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This is the second part of an article that discusses the importance of good Web site design and the process of streamlining the creation of Web sites.

Stock Photography and Gathering Photography

Obviously, using completely custom photography is ideal, but let's face it, who has the time or the budget to always do that? Below I have outlined a few of my personal favorite sources for graphics and photography:

  • Stock.xchng: This massive gallery online has many high-quality stock photos for non-commercial usage. You can purchase credits online.
  • iStockphoto: Great site for member-generated royalty-free images. You can purchase images by credits; they are relatively inexpensive at around $1.00 per image.
  • Shutterstock: A subscription-based Web site for downloading stock photos.
  • Getty Images: Great Web site with a massive database and the ability to custom search. A drawback for some people can be that many of these photos are rights-managed; that is, the license costs can get to be pretty expensive for smaller projects.

To the Chopping Block We Go: Transforming your Graphic Design Into a Working Web Site

The first step of coding a Web site is to determine the programming language to be used. The Web developer will use different programming languages, depending on the features and abilities that the Web site needs to accomplish its goals. Most promotional Web sites are best coded in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) which is very search-engine friendly and flexible. When an ecommerce shopping cart, an interactive event calendar, or content management system is needed, you will need to use a server-side programming language such as PHP or ASP.

In almost all cases, avoid creating a Web site from a pre-packaged templated Web-site building program. The vast majority of these programs, many featuring shopping carts, are not search-engine friendly and the code is messy and extraneous. Moreover, the Web site builder has little access to the actual code of the site, limiting options for further development. The Web site software company usually will not allow outside developers to make changes to their Web site creation program and can charge very high fees for necessary upgrades or modifications to the Web site.

Why Custom Design Is the Smart Choice

Choosing an experienced Web-site design professional who is proficient in multiple aspects of Web design and ecommerce development to build a custom Web site could be the best business investment you ever make. Doing so ensures that your Web site will be built to reflect your company's goals and your client's needs and desires, from the ground up.

A professional Web site developer should also ensure that your site meets the stringent standards of the W3C (World Wide Web consortium) and follows industry best-practices to ensure smooth, efficient function and a good reception by the major search engines. Well-structured Web sites are designed to be scalable, so that when upgrades or additional product lines are added, the site can easily adapt to accommodate the growth of the company.

Based on conversations, design questionnaires, and additional sources of information, a professional Web site designer will present design concepts, also called a "mock up" of the Web site, for your approval and feedback. Based on that feedback, the designer will make revisions to your specifications. Usually a round or two of revisions occurs before the final Web site creation is ready for launch live. A reliable Web site design agency will perform all kinds of testing on different platforms to ensure that the site functions efficiently and looks great via all the major browsers.

Proper Page Names Are Essential

The proper taxonomy (naming structure) of your Web site pages is essential to identify to the search engines what that page is all about. When creating a Web site, the individual page names should clearly label the purpose of the page and use your industry's most important keyword phrases whenever possible.

Most templated Web site building programs generate automatic page names (URLs) that involve series of numbers and symbols that are highly un-search engine friendly and do not identify the page in any logical manner to the viewer. The majority of templated programs do not allow the user to rename the pages individually.

When a Web site is custom-built from the ground up, the designer will name each page to reflect the products or services on the page, which is then easily indexed by Google and the other major search engines. For example:

  • Correct page naming: www.Digitalsurgeons.com/EcommerceWebsites.php clearly defines that this page is about building ecommerce Web sites.
  • Poor page naming: A page with the naming structure such as www.kidsclothing/series?123/x4 tells the search engines absolutely nothing, and the page will never be properly indexed for the correct category of product.

When you create a new Web site, everything that goes into the process is meant to tell both the customer and the search engines what your business is all about.

Building the Titles and Meta Data: Another Way to Tell the World What It's All About

Once the Web site developer has built the framework of the Web site navigation and pages, the strategic fields of your new site should be developed to further reflect what your business is all about. These fields include title tags, meta descriptions, and meta keyword tags, as well as several other strategic areas that can identify your site to the search engines and to clients.

Each page of a Web site has its own set of titles and meta tags, and all these should be developed individually to reflect the purpose and content of the page. Repeating the same title and keywords throughout every page of the Web site is ineffective and can actually harm your chances of doing well in the search engine listings.

Keyword Stuffing Is Not the Answer

When the idea of search engine optimization was new, some Web developers got into the bad habit of stuffing as many keywords as possible into the strategic fields of sites. I still see it today when I look at a prospective client's Web site source code and notice a block of keywords half a page long! Cramming huge lists of keywords into the title, description, or keyword tag is just one way that some people still practice "keyword stuffing."

Google and the other search engines now penalize Web sites that use this practice to try to bump up their search-engine rankings. The practice is now completely ineffective and can result in getting your Web site dropped down or banned from the search engine listings.

Correct Meta Data Development Is an Art & Science

Experienced search-engine optimization and Web-development professionals are skilled at analyzing what the search engines are looking to see in a title tag or description. Rules can change frequently and can differ among the types of Web sites that the search engine is looking at (ecommerce, promotional, etc.).

Your web designer or SEO expert will develop your title and meta data fields based on a careful review of what is happening online and with competing sites, and determining what the search engines are favoring. Just as in life, there is no one magic formula for optimizing your site.

Put the customer first: Never sacrifice readability and accuracy for the chance to get a couple more keywords in the mix. The client always comes first when creating your Web site, while keeping the search engines firmly in mind. Balance is the key, and a good rule of thumb is to include two or three of the most pertinent keywords in your title and description tags. Also, use exact phrase matches when listing keywords in your keyword tag.

Building a Web site Founded on Industry Best-Practices

The W3C

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has published standards for good Web site design and HTML validation that have become widely accepted everywhere. Web sites that meet these guidelines are much, much more likely to do well in the search engines. These practices also look out for the user in encouraging efficient, user-friendly Web site coding practices. Good tools are available, free, online for analyzing sites to see whether they meet validation and finding out what specific issues exist. The W3C standards also make it easier for HTML programmers to interpret coding and work with existing site programming.

Google's Webmaster Guidelines

Google's set of webmaster guidelines are a great place to start for finding out what Google wants to see in a Web site. These recommendations cover areas such as using sitemaps, correct text-link development, naming conventions, and they encourage Web-site builders to develop sites with the end-user always as the primary focus of the endeavor.

Google strongly encourages creating a Web site rich in good, quality information with a logical structure and user-friendly navigation. All of its more recent algorithm changes are aimed at making a better experience for the user.

Pulling It all Together

An excellent Web site designer will always be researching industry best-practices and working to stay on the cutting edge of Web development. Working with an agency that delivers great Web-site development skills with high-power search-engine-optimization abilities makes for a powerful combination for your business.

The overriding message of this article is the importance of creating a solid Web-site foundation for your online business, from the ground up, by designing with the customer as the focus and the search engines always in mind.

Keeping practical Web-site design principles in mind and planning thoroughly will put you and your new Web site on the road to online success.

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Peter Sena is the chief technical officer of Digital Surgeons (www.Digitalsurgeons.com). Reach him via Pete@digitalsurgeons.com or (203) 672-6201.