Many misconceptions exist about what is and isn't search engine friendly website design, according to Shari Thurow, founder and SEO director of Omni Marketing Interactive.
Thurow, who recently spoke at the SMW West search marketing conference, says one assumption is that search engine friendly sites are, by default, also user friendly. Many people believe that for sites to be search engine friendly, they must use only text links for navigation. Others think XML sitemaps are essential, or that search friendly sites are inherently ugly.
We pulled information from Thurow's SMW West panel, and followed up with her and a set of additional SEO and SEM experts after the event, to clarify some of these false assumptions. We also came up with 10 tips and best practices to make sure search engines — and users — can easily find your website content.
What exactly is search engine friendly website design?
Search engine friendly design "is a user friendly website design that enables websites to be easily found via the crawler-based search engines, other types of search engines, and industry-related websites," Thurow says. "In other words, it's a website that is made for users but it also accommodates search engines."
"[It] is a balance between technology-centered design and user-centered design, with the user coming first," Thurow says. "SEO is optimizing for people who use search engines."
Ultimately, the key to ranking well with search engines is "to provide the best content with a good user experience," says David Sorenson, vice president of audience development at Everyday Health. "If you focus on the user, in most cases, the search engines will recognize and reward you."
“Technology, design, user experience, and search engines have evolved from ten years ago, and websites have gotten better at finding that balance between search-engine and human friendliness, but there's always room for improvement," Sorenson says.
Debunking 4 myths of search engine friendly website design
Myth: If a site is search friendly, it's also user friendly
Some sites are easier for search engines to crawl and index because they contain a lot of text. However, big chunks of text can be turnoffs for some users, especially those on mobile devices, and they don't necessarily help site visitors find the information they seek or complete desired tasks. Making a site easily accessible to search engines "is only one part" of search engine friendly site design, according to Thurow.
Myth: Search friendly design means all navigation is formatted as text links
The common belief that text-link navigation is key to search friendly design is inaccurate, according to Thurow. "Navigation is about enabling task completion," she says. Often, graphic- or image-based navigation menus can help site visitors easily complete tasks, and that's more important than simply trying to appeal to search engines.
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