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Building Your Website with SEO in Mind

Presented on August 8, 2013

In this webinar, Search Mojo’s Janet Driscoll Miller and Amanda Sides discuss ways to ensure you’re building a strong SEO foundation for your website – whether you’re designing a brand new site, redesigning an existing one, or even just making small changes.

Presenters: Janet Driscoll Miller, President and CEO, Search Mojo and Amanda Sides, Account Director, Search Mojo

Presented on August 8, 2013

Kari:

Welcome to today’s webinar: “Building Your Website With SEO in Mind.” I’m Kari Rippetoe, Content Marketing Manager at Search Mojo. And I’ll be serving as your moderator for today’s webinar.

Before we get started, I just have a few reminders. Firstly, a recording of this webinar will be made available to everyone who registered and will be sent via e-mail by Monday, at the latest. Secondly, there will be a Q&A at the end of today’s webinar. So, if you have any questions for our presenters, please enter them in the GoToWebinar questions box at the right of your screen.

Finally, we encourage you to tweet about today’s presentation, using the #mojowebinar. Plus, you can also follow us on Twitter @SearchMojo. Today’s presenters are Janet Driscoll Miller, President and CEO of Search Mojo and Amanda Sides, Account Director at Search Mojo. Amanda will be providing you with some helpful tips for building a strong SEO foundation for your website, while Janet will talking about some pitfalls to avoid as you are planning the design and development of your website.

Search Mojo was founded in 2005 and specializes in all things search marketing including SEO, pay per click, social media advertising, online reputation management and content marketing. Search Mojo is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia and we also have an office in Charleston, South Carolina. We’ve been featured in several marketing publications and blogs. And we also speak at several conferences including SMX, MarketingProfs B2B Forum and Pubcon.

Our clients include a variety of B2B and consumer brands, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. And with that, I will turn it over to Amanda.

Amanda:

Thank you, Kari. Before we really get into some major recommendations that you’d want to keep in mind when you’re developing your site and designing it, we really wanted to give you some helpful resources for webmaster guidelines. Here are two links where you can access Google and Bing guidelines. You really want to keep them in mind before you even really get started with the design and development of your website. We won’t really get into detail about these because they are constantly changing.

Some of the things we’ll be discussing today are the structure of your site, the content that you include and how to develop it. The performance that you’re getting out of your site. Some forum information, CMS platforms and Parallax Design. So, one of the things that you really want to consider in terms of your site structure is to really consolidate the www and non-www versions of your domain. Many people don’t even realize they have both versions out there. But if you go to both versions and they both load or you find them both in the search index, then that means that they’re both leading and you really want to get those fixed.

So, one way to do that is you can set preference in Webmaster Tools within Google to just point to one or the other, to give preference in the index. One of the main problems with this is that it only counts for Google search results and you can only do it at the domain level. One thing that we really recommend is doing a server side 301 redirect of implementing canonical tags.

So, the redirect basically means once you go to one of these versions, it’ll automatically redirect to the other. And then, the canonical tag basically tells Google which one to prioritize within the search index. This really helps you to keep from ranking both of these versions of your website and really avoid duplicate content.

Another thing we keep in mind for site structure tips is, instead of using multiple domains, you’ll want to use either sub-domains or sub-folders. A lot of people use multiple domains to try to get more of their site’s ranking and things like that. But one really big problem is that you end up dividing all of your link juice. So, if people are linking to you, they’re linking to all different places and it’s all kind of scattered. So, this really helps you centralize your link juice. This also helps you avoid accidental, duplicate content.

The next thing to keep in mind is that, if possible and if it’s appropriate, you want to try and include keywords within your URLs. Here, you can see an example if somebody searched “used surfboards,” these are two results that actually did utilize this tip. So, the first one is www.usedsurfboardshawaii.com. So, the keyword is already in there and it’s in a sub-directory for the second URL there.

What this does is it really quickly shows what the page is about and can really help with website rankings. This is useful for both searchers and search engine box. It also helps click through rate just because you know exactly what you’re clicking through to.

Another quick tip is to utilize pretty versus ugly URLs. What an ugly URL is, is a URL that’s either dynamically generated or it uses alphanumeric identifiers. You can see some examples of that on the left and then, a pretty URL actually uses descriptive text. So, it’s really obvious what the page is about and which directory it falls into. What this really does is helps improve relevancy and also gives confidence to both the bots and the users that they’re going to go to a page that they know exactly what’s on it.

