Should designers consult with a search engine marketing (SEM) expert during the design phase? You bet! Special consideration should be given to the client's objectives and the size and degree of sophistication of the site; but no matter what your objectives, SEM is always a factor because search engine traffic will contribute to the bottom line.

If you don't design for search engines from the beginning, your clients can get stuck with unexpected costs. Even though a site may be well designed functionally, a site featuring multiple products can get limited search engine traffic if it's a dynamic site - unless an SEM expert makes it search-engine friendly. The same goes for framed and Flash sites, which also require specific optimization strategies to be indexed by search engines.

A site should be designed as a work in process, one that can be updated on a regular basis. The timing of SEM integration may not be critical. What's important is that site designers and their clients budget for SEM strategies as part of the design process -- before, during, or after the site is completed.

Search engines index Web sites based on reading text -- text that contains your strategic keywords. The robot engines will read the content on your pages and in your title and meta tags, storing that information in their database. Without text, your site won't get indexed by the major search engines. Beyond that, you need good linkage from your home page to the inner pages of your site so the robots can follow the links to all the content within your site. Text on pages that the search engines can't find through links will not get indexed.

Below are some search-engine-friendly basics to consider in the design phase.

  • Keyword-rich text. Always provide text for the robot engines to work with. Text at the top of the page (from the HTML source code) is critical, so place your text as high possible. Use your strategic keyword phrases in your text as much as you can, ensuring that your content reads well. Place keyword phrases at the beginning of paragraphs and headings. Write copy for people first, and then for the search engines. It can also help to bold some of your keywords.
  • Basic links. Always provide basic links for search engines to follow. Search engines start by indexing the text on your home page, then they attempt to follow the links on your home page to the inner pages of your site. This is called "spidering" or "crawling."

Most search engines can't follow dynamic links (links with a query string like href="mypage.php?id=shoes&"). Therefore, you must provide basic links such as a href="" or an image map. Dynamic links and links generated by JavaScript are not followed by most search engines.

The text provided in your links is important, too. It should include a keyword phrase related to the page to which it is linking. Site maps are an excellent way to provide links for search engines.

  • Site map. A site map makes it easy for a search engine spider to find all your pages. It consists of a categorized list of all the pages on your site. You must provide one or more links to the site map from your home page:

    - Create a text link to the site map at the bottom of your home page. It should read "Site Map," and the file name should be "sitemap.htm."
    - The text in your link should contain the appropriate keyword phrases.
    - Make a static list of links to all your pages, with a link to this page from the home page or the site map.

  • Hypertext links. Always provide links that contain a keyword phrase in the link text or in the .alt description of the image or area tag.
  • Header section. Provide a title, meta keywords, a meta description, and a descriptive comment tag in the head section of all indexable pages. The titles, keywords, description, etc. should be unique if possible and relevant to each specific page.

The items in the header section are presented in HTML in the following order:

1. Title -- 5-10 words with the company name and keywords
2. Description -- similar to the meta name description or longer
3. Meta name description -- 20-40 words including strategic keywords
4. Meta name keywords -- a keyword list up to 900 characters
5. Optional meta tags
6. JavaScript src tags (mouseover tag or image src tag)

So when's the optimum time to integrate SEM practices into the design process? It doesn't really matter exactly when your SEM specialist gets involved, although earlier can be better to avoid costly mistakes. What's important is for Web designers and their clients to budget for SEO modifications before blowing the entire budget on marketing and advertising. Search engine traffic will provide the kind of targeted visitors that lead to sales and profits, so it makes sense to optimize for search engines before committing your budget to paid advertising and offline media.
January 4, 2002

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > Search Engine Marketing: Part of the Design Process