There is unlimited possibilities when it comes to designing a website. Flash, Database, content management, Client Login, etc,etc. A question to ask yourself when deciding how to do your website is:
How can I most effectively present my information to my visitors
Of course there are several things to consider like budget but I feel that when talking strictly design it is important to put your visitors as first priority as they are the reason you are building the website.
- Flash – Flash I find is normally over done. It can do wonders to a site if used right, but it can also make a site look awful if not used correctly. To simply put it: If you have multimedia content on your website consider flash, if you don’t: stay away from it altogether. Flash is more time consuming to develop, and it can take away a lot of important aspects from your sites like SEO Search Engine Optimization.
- Database – Adding a database back end to your site can be very useful if you are going to be storing a lot of data, or if you are going to be changing information often. If you are just simply putting a page with your contacts online, I wouldn’t recommend using a database backend, again for the time that it costs to develop and especially for the minor benefit that you will see. On the other hand if you are storing all of your products online and you need the ability to update/add/delete products often I wouldn’t recommend not using a database and some type of content management.
- Content Management – Content management is most likely used with a database back end in which you will have a control panel that you can use to “Manage Content”. Content that can be managed is anything and everything. Sample uses for Content Management are:
- Managing Products – Add new and delete/edit existing
- News/Journals – If you want the ability to constantly update your site with current news items or journals
- Page Layout – Some more advanced Content Management systems will all you to manage all aspects of your site from the layout to the colors!
Again I stress the importance of putting your visitors first. Although you might think it would be cool to have a flashy intro and design, your visitors might find it annoying and distracting.
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Do you have to sacrifice all of the creative and artistic elements of your web site to rank in the search engines? Later in this article I’ll show you a real case scenario and the design and SEO approach used.
Thanks to the birth of professional search engine marketers the top ranks are saturated with the pages of companies that can pay for such insight. That said, it’s certainly possible to employ high ranking tactics in your own website. Actually, the most basic tactics can move you up from an 800 position to a 300. However, it’s the top of the scale where efforts seem almost inversely exponential or logarithmic, you put a ton in to see a tiny change in rank.
How do you meld the ambitious overhauls required to attain significant ranking and NOT compromise the design of your site?
Design Can’t Be Ignored
If you have an existing site, you’ve probably tied it into your existing promotional content. Even if you’ve allowed your website to cater to the more free form of the net, it should still be designed as a recognizable extension of your business.
The reasons for doing so are valid, and can’t simply be ignored for the sake of achieving a first age position, can they? If your research into search optimization leaves you shuffling around thoughts of content, keyword saturated copy and varying link text, you are correctly understanding some of the basic pillars of search engine optimization.
And, you aren’t alone if you have this disheartening thought—If I do all this SEO stuff and reach number one across the board, who would stay at my site because it’s so stale and boring I’m even embarrassed to send people there!
There are two ways to successfully combine design and SEO. The first is to be a blue chip and/or Fortune 500 company with multi million dollar advertising and branding budgets to deliver your website address via television, radio, billboards, PR parties and giveaways with your logo.
Since chances are that’s not you, and certainly not me, lets look at the second option. It begins with some research into your market, some thoughtful and creative planning, and a designer who is a search engine optimizer, and understands at least basic CSS and HTML programming techniques. Or a combination of people with these skills that can work very well together.
Design is for brochures, instant results are for the web
That’s not the whole truth, but it will help compare and contrast design and SEO. In reality, SEO needs the quantity and detail of supporting text that a brochure has, but good web design has to catch a viewer’s attention in 5 seconds. It’s pretty difficult to read and absorb the content of an entire brochure in less than 5 seconds.
Search engines need rich, related, appropriate, changing and poignant content. And for them to rank you, all of that must be on your pages. But if it’s not well organized and broken down into bite size chunks, no one is going to bother learning about what you’re offering.
Construction 101- Attractive Design and SEO
Sadly, it’s very difficult to optimize a site without completely overhauling it. You’ll soon understand why. Design and SEO must be strongly rooted into every aspect of each other, possessing a true, symbiotic relationship. Lets look at a simplified example of this. Lets say you are optimizing a page for the keyword phrase, “pumpkin bread recipe.”
