A highly-skilled designer can do brilliant things with a website’s design, but search engine optimization must be taken into consideration when shaping a new design. This doesn’t mean you have to go back to the Stone Age designs of the 90’s. Designers should work on a team with wireframers, developers, and SEO specialists to create a website formula that will be eye-catching for both viewers and search engines. Unfortunately, most web designers like to ignore SEO when building sites because they want to express their artistic abilities. Below is an explanation of commonly-made design mistakes that will ruin your SEO.
Using Splash Pages
Have you ever tried reading a book that sits on the opposite side of a brick wall? It’s just not going to work – and asking Google to read a website that hides behind a splash page is not much different. Your astonishing, psychedelic Java splash page may seem like the cool thing to do, but take my advice and don’t drink the Kool-Aid. The only thing you will accomplish with a splash page is the erection of a massive barrier between your website and search engines.
The reason Java splash pages create a barrier is because search engines can’t read Java. You’re basically creating a home page with no content or navigation. This will cause the homepage to be indexed improperly, stranding the rest of the website from proper indexation. If you absolutely must have a splash page, then add plenty of textual content and global navigation links in the body of the page. This is still a horrible idea, but at least it will give search engines something to read.
Building an All Java Site
Ever heard of the saying, “It’s like talking to a brick wall?” If you build an all Java website, search engines will be talking to a brick wall when trying to find out more about your website. When I explained the horrors of a splash page, I mentioned the fact that it creates a homepage with no content or navigation. Imagine an entire site with no content, no internal linking, and no real navigation. Basically, you have a piece of art, not a website.
On top of being completely SEO unfriendly, Java sites are annoying to use. Nobody wants to wait for pages to load. The worst Java sites are the ones where the applet is only 500×500 pixels – which seems to be a common trend with these types of sites. Here are some words of advice if you still think a Java site is a good idea. If people and search engines can’t read the tiny, Java-embedded text, navigation links, and have to wait 30 seconds for each page to load, then you will end up with a dead website.
Unlike the Nike commercials, just don’t do it. Any designer worth half their weight will also agree that frames are totally 1996. On top of being atrocious looking, frames will also make it extremely difficult for search engines to read your website. All that nicely written content you spent dozens of hours writing is now buried in the markup by the big bad frame monster that doesn’t want to let it be seen by Google.
Why does the frame monster keep Google away? Framed websites use three different html files to create the design. A normal website only uses one html file. This causes a major conflict with the indexation of the website, and only one of the files gets indexed properly. In fact, many framed websites won’t get indexed by search engines at all. It’s like taking all the internal linking on each of the three files, and throwing them in the ring for a Royal Rumble.
Using Images Improperly
Let me put this in very simple terms. Do not use images as your primary form of navigation. Google will get caught up admiring the vibrant colors in the pictures instead of trying to figure out what they are supposed to mean. I’m not saying to use pure text links for navigation. That would be a sin against modern web design. Utilizing text-over-image techniques with cascading style sheets is the best solution to the dilemma between SEO and design. Designers get their pretty, colorful images and SEOs get their juicy text links. Everybody is happy, right?
Aside from navigation, your website probably also uses images in the content area of most pages. While Bing is gazing at your glorious imagery, it will want to know more about the main images related to the page. You can make this very easy for her by optimizing the image. This practice will give words to the image without sacrificing the beauty of the design. Read my article on image optimization best practices for a complete guide on optimizing images.
Forgetting about Breadcrumbs
While hiking in the woods, you forgot to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Now you are hopelessly lost and can’t find your way back home. Does this sound like your website? Breadcrumbs not only help make the website more user-friendly, but they also helps search engines figure out the hierarchal navigation structure. They also reduce the need to overly expand the navigation bar with unnecessary categories.
If properly implemented, breadcrumbs create an internal linking matrix which will greatly improve search engine performance. Flashy Java-based breadcrumbs may look cool, but nothing performs better than good old-fashioned text links. Text links are easily read by search engines, and they allow for anchor text. Use one of your targeted keywords for the page as the anchor text for the breadcrumb. This will help search engines determine, “Oh hey, this page talks about respirator fit testing equipment.”
