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Web work

01 Jul 2010

Companies need the web as part of a comprehensive marketing package, a branding exercise or even a sales tool. However, many enterprises still fail to follow best practices for their site. A successful, well visited website is one which humans find interesting thanks to relevant content and which search engines can find, crawl and index. To fulfil its potential, a website has to have a balance between human usability and search engine optimisation. Here are some best practice tips for your company’s website. Appropriate titles, tags and descriptions The title you give your page is what is displayed at the top of your browser window and also what the search engine displays. It should be focused on and relevant to the content on the page and should not just be your company name. The ‘meta data’ or description of your site is what the search engines display underneath your title. Again this should be a short, relevant and logical description of the content of that page. Finally, although not as much weighting is put on the meta tags of websites these days, they are still important to have. The keywords ‘meta tag’ should contain words that people will commonly use while searching. A list of 10 to 15 words relevant to the content of that page is enough. Any more than that and search engines may penalise you for ‘keyword stuffing’. Web-appropriate content The main guidelines for writing for the web are to be succinct and and write for ‘scannability’. People read on-screen 25% slower than reading printed material. They also tend not to enjoy reading text on a screen, so make sure you write less than you would for a hard copy. In fact, best practice says you should use about 50% less text. Because it is more painful to read text on a screen, your readers also need to be able to scan it easily, whilst still conveying the message. Structure your article with multiple headlines (a main heading and multiple subheadings) and even embolden key words. Make sure those headings are meaningful and tell the reader something they need to know. Refreshing your content is now becoming more important to search engines, so keep adding news items, articles for people to read, and maybe even some relevant blog entries. Search engines: crawling and indexing To achieve good organic (unpaid) search results you need to follow the above procedures to structure your site and your content. Once you have done this it’s a matter of making sure the search engines can find, search and index your content. The best thing you can do is regularly submit a sitemap when you change sections of your site. The major search engines all have tools to do this. On the site itself, it is considered good practice to leave instructions for the search engines on how to search your site. This is done by what is called a robots.txt file. It is a standard file the search engines will look for when crawling your site. If there isn't one, they assume you have left nothing specific, so they may crawl your site the ‘wrong’ way. Analytics and tools Finally, make sure you are using the tools that are available. Google Analytics is considered standard for most webmasters to use and gives you detailed statistics on visitors, content and traffic sources. Along with analytics, it’s also useful to sign up to the search engines’ webmaster tools, which will tell you if the search engines are having trouble finding, searching and indexing your site. Your website will be an ever-evolving place; however, following these guidelines will help to create a strong foundation and allow your website to achieve the goals you have set for it.

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