From a design standpoint “Pumpkin Bread Recipe” would be the heading for the page, in a nice, readable font with the words perhaps an orange-brown color. And lets add a fine, green rule around it.
There are many ways to create that simple, colored heading. However, there is only one way that is best for both design and SEO. That is to use Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. In addition, that line of code containing “Pumpkin Bread Recipe” needs to be as close to the top of the page as possible (which CSS also allows).
To a viewer, the recipe text might be read more if it were located to the right of a photo of a buttered piece of pumpkin bread on a small plate next to a lightly steaming cup of coffee.
SEO needs to read that ingredient list and baking instructions. Search engines now understand on a rudimentary level that the ingredients are indeed related to the optimized words- pumpkin bread recipe.
Additionally, it would take many extra lines of code to make a table in this example if you didn’t use CSS. Search engines don’t like extra code. In fact, given enough times, that “extra” code will make the keyword phrases seem less important and hurt rank.
Note: In the page code, a few thousand characters more than you need to get all of that content organized would normally just add to your page load time, and might be acceptable. But to a search engine, that time can really add up. It wont read through page after page, site after site, billionth after billionth character of unimportant code to find the relevant text. Therefore, the less code, the better your chances. Moral- Less code, more content.
SEO usually means REDO
In the previous pumpkin example, CSS will eliminate the need for almost any extra code at all, and provide the means to place the text to the right of the photo.
Now, imagine that someone had already created this page, but done so using other programming methods. The page could very well be W3C compliant, well programmed and got the job done. However, without designing and programming for optimization as in the above illustration, the end result would have no significant rank compared to others that do.
You can be sure that there exist at least 30 web sites built to rank for the keywords “pumpkin bread recipe”. Note- why did I use the number 30? It’s safe to assume if you’re not on the first three results pages of a search, you’re not being seen.
While this is a simple example, hopefully you understand that it would be impossible to optimize this simple page without redoing it. This isn’t always the case, but extrapolate this into detailed, multiple pages in an entire website and the issue is greatly magnified.
Aesthetic Importance vs. Traffic
Everyone has an idea of what they want their site to look like. The pretty factor- splash pages, cool flash and graphics must now be justified as to their importance to the bottom line. If you want/need to establish an online presence, you will have to make some compromises in these areas.
Understand exactly the role your site should play in your company marketing.
Ask- What is the goal of your website and who is its audience? Is it for existing clients to see? Is it to reach new clients? To venture into yet untapped market segments?
Ask- How strongly do your other marketing efforts promote your site?
Ask- Is your website an extension of your existing collateral that must reflect the same graphical look?
Ask- Is your website meant to assist to your sales force or is it your sales force?
Chances are you wont have any single answers. That’s ok. It will give you some meat for your designer/SEO to digest and develop a solution for you.
Real case of Design balanced with SEO and salability
If you sell jewelry solely online, you must have a catalog of exceptional photography and detailed, high-resolution close up images. But, you must be optimized and rank well if you want to sell any of that jewelry.
If such a company approached me with this project, my recommendation would be this: If you sell a product, people have to see that product. Lots of good images. The site should be slick and sheik and easy to navigate. The home page has to capture the buyer’s attention. If it’s very expensive jewelry, the site should have a lot of class and elegance. If it’s home made jewelry, the site shouldn’t look home made.
However, as you have no store front, if the online community can’t find you, you’re business will fail. So I’d have a very optimized home page with some discussion of the quality of your product, the history of your company, etc. This is also great sales copy. Ad a few special catalog pieces with descriptions below some smartly placed gifs, jpegs and readable type graphics built out of CSS and you’ve got a cool to look at, content rich, well optimized layout.
I’d make the link to your catalog very obvious and prominent. Note the catalog is not the homepage. I’d also include subsequent well written, in depth pages about the history of some specific pieces. Load them with targeted keywords and a few images. Again, make your catalog link very prominent. In doing so you’re creating relevant content for search engines AND providing additional pages that can rank.
The catalog can be database driven, simple and changeable, and you have the foundation to build your search rank.
Planning Your Site
If your designer is not a search engine optimizer, hire one to work with your designer from the initial development stage of your site. If you would like a visible presence that is not dependant on traditional marketing efforts to get your name around, then you will have to optimize.
