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Harnessing internet search - Part 3. By Stewart Twynham

9th Jan 2007
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To conclude his series on internet search, Stewart Twynham offers the final three important rules of good web design, including one small change which recently increased one client’s hits by more than 400%.

Rule 4: Quality hyperlinks to your website
Search engines use a mixed bag of measures to determine how “good” your website is. Google’s tool is called PageRank, which determines the importance of a page by the number and importance of all the pages that link to it.

The result (in Google’s case) is a logarithmic scale (0-10) which helps determine where you might appears in the results. For example, Google has a PR of 10, eBay has a PR of 9, AccountingWEB has a PR of 6, whilst our local pre-school website has a PR of 2.

You can check the PageRank of yours and other sites you visit by installing the Google Toolbar, although you should be aware that this figure is generally accepted as a rough guide only, and may be out of date by several months.

Getting sites with a PageRank of 5 or more to link to your website will have a helpful effect, but avoid search engine optimisation (SEO) practices such as Link Farms or other blatant cheats - if Google finds out, you could be blacklisted.

Good quality, hand-edited directories such as DMOZ are also a very good place to list your site. DMOZ is often used as the seed for other search engines, and will also have an impact on PageRank.

Rule 5: Regular updates
Search engines don’t have the time or money to crawl the Internet in real time, so instead sites that are found to contain content which has changed with each visit will generally get a more regular visit from the “spider” or “robot”. Spiders are automated indexing programs, but their behaviourial characteristics are somewhat beyond the scope of this series.

Adding something like a news section, with regular updates is a good start. If you can also add an RSS feed (newsfeed), your customers can use this to track any updates, but so too can search engines.

Adding something like a daily Blog (a shortened version of "web log") is even better. Blogs are generally beneficial because they work differently to standard web pages:

  • By creating content daily, you’ll have additional, regular content on your website.
  • By definition, blogs are more topical – and therefore contain topical keywords.
  • When each blog is created, a message is sent out to blogging sites around the world, so your entry can be automatically listed. This encourages the spiders to find your page much sooner than normal.

6. Be Search Engine Friendly
We’ve already discussed in last week's article on accessibility that many sites go out of their way to be unreadable by search engines. There are some additional problems which relate to the technology on which your site is built that can make it unfriendly to search engines.

Good examples include the need to use cookies, and really complex and unfriendly URLs which contain question marks (for example: page.php?id=1234&show=yes&size=full) - often a sign of a weak content management system. Both of these offences can mean Google et al miss your site completely, or at the very least index it inconsistently.

The biggest culprits are normally "home grown" websites. In one case, we discovered that the method used to access a product catalogue was preventing search engines from seeing the entire range.

A simple change - the introduction of a Google Site Map to the site - made sure that the spiders could now see everything. The result? In two months, page views rose from 8,500 hits/month to over 43,000 hits/month – a 400% increase.

Things to consider when making your site search-engine friendly:

  • Content Management Systems (CMSs) are a great way to ensure that your website is kept up to date, because it’s you, not your web designers, that can make the changes. But if you’re looking for a CMS, make sure that page URLs it produces look like plain English and not like rubbish, for example:.
    instead of
  • Create a Site Map - this will allow your customers and search engines to find all your pages more easily.
  • Create and submit a Google Site Map. This is an XML file which tells Google where to find all the pages on your site – your web designers should be able to do this for you.
  • You can check how your site performs in Google by visiting its Webmaster Tools section .
  • You can carry out a more detailed analysis of your website’s visitors by using Google Analytics.

Three short articles can never do justice to search engines and website design, but I hope I’ve given you all food for thought. It is possible to make a huge difference to how your website performs by looking at how it is designed and the content it contains.

Whilst there will always be a place for paid advertising, there are plenty of things you can do without resorting to burning money on pay per click.

Search engine optimisation is important too, but perhaps less important in today’s more sophisticated world, where search engines are turned on not by clever linking strategies or keyword spamming, but by well written, well formed, accessible content which is kept up to date.

The investment to make your website better is usually small, and can yield big changes relatively quickly.

Stewart Twynham
Bawden Quinn Associates Ltd

Related articles

  • Harnessing internet search - Part 1: Search engines
  • Harnessing internet search - Part 2: Accessibility
  • Web security Part 1: How safe is your site?
  • Part 2: Anatomy of a hack: It only takes a few minutes
  • Web security Part 3 - How to secure your site
  • Information security Expert Guides
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    Replies (2)

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    Dennis Howlett
    By dahowlett
    10th Jan 2007 20:34

    Interesting set of articles but of all the professional websites you've seen, how many bother to update content, let alone regularly? If my assessment is anywhere near right, I'm pretty sure it's <50.

    Lots of reasons but every person I speak with has little idea about the value a good website can deliver.

    Thanks (0)
    By Stewart Twynham
    21st Jan 2007 15:25

    Re: But...
    In many ways you're right... but this is due in part to the "self fulfilling prophecy" effect.

    Client A has a web site. They don't spend any money on it. Therefore they don't get any business from it. They cannot justify spending money on it because they won't get any business from it. Therefore they don't. Therefore they won't.

    Client B has a web site. They invest a reasonable amount (not just money but time) into it. It gives fantastic returns. They wouldn't dream of spending less on it, and in fact want to spend more. They know the benefits they'll get. Therefore they do. Therefore they will.


    Thanks (0)