Want search engine-friendly design? Stick to fundamentals: SES speaker

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NEW YORK -- As many search engine optimization experts trip over themselves trying to keep up with every new Web technology that comes along, they often forgo fundamental principles of good Web site design for quick fixes that will rocket their clients' sites to the top of the search engines results pages.

That was a key point by search engine-friendly designer Shari Thurow, Webmaster and marketing director at GrantasticDesigns.com, who led a session called "Search Engine Friendly Design" here at the Hilton New York during the Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo.

"Search engine-friendly design is not about getting high up on the search engine results pages," Ms. Thurow said. "Search engine-friendly design is about the user because the fact is, Google is not going to spend thousands of millions of dollars on your product and services -- your target audience will. So, whenever you design a site, always, always, always design for your primary audience, and that's going to be your site visitors."

Having learned from years of working with Web site usability groups and studying which sites get indexed by major search engines and which don't and why, Ms. Thurow discussed why it was necessary to consider the search behavior of a target audience.

Search behavior, she said, considers the way visitors use eye tracking, reading strategies, scanning techniques and what they do specifically when they search a Web page.

She also discussed five fundamental rules of Web design for search engine optimization. Pages should be easy to read; be easy to navigate; have a consistent layout; have good design features; and be easy to download -- "30 seconds or less on a dial-up modem."

In addition, Ms. Thurow talked about the importance of relevant and visible keywords and metadata.

While the single most important text on a Web page is the page title text at the top of the page, it is also important to have well-written and well-placed text links on a page to support popular design features that are not actually SEO friendly, including navigation buttons, image maps, menus and Flash, most of which search engines do not pick up.

By not adhering to the principles of good design, SEO designers risked counter-productive marketing of their clients' products or services and possibly leading those clients' sites to being banned as search engine spam.

Search engine-friendly design incorporates both messages, Ms. Thurow said: Paying attention both to the behavior of your site's visitors and the technological characteristics of search engines as they crawl the Web.

"When users search online, the No. 1 place that they find information is through the crawler-based engines," Ms. Thurow said. "So, when you design, you have to consider both groups: your audience and the engines."

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