Myth: XML sitemaps are essential for search friendly design
An XML sitemap, which is essentially a list of URLs for a site, "shouldn't be a substitute or a Band-Aid for poor site navigation," Thurow says. Instead, the XML map should be regarded as supplemental navigation.
Myth: Search friendly sites are text-heavy and ugly
Aesthetic design can greatly improve user experience, according to Thurow. "The site every SEO consultant trots out as being search engine friendly is Craigslist," says Susan Leopold, senior director of product commerce at Ziff-Davis. "While Craigslist gets the job done, the Internet wouldn't be nearly the interesting place it is today if everyone used that model."
10 best practices for search engine friendly website design
1. Search friendly sites have effective IA
The goal of information architecture (IA) is to ensure the information, services and products on a website are easy to find. Though IA and site navigation are related, they aren't the same, according to Thurow, because site navigation's main goal is to enable task completion. And IA relates to how content is organized, labeled, prioritized, and connected, in order to support usability and findability. A site with clear, consistent IA is easy to use and its content is easy to find.
The site-building process should begin with IA and then move on to navigation, site design and the site's development or technical architecture, according to Thurow.
2. Search friendly sites see the big picture
If site creators don't get the building blocks right from the beginning, they risk building "a sandcastle that you have to change every time there's a big search engine algorithm change," Thurow says. "Look at the big picture. Get marketing, technical and user experience people to work together and reinforce the same messages. It will help your site perform well despite algorithm changes."
3. Search friendly sites use good labels, formats and placement
How text, graphics and multimedia files are labeled, formatted and placed on Web pages communicates the content the site creator thinks is important to search engines, as well as to site visitors, according to Thurow. For example, search engines and users both consider text at the top of a page more important than text at the bottom.
4. Search friendly sites optimize 3 key labels
Content labeling includes such elements as HTML H1 headings (which should be about 18 pixels or larger) and H2 headings (about 14 pixels). The Mayo Clinic's page about influenza is a good example of clear content labeling, according to Thurow.
Navigation labels provide a clear path to the content site visitors want. For example, the Mayo Clinic's flu page includes clearly worded navigation links to help users delve deeper into chosen topics (using vertical left hand navigation), jump to other areas on the site, or complete tasks (using links such as "Giving to Mayo Clinic").
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