In the early days of the world wide web, having a good web presence meant that you must have a good web site full of rich content, and a good internet address that goes with it. It’s a generally accepted practice to publicize your Internet address to the world – well, at least to as much of it that you could cover. You Internet address, technically referred to as the URL of your website, became your key in making your site successful. The more Internet users that know of your website’s URL, the more people will visit it.
But that was before the Internet boomed, before its user base multiplied by millions, and before almost everyone else built web sites of their own, competing with your own in attracting users and readers. That was before modern search engines came to be, way before Google became a household verb, and changed the Internet in big ways. Now in the modern age of the internet, where search is the second most popular activity in the net, having a bumper sticker of your web site’s URL is no longer as cool or as effective as it used to be. You must now rely on one of the major pillars of a successful web site design – search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization is the method of increasing a web site’s ranking in search engine results listing. Before going further into the details of search engine optimization, it is good to know why it’s important to rank well in these listings and how it came to be.
Let’s see for example how a good web designer that is fully unaware of search engine optimization will lay things for a typical web design project: a very clear purpose for the website, a good aesthetic design, clear and concise words that are aptly toned for the target audience, an intuitive navigation and usable user interface, and for the writers’ part, a content that is rich and relevant and no-nonsense.
All things done right. In the end the client will have in his hand a well-designed web site full of information and content that is ready to take on the world of the Internet. Or is it? Before anything else, the million-dollar questions must be asked: how many users will read that rich and no-nonsense content that you have? How many customers will be able to see the products that you are trying to sell? How many clients will become aware of the services that you will offer? Search engine optimization is mostly about these questions. In fact it is mostly about trying to give the positive answers to these questions – many readers, many customers, and many clients.
Where do website users come from? In the early phases of a simple personal web site they usually come from the owner’s circle of family and acquaintances that are aware of your brand new URL. Although this may be enough for some personal web sites surely it will take a lot more hits than what those acquaintances would provide when a website is aiming for a larger and more geographically-unconstrained audience. After all, that is one thing that the Internet is all about – breaking geographical constraints. And for this kind of web site traffic need, there is but two words that answers that question of where your users will come from: search engines.
While there were search engines that existed before Google came to the scene, Google brought to the table a completely new way of searching information. The algorithm that Google used, relying heavily on links, (among many other important factors) proved to be very effective that it left other search engines in the dust. This revolution in search that gave relevant search results became so successful that it shaped the users’ habits in finding information on the Internet. Users stopped memorizing web site URLs, and started depending on the power of the search engine to give them back the relevant URLs for the information that they need. And though search engines can give you search results that spanned multiple pages, recent studies have shown that a few percentage of the users even bothered to go beyond the first page.
So that answers the why and how questions that we raised earlier about the importance of search engine listings to web site owners. As far as web design is concerned, everything that is mentioned above also points to one thing – that a good web design is just half the battle. Search engine optimization brings a whole new kind of a game to the table.
There is no definitive answer to the question: how will I make my web site rank well in Google (or Yahoo, or Alta Vista)? There are many factors that affect web site rankings, and the exact formula for this ranking algorithm is considered as a search engine company’s secret sauce that sets it apart from its competitors, and more importantly, this secrecy also serves as a protective wall that tries to prevent the contamination of search results with irrelevant contents and spam pages. But this doesn’t mean that they leave web site designers and owners in the dark. Search engine companies do help web designers and search engine optimization professionals in making pages that are more search-engine friendly. Online communities also exist that help others in their search engine optimization problems.
Search engine optimization is an established and growing industry of professionals who offer services for this specific purpose. But though people who specialize on this kind of optimization exist, it is also important that web designers understand the underlying concepts of search engine optimization. Though optimization techniques can be applied to the web site design towards or at the end of the project, having a good knowledge of the factors that improve a web sites’ search engine ranking saves the designer from cumbersome changes that might have to be done later if optimization is set aside. Having search engine optimization considerations as you design your web sites also focuses your design for a more definitive purpose. In the end knowing more about search engine optimization as a web designer is a big advantage for a more efficient web design resulting to a website that will be noticed and read by visitors all over the world.