Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

Is Your Site’s “Invisible Sloppy Web Design” Driving Your Visitors Away?

by Susan Pomeroy

html code - invisible sloppy web design

Two new clients came to me recently, wondering why their sites didn’t come up at all in search engines. Both sites were created by the same web designer, and both clients were very pleased with their site’s appearance. But where was their traffic? Why couldn’t they find their own sites on Google, or any other search engine?

If You Build It, They Will Come… NOT!

When I took a look behind the scenes at the actual coding of both sites, I found the culprit. There were no title tags, metatags, alt tags, or keywords. The designer built attractive sites… but by these omissions, guaranteed their invisibility.

I don’t think he meant to cause problems. But he didn’t take the extra step and add in these small things that in today’s competitive environment make such a huge difference to the success or failure of a site to attract business. But who knew? His work was sloppy, yet invisible to anyone who doesn’t know how to read the source code on a web page. It’s as if these web sites had an undetected saboteur who secretly, quietly, and invisibly, sent all their visitors away before they’d even knocked at the door.

Search Engines Look for Text

How do search engines find your site? They look for text. If there’s no text, your site has a hard time being “seen.” Does this mean that sites with images, video, and animations are always invisible? No. But it does mean that you need to use text to describe the contents of your site. And for the text to be effective, you must use it in certain ways, in certain places. Here’s how to do it.

A Simple Search Engine Optimization and Visibility Checklist

Whether you’re building your own site, or hiring a designer, here’s a list of simple things to check before your site goes live.

    1. Domain names count. Try to use your keyword(s) in your domain name (“bluewidgets.com”). If you’ve already got your domain name, don’t worry about this one, just focus on the others.
    2. File and image names are even more important. Don’t just name your page files and images “products.html” and “image1.jpg.” Use your keywords! (“bluewidgetstore.html”, “bluewidget1.jpg”.)

    3. Do not leave spaces in the name of any file that is used on your site (“bluewidget.html,” or “blue-widget.html” but not “blue widget.html”).

    4. Fill in ALL the “image alt” tags with text that uses key words to describe the image (alt=”blue widget 1, frontal photo”). Do this for EVERY image on your site.

    5. Super-important: fill in the “Title” tag on all pages! Use descriptive terms that use both the site keywords, and the contents of the page (“Blue Widgets Store – fine-tune your rotilators and improve your flipsacalcs with precision-engineered carbon steel blue widgets”).

    6. Fill in the “Description” metatag with a client-centered description of each page. A few search engines will still use this tag on their results page (“Fine-tune your rotilators! Precision blue widgets, list of all sizes in stock”).

    7. Fill in the “Keywords” metatag with a list, from most important to least important, of your page’s keywords. Although keywords are not so important anymore, it won’t hurt, and it may help, to have them. Important tip: don’t bother putting any keyword in this tag that doesn’t actually already appear on the page. If you don’t have a widget named “Famous Blue Widget” on this page, don’t put the word “famous” in the metatags just because you think it might help your widget get famous. It won’t!

    8. Internal navigation—is it done with images, or with text? If your navigation links are actually images, be sure to put a redundant set of text-based navigation links on the page as well. Often, the footer is a good place for these.

    9. Use link titles, and put page keywords in them!

    10. Very important: instead just using bold text, or a larger font size, for headings, use the “h1” and “h2” tags. Try to put keywords in these headings.

    11. Avoid Flash navigation! (Ask your designer.)

You and your designer don’t have to be rocket scientists or search engine pros to do this simple search engine optimization. Does it sound like extra work? Yes, a little. But it makes a huge difference in how many people actually find you. And it takes much less time to add these touches when you’re building the site than it does to go back and add them later.

Don’t sabotage your own traffic! Be visible! Make sure the invisible, behind-the-scenes code in your site is ready, and welcoming, to those search bots.

Has a site you’ve owned suffered from ISWD (Invisible Sloppy Web Design)? Have you fixed one yourself, or had to hire someone to do it for you? I’d love to hear about it.

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