In terms of site content, one thing that we see a lot is that people use really lengthy pages. They want to get as much as they can on each page. If you have a page that’s really lengthy, think about how it’s broken up. See if you can break it into multiple pages. What it does is it gives you an increased volume of pages on your website, which means you have more pages that have the potential to get indexed. And if you have more pages indexed and they’re really well-written and things like that, you definitely have a better chance of getting those pages ranked higher.

The next tip in terms of keeping things in mind for site content, you really want to keep in mind to post fresh content. You may have a lot of static content on your site, which is absolutely fine, but you want to try to add to your site as much as you can when it’s appropriate. So, fresh content really means that it’s a timely addition and you do it on a regular basis. Some good examples of ways to do this is to create a blog that you post to regularly or try to reach out and get some user-generated content. That’s a way that you can get some good content from your users and your customers and you don’t actually have to do a whole lot of work.

This is really important because engines and users actually value quality-fresh content. Engines really want to provide and users want to find up-to-date information, so this will help you do that.

Another tip is to reduce page load times. So, this may not seem like a really big issue or you may not even know it’s a problem, but if you look into Google Analytics or some other tools, possibly, you can find out how long it’s actually taking your website to load when people go to it. Keep in mind that also, if people find you on search results pages, it takes a little under a second to actually process that and direct it to your website. So, then, it’s in addition to that. You want to keep this as low as possible.

Your rankings can really suffer. Users, as well as search engine bots will actually end up abandoning and not continuing to your page because it’s taking so long to load. In Google Analytics, you can actually find how long it’s taking to load your pages. And they’ve started giving actual suggestions on how to reduce that time. In the side navigation bar, you can find the site speed sub-section within the content section and navigate to “speed suggestions.” From there, you can see how long it’s taking each page to actually load on average, how many page views you have and how many suggestions there are.

If you click through, in this instance, we have 12 total speed suggestions. It will actually tell you all the things that you can do. In this example, improve server response time, minimize redirects and you can even click through these and get more information. And this will really help you minimize the page load time and you’ll see tremendous results in terms of getting more pages indexed and ranked.

So, the next thing to consider in terms of content, is to avoid duplicate content. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve mentioned that a lot in this presentation, so far. It happens quite often and people aren’t even aware that it’s occurring a lot of times. What duplicate content is, is the occurrence of the same content on two or more pages. This could be two pages on your own website. This could be two pages on different domains that you own. This could be a duplicate content in terms of your site compared to other websites that you do not own.

What it really means is that you can end up with severe penalties, due to the panda and penguin updates that have recently happened. They’re algorithm updates that basically decrease rankings for poor-quality sites and duplicate content really adds to that. You really don’t want any penalties. It really ends up dropping you in rankings, which really decreases your traffic levels and things like that and you can suffer greatly. This is one thing to keep in mind. You really want to monitor to see if people are actually scraping your content. You may be aware that you’re not doing this on your website, but you want to keep everything in check and make sure that no one else is scraping your content.

So, some tools you can use. One examples is copyscape.com. And you can find out who’s copying your content and not giving you credit. Reach out to them, try to get it resolved, things like that. It will really help your site’s performance within search engine results.

So, lastly with site content tips, you want to try to utilize structured markup wherever you can. This is something that Google and other search engines will be using and have already started using to try to get more information about the content. There are different examples you can use. You can find a lot of them on schema.org, but some examples that we’ve seen that work really well are recipes, products, reviews, event-rich snippets, things like that. What it does is it really helps call more attention to your search results. And it provides more information to both the user and to Google. This really helps them understand exactly what’s on the page and kind of gives it a better probability of getting increased click-through rates.

All and all, all of this doesn’t really matter unless you’re tracking your performance. One way to do this is to set up Google webmaster tools. You can also set up Bing, but most people really care about Google because you get most of your traffic from that engine. So, what it does is you can verify your site within the Webmaster Tools account. And it helps you monitor caller activity. You can find things like errors, how many pages are being indexed. You can even provide Google with a list of your URLs, so that you have a better chance of getting those indexed. You can see things like who links to you and things like that. So, this is something really important to do just to keep an eye on how everything is going with your site and the caller activity.

And if you haven’t already, make sure you get Google Analytics tracking set up. This is something we recommend doing from day one. As soon as your site is ready or as you’re even developing it before it goes live, you really want to make sure that you’re getting all the insight you can into what people are doing on your website. It basically involves adding a snippet of code to every page on your website and it helps you track what people are doing. So, all these efforts that you’re doing to get people to your site doesn’t really matter unless you know what they’re doing once they get there.

