords in mind while you set up headings. These are the words users will be typing into search engines in the hope of finding sites like yours. For maximum search engine visibility, make sure these words appear in your headings.
Choose Informative Page Titles
The <title> tag is another standard way to define the title of a page—while you may be tempted to use it to display an "in" joke or slogan, using a sensible title with the relevant keywords is the best strategy for search engines. It also helps users when they bookmark your site.
The page's title is particularly important since your page is likely to be listed with this title in the search results. Make sure the name of your site, and any relevant keywords, appear in the title. Don't forget that different pages of your site may need different titles to describe what they contain, although it is a good practice to include your site's name in each one.
Condiment Central: Great service and lowest prices!
Condiment Central: Buy mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard online
Condiment Central: Spicy Mustard and Salsa
Create Meaningful Links
Links are vital for users to navigate your site, and the content of your links helps search engines determine how to categorize pages. Follow these guidelines for links:
Assign Readable URLs
The URL of each page of your site provides search engines - and users - with information about the page's content. Using clear, meaningful URLs will help your site in the search engines and make it look professional to the users:
Don't Forget the Content
While this may seem obvious, make sure your page includes some text for the users (and search engines) to read. Even if a page is mostly graphical, be sure to include at least one descriptive paragraph about the content.
If you have a list of keywords your site is targeting, try to work them into the content of appropriate pages - but don't just make lists of keywords. If you write clear, readable content about your page's topic, you should find it natural to include the appropriate keywords.
Keep it Short and Simple
Use Valid HTML
Speaking of HTML, search engines interpret this language in much the same way as a browser does - but unlike a browser, they weren't designed to work around errors in your HTML code. An HTML error could result in a page that looks fine in certain browsers, but loses all meaning to a search engine - or to those visitors using less-forgiving browsers.
To make sure an HTML error won't cause you trouble, you should validate your pages using one of the available HTML checkers. This will ensure that you're following the standards, and will also spot tag errors you might have missed. Here are two of the most useful online validators:
Don't forget to validate your CSS style sheets as well:
By creating sensible pages with good content, logical links and navigation, and meaningful titles and headings, you can improve your results in search engines. More importantly, you will keep visitors happy - the pages will load quickly and work on a variety of browsers, and navigating your site will be easy.
(c) 2003-2005 by Michael Moncur. All rights reserved. No content may be reproduced without explicit consent.