Web site design : Search engine ranking factors

Being one of the few web designers that specialises in search engine optimisation and online marketing, we often get asked questions like "How do I get to number 1 in Google" or "Why can’t people find me in the search engines after I launch my website".

For most people, they unfortunately assume that once your website goes live you should be found in the first page (or even number 1) in search engine results. Many people start to either research themselves, buy website submission software or spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on Adwords in a desperate attempt to take advantage of search engine traffic.

Search engine traffic is indeed a very lucrative and cost effective way to absolutely explode into success. What many people don’t realise is exactly what is important in search engine optimisation. This article explains the basics of what exactly is important based on our research and experience. We are focusing mainly on natural search engine rankings in Google as this is without a doubt the single most cost effective way to generate business for your website.

Follow these rules on your website and you should see significant improvements in your website traffic! Each item I have rated out of 5 to show how important each item is to search engine optimisation (1 being least important and 5 being most important).

Keywords in the title tag (5/5) 5/5
We would regard this as exceptionally high value in search engine optimisation. Ensure that the title tag for each of your pages contains keywords that relate to the specific page and ensure you have a few (no more than 2 or 3) keywords at the start of your title tag. For example, if you sell flowers on the gold coast, then the title tag for your home page should be "Flowers Gold Coast, Online delivery - Company Name".

Keywords in the body text (3/5) 3/5
You should always ensure you have keywords in the body text of your pages. Ensure that you do not go overboard though as too many keywords can trigger Google to rate the page as ’spam’ and actually decrease your rankings.

Keywords in the body text relating to content (2/5) 2/5
You should ensure that your body text and keywords do not conflict with each other. In other words if you have a page that talks about car parts, you should ensure that the keywords you are using also relate to this topic.

Keywords in the H1 tag (3/5) 3/5
The H1 tag is commonly used by website designers for headings. You should always use this tag for your headings and ensure that you use keywords that people would search for in your headings. For example, if you have a page featuring maternity wear then your H1 tag should be something like <h1>Maternity Wear</h1>.

Keywords in the domain name (2/5) 2/5
We have found a lot of mis information about this being one of the most important elements of search engine optimisation. Although it can help, we have found it is not critical to getting good rankings in Google. We have however found it helps a bit more with Yahoo rankings.

Keywords in page URL (3/5) 3/5
We have found that naming your pages with keywords can help somewhat in search engine rankings. That being said, we have seen many of our clients websites rank very highly for competitive keywords without worrying about this. This can also be hard to implement on database driven websites where pages are automatically generated depending on the query string.

Meta description and keyword tags (1/5) 1/5
Although 5 or so years ago this was very important, the use of meta tags is pretty much ignored by Google these days. We have found that Yahoo does place a little importance on meta tags but my overall opinion is that this is an area that too many people spend time and effort on without any significant results.

HTML validation to W3c standards (0/5) 0/5
Validation of html to the W3c standards is severely over-hyped and I have seen no evidence at all of it effecting (positively or negatively) your search engine rankings. Although valid code is definitely a plus, it is often impossible (especially with database driven / dynamic websites) to have 100% validation. Even the Google home page does not meet 100% validation with W3C.

Frequency of updates to pages (4/5) 4/5
We have found that frequently updating pages and adding new (relevant) content to your website can increase your search engine rankings. It seems that Google identifies sites that are being updated regularly and in turn visits and indexes them regularly (on average about once per week). The best type of content to add to your website are news items and articles that relate to the content of your website and include good keywords. This is one of the main reasons why Blogs are so popular these days.

Age of website (5/5) 5/5
We have found that with Google places a very, very high importance on the age of the website. The main reason I believe this is, is because there is no way to ‘fake’ the age of a website. Google also assumes that if your website has been around for a while, it is popular and useful. Basically if your website is less than a year old then you can often have an uphill battle with rankings for very popular keywords.

Negative factors
The following factors will negatively effect your websites rankings:

  • Server is often down or very slow
  • Content duplicated across the website
  • External links to low ranking or spam sites
  • Duplicate title / meta tags on many pages
  • Participation in link farm schemes or actively selling links on your website
  • Overuse of keywords (keyword stuffing / spamming)
  • Inbound links from link farms / spam sites
  • Low levels of visitors to your website

I hope this article helped. This information is only really about 1/8th of the factors we have found effect your rankings. For more information, please contact David Mason at [email protected].