However, with advances in html and css, text itself can be a very flexible and attractive design element with endless possibilities. Site optimization consists of some rigid, unbendable rules. It can be intertwined successfully with very creative and attractive design. If your Designer and SEO aren’t the same person or company, make sure they have the same, close working relationship.
This article outlines the five most important conventions for writing and designing your webpages.
Your presentation is every bit as important as your content. The best content in the world won’t ever be read if the presentation is so bad that nobody stays long enough to read it. If you maximize your website usability, your visitors stay longer, read more, and you make more sales.
If the purpose of your web site is to educate your readers and/or lead them to a specific action, (like buying something) then you should seriously consider following these design and writing conventions…
1. Start Each Page With Your Most Important Content.
2. Use Meaningful Link Text to Provide Information.
3. Write Scannable Pages.
4. Use Simple Website Designs.
5. Use Clear, Consistent Website Navigation.
1. Start Each Page With Your Most Important Content.
People are impatient; they will scan your page quickly and leave as soon as they get bored. Put your best, most important content near the top of the page.
Design your layout so that nothing pushes your most important content down past the “page fold”. That is your “Prime Real Estate” — don’t waste it. Large logos, unnecessary graphics, ambiguous headlines…. all these things are a waste of your must valuable space.
Begin each page with a summary or a short list of page contents. Be specific, and place the newest items at the top of the list or in a “What’s New” section.
2. Use Meaningful Link Text to Provide Information.
Web surfers decide in seconds whether or not your page is worth reading. When you use bland, content-neutral words for your link text, you miss an important opportunity to provide information. (Also – visually impaired web users often instruct their computer to read the link text aloud, “Click here” won’t help them.)
The words used in your anchor text should suggest what the reader will find when they click on the link, and help them decide to click or not.
* Bad: To learn about icebergs
* Better: Icebergs
* Best: Where icebergs come from.
You can make your links even more informative by following them with a blurb:
Blurbs: Short Previews of Web Pages
A “Blurb” is a short paragraph that gives a preview of the page at the other end of a link. You are reading a blurb now. If a blurb helps a reader decide to click the link, then it works.
3. Write Scannable Pages.
Offline, books and magazine articles are designed for sequential reading: You start at the beginning and read to the end.
Online text is not necessarily sequential – it relies upon smaller chunks of text, which the reader often does not read in order. So each page of your website must make sense to a visitor who did not see the preceding page, or just arrived from a search engine.
Meaningful, informative headers & subheadings, bulleted lists, and bold keywords all help readers scan the page quickly and easily.
4. Use Simple Website Designs.
Your visitors didn’t come to see your fancy graphics. They came to find information about prices or availability, they’re looking for contact information or directions, or maybe they just want some technical details…
Unless your website is about cool graphic effects, I can guarantee that your visitors don’t really care about your spinning logo or dancing unicorns, or even whether or not your menu buttons blink or change background images on a mouse-over.
Web-savvy visitors have ‘trained’ themselves to ignore ads. Anything that flashes, shimmers, blinks or dances around will not get the attention that it deserves.
The more such things you put on your page, the harder your reader will have to work in order to find what they want. Too much of that and they are gone, never to return. Use images wisely. Every image on your page slows it down, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot….
* Use smaller images whenever possible.
* For large collections of images, use an index with thumbnails that they can click if they want to see the image full-size.
* Use an image editor to reduce the file size of your images
See our “Using images in your webpages” section for more about all that ~ http://blt-web.com/web_design/using_images.html
5. Use clear, Consistent Website Navigation.
Next to pages that take forever to load (and pop-ups), the biggest complaint that surfers have is difficult to understand and/or inconsistent website navigation…
* Use the same menu on all your pages.
* Use a logical link hierarchy, with related items together.
* Be perfectly clear with your link titles & descriptions.
* Use text links whenever possible.
* If you must use image links, use the alt=”link destination” element.
A website with more than ten or fifteen pages may not need a link from every page to every other page… you can link to each section from each page, but give each section its own “Table Of Contents”.
Every page should have a link to the home page and to the site map. (If you have less than ten pages, you may omit a site map, but your home page should have a text link to every page for search engines.)
Following these 5 simple guidelines will help your website be a success. With faster-loading pages and easier-to-find information, people will read more of your content and are more likely to take the action that you want them to.
To Your Success