This helps you measure performance, track how many conversions or actions people are taking on your site. It really helps improve efficiency, helps you know what’s working and where to really focus your efforts. And now, I’m going to pass it onto Janet. And she will be going over JavaScript AJAX.

Janet:

Thanks, Amanda. So, as Amanda mentioned, we’re going to start talking about JavaScript and AJAX. And if you’re not familiar with AJAX, it is really just a form way that JavaScript is used, that may help usability, as an example. And so, why are these two a problem? Well, the good news is some JavaScript can be indexed. But Google has said they can index some. Bing may or may not be able to index some. But the reality is it’s not always fully functional.

So, I would say that it’s not ideal. I wouldn’t put my really important information in JavaScript. In other words, I wouldn’t put my links, which the search engine bots use to navigate my site or my navigation into JavaScript. I would avoid using that for that purpose, if possible.

Now, from an AJAX perspective, like I mentioned, it’s a type of JavaScript implementation. But the challenge with AJAX. You might have this really cool game or application you made in AJAX. The problem can be linking to specific content in AJAX can really be difficult. So, because you don’t have separate pages, the URL doesn’t change. And a good example of this is in Google Maps. And I’ll show you how they’ve addressed it and it may be an option for you to address it this way, as well. Let’s take a look at that.

So, here’s Google Maps. And if I were to put in Search Mojo’s address here, you can see what the browser address is right now, maps.google.com. But I’m going to put in 100 10th Street Northeast, Charlottesville, Virginia. There we are. And it’s going to show you, there’s our lovely building. There we are. We’re here in Google Maps.

Now, the problem is, when I did that search, let’s say I wanted to send this link to someone else. Because maybe I’m trying to send them directions to our office. The problem is, notice how the URL did not change. I cannot just send that URL as it exists to some friend and have them come up with Search Mojo’s office. That won’t happen, that won’t work properly.

And so, the problem with that becomes, we’re going to need to find another way to help people get into the very specific information, our address and our location, inside of Google Maps. So, what Google did to alleviate this problem is, they have, you’ll see here, a link button. And if you click on that, you’ll notice that they have the maps information here. And then, they have a query [string] after that. So, what they can basically do is if you sent that link to someone, it would actually query AJAX and say “Here’s the exact location” as if somebody were putting the information in to the form themselves.

And so, that’s one way you can go about it. You can tell people “Here’s the link you would use.” It’s not foolproof, it’s not ideal. And the other challenge is, of course, you may or may not get other pages ranked for your JavaScript exact locations and things like that. Because you’re going to be dependent on someone else maybe putting that into a link, so that Google and Bing can go in and index and find it.

So, it’s not always necessarily is the ideal approach, but this is one way Google has tried to it. And obviously, it’s legitimate because Google does it, right? And so, based on that, that’s one approach you can take.

Just how impactful is it to have AJAX on your site? What are the real other detriments that we see? I mentioned that Google and Bing, while they sometimes can index some JavaScript, may not be able to index everything in there. Now, I want to talk to you about my work with the Nat Geo Channel that we did a few years back. And if you look here, this is the page that they had. For every episode, they have a page here with this tabbed information and this is the pictures section for one of the episodes of “The Dog Whisperer.”

And if you take a look here, this particular content that I have highlighted with the yellow box is all in AJAX. And so, while the usability is great with the tabbed format and so forth, the problem was that the indexing box could not get into that AJAX and read all the different information. And if somebody wanted a link to say, one of the videos, and share a link and so forth, it was very difficult to do and it wouldn’t necessarily, like the maps option, take you directly to that particular item.

And so, if you’ve turned off your JavaScript, you can get a good idea of what the bots see when they come to your site if you turn off the JavaScript in your browser. And when we did that with “The Dog Whisperer” site, this is what would show. Basically, just kind of the background which I thought was really cute, because it’s fur. And that’s really about it.

So, all of that content, this is essentially what Google and Bing would see. They saw just this basic content, but not all of the great, rich stuff that Nat Geo Channel is creating around the show. And so, what we did was we then made a way for that same information that you see in the AJAX there in the yellow box, to be shown outside of JavaScript so that the search engine box could see it. And when we did that, amazingly, it tripled website traffic. Tripled website traffic in just three months. It was shocking.

But it’s because what we did was unlock all of this great content that was locked away in JavaScript that could not be read by the search engines. So, if you’re curious as to what your site might look like or your design might look like to search engines, just try turning off your JavaScript in the browser and then, it will give you at least a good idea of what they’re probably going to see.

