Ten Tips for Making a Favorable Impression
Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D., APR
Searching for Profit
Those submitting sites for consideration for Web Awards want to make
a favorable impression. This article presents 10 tips for making a
positive impression not only on the judges but also on search
engines, those with disabilities and other visitors. The author
would also like to suggest that fellow judges might want to consider
some of these points when evaluating submissions.
First, let’s go back to basics. Following the advice given in Five
Basic Rules of Web Design (http://www.grantasticdesigns.com/5rules.htm)
designers who focus on creating search engine friendly sites should
make sure their sites are: 1) easy to read, 2) easy to navigate, 3)
easy to find, 4) consistent, and 5) quick to download.
Second, let’s consider those who must overcome substantial barriers
to use the Web. With the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998,
Congress added provisions to ensure that Web pages delivered by
agencies of the federal government be accessible to disabled Web
users. This has dramatically increased focus on accessibility and
its complex relationship with usability.
Third, search engine marketers have found compliant sites are more
easily processed and ranked by search engines. This provides a
powerful argument for implementation of search friendly and
The tips that follow provide some pointers and best practices for
addressing all three issues outlined above.
Tip 1: Avoid Redirects and Refreshes – These create
credibility issues for users. Spammers have used redirects to switch
pages from one heavily optimized for search performance on a
specific keyword to a page with a different URL often less likely to
be deemed relevant for the target keyword. This technique tricks the
search engine and the user. To combat this, many search engines do
not accept redirected pages with the exception of permanent
redirects (HTTP 301). If you really must use a redirect, search
marketing best practice recommends a delay in the timing, not
instant redirection. The redirect should delay approximately 15
seconds, adequate time for a reader to actually skim the content.
Since most traffic comes through the home page, a lengthy redirect
on this page can create traffic losses, another argument for
avoiding redirects altogether.
Tip 2: Avoid Frames – The use of frames has declined in
recent years, but some site designers persist in using them. Frames
present usability problems since the user cannot bookmark a framed
page accurately. As the user navigates the site, the URL does not
match the content. The problem is compounded when the pages appear
in search engines. Most sites today are carefully submitted to
search engines via inclusion programs. With framed sites, it is
common practice to submit just the content frames. If the content
frame presents no links to the main navigation, the user coming from
a search engine is stranded with no means to access the rest of the
content. Many users do not like framed sites because of these
navigational challenges. The major search properties, Google,
Yahoo!/Inktomi and Lycos/FAST can follow the navigation on a framed
site, but its presentation in search results is often problematic.
There are workarounds that are popular with search-savvy designers
for solving the search engine visibility issues; however, when site
owners have run parallel sites, one with and one without frames, the
frameless site usually draws more traffic. These votes should count
Tip 3: Provide Search Meaningful URLs – Long URLs that pass
multiple parameters present challenges for search engines. Search
technology has advanced in recent years, but they still cannot parse
lengthy URLs that include multiple parameters and CGI BIN codes. It
is incomprehensible to these automated users how to sort out the
multiple parameters relating to content, navigation and customer
information. Human users also find meaningful URLs easier to
interpret and remember.
Tip 4: Include a Site Map – A site map provides navigational
assistance for search engines and human users alike. A site map is
especially valuable when the site also uses scripting for mouseovers
and dropdown menus. The scripted navigation adds visual appeal, but
search engine spiders may not be able to traverse the site. The site
map provides an access alternative. If the site is expected to
appeal to an audience that includes the visually handicapped, you
need to consider whether automated screen readers can meaningfully
interpret the site’s navigation. Not all screen readers follow links
that are embedded in scripting. An unscripted site map will provide
another potential access point and increases the ease of navigation
for automated readers.
Tip 5: Provide Multiple Navigation Schemes – With multiple
navigation schemes, the site is easier for search engines and users
of all types to navigate. Anytime the navigation of a site is made
easier, it is more likely to provide a better experience for the
user. This tip is almost a given; however, a surprising number of
sites do not provide navigation schemes that can be traversed by
automated crawlers and screen readers. This limits their audience.
Tip 6: Include an Abstract for Downloadable Files – Those
sites presenting downloadable files, pdf, audio or other formats,
should consider including a brief abstract to help the user
understand what the file contains. At very least there should be an
indication as to the size of the file. This is particularly
important for large files. The major search engines can crawl and
index pdf files, but an abstract provides additional meaningful
content for the download page. This can improve its potential for
ranking in the search results. This is a significant consideration
when the download page includes useful content over and above the
download. Audio content presents a different kind of challenge. The
hearing impaired and most search spiders cannot access the content,
so a description and even a link to a transcript provide access for
Tip 7: Use ALT tags with Images – Most Web pages are replete
with images which, unless they are augmented with text in the ALT
tag, are invisible to search engines and to the visually impaired.
At one time it was common practice for search marketers to fill
(even stuff) the ALT tags with keywords relevant to the site. Most
search marketers no longer follow this practice. A few keywords
strewn in ALT tag does not provide the same level of clarity for the
visually impaired user that a brief keyword-rich sentence does. It
needn’t be great literature, but it should provide the reader with
an adequate sense about the picture. Because the text in the tag
relates to the picture and supports the content with additional
keywords, ALT tags often improve the page’s search performance. With
the availability of image searching, particularly on Google, some
sites enjoy substantial traffic on their images. The use of ALT tags
enhances the site’s audience and user appeal.
Tip 8: Offer Context Cues for the Disabled for FLASH and Graphics
Used for Text – Non-text elements cannot be interpreted by
search engines, and screen readers only interpret the source code of
the page. FLASH elements, while often beautiful and informative,
present serious challenges for both of these users. Although it is
relatively easy to create an HTML version of FLASH content, it often
impractical to manage the resulting multiple versions of the site.
Similar problems arise when graphics are used in place of text.
Tip 9: Use TITLE and DESCRIPTION Tags – When a user bookmarks
a page, it is the TITLE tag that is displayed in the “favorites”
drop down menu. Users bookmark content of value, so the absence of a
TITLE suggests valueless content. The same TITLE on every page –
“Welcome to XYZ site” is only slightly more informative. Search
engines consider the TITLE tag as a primary factor and record them.
Most use the TITLE as the first text shown in the results.
Similarly, many search engine give relevance to the DESCRIPTION tag;
hence, their use improves search visibility. Using these two tags is
an excellent opportunity to impress users and search engines.
Tip 10: Clean Up Your Code – Externally referenced Cascading
and impaired users. Without the extra weight of the codes, pages
download faster since the cached script is reused by the browser
improving the user’s ability to rapidly view the site. It is helpful
to place the Robot Exclusion Protocol on the external script and CSS
file directories so that search engines do not follow these links.
Then, when search engines crawl the site, they can do so more
quickly. Uncluttered clean code is more easily interpreted.
Those who design and submit sites to Web Awards want them to be
found on search engines, widely read, easily used and appreciated by
the judges. Following the ten tips above are no guarantee of
success, but it certainly improves the odds.
About the Author: Amanda G. Watlington, Ph.D., APR, Searching for
is a web marketing strategist, author and speaker at search and Web
marketing events. She co-chairs the DMA/AIM Search Marketing
Council, and has twice served as a Web Awards judge.