When it comes to optimizing your site for search and the search engines, it's important not to overcomplicate your design and technical approach with things such as Flash, Java, frames and dynamically built Web sites.

Here are 11 tips for design that works:

The title tag is critical

The title tag is the single most important piece of content for people who search.

  1. Keep it short: Don't have more than 60 characters (with spaces), which is roughly 8-10 words.

  2. Lead with the most important "careword" for that particular page. Always start off with what is specific about the page and move to what is general. Many Web sites begin their title with their brand or organization name, and then follow with what is unique about the page. (This is a very common mistake, so check out your own site.)

The description tag is recommended

The description tag is not nearly as important as the title. However, it does have some value. Write it as a summary and keep it under 30 words. It should be written in a compelling, clear manner.

Light pages and lean, quality HTML

The less HTML code you have, the better, as it makes it easier and faster for the search engine to index your page. Aim for a total page weight of 50 KB for any page (that's including graphics). Certainly, anything over 100 KB is going to be slow, and some search engines don't like pages that are over 100 KB.

Have a site map/index

People like site maps/indexes, and so do search engines. Make sure that the site map is available from the home page, presented in a text-based format, and kept up to date.

Avoid Flash

I've nothing against Flash design except for the fact that I generally detest it. It's a waste of time; it's fourth-rate TV advertising by people who will never get the chance to do a real TV ad.

Search engines don't like Flash, either, and find it very hard to index Flash-based pages.

Build your Web site in static HTML

You don't need a "dynamic" Web site unless you have dynamic content, such as airline seat availability and pricing, which needs to be dynamically published from a database because it constantly changes.

You may store your Web site in a database, but you're better off publishing it as a static HTML site. It's cheaper, the pages will download faster and search engines will find it easier to comprehensively index your Web site.

Avoid PDFs

One of the sure signs of a badly managed Web site is that it has lots of PDFs. Publishing content in PDF is usually a shortcut. Search engines are now better at indexing PDFs but I still recommend that you publish a heading and summary in HTML.

Avoid frames

Simply said: Frames are a very bad idea.

Watch your JavaScript

Any links that you have in JavaScript should also be published in HTML; otherwise, the search engine won't be able to follow those links. Rollovers are cool, but they cause nothing but problems, so avoid them unless you have a brilliant technical team.

Alternative text

As a rule: you should have alternative text for every single image.

However, the only alternative text that search engines recognize is for images that are linked. Make sure you use descriptive, careword-rich text.

Keyword tags

Over the years, some sites tried to trick search engines by stuffing keyword tags with lots of popular words. Because of this, most search engines give very little value to keyword tags.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.