Now, let’s talk about Flash. Another favorite of mine. Flash is often embedded in JavaScript, so you often see them go hand in hand. Because, many times, Flash movies are embedded with JavaScript. Flash can now be indexed by Google. Not really sure about Bing, but I do know Google can do it. And as you can see here on the right, these are some searches I did for SWF or Shockwave Files and you can see it says “Flash” right in front of it. So, this is an example of searching Google for that.

And so, they can be indexed. But, again, not ideal. Not great. One of the things I see people do quite often is, a lot of people use Flash movies for a website because they like the transition from one website area to another. They like the usability and the view that Flash gives them, the transition that you have as a user. But using one Flash movie by itself and putting everything into one Flash movie isn’t really necessarily a good idea.

Because what it means is that there’s only URL to rank. It’s as if it were one page. And so, a movie is contained in a container that’s like one page. And so, it reduces your overall potential visibility in organic search. And it essentially means optimizing for fewer keywords. Because you have one URL to optimize for all these keywords.

What I would recommend is, as you can see from a lot of these examples, these are just movies on a site. So, they have a full website or you can have each page be its own movie. The only problem with that is it does take away the transition you might be going for in some cases. So, it may not be ideal, but again, from an SEO perspective, I absolutely would not put everything in one movie.

And I also would say avoid Splash pages. They’re so 1999. Don’t do that anymore. But they’re also not ideal for SEO. If you’re going to use one, if you just insist on using one, I think most Web designers have moved away from them, but if you insist on using one, provide a link to the homepage or other navigation so they have an opt-out. I like to call it an “escape hatch.” But they don’t have to watch your Splash page, they don’t have to sit there. And that way, the bots can use that link to get into your site and start indexing. But again, they’re not ideal, I would try and avoid them from an SEO perspective if you can. But if you really just can’t get away from it, give them an escape hatch so the bots can get through to your site and kind of skip that Splash page.

So, now, let’s talk about Parallax design. Parallax is often used for similar reasons that I just mentioned with Flash and that’s page transition. That designers like to have a good usability transition for website visitors going from area of the site to another. And so, let me show you what that looks like.

So, here’s an example Taco Bell’s Cantina Bell Menu site. And this is a true Parallax design. If you scroll down this page, you’ll notice that the page has all these sections, almost like pages that are scrolling, essentially, in this Parallax design. All the way down to the bottom. So, it’s as if the entire website contained on one page and all the information is contained there. You’re basically scrolling up and down the same page. But again, the transition is what people like. If you notice a very smooth transition from one area to another, that’s what people really like about Parallax design.

Now, knowing that, that seems great. But again, like Flash, same problem. You’re trying to optimize all your keywords on one page. And you’re trying to optimize only one URL. So, that’s really not ideal. If you like this approach, like the Parallax design, I recommend what I like to call a “combination approach”. And I’m going to show you what that looks like, as well.

This is Spotify’s US site and what you’ll notice here is that, if I scroll down. Again, a beautiful Parallax design on this page and so forth. But what they did is when I come down here to the bottom and let’s say I hit the “About” button, what it’s going to do is take me to an actual, separate page. So, what they’ve done is made their homepage, essentially, this very nice Parallax design. But they also have these supporting pages with lots of great content.

Now, the effect of that is, if you go to Google and you were to type in “How many [site colon] spotify.com/US,” what you’ll see here is that this has achieved them almost 4,000 pages worth of content being indexed by Google for this area of the site. So, instead of having one page index with one page of Parallax, they have opened up their opportunity for indexing by using this combination approach. So, they have links on the Parallax design page, but they go to separate supporting pages. So, you can kind of have your cake and eat it, too, if you want to try that particular approach.

Now, another thing you can do is you can kind of fake it. You can kind of make something that looks like Parallax design, but maybe it’s not entirely Parallax as we might define it. So, this is an example of “Destiny” the game, and this is a game coming out later this year. And what you’ll see here is they have these two buttons here. And these are actually two different pages. And what I want you to notice here is if I click on this “down” button, hey, that URL changed up there. But it looked like I was just scrolling down the page. And if I scroll up, guess what? Same thing. So, the benefit of this is that you’re able to kind of fake the idea of Parallax but also actually have separate pages.

So, the next thing I want to talk about that can be a real challenge are forms. Because search engine robots cannot fill out forms. Therefore, they can’t always get to the content that you may have behind a form. And so, that content may not get indexed. And that’s a missed opportunity. You need to offer bots a way to get around the form. And so, I’m going to show you a little bit about some examples of forms and how you might be able to use them, but discuss, also how you might be able to work around them.

