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Ensure That Your Site Design is Optimized for Search Engines

This article was published in the Winter 2000 issue 
of the Embryologists' Newsletter.

If you build your infertility Web site with an understanding of how search engines work, it will be more likely that your site will rank high in the search engines. Internet Health Resources provides this Web page with tips to help you optimize your Web site design for search engines:

  1. Add educational Web pages
  2. Do not build your Web site with frames
  3. Ensure that the important keywords are in the Web page text, rather than inside images
  4. Ensure that your major navigational links are text links
  5. Avoid using the exact same color for the text and the Web page background

If you don't understand some of the tips, then you may want to discuss them with your Web site developer.

1. Add educational Web pages.

Educational Web pages are intended to educate the target audience about a particular topic (e.g., ICSII, assisted hatching, etc.), rather than to promote an organization's services or products. In addition to the fact that users like to read educational material, educational pages can dramatically help your Web site get more traffic from search engines, for the following reasons:

  • When your site has educational pages, other infertility Web site owners will be more likely to add link pointer to your Web pages.  And, the more Web pages that point to your Web pages, the higher search engines will rate your site popularity (called "link popularity"). The higher your Web site popularity, the higher your Web pages will appear in the search engine rankings. Web site popularity is now a very important factor for search engine rankings. 
     
  • Many search engines index every Web page on a Web site. Thus, the more pages you have on your Web site, the more pages the search engines can index, and the more likely that one of your pages will display as the result of a user's search.

There is an additional reason why educational Web pages will increase the traffic to your Web site:

  • You will gain the additional traffic directly from the Web sites that add links to your Web site. In particular, infertility directories (e.g., Infertility Resources) may want to add hyperlink pointers to your educational Web pages.

2. Do not build your Web site with frames.

Background: Some Web site developers like to build Web sites using frames. A frames Web page is a special kind of page that divides the browser window into different areas called frames. Each frame area can display a different Web page. Although many Web site developers think it looks attractive and hip to use frames, there is significant downside to using frames. Using frames will cause immense difficulties in promoting your Web site. To assess whether your site is build in frames, check for the following conditions:

  • Click on a few pages and look at the Web address in the location bar.  If the Web address does not change, then it is probably a frame-based site.
     
  • Navigate to different Web pages. If there is one stationary block of the Web page that does not change then it may be a frame-based Web site.
     
  • If you know how to do this while viewing the page in your Web browser, you can do a "File / View Source" to view the HTML. If you see references to "frames" in the HTML tags then it is probably a frames-based site.

The problems: A "frame-based" Web site creates two major problems for promoting the site:

  • Many search engines have trouble following the links in framed Web sites
     
  • Web directories cannot easily point to specific Web pages. They can only point to the frame-based site's home page. Yet, the educational pages will be buried inside the site.

In both cases, the result is that you will receive less traffic to your Web site. A frame-based Web site can be a major obstacle to getting lots of traffic from search engines and Web directories.

Some solutions:

  • If you have not yet built your Web site, then build it using tables. Table-based pages allow for the same structured page design as frames. For example, all pages might have the same elements including a top bar with your logo, a navigation bar, and a bottom bar with copyright information.
     
  • If your Web site is already built in frames, you can turn the frame-based pages into table-based pages. If you or your Web page developer are unsure of how to do this, feel free to contact IHR.
     
  • You can also have a mixed-mode site. The pages which you want indexed by the search engines can be table-based and all other pages can be frame-based.

For additional information about problems and solutions with frames, refer to Build Your Web Site Without Frames.  

3. Ensure that the important keywords are in the Web page text, rather than inside images.

Background: Search engines regularly index millions of Web pages and keep track of the main keywords on those pages. If, for example, an Internet user enters the word "infertility" into the search engine, it will query its database of keywords and return Web pages that contain the word "infertility." 

The problem: Search engines cannot "read" words inside of images and thus they won't index those words. If they don't index those words (e.g., "infertility" or "ICSII") then, when a person enters those words into a search engine, that Web page will not be found. Here are a couple of specific instances where this can be a problem:

  • Some Web sites have a large image, with important words, on the home page.
     
  • Some Web sites have major keywords (e.g., a list of services) contained inside of images on the sub pages (e.g., the services page)

Some solutions:

  • If you have an image that contains important keywords (e.g. a list of services) on your subpages, make sure that the words are also written in normal text.
     
  • If you have a home page image with important text, consider taking the image apart as follows: a) keep the photo or line art as an image and b) turn the text inside the image into simple text.

4. Ensure that your major navigational links are text links.

Background: The vast majority of Web pages have hyperlinks for accessing another Web page. Often the hyperlinks are grouped together on the top or side of the page into a "navigation bar" which allows users to quickly access lots of pages on the Web site. The navigation bar hyperlinks can be either:

  • Simple text link - this type of link is simple text, like the words on this Web page. You can assess whether a link is simple text by doing the following: If you can select and highlight the link with your cursor, then it's a simple text link. To do this, press your left mouse button and drag the cursor over the link to select the link. If you can highlight the link it is a text link.
     
  • Image link - this type of link is an image that is made in a graphics program. It is not simple text. It is an image. The link is probably an image link if the following are true:
    • if the link looks like an image (e.g., it is 3D or the font is very different than typical fonts on a page)
    • if you cannot select and highlight the text with your cursor

The problem: Search engines index Web sites by first indexing the home page, then following the site links to other pages to index those pages. However, some search engines cannot follow image links. Consequently, if your navigation bar is made of image links, those search engines will not be able to index many pages on your Web site. If they cannot index the pages then they cannot  

Some solutions: In order to provide the text links for the search engines, you can do one of the following:

  • Keep your image bar with links and simply add the text links somewhere on the page (e.g. the bottom of the page).
     
  • Add a site map page which contains text links to all your sub pages.
     
  • Change the image links into simple text links.

5. Avoid using the exact same color for the text and the Web page background.

Background: Some Web pages have text that is the same color as the Web page background. In this situation it might seem that a user could not read text that is the same color (e.g., white) as the Web page background). However, consider a Web site with pages that have a white background and the following:

  • a blue navigation bar with white hyperlink text
  • or a dark colored box (i.e., a table) with white text

The problem:  In the past, some people tried to fool the search engines by hiding keywords (e.g. "infertility") in the pages by making the keyword text the same color as the page background. That way normal users would not see, for example, the word "infertility" repeated 100 times. But the hope was that the "dumb" search engines would read the word and thereby think that this was a really important infertility page. This trick was called keyword spamming.

However, search engines have caught onto this trick and they now penalize people who attempt to use keyword spamming by: a) penalizing a Web page that has too many of the same keywords (e.g. "infertility" 100 times) on the page, and b) some search engines penalize text that is the same color as the background under the assumption that the Web site owner is trying to spam the search engine.

A solution: The basic solution is to change the color of the text to a color different from the page background. For example, you can change white text to a slightly off white color. 

 
After your Web site is optimized for search engines, then you can move on to the next step - develop a keyword strategy.
 

IHR optimizes all clients' Web sites for search engines.
 

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