Two Levels of Design

The website has to function as a human interface and satisfy certain requirements for search engines.

No one knows how many websites or web pages there are in the collective internet but many agree that the number of web pages exceeds 55 Billion world wide.

The fact that you are reading this page now, is truly remarkable when you consider the amount of competition.

Looking at the past year's traffic for this site we know that 45% came from search engines 40% came from referring sites and 14% came from direct traffic (people who went directly to our site by typing in the URL).

To be found we have to focus on how our website functions in search engines and we have to do additional work to try to add quality incoming links to our site.

The direct traffic likely came from traditional advertising and things like business cards etc.

 

Websites designed for humans

In the short time that website have been around, humans have developed some expectations and a fairly consistent approach to using them.

The F Pattern

An image showing the eyetracking results.People tend to scan web pages using an F pattern.  Attention is also paid to the contents on the top left and right corners.

Navigation on the left is more common than navigation on the right and any content that is below the visitors screen requires scrolling down.

Important information to your visitors and your goals should be placed with these realities in mind.

Consistent navigation and layout from page to page is critical to the user experience.

People are not likely to hang around if they don't understand or are challenged by navigating your web page. 

If you are interested you will find more information about eye tracking here.

Picture a duck playing soprano saxophone

Search engine optimizaton

So what's all this crazyness?

The search phrase "picture a duck playing soprano saxophone" is the most obscure phrase we could think of at the time.  We included it in this web page because we want it to be a demonstration.  If you search for "picture a duck playing soprano saxophone" this page will come on top of the 55 billion other pages.

This site was launched on June 22/2010 at around 6:00 pm Atlantic Time.  I checked last night before going to bed; still no results however this morning on June24th at 10:24 am,  we got first page results on google and ask.com for this phrase. No results yet on Bing or Yahoo, that should also give you an idea which search engine you should use for current material.

So it took somewhere between 30 and 40 hours for our unique phrase to be indexed by google. Not only did we get first page results but we ranked first on the page!  This proves the power of the unique phrase when applied to search engines.

Saturday morning June 25th at about 7:00 am first page results on yahoo, checked last night before bed, so that's somewhere between 50 and 60 hours.  Still no results from Bing!

July 2, 10:00am still no results from Bing! I think the clones at microsoft must use google to find relevant results once the number of searches is high enough and then manually enter the results into their database! Slick!!

July 8, 10:00am, we are giving up on Bing.  If you ever get results from bing for this search phrase please let us know.  We know that Bing crawls the site because if you search for 'web developers in nova scotia' we get first page results.

Something else that is interesting is that at some point the google results for our obscure phrase started giving first results to www.benetti.ca this is a domain that is parked at www.site-byte.com.  Our best guess is that since Jeff Benetti plays soprano saxophone the benetti domain seems a more relevant page while the site-byte domain is already indexed as a web design/programming site.  Searches for website related things give us site-byte results.

FYI:  Parking a domain simply means that the DNS (domain name server) points the browser to exactly the same place as the primary domain.

July 16, 3:00pm, it seems that google has dropped the search rankings to second  page, favouring saxophone related results it is also back to directing the results back to site-byte.com instead of benetti.ca.  I assume as time goes by the results will continue to drop.  Likely this is because there is not enough supporting content to suggest that this page is relevant to ducks or soprano saxophones.  That said it will be interesting to see if the placement of the word soprano saxophone and duck in this entry will affect the search results.

Stay tuned for more ducky investigations.  Remember the search engine wants to deliver current relevant results.

 

Be specific

People rarely search for a single word, although we were surprised to learn that there are 6,120,00 searches each month for the term CMS.  Usually people use phrases, "what is a CMS", "definition of a CMS", "download CMS free" etc.  The point is to anticipate the visitors wording and language.  For E-commerce this can be particularly important.  For example, in the machining industry a milling cutter with two spiral flutes is formally known as a "slot drill" but it is more commonly know to those who use them as a "two flute end mill".

The seach engine would never match "two flute endmill" with the search term "slot drill".

Images

Pictures look great on web pages and to humans "a picture is worth a thousand words".  The search engine doesn't know one picture from another.  Make sure that images have ALT tags and TITLE tags to be visible to search engines as relevant content.

Page Title and Headings

Search engines use the page title attribute and text contained in headings as indicators of what the page is all about. Search engines must process a lot of information in a short time.  The page title is like the index tab in a filing cabinet, imagine that a search engine looks first here and then looks deeper if an exact match is not found in the title.

After a bit of research we found this page, which does an excellent job explaining and demystifying SEO.

Some Good SEO Practices

Page Description
Make sure that each page has a page description. This should be some engaging text that will help the visitor decide to pick your page from the other pages presented by the search engine.
Page Size
Go with smaller pages, they load faster and users are not likely to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find what they are looking for.
External CSS
Use external CSS style sheets rather than inline styling. This loads faster and helps with site maintenance.
Headings
Organize the data in your pages so that relevant headings help the user navigate to crucial areas.
Images
Make sure that images have alt tags and titles, the alt tags and title are readable by the search engines and for vision impaired visitors these allow screen readers to indicate what the image is.
Semantically Correct Markup
The markup should be semantically correct, use list constructs when you display a list of items, use tables to display data in tabular form and use div's for page layout.  You would be surprised how many people still use tables for layout, at one time it was the only alternative but today there is absolutely no reason to do this.