So, let’s take a look at Search Mojo’s site and how we use forms for our marketing gate for some of our content. If you come to Search Mojo’s site or access, for instance, once this webinar is archived, you can come back and watch it. And you have to fill out a form to basically watch this particular piece of content. And this is really common with B2B companies where they gate certain content on their site to get lead generation and so forth.

And so, the only problem with having a form like this, or a form in any fashion, is again, that the search engine robots cannot get past this form, necessarily. They can’t fill out first name, last name, e-mail, etc. So, the option is, one of the things you can do as many of the forms, like this one, in particular, is created through JavaScript. It’s a popup window essentially that shows up when you come to the site and you’re not registered previously.

And so, in this case, what we can do in the NoScript tag, basically say if you need to read the NoScript tag, which as we talked about before, many times, the search engine bots are going to use because they’re not going to be able to necessarily always read the JavaScript. They will use the NoScript tag. Then, what will happen is they will be able to get by this particular form and index the content behind it. So, that’s one option.

Another thing I want to show you is on Mazda USA’s website. Now, Mazda was a client that we worked with for quite a few years. And they have a challenge, also, because they had all these dealership pages. So, Mazda USA corporate has many dealerships across the United States, over 200 Mazda dealerships. And, unfortunately, the dealer directory for usability purposes was created in this form. So, you could, again, search by ZIP code or you can choose a state.

The problem was, again, search engine bots cannot choose a state. They cannot fill out a ZIP code. So, one of the ways that you can get around this again is the NoScript tag. And how can you use the NoScript tag to basically direct the search engine to links that it can use to get around this particular situation.

So, if I turn off my JavaScript or my browser and I want to reload this page, you would see it as the search engines would see it. So, if I turn off that JavaScript, this is what I would see instead. Not just the “Choose the State” form, but I now also have links that the search engines can now follow. It gives them away around this form to get to the information behind it.

Now, just by making this one change, it was a really simple change. It opened up over 200 pages that could then be used for indexing for search engines. And it actually meant that the 200+ dealerships that Mazda has were actually ranked within the first 30 days in the top 10 results for the keyword phrases we wanted to rank them for. Which included things like “City plus Mazda dealer.” So, for instance “Charlottesville Mazda Dealer.”

So, just by opening up content and allowing it to be indexed can go a long way in SEO. But sometimes, things we do in a design fashion don’t always mesh with what we’re trying to do, usability wise, with SEO. So, you have to think through that and be really smart about how you can give work around to the engines.

So, some questions you want to ask yourself as a web designer, designing a new site. “Will anything in this design hinder indexing”? Just like I talked about forms, Parallax, etc. And how I can circumvent this? Is there a creative way for me to get around it? But the second thing you want to make sure you’re asking yourself anytime you’re looking at design options is “Does anything in this design go against Google or Bing’s webmaster guidelines”? Because if it does, it means that you could be de-listed entirely from their search engines and you certainly don’t want that.

My key takeaway from today is, you don’t have sacrifice good usability for SEO. Sometimes, you just have to get creative. And so, think about that as you plan out your designs and make sure that what you’re doing is SEO-friendly and optimized the right way, like from a speed perspective and so forth, to really get you the best SEO value, too. Because, again, the best designed website in the world isn’t going to mean a thing if it can’t be seen and found by others.

So, SEO is a really important part of making sure that your design is seen by many people. So, this is my takeaway for today. And now, I’m going to hand it back to Kari for a few more comments.

Kari:

Great, thank you, Janet. And before we get into some Q&A, I’d just like to let you know about a couple of things. First of all, if you would like to learn more, there is a class available over at the Online Marketing Institute called “Incorporating Good SEO into Web Designs.” And that is presented by our own Janet Driscoll Miller and you can access that class by going to bit.ly. Bit.ly/OMI-design.

If you are looking for some help in incorporating a good SEO foundation into your website design, then that’s something that we can also help you with. So, you can get in touch with Sean McCusty here at Search Mojo. And there is his contact information, there.

I also want to let you know about our next webinar, which will be presented by Janet Driscoll Miller. “The State of Google Marketing for Nonprofits and Associations.” So, Janet will talking about some current trends with Google marketing including Google grants, including algorithmic updates that Google has recently implemented that might be affecting associations and nonprofits and some additional marketing opportunities that they can take advantage of.

That will be taking place August 22nd at 2:00 p.m. And you can register today at search-mojo.com/google. And if you’d like to get in touch with Janet Driscoll Miller or Amanda Sides through social media or connect with Search Mojo, here is all the information for you to do that here. And with that, we will take a few questions.