Using Images in Place of Content in Headers
Going back to the section about using images properly, don’t replace content with images. Using cool graphics with text for headers may look awesome, but it will hurt your SEO. The purpose of using header text is to emphasize the importance of keywords in the content to search engines. If you don’t use proper h1 tags, you will be depreciating the value of your content. This brings me to my next point about not using header text at all.
Not Using Header Text
Using header tags establishes the hierarchy of importance of content sections within a page, enabling search engines to determine the importance of text. The h1 tag tells Google that the text contained within is the most important, overlying idea of the page – which is why you will want to include a keyword in it. An h2 tag tells the search engine that this is a section describing the h1 tag. The h3 sections are read as sub-sections of the h2s. Any decent designer should be able to easily come up with a creative, eye-catching method of displaying header text.
Pop-up windows are the most obnoxious design error a designer can make. Not only will most browsers block pop-ups, but most users will close the window immediately because it is annoying. That being said, search engines also find your pop-ups to be annoying. In fact, they won’t even index pop-ups as part of the website. Do you really want to infuriate visitors and Google? I think not! If it looks like spam, reads like spam, then it probably is spam.
Using Inconsistent Layouts on the Site
Even if you think a backpacking trip to the middle of the Mojave Desert without food or water sounds like fun, don’t do it to your website. Every website should implement global navigation and footer links on every page. A global navigation bar is the main navigation bar that is on each page. By adding this, your viewers and search engines will never get lost on the website. If you decide to omit this suggestion, take a gander at your analytics. The exit pages with the highest number will probably be the forgotten pages you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Search engines will also look at this neglect as poor internal linking structure, which will impact your search engine rankings negatively.
Using Geo Redirecting
On multi-language sites, nothing is more convenient than adding in automatic geo redirecting to the correct language. Geo redirects read the geographic location and language of your computer to determine what language the website should be displayed in, and redirect you to the proper language-bearing website. If users are automatically being redirected away from the homepage, you will lose 50% of the link juice from your back-links. Most inbound links point at the homepage, so why would you want to tell Google and Bing to go somewhere else? Sure, it’s very convenient and makes perfect sense to automatically redirect, but it will hurt your SEO. The least inconvenient solution to this problem is to have a “pick your language” option on the homepage. By having users manually pick their language, you get the full strength of your inbound links. BMW does a good job at directing traffic to the correct geographic website with a drop-down menu. BMW also has a different domain and website for each country, and does their SEO separately for each site.
Embedding Videos Improperly
Videos are a great way to engage your audience in the subject matter. Custom pop-up media player scripts are an impressive way to capture the attention of viewers, but they won’t help your SEO. Again, custom media players are usually done with Java – making it impossible for search engines to read. It may sound a bit tacky, but embedding videos directly from YouTube will give your videos optimal search performance.
Using proper metadata, optimization, and embedding from YouTube will create a cinematographic atmosphere that Google can understand. Yes, YouTube does convert video files into Java, but Google acquired YouTube not too long ago, and has set up options to make the videos crawlable. Read my article on YouTube video optimization for a complete guide on how to do this properly.
Botching the 404 Error Page
Implementing a custom 404 error page is a must-have for any website, but it must be done correctly. If you take the time to make a 404 error page, spend the extra few seconds it takes to add in links to return to the website. Forgetting this very simple task is like throwing someone over an electric fence then telling them to come back. Use our custom 404 page as an example. It’s humorous, has nice graphics, but also includes global navigation, footer links, and a button to return to the homepage. Don’t strand your audience or search engines. Having broken internal links depreciates the value of your internal linking structure, which search engines don’t like. If you don’t include links in your 404 page, Google will place more weight on broken links as being a website error during indexation.
Skipping the Footer Links
Not Writing Optimized Content
Am I repeating myself? Am I repeating myself? Does this sound like the content on your website? Duplicate content is a huge no-no from an SEO standpoint. If Google, Bing, and Yahoo have to read the same content over and over, they will grab your website from their cupboard, throw it in a frying pan, and cook it up like the spam it appears to be. Write original content for each page on your website. Don’t scrape content from other sites either. It will not help your SEO. Also make sure you are optimizing the content properly so search engines and users read your content the way you want them to read it. Here’s a great article written by Straight North’s very own, Brad Shorr, on how to properly optimize content for SEO. Use that checklist to make sure you are getting the most out of your content.
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